On 'CHROMATOPIA', NoMBe Rediscovers Himself [Q&A]
In the wake of the most outrageous year of anyone's life, it's inevitable that change occured not only in the world around you but within yourself. For many, self-realization and development was a huge thing to come out of our collective time alone. For artists in particular, it allowed them to get in touch with their inner writing skills. But, there was also a chance to be a progressive thinker, to become the ultimate activist. Then, to be able to put all of that outward thinking and infuse it into your writing.
That's what we got to talk about a bit with NoMBE. Following the release of his sophomore album, CHROMATOPIA, we dive into what influenced his writing and the steps that he took to create his most impressive and expressive piece of work yet.
OTW: This past year has been quite like any other. Take us through everything that happened. What kind of threw you for a loop? What setbacks occurred?
NoMBe: Well, I was supposed to release this album in April of 2020, so basically when everything got crazy with the protests and me getting arrested by cops, everything just getting so wild online and globally, I decided to hold the album back. And, of course, all the tours are cancelled. We’re supposed to start our tour in May and there was a whole US tour that we had planned, which was then followed by my guitar player actually suing me and all kinds of stuff.
With George Floyd being murdered and me ultimately also getting evicted from my music studio for having protesters spend the night, it was just a lot. So, I decided to move away because of all that, and was invited by a good musician friend to make that transition.
It’s definitely shaped my music in a lot of ways, where I think I had to get a lot out creatively that touched on politics, or how I was feeling with anxiety and sort of the heaviness of everything. It also affected my process. In a sense where I couldn’t make music for like two or three months, which is very unlike me, that’s never happened in my entire adult life. So, it was really a lot, and I’m just now getting back into space where I’m very excited to create, very excited to also make just positive music and dive deeper into the lyrics, but it’s opened me up a bit more to talk about other things.
I think typically my catalog has always been love songs, introspective, sort of very personal songs about friendship, family, life, and security. A lot of it is about relationships and love. Now, I feel like I'm more empowered to have more political songs quite frankly and talk about heavier subjects.
Tell us a little bit about the name CHROMATOPIA, where does that come from?
Yeah, well CHROMATOPIA is actually a book about color theory that my creative director had. And initially, the album was going to be called Electric Soul. As I kept working on it, and as we sort of figured out what the brand is going to be, we realized that we wanted it to be way brighter. I wanted to talk about sort of the spectrum of my relationship, sort of on a micro and macro level. The very personal side of the album, which is my relationship… I’ve been monogamous for many years and had this idea that love is a spectrum. It’s also the Japanese I use on my cover art; it basically means love is a spectrum. So, coming to terms with that is one aspect of it and the ups and downs of my relationship, how I’ve had a lot of blissful moments but also really tough moments, and that’s why it’s sort of a rollercoaster ride lyrically with the album.
I always call it like a conceptual break up album, where it’s like if you basically sabotaged a relationship and you kind of daydream what would it really be like to not be with that person, how they feel and sort of the insecurities and fears that come with that. So that’s sort of why I thought the color spectrum was a good representation. It’s like on one end, the openness of the relationship and the nuance of the ups and downs. I think we fall on a spectrum anyways. You know, I think nobody is 100% straight. Nobody’s 100% purely masculine. We’re all somewhere on the spectrum. The way blue becomes turquoise slowly, or becomes teal. So that is literally what CHROMATOPIA came from.
There’s so many variations of vibes on this new album. Some are a little more groovy, some are a little slower. What track specifically stands out to you and speaks to you the most out of all the tracks that you wrote?
NoMBe: Oh, that’s a very good question. I don’t even think I can say. I would say they’re, like, all my babies, you know? I think "This is Not a Love Song" and "Prototype" are tied for my favorites. They’re definitely top five, but I love "Paint California," I love "Water into Wine." Actually, they’re just like different vibes, you know, they appeal to different parts of me.
What’s been your favorite part about making this album? What has been your biggest and happiest highlight out of the whole process?
I loved living on the farm and making the album. I had a bunch of demos from 2018 from after the first album came out. I want to say I had like 70 to 100 demos. So I was just prepping the whole year. In 2018, we did a tour, we did all this other stuff that didn’t really allow me the time to hone into what the second album was going to be. Then I took a trip to Japan for Christmas that year and I realized like, okay, I wanted to have a bit of the 1980's, Japanese pop-filled, modular sounds, mixed with classical music. There was all this stuff in my head.
