Sometimes words fall short of encapsulating the true essence of our life experiences. I often think that successful communication ought to be celebrated more. There is nothing quite like achieved articulation of seemingly ineffable feelings, phenomena, or experience.
There is an aspect of communication that I am increasingly intrigued by: non-verbal communication – body language, visual art, dance, and of course, instrumental music.
These forms of expression have a way of speaking that bypasses intellect. They access a deeper part of ourselves and almost telepathically deliver meaning. No words needed.
Instrumental (non-lyrical) music can convey elaborate concepts and experiences in one song that would require an entire essay to successfully deliver with words. It’s visceral. It’s infinite and limitless. Even sitting to write about this phenomena of wordless language is a paradoxical endeavor.
My long time friend Nick Vann, also known by his stage name ‘Nobide’, experiments with sound and its ability to transmit meaning with great intricacy. I had the pleasure of listening to a few songs off his new album, Contrary to Popular Belief, before it was released to the public. As I listened, I closed my eyes and let the internal film roll. I honestly hadn’t heard music production that sparked my imagination like that in some time.
I was pleasantly surprised and even shocked by how he managed to create something truly unique amidst a booming scene of electronic producers. His new album is a journey through his personal life, but due to its instrumental nature, it leaves a spaciousness that allows each and everyone one of us to ascribe personal meaning relative to our individual lives.
Let us meet the genius behind the magic.
The Shakti Journal: Since I know everyone is curious, tell us what ‘Nobide’ means! How did you take on the name?
Nobide: In 2015 I had some music that I was ready to release, but I couldn’t figure out what the project name was going to be. I had this weird stipulation that whatever name I picked had to have the vowel sound “I” in it… I’m not sure why, but of all the vowel sounds, the “I” has a fullness to it, it almost feels round and simultaneously sharp… I can’t really explain it, but that was a definite guiding factor.
I didn’t push too hard to find a name, I sort of just trusted that it would come with time. One day I was reading The Way of the Bodhisattva, a long form poem, and there was a section that spoke about how we shouldn’t waste time as humans, so that upon dying we don’t go full of regret. I wrote in my journal, “No biding time!!!” and it seemed like the name jumped off the page…
I went and Googled it really fast to see if there was anything else called Nobide or if it had a significant meaning, and discovered there was nothing. That meant I would get to define and shape what “Nobide” means and is… To me, Nobide is a project about not wasting time, life, or opportunities. Get up and go, or to quote Nike, “Just do it!” Life’s too short to sit around hoping things will happen, I think you need to make them happen.
Shakti: Your music has been described as ‘Organic Electronica’. What makes your music ‘organic’?
Nobide: Ah, that’s a good question. Previously I called my music “Psychedelic Breakbeats,” but that started to feel a little limiting. To me, the organic elements of my music consist of real instruments and “real-world” sounds. I love real instruments in an electronic setting – how they bring a sense of familiarity amidst a soundscape of very unnatural sounds and spaces. I’m fascinated with the creative possibilities of modern production tools – how we can fuse these seemingly disparate worlds and create something unique and new.
Going a little further with that idea, I love taking a microphone with me on some of my adventures and recording sounds that I hear out in the world. Sticks cracking, leaves crunching, mud squishing, cars zooming, rain dripping… Sometimes I’ll make percussive sounds out of those, or just use the ambient sound from a place where I was. When I use an ambience in a song, that song becomes attached to that place in my head, which can make it very special, or it can be an avenue for me to approach things that are harder to feel or think about…
Shakti: What are some of your intentions and goals as an artist? How do you hope to impact listeners?
Nobide: Man… That’s a biggie. If I’m being totally honest, I want to take this project far. I want to play big venues and reach a lot of people. I want to play with my musical heroes, to travel the world and share this music with others and to learn about different types of music. At the end of the day I want to make great music – great recordings and great live experiences. Everybody wants more good music!
