Q+A

Q+A With Isla Noon

New Zealand’s thrilling indie pop darling Isla Noon has announced her sparkling new single Talk About Us, an infectious, layered track about trying to reach a partner who has closed themselves off.  The exciting new artist has also released a visually stunning video to accompany the song, directed by NZ music industry legend Mareea Vegas (bass player for Veruca salt and Tim Finn, behind the lens for Shapeshifter, Julia Deans (Fur Patrol), Anna Coddington). Talk About Us is the second single from Isla Noon, following her breath taking debut Summer In August, released last year.  We caught up with Isla to learn more about her

Hi, thanks for taking the time to chat with Hear 2 Zen, what have you been up to today?

Hey! It’s Saturday today, which on a busy week can often turn into an admin catch-up day.  This morning I went into the studio to film some promo content, then raced to a meeting to plan logistics for my next music video). We went to a few stores around Auckland sourcing wardrobe for the music video, after which I headed home for some food. I cooked one of my favourite meals – a creamy garlic pasta. After lunch I edited some social media content, answered emails, and here we are!

Tell us about yourself, how long have you been performing/creating music for?  

Performance has been second nature from a really young age. I was a very introverted kid, except for when I was putting on a show for anyone;  a service to the people I took very seriously as a four year old. I may not have spoken to many adults, but I would absolutely give them a 10 minute musical extravaganza, often unsolicited when my parents had friends over. I started writing songs and then learning to play guitar around age 10. It was a natural progression into performing my own music, and later studying songwriting and performance at University, during which time I began to play a few gigs around Auckland. It’s been a few years since then of working as a session vocalist, writing a lot and now having released two singles with more to come!

Who are your greatest inspirations?  Why?

I tend not to look to specific individuals for enduring inspiration, but certain albums or songs have definitely stuck with me and gone on to influence my creative work. Some of the first albums that really inspired me were Queen’s ‘The Works’, Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’, Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumors’ and ABBA’s ‘Super Trouper’. As a teen I discovered artists like Taylor Swift, Muse, John Mayer and Robyn who had a big impact on my early songwriting. It’s a real mix! Artists I’m really inspired by right now are Caroline Polachek, Wolf Alice and Sharon Van Etten. All incredible songwriters and producers.

How do you create music?  Are you lyrics/story driven, or does the music/melody come first?  Explain your process. 

It can go either way for me! Sometimes when I sit down to write, I know what I want to write about and I go straight into lyrics / story. Most times I’m not too sure what I want to write about, but when I start playing chords and messing around with a melody, a certain mood starts to present itself. I may find certain words jumping out at me or that I keep mindlessly singing as I work out a melody, and I find those words are generally a good indicator of a wider lyrical theme or emotion I want to explore. It’s all very gut-based. This sometimes means having my voice notes app just on and recording whatever I’m playing around with, or opening up a pages doc and free-writing lyrics. It feels kind of mysterious at the time of writing, but I’ll often listen back to a song I wrote and go “yeah, I couldn’t see it at the time, but that’s what I was reeeally feeling”. 

What has been your greatest challenge so far in performing/creating music?

Something that came as a surprising challenge at different points in my journey is vocal health. Vocal chords are so tiny and heavily affected by the body’s physical health, mental health and stress levels. It’s not like an instrument you can set down for a while,  something external to yourself. As a singer, your body is your instrument, not just the vocal chords but the diaphragm, lungs, throat, head etc!  There was a time in my final year of University where I was going through a lot in my personal life, and my singing voice became almost non-existent. In hindsight I can see all of the ways I was being alerted to wider issues in my emotional and mental wellbeing, but it was incredibly scary at the time. Many aspects of the lifestyles of artists and singers work against what is best for the voice, so I’ve had to get pretty creative with my approach and make sure I put boundaries in place to keep my health in check, so the instrument can keep doing its thing.

Tell us about your new release, how did it come about?

I started writing ‘Talk About Us’ at home one day, very much with the same method I mentioned above! Messing around with some chords, getting some different synthesizer sounds on Logic going and humming random melodies. The first verse and chorus came together pretty quickly, but it was a little darker than how the song turned out in the end. I brought the song into the studio to work with my collaborator and friend Maude Minnie Morris, and over the course of a few months we revisited the track and finished it off. We had so much fun playing with the production in this track, throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what stuck. I’m really proud of this one, and happy it’s finally out!

What advice do you have to artists who are just starting out?

I think it’s really important to keep your sights on your own journey, and your own voice as an artist. It’s easy to get distracted by what others are doing, particularly if you spend a lot of time with other artists or follow artists on social media. Sometimes we can fall into comparison when we are feeling burnt out or just not in a great space mentally. Sure, we can take inspiration from others and pick up tricks, but ultimately, honour what feels true and right for you, and trust that your journey is entirely your own. It’s also absolutely okay to unfollow or ‘mute’ accounts on social media that you’re finding yourself making unhelpful comparisons to. Sometimes these may be your friends or fellow artists. Take time to recharge and get back in touch with your own journey – it’s more important than missing a few Instagram pictures.

Tell us your favourite Zen practice.

Light exercise, like going for a walk or doing some yoga where breathing is a big focus. Remembering to factor this into my life does not come naturally at all,  so I have to make a real effort to prioritise it! If I can pair it with getting out into a natural environment like the beach or a bush walk, then that’s ideal! There are a few great walks near where I live, and sometimes it just takes some tough love to get myself out there. Everytime I do, I’m reminded why I should do it more often! It’s such a good way to decrease anxiety and get some perspective.

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