In early 2019, I decided I want to rent a spot. Either a house by the beach, a cabin or something like that. I want to get out of here, bring all my equipment and just lock in for like 34 months, you know? So, my manager found this animal rescue farm and I just built a really awesome studio there. It was sad to have to break it down eventually. It was just like this weird, almost tiny house on a farm. Horses, goats, pigs, and I just living out there in the valley. It was so serene being with the animals, the weather was always great and just making music 'till late at night to the rain and everything.
Sometimes I couldn’t sleep, and I would go into stable and hang out with the horse in the middle of the night. It was a very magical process, and I think that’s something a lot of artists want, even though it doesn’t require that to make music. But, why not? You know what I mean? It was just nice. Like, waking up, pulling up a project, having my coffee and just being out there. It was super cool. I want to create, and I just want to do this forever. So yeah, that was probably my favorite part.
Tell us a little bit about the evolution of your music and process from They Might Have Even Loved Me to now.
I think some of the songs were originally supposed to be on They Might Have Even Loved Me, and then I was like, "Oh I’ll use them for the next record and make this gritty rock record even more than They Might Have Even Loved Me." You know, you finish one thing, you start a new one and set out to make this one record and what I was making wasn’t that, you know? It just naturally became more upbeat. I got really into the '80s, and I never really liked the '80s much growing up to be honest. It was really recent. I started listening to, like, Hall and Oates again, and The Clash, Wang Chung, and a bunch of classic '80s music. With a lot of art, you don’t really have that much control over what you like. Like, you have control of how you present it.
I think by that point so many people were also doing it, there was so much of the like heavily-produced electronic alternative music that I wanted to do something that is more like Daft Punk-y and kind of a bit more of the fun side of rock. I think more subconsciously it happened in sessions and we would reference Gorillaz, we would reference any idea that came to mind. Even other producers that I was working with, they sort of brought that out in me as well. And then I think "Paint California" was actually the first song. It was like a perfect marriage where I was just like, "Okay, this has the acoustic guitar, this has like distortion, but it’s definitely an electronic track. It’s dancy, it’s catchy. this is a thing, you know what I mean?" "Paint California" was the first song that was completely done. The first song that the label, and everyone, knew was the single.
I think the concept also spoke to me in a way where I was like, okay, this could be a seed to like a larger thing. At that time I also had the intro of CHROMATOPIA with Big Data. It was like something that we started together on piano. He was playing the chords and I was playing the melodies on top. We made it more this synthy, modular sounding thing. It was cool. I wanted this world. I want to tap into psychedelic modular music. I love everything that sounds super out there and spacey and kind of like a kid playing with a machine. So it became more about that. And then later, I also realized I was actually a pianist by, like, trade or whatever. And I barely play piano on my records. So, maybe keys and synthesizers could be a thing on this album, as opposed to just electric guitar. I think that is the main element that sets it apart other than from the rhythm and the tempos that I chose to use a lot previously. Very cool, very quick.
What is the message that you want to get across as an artist?
It’s dangerous to compare yourself. I used to when I first started NoMBe as a project, I used to tell people that I wanted to be the next Pharrell. I used to tell people like "Oh it’s kind of like if Pharrell produced the Chili Peppers or MGMT mixed with this you know?" And I think I would just like people to understand that it’s a journey that’s gonna always change. I'd like to see people see NoMBE as a project the way I see it. I am creating whatever I feel like doing, it's sometimes very all over the place, for better or for worse. I never, ever, ever, ever wanted to have a genre, or be known for genre, or known for a thing.
You know, even NoMBe itself was a name that I chose because it could kind of be anything. It could be a deep house DJ, it could be folksy, it could be African tribal music. That’s what it is for me. I like the anonymity in that sense. I think over the years it kind of became its own thing and people start identifying more with me as a person than just the music. What I want people to take away is that the music is for them to be enjoyed. It's how I share myself. It’s deeply personal, but it is definitely there for people to enjoy. That’s my whole goal and my whole purpose is to give people art that I think is meaningful. To brighten your day for a little bit, inspire them to make art. And then do it all over.
Listen to CHROMATOPIA below: