photography Mich Chiu
words Zarah Cheng
Where are you from?
Vancouver, British Columbia, but I was raised in Richmond, just to the south.
You did a small tour in Japan earlier this year. What was the experience like, playing shows in cities like Tokyo and Osaka?
It was like a dream, ending much too soon. One week is not nearly enough time to experience such a beautiful place as Japan! The shows I played in Tokyo and Osaka were some of my favourites ever; the audiences were fantastic and appreciated my attempts at speaking Japanese. I also discovered plum wine (or umeshu), which is something everyone must try.
I still find that Noble Oak produces some of the most emotionally charged soundscapes I’ve ever heard. How would you describe your process when producing songs?
That’s very kind of you! I always need to be home and totally alone to properly make a song. Quite often a melodic theme will just appear in my head, and it’s up to me to reproduce it as faithfully as I can on my keyboards and computer. From there, it’s a matter of allowing the theme to evolve over a few hours to days. My songs sometimes tend have two distinct halves to them, and it may take a week or two before I figure out how the second half should be. There was one time I wrote a whole song end to end in 7 hours.
I love how all of your remixes are completely transformed from their original versions and take on this very distinct Noble Oak sound. How would you describe your sound?
It’s no secret that the music we listen to and love leaves its mark on us. I love a huge variety of musical styles but as you can probably guess, lush-sounding music resonates with me most. When I first began the project, it was fuelled almost entirely by a Rhodes keyboard that I had just received from a close friend. I had never got the chance to experiment with one. Combined with a healthy dose of reverb (something I’ve enjoyed since my early days of piano recordings), a lovely sound emerged. I guess since then I’ve just been building on that.
You are a classically trained pianist and spent a few years playing with Vancouver-based folk band, 41st and Home. How has this diverse background helped you grow and discover yourself as an electronic artist?
It has certainly helped me place myself within the community a bit. Electronic music has put musicians and non-musicians alike within the same realm, which puzzles me as a musician, but does raise a good point: what makes a musician today? It can often mean that you know how to create (not even by yourself) a club-ready beat with a catchy melody, some relatable chords and mind-blowing compression. However, having a real, tangible musical understanding is always going to shine through. Seeing artists like Owen Pallett or the boys in Badbadnotgood perform live, their artistic fortitude will never be denied.
I should note that I make electronic music because I can only do what I do by myself. If I had a band of musicians listening to my every command without question, I’d be making music along the lines of “rock” or “emo”. Although, that would still be difficult because I’d need to call them over every time I had an idea. And then there’s studio time, engineering, mastering...oh man. It’s better to get it done while it’s fresh. Not to mention, all musicians have creative input, something I grappled with when 41st and Home was active. The songs belonged most of all to the core members of the band, and my creative input would often blur theirs. If I’ve discovered one thing, it’s been better for me to go it alone.
Songs like “Fircom” have this really beautiful balance of tragedy and elation that reminds me of Washed Out and Blue Hawaii, even though there aren’t any lyrics in the song at all. What do you find most challenging in creating emotional songs without using words?
I truly believe power can and does exist behind the right arrangement of sounds, even without words, but the presence of human voices are always going to trigger a feeling (in other humans). That’s why I’ve always felt the need to use chords built out of layers of my voice, and because of uncertainty in my lyric-writing abilities. I used to teach a choir and loved exploring the collections of notes that reliably evoked wonder. Eric Whitacre’s music is a fine testament to this phenomenon.
It’s not so much a challenge for me – in fact I find it sometimes more effective to leave songs lyric-less and let the listener’s mind fill in the spaces with thought. I’m a very nostalgic person by nature, so I suppose the forlorn feeling oozes out of me sometimes.
You told Discorder that you’ve been trying to make more music that reflects your past. Can you tell us more about how you’ve incorporated this into your new songs?
It’s interesting how I said that before events transpired that truly sent me for a loop, and now it rings true more than ever. My newer songs will be inevitably tied to how I felt after a breakup last year and the recent deaths of one close friend and another I had only begun to know. It’s hard to say exactly how it all will play out musically, but so far the new songs are…well, louder! And they will mostly have lyrics. Like I said, I’m very nostalgic and dwell on things for a long time, so it inevitably translates into what I create.
What’s next for Noble Oak?
Not even sure myself, but we’ll be finding out together as the year goes on. Expect much more new music very soon :)
Would you rather spend a weekend in Vegas with the cast of The Hangover or Bridesmaids?
Definitely The Hangover. It’s been a bit of a dream of mine to give Zach Galifianakis a hug (if he lets me) and then have him make fun of me. And then get drunk with him. The other guys are cool too; Ed Helms seems chill.
What creeps you out the most?
I’m quite superstitious, so superstitious coincidence will do the trick. Other than that, I don’t think I get creeped out too easily.
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