More than two years ago, NoMBe — born Noah MacBeth — started penning his debut album “They Might’ve Even Loved Me.” It wasn’t until after the LP was almost complete that the singer-songwriter realized a thread of feminism ran through each track, which he says was not by design.
“It all happened very organically,” explains the 26-year-old ahead of embarking on his first U.S. concert tour this month. “Suddenly, I realized every song I was writing was about women — a girlfriend or an ex or my mom. I identify as a feminist and it made sense, but especially now [with the rise of the #MeToo movement].”
Rather than chalk it up to lyrical coincidence and simply move on, NoMBe embraced this opportunity to use his art as a platform for social and political expression. For this multicity tour, during which he coheadlines with Mikky Ekko and Mansionair, NoMBe chose to hire an all-female band and creative team.
“We decided to go full steam and showcase it,” he continues. “Rather than just leave it as a happy accident, we deliberately put women forward. Equality is really important to me and I’m glad it shines through on a lot of the album.”
Born in Germany to an artist manager father and American-born fashion model mother (whose résumé includes walking in shows for Vivienne Westwood, Fendi and Karl Lagerfeld in the early Nineties), NoMBe seemed almost destined for a career in the arts, particularly considering the influence of his godmother, Chaka Khan, whom he knew simply as “Auntie Chaka” for the first half of his life.
“She dated my dad’s best friend forever,” he explains, noting his ignorance of her worldwide fame until he was into his teens. “She was often left by herself in rural Germany because my dad’s friend [a German TV producer] was working all the time so she would babysit me a lot. It wasn’t until later in life that I realized how much cultural significance she has.”
Still a significant part of his life, NoMBe admits the Grammy winner now rarely offers advice when it comes to his recordings, giving counsel on how best to navigate the music industry. “We talk more about everyday life things. I’ve learned [from her] about being professional and how to deal with people,” he says.
Despite this unique exposure to the industry from an early age, the “Young Hearts” singer had a circuitous path to the stage. Landing in New York from Heidelberg, Germany after high school, the singer spent a year “doing odd jobs,” which included hawking comedy show tickets to passersby in Greenwich Village.
“I’m obsessed with comedy, but I quickly realized [that job] was a super tough grind,” he says frankly. “I had to leave New York, man, so I ended up going to Miami for college. It was one of those situations where I just escaped and left everything.”
After living in Costa Rica for several years, NoMBe settled in Los Angeles and soon his undulating melodies and husky vocals attracted the attention of Pharrell Williams who used his “Can’t Catch Me” as the theme song to his HBO documentary series “Outpost.”
On being told Williams had decided to use the energetic track to open last year’s 10-part show, NoMBe explains, “It was a very surreal feeling. It wasn’t like we were in the studio together coming up with it — it’s more like he discovered it and loved it. I didn’t let myself get my hopes up, but then it happened it was very exciting.”
Dressed in a silky printed H&M shirt with ruffled cuffs, a paisley headband and ripped jeans, NoMBe exudes the effortless élan of a young Mick Jagger or Jimi Hendrix, a theatrical style he also brings to his live performances.
“I like a retro look,” he says. “Styling is really important — especially as a band as whole, but I don’t really shop to be honest. I’ll end up just wearing a lot of my friends’ clothes and my dad’s clothes.”
Looking effortlessly cool — even while perched on a stiff sofa in a cramped dressing room beneath New York’s Gramercy Theatre — NoMBe is calm and collected moments before taking the stage. “The way I control my nervousness is by pretending I’m not doing a show,” he says. “I like doing stuff until five minutes before I go on stage. I’ll walk around, talk with friends or call my mom. Basically I act like I’m here to see somebody else, but then when I go out there it hits me.”
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