“THE HARD THING, AS AN ARTIST, IS TO RECOGNIZE HOW MUCH OF THIS PURSUIT IS REALISTIC WITHIN THE DREAM OF MAKING ART AND SUSTAINING YOURSELF.”At age 19, Noah McBeth packed up his bags in Heidelberg, Germany for a school-sponsored trip to Las Vegas, with complete intentions to pursue music no matter the cost, and zero intentions of going back home. He was scared, but excited, and fully aware of what he was getting himself into, knowing that it would be a grind and that his chances were slim. He carried a vision for himself as a musician, and not much else. Now 26 and residing permanently in Los Angeles, NoMBe can look back at that turbulent period of his life and smile, because from all appearances, those efforts to throw himself at music have worked out. Now a successful producer and alt-rock musician who’s been recognized by renowned musical outlets like Sirius XM’s Alt Nation and Australia’s Triple J, NoMBe is more than making a living off his music, racking up royalty checks from his more than 70 million streams on platforms like Spotify and Apple Music. He’s also capitalizing on opportunities for touring, now currently headlining the Alt Nation Advanced Placement Tour, which has hosted notable names like Sundara Karma, Coast Modern, and The Hunna in past years. Don’t chalk any of his success up to luck, though. NoMBe never expected to get any favors, and didn’t attempt to be a full-time artist out of the gates, either. For nearly four years, he worked a number of unrelated odd jobs to sustain himself along the way, pulling income from various sources to keep a roof over his head and continue to pursue music part-time. Ironically, it wasn’t even a music opportunity that sparked him to take his art on at full speed. On the contrary, getting fired as a barista is what actually tipped the scales, giving him the chance to evaluate how much money he’d be able to earn if he put all of his time into his craft, rather than spending time doing unrelated work. After investing every second of his being for those four years into doing whatever it took to make his goal a reality, he finally decided it was the right time to take the leap, and jumped all-in with his own music. While it will undoubtedly take even more time before he’s able to rack up double-digit Grammys like his godmother Chaka Khan, NoMBe is now blazing his own path as an artist, melting his atmospheric vocals over sensual guitar riffs and dream-like synths to produce his own unique blend of music that rides the line somewhere between psychedelic rock and alternative R&B. Coming off the March release of his debut album, in the midst of the Alt Nation Advanced Placement Tour, and with a freshly-released single alongside Thutmose this past Monday, NoMBe is riding high, and he’s only getting started. I caught up with him over the phone to talk about the tour and his laborious journey as an artist. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
EB: You’re on Sirius XM’s Alt Nation Advanced Placement Tour with Mikky Ekko and MansionAir. Being selected by Sirius, what significance does that have for you, if any?NM: It has a lot of significance. They’ve really helped us out a lot on the radio front. They put “Freak Like Me” in Advanced Placement, and we got added to the station and had a lot of other plays based off of that. With the tour we’re hoping for them to also push some more songs, and just be part of the tour there, to have a good building crowd, and be able to convert fans. To travel the country also, and just get the band a little tighter. There’s a lot of things coming together, I think, that will be really beneficial this year along with my headline tour at the end of the year.
EB: With the album having just come out recently, what songs are radio stations pushing right now that you know of?NM: Right now, I think a lot of them are still playing “Drama”, my single with Big Data. And then a lot of them are picking up the new songs – like “Milk & Coffee” is being played a lot by Alt Nation. In Australia, a lot of the stations are playing “Man Up”. We just got a Triple J (Australia) ad for that. It’s all over the place, man, to be honest. Different markets or regions have different tastes and things they gravitate toward. I’m just happy that there’s something for everyone on the album.
EB: The first song I was introduced of yours was “Eden”, back in December of 2017. That’s one of my favorite songs, and was what sort of tipped me off to explore your discography.NM: I’m really proud of that one. I think a lot of fans have really liked that one, although it’s a bit of a slower record, not so in-your-face, I guess, but I like it as a song. The entire album is really a collection of different songs with different styles. There’s not so much a theme, sonically. There’s guitar and my voice I think. But there’s definitely the theme of all the women in my life, and the stories that are very personal to me. In that way, that’s what its conceptual idea is.
