This week I caught up with 21-year-old queer indie singer/songwriter Noah Daniel Wood while he was visiting Portland from Boston. We had brunch at SweeDeeDee, and over breakfast burritos, homemade pie and hot tea we talked about his new record, Blue Notes, which comes out this week.
Wood's music is raw and edgy at times, while always maintaining its position as just plain beautiful. For anyone who has ever felt the loss of a great love, this group of songs is sure to ring true. Noah takes us on a sonic journey into his confusion, his pain, the joy that comes with being seen and loved by another person for the first time, and the disappointment that comes with that youthful love's passing. Wood is brave with his feelings, comfortable with his sadness, and it makes for an extraordinarily intimate listening experience.
Noah's music also appeared on the 2012 charity compilation record I produced, Comp 175: A Benefit for Queer Programs and Services in the Pacific NW, alongside me, Peaches, Matt Alber, God-Des & She, Magic Mouth, Scream Club, Tom Goss, and dozens of others, so I've known for a couple of years that this young man is set to do really big things. I suggest you all fall in love with his songs now so you can brag to your friends later about how you heard about him first (like I just did)!
Logan Lynn: Hi Noah! Glad it worked for us to meet up while you're in town! So when did you first start writing songs?
Noah Daniel Wood: I was about 16 years old and had just fallen in love with a close friend who encouraged me to attempt to record this one tune I had written.
Lynn: Smart friend!
Wood: I hunkered down in my bedroom and did what I could with what I had around. From there it just kind of snowballed into the way I coped with things.
Lynn: So your new record, Blue Notes, comes out this week. I had a chance to listen to it, and it is really special.
Wood: Thank you.
Lynn: Sure! I just speak the truth. How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard your music before? My description would go something like "raw, unbridled, hopeful, youthful, old-soul lovesickness" (or something).
Wood: In the process of mastering it with Mike Davidson, I told him the finished product should be "like a heated blanket in the snow." These songs were very much a product of a forlorn love who moved across the country, trying to find warmth in the midst of a cold time in my life.
Lynn: Broken hearts make for the most fantastic records. Are all the songs on the album about said forlorn love?
Wood: Many of them are about that. It's always been important to me to make lyrics personal as well as universal, something relatable but also introspective, ponderings on life and love and youth, that sort of thing.
Lynn: While we are talking about youth, you are a gay 21-year-old man now.
Wood: Yes, sir.
Lynn: Wait, I'm not outing you, am I?
Wood: [Laughs.] No, no. That all happened in my teenage years. Much of the angst is able to be heard on my first EP, appropriately titled Teenage Things.
Lynn: Who are some of your musical influences?
Wood: You mean besides Brandy?
Lynn: [Laughs.] In addition to Brandy, of course!
Wood: Much of what inspires me comes from old songwriters like James Van Heusen, jazz standards, and old-school rhythm and blues.
Lynn: I can see that in the songs, for sure. Are there any other bands or producers or writers you are dying to collaborate with?
Wood: It ranges for different reasons. Like I said, songwriting is a major factor into what makes a good song to me. I love Sondre Lerche and Adam Schlesinger from Fountains of Wayne for those reasons. Smart, engaging production is also important to me; for that there's no higher genius than Jon Brion to me. But bands like Dr. Dog and Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin really know how to make albums that represent who they are as a band. I respect that a lot. That list can go on and on.
Lynn: Back on the subject of your new record, do you have a favorite track on Blue Notes?
Wood: "Light" is a heavy hitter for me. I wrote it in my childhood bedroom last year when I was home for Christmas, had been dating the aforementioned boy, and the whole heading-back-to-where-you-grew-up-to-throw-your-life-into-perspective thing really hit me. It's just very raw and nostalgic for me.
Lynn: Yes! That song is beautiful. Are you ever shy about putting so much of yourself out into the world?
Wood: I used to be, yes. It is still a bit of a stretch. There are many songs I write and claim I will never let the world hear, but I'll end up going back to them later on and realizing the thing I was feeling at that moment, while very true and very personal, is so behind me that I don't feel so vulnerable in admitting it, you know? The honesty is part of what makes it a good song, a real song.
Lynn: Yes. I absolutely do know. Has the boy you've written these beautiful, heartbreaking songs about had the chance to hear them yet, or does that happen next week when the record hits stores?
Wood: Oh, he was the first. He actually loved it. I didn't even realize exactly how heartbreaking some of the songs were until I thought of him hearing them. I just kept thinking about how much this love had inspired me without thinking about what it was inspiring me to say. [Smiles.] There's always an unexpected learning curve with these things.
Lynn: There are moments on Blue Notes that remind me so much of some of my friends from the early days of the Portland indie music scene. I can see the same folks who dig Elliott Smith digging you, and all the indie gay boys are going to swoon.
Wood: Wow, thank you. I've been compared to Elliot Smith but sort of refuse to take that big of a compliment.
Lynn: You should just take it. Do you have any good fan stories?
Wood: I think the most exciting thing has been their surprise. They've all known it was recorded in a pretty D.I.Y. fashion, and because of that I think it exceeded their expectations at least a little bit.
Lynn: Also, the D.I.Y. bit is part of what makes everything sound so sweet. That's real. Now let's get deep up in here. What is your favorite thing about the world?
Wood: These kinds of questions kill me.
Lynn: I am trying to kill you, but you are getting off easy. I waited till the end. [Smiles.] Just tell me one thing you like about this Christ-forsaken world, goddammit! You don't get to only be vulnerable in your songs anymore. The public demands access to himz brainz!
Wood: [Laughs.] Ok! I'm a big fan of the age we're in and the ease of access we have to art. The music and art installments and illustrators who are getting such recognition in a way they would not have been able to before is pretty incredible. I'm grateful for that. So thanks to the World Wide Web.
Lynn: Yeah. I love me some Internetz, too. Along those same lines, if you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
Wood: I mean, besides world hunger and sexism and homophobia and every other form of evil we experience on a fairly regular basis, I just really wish that the public's view and acceptance of mayonnaise would chill the fuck out. It's infiltrating all of my favorite eateries.
Lynn: Preach! Before we get out of here, why should people listen to Blue Notes?
Wood: I'm not one to toot my own horn, but I put a lot of heart into this project. I think it's one thing I hear less and less in music these days, so if someone's listening and that is recognized, then having it around for a few more listens probably wouldn't hurt, right?
Lynn: Good answer. Personally, I think you should toot your own horn more. This record is great, and I hope the whole world hears it, Noah!
To listen to Blue Notes, click here.
For more on Noah Daniel Wood, visit his website.