If you're like me, you already knew Noah Richardson as half of Stevedore, the synth-pop duo that smacked Tulsa upside the head about six years ago with an EP of material that walked in the shoes of '80s bands like Erasure, Yaz and Yellow. What you probably didn't know is that although Noah appeared to play the role of side man, prancing the stage and bellowing the upper register harmonies, he was the man behind the music itself -- and much more.
Richardson has been recording all types of music on his own over the past 10 years, very little of which has seen the light of day, until now, that is. This week, however, he finally released his first solo disc, Is Anybody Home?, under the moniker Noah T. As an all-instrumental release, I can all but guarantee that it will take people by surprise. After all, it's indie and it's ambient, but it's also a breath of fresh air, which is significant because it also represents a new found freedom for its creator.
Looking back, Richardson recently told me "I've been recording my own music for the last 10 years. Stevedore was the fluke of it all. I really wasn't into writing electronic music or singing in falsetto, that's just what it called for and I did what needed to be done at the time."
That synth pop direction wasn't even fully planned, as Richardson related that "[a]t the first gig, I even tried to play guitar, but the sound guy didn't have any mic stands, so I had to put the guitar down and grab the microphone. And suddenly, that's what Stevedore was. ..."
Stevedore ran its course, and although Richardson began to write more music for the duo, it didn't really fit Stevedore's direction and Richardson and his brother let the project rest. "The whole time, I was still writing and recording, though," he said. "But I was so tied up in being a perfectionist, nothing got finished."
"I did put out a sad-bastard singer/songwriter album, but thankfully only about seven people bought it," he said with a chuckle. "And I did an instrumental EP in 2008 that I gave to four or five people -- but I never sold it, I just sat on it. It was music that I wanted to hear. I called it Count, Curse and Pray because those are the three things you do in your own language, no matter what language you speak. It kind of represented a universal sound, to me. It was 12-13 minute tracks, so it wasn't exactly accessible anyway."
After years of messing with tracks and putting off finishing them because he couldn't recreate what he heard in his head for parts like drums, Richardson finally had an epiphany. "It finally clicked," he said, "and I realized it doesn't necessarily have to be drums, it just as to be a feel. It can be a clap or me slapping on the countertop or whatever."
With that hurdle taken out of his way, Richardson continued to write and tested the waters by posting instrumental tracks online at hitrecord.com, a collaborative site where musicians can post tracks and others can add to them by changing part or adding vocals. When he saw his tracks get the attention of others and come back with vocal parts or new arrangements, he said "I knew, OK -- I'm not alone in this. Someone else gets it too. ..."
Once he came to that revelation, the doors opened up for him creatively, writing and recording the basic tracks for his debut in roughly three weeks. "Once I took that (mental) block out of the way and said 'Who said it has to be perfect?' that made all the difference," Richardson shared. "There's even a track that has one note that I missed consistently, but you know what? I'd rather have it there wrong than never get it out and never hear it at all."
Ultimately, we agreed that's the beauty of rock music: it's not supposed to be perfect. It's supposed to be raw and real and messy at times. Upon reflection, Richardson realized, sharing one of his favorite tracks, that "I Saw Her Again," by The Mamas and Papas even has a part where one of the singers comes in a half measure early "And you know what? Now that I've noticed it, I listen for it. If it's NOT there, something's wrong. ..."
With that new found freedom, Richardson rolls out the first in what should be a series of coming solo releases, all going different directions musically. Is Anybody Home? Is 13 tracks that can be more traditionally categorized as indie/ambient instrumental music, but might be better described as audio postcards.
"I compare them to instrumental short stories," Richardson said. "To me, it's a snapshot of my feelings at a moment in time. It's just that sometimes I have a hard time expressing things with words, so it's an expression of those feelings without the words. ..."
"I still don't know if anyone will listen," he said. "That's why I titled it Is Anybody Home? But so far I've gotten some pretty good feedback, so apparently someone is (listening) and I'm on the right track."
Is Anybody Home? was officially released on Tuesday, July 17, and can be found online by going to noahtmusic.com. This is just the starting point for Noah T., however, as Richardson also has an album of electronic music in the works, as well as a vocal album -- on which he is collaborating with a drummer from Italy who he found via hitrecord.com, and another album that he's working on with a singer from Tel Aviv.
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