EB: Who are some women in your life that have had a particularly large impact on you as a person and who you’ve become?NM: I have to start with my mom. I mean she’s just an incredible, incredible woman, inspiration, and mentor. We have a really close relationship. Then, I was raised by my grandmother, who taught me so much, of how to treat people, and not just women. But she was just a stellar woman. Then my godmother is Chaka Khan. We talk a lot about career things, but her and my relationship is less about music, actually. It’s more about, you know, personality things, life things, that’s usually what we talk about. There’s so many stories, encounters that may not have lasted that long but sometimes a person can have a really big impact, even if they’re not around for that long. Whether it’s an ex-girlfriend, or friend, or whatever.
EB: you’ve also got a full, live female band. Was that done as a statement? Tell me about how you put the band together.NM: When we started the project, I was in the process of really regrouping anyways with the band. It all kind of happened step by step. I started writing these songs, and then my manager pointed out that they’re all about women. Then, you know, I identify as a feminist myself. I don’t know who said it, but at some point we came up with the idea, like, “What if we did an all female band?” It just made sense, and I thought it was really cool and I had met a lot of them prior. They were great players, that, I didn’t have to audition people really. I’m glad that we didn’t have to go to a lot of trouble to find amazing players who were women. I don’t choose them over men just because they are women, but they are actually fantastic, fantastic musicians. I’m glad to be playing with them.
EB: What’s that dynamic like on stage, playing with your band? How do you try to engage the crowd and engage your band when you’re playing live?NM: I’m very energetic on stage. I run around a lot, I’m never still, and I jump into the crowd. I just have fun, man. It’s almost like a party and I’m kind of just being very social. I engage with the drummer. I’ll lean into the guitar player and roll on the floor. I don’t know, it’s just the show, you know, and I feel like the audience is part of that.
EB: For you, did your love of music come from finding out that you liked to perform, or did it start with writing music?NM: Definitely writing. I started on classical piano when I was a kid, and I was always kind of an awkward band kid. I never thought of myself as a stage performer till way into college. I wanted to be a producer and a composer, kind of be more behind the scenes. But you know, as my music developed and progressed, at some point it just felt right to present it in a live setting. Then the first shows didn’t go that well, and I had to just really buckle down and work on it. I think I just grew into being a performer, but I definitely liked attention, even when I was younger. I liked doing the piano recitals, everything like that. It was later in life that I considered myself a frontman. That wasn’t part of the plan.
EB: Who are some of your biggest musical influences, right now or in the past in terms of artists or producers?NM: Oh man, so many. I think as of recent, a big influence has definitely been Toro y Moi, and Tame Impala, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, a lot of psychedelic bands that are kind of alternative, and still electronic-leaning. I’m a huge Bill Withers fan, that’s my all-time favorite. You know, grew up on Daft Punk, Michael Jackson, Mobb Deep, everything from Pete Rock and Nas, A Tribe Called Quest…that’s kind of my childhood and what I grew up wanting to do: sampling jazz and making beats and all that. And of course, Flying Lotus. I think there was a point where all my producer friends, we would all flex with experimental beats, J Dilla, all of that.
EB: You’ve got a really interesting story about how you got to the United States. You’re from Germany, and you took a one way flight to the United States. What was it about the U.S., or was it something about Germany, that made you want to uproot your life and stay here?NM: Well, my mom was American, and although I’d never lived here, that presence and pop culture, it’s so big here. It’s just something that I always wanted, even as a kid. I think most of us, where I grew up, we always wanted to live in the US, and be close to Americans. When an American kid came to town, it was exciting. Also for the type of music I wanted to make, and the ambitions that I had, it was just a really good environment. It’s just been something I always wanted, but it’s not that necessarily I didn’t like Germany. It was just hard for me to pursue what I wanted to do. People are into different music, and the process, the industry felt a bit stagnant. So I just needed a change of scenery, and the U.S. was a no-brainer for me.
