Now/It's: An Interview with Notelle

If you search Google for the Vice-owned tech site Motherboard, you’ll find the company’s metadata logline - “The future is wonderful, the future is terrifying.” Is it dramatic? Yes. Slightly Prosaic? Also, yes. It might even be weird mentioning the slogan of another site on this site, but it serves a purpose, and SEO aside, that mantra is oddly transferable for the sake of today’s lede. Here’s how:

Nashville’s future potential is covered ad nauseum at this point, about as regularly as all the “think pieces” focusing on how horrifying Will Smith’s version of The Genie is in Disney’s live-action Aladdin in the past 14 hours or so. Equal parts wonderful and terrifying.

Furthermore, Nashville’s future reputation as “Music City, USA” is in an exciting and horrifying crossroads - Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour takes home Album of the Year at The Grammys, (hopefully) ushering in an end to the dichotomy of heavy bro or outlaw country leaning in country music. Additionally, it opens the door to less genre-affixing throughout town. The city has seen an explosion of pop and electronica in the past couple of years, and hopefully the pseudo-pop nature of Golden Hour broadens the palettes of those who work in music (because those who create it have always pressed the bounds, despite industry fixation on “tried and true”). Whether or not it’s done well or not remains to be seen (but hoped for). Equal parts wonderful and terrifying.

Finally, the future being equal parts wonderful and terrifying serves as a nice frame of mind for our feature interview for the week, Notelle. A long time toplining featured artist, Notelle has certainly carved out a niche in Nashville and it’s burgeoning electronic scene, but like most artists find there comes a time to move into a new arena. In Notelle’s case, it’s a front-facing run as a solo artist. She’s made inroads within Nashville’s pop scene already and will undoubtedly continue to do so in the future, but things are up to her more than ever, but she’s willing to shoulder that load to make things pay off, which is equal parts wonderful and terrifying.

Now/It’s met with Notelle at Dose Coffee & Dram Bar in Riverside Village, in East Nashville.

Notelle - Well hey, nice to meet you!

N/I - Nice to meet you! Thanks for meeting up with me.

Notelle - Of course! I’m excited - I’ve never done an in-person interview before, most of the time it’s email stuff.

N/I - That’s fair. Admittedly, I’m not the biggest fan of email interviews, mostly because there’s so much opportunity for censorship.

Notelle - Whereas in-person interviews have less self-editing.

N/I - Exactly. But at the same time, I’m not trying to get anyone in trouble by fending off self-editing.

Notelle - I get what you’re saying - you’re not a “gotcha” journalist.

N/I - That’s not my M.O. I just think the things people promote via interview benefit from a little more candor.

Notelle - I understand that completely. Whenever I do the email interviews, I try and record myself answering them out loud, and then I transcribe it…. I was an English major, so I have a tendency to self-edit and eliminate the natural flow, which winds up taking the “human” out of it when I’m sitting there just typing out responses.

N/I - And that way, you avoid canned answers and things of that nature.

Notelle - And I’m like, “Damn, I sound like a robot!” but when I record it and type it out, I sound more personable.

N/I - I get that entirely…. Not to continue opening up on email interviews and what not, but if you’re an English major, when you’re writing a response, are you cognizant of word count and things like that?
Notelle - Sometimes, sure. I’ll look at something and occasionally go, “That’s a really long answer.” [Laughs] I realize I could probably shorten something and take out something that is superfluous or aimless. All those synonyms.

N/I - So when you were in school, were you always writing music as well?

Notelle - I was. I was an English major with a creative writing minor. So it was less….

N/I - Where did you go to school?

Notelle - University of Maryland…. But then I graduated and moved straight here and got a second undergraduate [degree] in songwriting and music business at Belmont in like a year and a half. I’ve always been a writer, whether it was poetry or songwriting, or whatever. My first song - my brothers sing it back to me because it’s so bad [laughs]....

N/I - What was it about?

Notelle - Oh god. It’s like being a girl. It’s like “I’m a girl that wants to break out of her cage.” I was in sixth grade, so some horrible thought like that.

N/I - Well if you were in sixth grade, that’s permissible. It’d be one thing if you were saying, “Yeah, I was nineteen.”

Notelle - “Consider any other alternate career paths?” [laughs]

N/I - No! Obviously, that’s no one else’s place to decide but your own…. So you’ve been in Nashville for how long now?

Notelle - It’ll be six years at the end of May.

N/I - And do you feel like when you first got to Nashville, you were able to dive right into toplining songs?

Notelle - I’d say yes and no. I actually had a friend on the East Coast who was really huge into electronic music and followed all of his DJs and producers on all the social media things, and he kept seeing them post “Hey, I need a female vocalist” or “Hey, I need a writer.” And he just happened to know that I moved to Nashville to do that, and he sent some of my voice memo-y things and wound up being an accidental, fake liaison. Not even as a manager, but just as a friend.

N/I - A really, really solid connection.

Notelle - So I’ve been doing that probably four-ish, four and a half years. But it was definitely slow at first. I never really considered it as a “job.” It was just cool to see my name on this song or that, but then I realized I can charge people for something like this and really expand my network and do some cool stuff.

N/I - So before that, it was roughly four and a halfish years of doing that while in Nashville - what were the first one and a half, two years like prior to that?

Notelle - It was me being in school and co-writes. I was really really invested in school. I had a full course load, I had an internship, I had a part-time job and I was doing songwriting stuff as much as I could in addition to that. When I first got here, I was probably doing more school stuff and networking on the business end of stuff. Originally, I thought that when I came here, I was going to do the songwriting stuff and have a nine to five job, but that ended up not happening, which was cool.

