Noah Earp has recently released his new album Disinheritor, Lost found time to sit down and talk with him on his love for Kendrick Lamar, meeting and collaborating with Gretta Ray and classical Spanish guitar.
When did you first get into music?
I was one of those kids. I liked music and listened to a lot of it. I became serious about it when I was fifteen and started writing songs and teaching myself guitar. As I went through high school it became pretty obvious that was what I wanted to do, I kept writing, kept playing different kinds of music and never really stopped.
Was it something you gradually got into?
I think that age of fifteen was pretty important, I had always liked music. I think the difference is I was pretty passionate about music before then, but I wasn’t really thinking about that. It wasn’t the main thing in my life. When I was fourteen and fifteen I thought OK, I have to spend my life doing this. I had already done lots of music before then. The other big change was when I started writing, before the age of fifteen I didn’t write music I just played it and that’s when I got into the idea of writing songs.
What are your music influences?
In terms of my influences it’s not just about who’s happening now. I listen to a wide range of artists from across different eras. A lot of influences are from the classic singer-song writing era, from the 60s and 70s; Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Jamie Mitchell. In terms of modern music there is a lot of stuff which I like musically, bands like Radiohead, I love what Kendrick Lamar is doing with Hip Hop. Even though you might not hear that in my music, it’s definitely something I listen to a lot of. Over the past year I have been listening almost exclusively to Kendrick.
Is a hip hop mix tape on the cards?
No joke, it’s something I am considering. It’s one of those things where I have to just try it out and see what I can make and do with it. But if I feel like if it’s any good I just might release it. I think when you do something really weird it’s good to have the privacy and the space, once you have an understanding with what you are doing and you know where it sits it’s good to show other people.
I am pretty protective and secretive about my music, not that I don’t want people to listen to it. I don’t want people to look at it until it is ready. I tend to sit on things until I really like them.
The musicians you mentioned, their music is very guitar driven. When creating your songs, does tinkering around on the guitar a major aspect of your creative process?
A lot of times it will start on the guitar. Every single song on my record uses an altered tuning. So tuning your guitar to a weirder tuning, to get different sounds, once you change the tuning on the guitar can open up a lot of possibilities in terms of what you can play. So sometimes it come out of noodling a different tuning, other times I will have written it on piano and then I go how am I going to get this into the guitar and then I work out what tuning I need to get it to sound how I want it to sound.
Does it influence the writing process afterwards?
Absolutely, that’s one of the reasons why I do it. A lot of the problems I have with song writing are if you just have this stock standard chord thing. There are millions of great three chord songs in the world, but I am interested in getting some fresher sounds out of the instruments. By going to a tuning I don’t know, it definitely influences the songs because it means you are a bit freer to go into other worlds, rather than being stuck with what your teacher told you.
Tell us about your background in jazz.
The jazz thing was going on before I was starting to write my own songs, I was playing saxophone by the time I entered high school until I finished high school. I did a jazz performance course at Monash University, and that is where I got exposure to not just great jazz records but great players as well.
I did that whole course on a tenor saxophone, which is not an instrument I play anymore. The process of learning that music and being around those kinds of players and teachers coming at music from a different angle, especially from an improvising angle – which I think was really important. It is really good to be able to play on the spot on not on the same path. The jazz also worked its way into the my vocals as well.
Are your live performances very improvised?
Most of the players in the band have some kind of jazz training which means there is a lot of room to move. It’s a weird mix between set parts and having freedom, I don’t like having a band that is too set in its way. Some people really like that they can get really tight bands by playing the same thing every night, just for me as a musician I like to go on stage and look over my shoulder and go “oh, what did you play there”, and that’s a part of the fun of playing live and hopefully the audience gets that as well.
Would you say this approach to music has affected your sound overall?
Definitely, the way we recorded the album was we spend a lot of time in the arrangements but every take we did it a bit more different. They still had elements of improvisation and we layered over them with more arrangements.
Sometimes I listen to the album and it is quite diverse, I don’t like to write the same song twenty times.
What do you hope listeners will get from the album?
Mainly feelings, lots and lots of feelings – apart from just an emotional experience, that they connect to the songs and ideally they’ll listening to it on large speakers so they can appreciate the crazy engineering sounds in the recording.
What are your favourite tracks from the record?
My favourite is track three the messenger, it’s a song that really appeals to me. It’s dark, atmospheric and very, very moody. It’s got some of the best live performances on the album; most of things in that track were done in one live take, which is another reason why I enjoyed it so much, because I really like hearing performances. That’s the one track for me that has a lot of great performances on it.
When we did the album we booked five days in the studio and did the entire track listing as one live band. Every track on the album is built out of a live band take. For my kind of music I am really against the idea of doing everything track by track because you need to make a great record with a great atmosphere and you can’t fake that stuff, it’s got to be in the room.
We were doing about three or four songs a day, a lot of that sped up time. It’s a more expensive way to go about it because we have to make sure we have a good engineer. It makes a difference especially for some songs.
Alone features Greta Ray, how did you get her on board?
The percussionist on my album is a guy called Josh Barber who is also a producer and he produced Gretta’s EP and her recent singles. Joshua has been a good friend of mine for a few years and I heard he was working on a project with someone still in high school who is apparently insanely good. Finally Jonno, my producer, asked me to sit down and have a listen and played me one of Greta’s songs and I thought “holy shit, this is great”.
My first thought is this is a great singer-songwriter, I have got to hear more of this and my second thought was this was the perfect voice for the duet I don’t have a partner for. I made this duet but not picked a voice to go with it yet. So Alone was written quite a few years before I made the album, I was just waiting for a sign – the right voice to sing that track. So when I heard Greta’s song I was interested straight away, and that’s how we met. She featured on the track and we talked about a million other things and now we’re really good friends. Now everything is crazy for her which is great because she totally deserves it. She is one of those talents that only come around every so often.
What is the single “Raw and Cooked” necessarily about?
The song is a love song which isn’t. It starts as a love song but it turns into something else. The song is about this person who is complaining about these parts of suburban Australia that are full of meatheads and this person can’t get away from it. The whole song is dialogue between two people and the song is about these two different ideas for people or things. You’ve always got this dichotomy in this conceptual thing where stuff is in opposition. Raw and Cooked is to with barbeques and sundown and things like that.
Any planned gigs following this album?
I plan to be doing some stuff over the summer.
So you are going to whip out the classical guitar, a jug of sangria and play under the sun?
(Laughs) It doesn’t sound like a bad idea.
Noah Earps latest album Disinheritor is available to buy now.