Introducing Austin’s Leah Nobel
There are those times, as a songwriter, when the valleys of life’s deep disappointments lead the artist into a kind of emotional desert. Those are not easy times, but a true writer will find an oasis of creativity in the eventual dawn of a long, dark night. This is what Austin-based singer-songwriter Leah Nobel has found on Strangers Again, the first of her dual EPs being completed through her recently successful Kickstarter campaign. With an enchanting, mesmerizing voice, vulnerable lyrics, haunting melodies, and craftily arranged, minimalistic chamber-like pop songs, she takes us on a journey into her heart. These songs are meditations in the aftermath of a broken relationship-a kind of alchemy where the pain and of a broken heart has been turned into a soothing balm for the soul. The fine line she walks is that of potential artistic self-indulgence, however, on this album, she has turned in a collection of songs that ring with the universality of the process of healing.
Each of the five songs takes a singular view at the universality of the memories that pull her under like a tide, the metaphors of despair that eventually yield unforgettable insight, and the clear understanding that the way out is the way through. The whole EP centers on the opening track, that follows each song like a slowly rising dawn, “Joshua Tree.” Not to be mistaken with any kind of influence she received from certain cosmic country music legends and rock royalty, Nobel came at her fascination with the image of a Joshua tree naturally and allowed the gentle metaphor to implode into one of the finest songs released from any emerging aritst this year.
I recently spoke with her about the album. Some highlights from that interview – about the birth of the Joshua tree image and other memorable moments she experienced while writing the songs for this fine EP – are below.
Terry Roland: By far the strongest song on the album is “Joshua Tree.” Can you tell me about your process writing this?
Leah Nobel: When I wrote it, I didn’t know that U2 had an album by the same title. I did research about it. There’s a lot of mysticism surrounding the Joshua tree. I also found scientific facts about them. They have very shallow roots. It takes 30 years for their first flower to bloom, and they provide life for other plants. They are just beautiful in the very fact of how unusual they look. I began to fall in love with them. So I wrote a love song, but it became a love song to myself. I am the Joshua tree. It’s a song about believing in yourself, about self-love. For me, they show how you can be different at any time in your life. We usually think love songs are supposed to be about romantic love, but after I began to understand the Joshua tree and applied it as a metaphor for my own life, I saw how perfectly it coincided with the place I was at. So, it became a song about me.
So, this EP series really represents quite an accomplishment in your career.
I’m really more proud of this music than I’ve ever been. It seems as I’ve developed as a person, my writing reflects that growth. Kickstarter has been interesting. I’m not comfortable asking for financial help, but I got so much help and support it was astounding. You accept support from friends, but I got it from strangers.
You have a diversity of talent – you’re a songwriter as well as a model and actress. Tell me about your view of yourself as an artist?
For me, music and writing is number one. I’ve always been attracted to creative work. I consider myself to be a writer more than anything else. A writer first, then a musician. I’m writing a lot. All the time.
I’ve done acting for commercials and for music videos. But, I’m in Austin trying to figure how to put it all together. I want to have enough time to put effort into music. It’s [about] figuring out how to survive at the same time.
Why the double EP rather than just one album?
The problem is, I noticed a trend in the way mainstream music is changing. People don’t seem to make just pure music anymore. I have a couple of writer’s faces I put on when I do stuff that is pop-oriented. [Those songs] belong on one kind of album. Then, I have these songs in the Civil Wars style. So I decided to do the two EP’s with the separate song styles. Strangers Again has these retro-sounding pop songs. I wanted to do a concept album for each with different flavored songs. With EPs, listeners want to be constantly fed, but they want things in smaller doses. So, instead of one album, I’ve made a double EP.
Each of the other songs on this EP are really personal, but reach out to the listener to engage in the story. Tell me about these songs.
They were written about a relationship that ended. Sometimes relationships end when two people decide mutually things aren’t working. This wasn’t mutual. I was devastated. It was like a personal atom bomb on my life. I felt like my heart had been yanked out and thrown in a trash can. That’s the space that I was in on “Meat and Bones.” I was inspired by eating a rotisserie chicken – just taking off the skin and bones. That’s how I felt. There’s a line, “Damn you big love/because of you nothing he can do will ever be big enough.” At that point, I hadn’t recovered.
What about “Secret Room?”
It was written a year after the relationship ended. I wanted this song to be honest. He was a really good person. I didn’t want to portray him in any other way. That’s why I came up with the line, ”I’m not mad at you, I’m just sad at you.” As songwriters, we carry a lot of power. I could get into the revenge space but I didn’t want to do that at this point. I began to see that I was keeping him in this secret room instead of letting him be who he really was.
So, overall, this album comes full circle, through the pain and to a healing place.
Exactly. That’s what music and songs have the power to do.