It feels weird to say some of this because there are so many talented musicians and artists out there that also want these things and deserve to do all of it as well. And I know some of these goals aren’t really up to me. All I can do is keep showing up and trying to make the best music I can.
I hope my music gets people to feel things. I know how powerful it can be for me. I love listening to those special songs while daydreaming, and I love those bumpin’ songs that get all of my friends moving like animals. I hope my music can do some of that for people. If it catches, that’s great, and it’s because I worked hard for it. If it doesn’t, at least I can say I tried and gave it everything I could.
Shakti: My experience listening to your newest album, Contrary to Popular Belief, was a sort of cinematic journey. Each track is full of surprises. In what unique ways did you experiment with manipulating sound in this album?
Nobide: Thank you for the kind words. I definitely approach each song as a story and wanted to have a thread running through the whole album. This was the first time I really got into recording – working with some really incredible musicians and vocalists, experimenting with getting a more live and organic feel within an electronic concept. I was listening to artists like Bonobo, Jon Hopkins, Pretty Lights, Break Science and Snarky Puppy, and was continually blown away with the possibilities of live instrumentation and produced elements.
I took a lot of recordings and did “sound sessions” where I ran them through all sorts of effects and processing in order to get really unique sounds. For example, the beeps in “Hold Up” began as cello plucks and ended up sounding super electronic and weird. I love that although some sounds are experimental and radically different from their origins, they maintain a sort of natural quality that’s familiar.
Shakti: What is the meaning behind the compelling album title, Contrary to Popular Belief?
Nobide: I had the name and idea before I actually began writing the album in late 2015. I was noticing a lot of trends in mainstream culture that seemed heavy and toxic: buy more to feel better, build walls, etc. etc. This was before the election cycle really heated things up, so I was worried that it might not be a relevant idea…
But as the election really got under way, the tension in the air was palpable and it seemed more and more appropriate, even necessary, to approach these ideas. I wanted to try and counter the divisive rhetoric and ideas that were (and still are) so loud in our culture by looking at all the positive parts of society, of culture, of what we’ve got going. It seems like there’s so much heavy stuff today that weighs on us and can block our view of what’s good and what’s going right.
Shakti: Contrary to Popular Belief (CTPB) is a masterpiece to say the least. You diligently invested so much time and energy into it, whilst simultaneously studying Sociomusicology at the University of Colorado. How did your findings in school influence the creation of this album?
Nobide: CTPB was a part of my thesis project – it was the culmination of my time at CU. I wanted to demonstrate the possibilities of modern production techniques and technologies and explore how these reflected my experience as a human today. So I tried to take sounds from my everyday life – both organic and digital – and bring them together in a space that reflected some of my experiences.
Each song is a different setting, different approach, different reflection of a part of something that’s gone on in my life. That sounds kind of corny, and of course my music is influenced by my life, but for the thesis I had to really delve into each little sound and explain why it was there and what it was doing to convey what I intended.
Shakti: Do I understand that you were one of the first students to ever formulate a degree revolved around music production at CU?
Nobide: Sort of! I went into CU Boulder undeclared – I had no idea what I really wanted to study, or do for the rest of my life, like many 18-year-olds. It was toward the end of my first semester that I decided I wanted to, and could, do music for the rest of my life. I’ve been very blessed that my family has been so supportive.
I didn’t want to transfer to CU Denver and I found out that I could create your own major, so long as no other major met my needs. I love thinking about people, culture, society and all the theories around humanities, so I ended up calling my major Sociomusicology – essentially, the overlap of culture and music. How does music reflect a culture? And visa versa? There were a couple classes around music production, but I mostly learned that on my own in my free time. Most of my time at CU was spent studying humanities stuff and the music of different cultures.
Shakti: In your studies, what are some of the most impactful discoveries you came across?
Nobide: I think the thing that drew me to the study initially was the exact thing that I walked away with – that music is one of those rare things that draws people together and highlights our commonalities rather than differences. A melody can get stuck in your head no matter who you are.