EB: What gave you your start in music that pushed you to make it a career?NM: I would say the first point was this musical I was working with. That was the first time someone paid me cash for my production. And that was the first time I realized “Wow this could be a thing, I think I really want to be a producer”. It wasn’t just like a dream, it was tangible. I was like “Wow I can do this. People want to pay me for my work.” Then when I came to the U.S., it became more of the chase, more of a starving artist kind of thing, but I definitely had a goal in mind, you know? I wasn’t sure how I exactly fit into the music industry, it was just I knew I had to be creative, I knew I had to somehow help make music and sustain myself doing that. Everything else didn’t really interest me.
EB: Going through that starving artist phase, can you describe to me what that’s like when you’re trying to make things happen?NM: It’s tough, you know? It’s almost like this self-imposed poverty, you know, where you’re just like “Man, maybe I should do this, maybe I should do this for money.” It’s hard so you kind of do this fine dance between trying to make a little bit of money off of music and then taking that and stretching it as far as you can to do what you really love, the kind of music you want to make. I was just trying anything to be in the music business. I applied for internships, I played jazz at bars, I would busk in the streets with my guitar, or take backups, produce for people, mix for people, give lessons – anything. I was just trying to be like “Okay, everything that was music related, let me do that…and then when I can’t make enough money, I’ll substitute that with another job.” I would have a day job and another gig, maybe promoting or selling tickets or something. I definitely had a lot, a lot of jobs at once, and would always try to make time to busk and still pursue my career. Slowly, you find people recognize you and you get a shot at something – you get invited to a studio, or you get a DJ gig, and you ease your way in. It took me about four years from coming to the U.S. to say “I’m doing it full-time.”
EB: What was that ‘aha’ moment where you got your break, when you could finally pursue music full-time?NM: The exact thing that pushed me over the edge was me getting fired as a barista at a yoga place, and I was really worried, but I had already built somewhat of a clientele of people I would produce for at an hourly-rate. It was just like up-and-coming people in Hollywood and LA that would just need production and they would need mixing, so I would just charge them $15-$20 an hour. But when I got fired, I was like “Okay, let me NOT go out and find another job. Let me see how far I can take this, let me network, let me see how many people I can find that will want me to produce, or find more scoring gigs” – I’m good into that skill.
“When I released more records and then “California Girls”, which went somewhat viral, that’s when I started getting actual royalty checks that started paying the bills. I think I cried… Actually, yeah, definitely.”NM: That was it, and then you know the first month was really tough, but I still managed to pay rent. The second month was as tough. The third, it got a little easier and I had a little more time to work on my stuff. And then it kind of snowballed, and next thing you know you have more people wanting or needing your work than you can actually accommodate, so you can charge more money and have even more time. Then slowly, my record started to take off and it all kind of happened at once. I was sustaining myself, but I was breaking even and I kind of felt like I’d made it, but it still, it was a grind. It was a real grind, and it wasn’t as much fun, but I was living off music. When I released more records and then “California Girls”, which went somewhat viral, that’s when I started getting actual royalty checks that started paying the bills. I think I cried, actually, yeah, definitely. When I got my first royalty check from “California Girls” it was like, going from being so broke, to having four grand in the mail. It was just like “Oh my god, this is fucking crazy”. I’m so glad that I didn’t get caught back up in there and start working at H&M, or whatever. Because sometimes you rest also in that, you know? The hard thing, as an artist, is to recognize how much of this pursuit is realistic within the dream of making art and sustaining yourself. I think a lot of us have that mentality, or unique position to say “Hey I think I want to quit my job to see how far I can get with music.” You have to also be careful, you can’t just say it. There has to be a hint, you know, that it makes sense. In my case, I was already making half of my money from music. So I knew if I really kicked my ass I could probably push it. But, it wasn’t like I just had nothing and was just like “Fuck it, let me just quit my job and see what happens.” That happens as well, and a lot of my friends end up broke and end up losing their place and having to move back home. So, knowing the industry, yourself and what you provide is really important.
For more NoMBe, check out Spotify’s “This Is NoMBe” playlist: