Photo credit: Heather Hazzan
No one instantly knows how to do their job. Different people have different inherent skillsets that might give them a head start, but they still have to learn and grow. The greatest programmers needed to learn how to code at one point, and star athletes had to learn the rulebook and how to utilize their gifts. The same is true of music. Everyone starts somewhere, from writing lyrical ideas in a journal to plunking on a piano until the notes start to make sense. Once the work gets put in, that’s when the puzzle comes together and the world sees what you’re capable of. Olivia Noelle has put in that work. Noelle has an unyielding work ethic to go with her phenomenal voice and brilliant songwriting, all of which are evident on her debut EP If Boys Could Cry, released last Friday. With those traits and talents combined with a strong team and support from some of the biggest platforms in music, Olivia Noelle is on the course to be one of the biggest pop singer-songwriters for years to come.
I spoke to Noelle last week just before the release of If Boys Could Cry, and it’s safe to say she was just as excited as her fans were. She even says with a laugh, “I feel like I’ve pushed it out of my mind a little bit because I’m so excited about it I don’t know how to contain myself.” The EP has been in the works for some time now. Noelle first started releasing music in 2016 with debut single “Faking It,” and has been releasing singles sporadically ever since. Each song features the same current of a pop and R&B blend, and Noelle belting with her powerful, expressive voice.
That musical sense and taste largely comes from Noelle’s hometown. While she was raised in Portland, Oregon, Noelle was born and currently resides in New York City. Naturally, the city’s vibrant and thriving musical scene, especially hip-hop, dominated Noelle’s listening habits. “I would say a lot of my influences come from East Coast hip-hop, R&B. That shit’s what raised me, that’s what I grew up on,” she explains. With that sort of taste in music, it’s hard to think of a more perfect place for Noelle to grow and evolve than NYC.
Noelle also has more contemporary artists on her list of influences, as she worked closely with Lauv during the making of If Boys Could Cry. Noelle explains that he was one of the first people she met when she moved back to NYC, and his help on the project clearly means the world to her. “He really brought my sound out of me and really took the time to cultivate that and helped me figure out what that was. I owe a lot to him for having that kind of faith in me that built up my confidence enough to know who I am as an artist,” she says about Lauv.
With that being said, Noelle also reveals that there wasn’t instant success for her writing. “The first month of us writing together was terrible, we wrote probably the worst songs ever in my life,” she says. While that can be discouraging, Noelle explains that now that she knows what she’s capable of, getting through the creative lulls is much more manageable, and the lulls can even be beneficial in their own ways. She elaborates by saying “Sometimes that’s inspiring and motivating and it gets you up. If you’re having a little pity party, it gets you up and makes you try that much harder, and some of your best shit comes out of that.” Clearly this has worked out for Noelle, as the writing on If Boys Could Cry is excellent across the board.
That process of struggling and developing as an artist is also part of the reason Noelle decided to go with an EP release first. She explains that instead of just throwing songs written across many years together, she wanted to put out a few projects with similar songs to chart her progress. “I wanted it to be like this is where I was, this is where my mindset was when I wrote these records,” she reveals. As she’s almost always writing, there’s never a shortage of material to choose from. Noelle also says that she does “write with intention,” as she puts it, meaning she’ll find a common theme or idea that inspires her and write several songs specifically revolving around those concepts. As she explains it, this way her next project (which is already well on its way to completion) will be completely different thematically, as she’ll have different perspectives and life experience to work with.
One of those new experiences that Noelle went through is touring, as she toured for the first time earlier this year. When I ask her what she’s learned from that first tour, she immediately bursts out laughing and replies “Oh my gosh, I’m gonna be way less of a diva.” She goes into further detail by saying that early in the tour her nerves would sometimes get the best of her and she would stress a ton about inconsequential details from her day or from preparation for the show. Not only did this make it harder on Noelle, she also says it could be unfair to the audience members. “You only get that opportunity to connect with these people who took the time of out their lives to come out and see you and support you, you only get that one time,” she says. Noelle has now learned to relax more on tour, and says the difference from her first show to her last was “night and day.”
Her first tour also generated another recent achievement for Noelle: her cover of Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” that was released in May. Noelle describes Andre 3000 as “the greatest living rapper,” and says that his lyrical ability was a huge inspiration for her growing up and at the beginning of her career. She wrote the cover to help fill out her live set, and the response from audiences was positive. “I wanted to throw a cover in my live set to make everything cohesive,” Noelle says, “and you know I’m a new artist, I want to show people where I come from, who I am, what I listen to that inspires me.” At first she wasn’t planning on recording it, but audience members kept asking her for an official release, so she obliged.
There’s another even more recent development that Noelle is excited about. Noelle was invited to perform as part of Vevo’s DSCVR program, a platform that the video service uses to promote promising upcoming musicians (previous DSCVR artists include Substream favorite Au/Ra, amongst others). Just yesterday DSCVR shared Noelle’s performance, a live rendition of If Boys Could Cry opener “Fck Around & Fall In Luv.” Besides being a spectacular showcase for Noelle’s beautiful singing voice in a personal, inviting setting, it’s also recognition of how far Noelle has come as an artist. Noelle sheepishly admits that most of the milestones in her career haven’t fully sunk in yet, from signing with Columbia Records up to the DSCVR selection. She manages to say “Vevo has been so supportive, and so incredible to me as a new artist. I’m honestly lost for words, I’m just really honored,” her voice filled with joy and pride. She’s also quick to thank her team for all the hard work they put in as well.
Noelle isn’t going to rest on her laurels either. As mentioned earlier, her next project is already coming along quickly, and Noelle is clearly ready to get new music out. She tells me “If it were up to me I would totally just release a song every week.” She adds with a chuckle that she’s not sure Columbia will let her do that, but her point that she’s eager to grow and share more music with her fans comes across clearly regardless.
This is only the beginning for Olivia Noelle. With a growing fanbase, a dedicated team, and her own considerable talents and determination, Noelle has everything she needs to succeed. While no one strolls into a job knowing exactly what to do, it’s clear Noelle was meant to be a musician. With one solid EP already out and more music on the way, you should be paying attention to Olivia Noelle. She’s already on her way to stardom.