I walked away with many more questions than when I began, and I think that’s a good thing. It’s a lifelong question really… I think we can get close to an answer that many could agree on, but the questions of how music and life are intertwined are also very personal and different for everyone.
Shakti: You included a chant on your track ‘The Fall’, which was recorded on your trip to the Standing Rock pipeline protest. “The people united will never be divided!” What was your experience like on the front lines?
Nobide: It was pretty intense. I went during Thanksgiving, and I think a lot of other people came then too. At points it sort of felt like cultural tourism, where some people just came to check out the “scene,” and not really to help out… The group I went with worked hard while we were there, cooking, building yurts, sorting clothes… really trying to make use of our presence.
I was amazed by some of the stories I heard, about how brave some of the tribes, activists and protesters were, and how resilient they seemed. That so many people showed up to support was amazing. There was lots of singing and music involved as well, and I found that incredibly powerful.
The entire experience was quite daunting, lining up and seeing a militia force there… I’m not really sure I can capture it in words, or even in song. It was inspiring and it was depressing. What I do know, though, is that as people bond and work together, there’s really nothing that can’t be done. It might not be now, it might not be soon, but it will happen.
Shakti: ‘La Fin’, the final track on Contrary to Popular Belief feels to me like I’m being wrapped in an oceanic blanket of nostalgia. What was it like for you to finally come to a completion with this album? Does this song encapsulate the journey?
Nobide: Thank you, that’s very kind. That song is super special – it feels like the credits rolling at the end of a movie to me. Beyond the album, completing this project was the ending of a big chapter of my life and the beginning of a new one… To have the project done and out in the world is kind of bittersweet.
I’ll look back on these years fondly, but I’m ready to take all that I’ve learned and really go for it. “La Fin” seems to capture that vibe, the gratitude and excitement and beauty and calmness and nervousness around completing something big and starting something new that’s even bigger.
Shakti: Do you have some new projects in the works that you can share with us?
Nobide: Hubba hubba do I indeed! I haven’t been this excited about my music… ever! I’m working with some incredibly talented and awesome people on a couple things. We’re currently in the process of turning Nobide into a band, and there’s a lot of potential there. I’m hoping it’s not just a live band thing either, I want to bring musicians into the whole project and really open it up.
Right now the band consists of Matt McElwain on drums (hot damn!), Jake Syrenne on saxophone (oh sh*t!) and myself on electronics and synths (good joke). I think further expansion is imminent, but we’ll be sticking as a trio for a little bit.
Beyond that, I’m working with fellow producers to build a record label called Alias. I was up in Montana earlier this year hanging with my good friends from the band Shakewell, and the idea solidified then. I realized I’ve got this awesome community of producers around me, and we’re all making good music. Further, it’s all got that organic yet experimental feel.
We came up with the slogan, “Global taste, local face,” as we’re all influenced by so much music nowadays but still want to keep the vibe very homie-oriented and real. Ninja Tune, Brainfeeder, Ghostly… all of those labels have become so culturally influential. Alias has a pretty stacked release schedule for this year – Nobide, Lightline, mxxnwatchers, Syrenne and other artists I can’t yet name. We’re gonna be hustling, every act has so much music ready to be put out – we just want to do it right and build it properly.
Shakti: How can we stay in touch with you and your music?
Nobide: The best way is to come to our shows! We want to meet and hang with people, and there’s no better way to do that than in person. We’ll be playing shows all over Colorado throughout the spring and summer and will be venturing to surrounding states in the fall.
Nobide website at NOBIDE.FM and sign up for the newsletter if you’re interested in hearing more. ‘We send out goodies and all the dope stuff there. Other than that, we’re on most social sites – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. We probably hang out on Instagram too much…’
Also find Nobide on Instagram @nobide or https://www.instagram.com/nobide_/, and on Facebook as Nobide at https://www.facebook.com/nobide/
With her amalgam of certifications in holistic arts and over 10 years of personal practice, Moriah is devoted to addressing the harmony of body, mind and soul so that we may effectively participate in creating sustainable change in the world.