N/I - That’s fortuitous…. With the networking - what does that look like for you? I realize that you’re not necessarily going for co-writes in the way people might be most familiar….

Notelle - How so?

N/I - Well, let’s start from the beginning - do you have a publisher?

Notelle - Oh, no. I’m self-publishing, I guess. I do it all independently, which is a double-edged sword. You have more freedom creatively, but you also have fewer connections. But most of the time when I was networking, I was surprised by how many doors were opened by me saying I worked in electronic music. It was like the word “avocado toast,” everyone was like “Oh! Buzzword! Electronic music!” but if you say that you work in electronic music and networking with people in alternative, country, or americana, they’re going to remember you more. So it opened more doors for me than I might have deserved to have opened, but it was really cool, based on how much I had accomplished at that point. I got to speak at some conferences about it - toplining and the business of it - but I think I liked the networking stuff in relation to toplining as a business, because people would ask me “What is your business model? What’s the structure? What’s the client base?” All questions that a general creative might not ask you.

N/I - So these are the producers that are asking you these questions?

Notelle - No, they’d be more business owners. People who would be at the networking events.

N/I - I see. So what was that like? What conferences?

Notelle - Have you ever heard of Who Knew? I got to speak at the second one of those several, several years ago. Again, I felt totally unqualified, but again, sometimes you have to fake it until you make it. But I had a really good time doing that. That’s the largest one, at least in terms of audience. It was fun. It makes you feel like you’re doing something good. I guess it makes you feel valid.

N/I - To be viewed as an authority on something is flattering. Obviously, no one really grows up thinking they want to be a keynote speaker for a living, but it’s validating nonetheless.

Notelle - [Laughs] Exactly. And I think that external validation goes such a long way, because being a creative person and being your own representation and motivating yourself, I liken it to a self-motivation tank: it runs low eventually. So it’s nice to have someone on the outside say “You’re doing something cool. You’re on the right path. Keep doing what you’re doing.” Then it’s good, because you have a positive outlook. That’s always nice. I think anybody who says that doesn’t happen to them is probably lying.

N/I - So nowadays, are you approached more often than not? Or are you still reaching out to people to topline?

Notelle - I would say it’s 50/50. I have a fake manager, it’s just me with a different email…. Oh god, I hope no one reads that! [Laughs] It’s all good, it’s no big deal. It’s more funny, anyways. I have a fake email for a manager, even though it’s just me. So Frank - that’s his name - will email or cold email people or follow up for me.

N/I - Is there a reason why you chose “Frank” over “Francine” or some other name?
Notelle - I mean, one, I wasn’t blind to the fact that most of the managers I was talking to were men, but the origin of it was because I had a friend of my from several years ago whose name is Frank. He would send emails out on occasion on my behalf because he just liked it. And I was worried, because sometimes I would pick up the email chain and correspond with people and never wanted to sign his name for legal reasons. So I would sign it Frank and make sure it didn’t cross any legal lines there.

N/I - Well that’s clever. A little ingenuity there.

Notelle - But it’s worked! It’s surprising how just receiving an email from someone you think is a manager changes the perception. But it’s really just me.

N/I - Well it goes back to that independent thing where you have to work harder or work smarter, in your sense. It’s a sort of unfortunate realization on your part that most of the managers you were talking to are men, and there’s sort of a weird sense of incontinuity when you’re going back and forth with somebody. Admittedly, from my end - sometimes I’ll get hit with a lot of numbers and “featured on this” or “featured on that” from people who are in the band, or in the project. But sometimes when it’s just the person in the band doing the touting of the act, it can be hard to believe. Because you can learn someone owns their own blog and premiered one of these songs and suddenly, where did the credibility go? But anyway, it’s interesting to hear how you’ve found loopholes and side-steps in making things work as an independent artist.

Notelle - I met one other person who did the same thing as me, and since then, my fake manager has emailed on behalf of some friends and now I have friends who do the same thing. One of my close co-writers, he does the same thing but his manager is the same name as his cat. So that’s pretty cool. I’m glad it’s working for people as well.

N/I - Of course. That’s great…. So let’s say you pitch somebody and they’re like “Yeah, let’s do it!” Are you heading straight to wherever that producer is? Or is it remote?

Notelle - The majority of it is remote. There are a few producers I’ve worked with in person, but that does require travel. There aren’t a ton of local electronic producers here….

N/I - That’s why I ask.

Notelle - There are a handful and they’re all really good, but the majority of them are remote. They’ll send you a track, write a verse, write with someone else and then go to the studio and record a casual track of it and send it back and they’ll send you edits. It’s just a back and forth thing. It’s nice, because it’s never really sitting down and if it’s not working that day - you’re in a bad mood, they’re in a bad mood - you’ll lose the opportunity. But it’s the same thing as in-person interview as email interview. So that’s the beauty of that, but you also do run the risk of not having the personal connection with the DJ. If they feel like they created the topline with you, they’re probably more inclined to pick it. If they don’t like it because they don’t really vibe with it and they might give you one opportunity and scrap it, whereas being with them in person might allow them to tweak it here and there.

N/I - The scrapping thing is what’s interesting to me. I’m sure you have friends that do sync work and licensing…. They’re sending out two dozen songs by the end of the week only to have it all get scrapped. Does that happen a lot?

Notelle - I’d say it happens less to me than it does to somebody in sync licensing, just because it’s a higher volume in sync licensing.

N/I - That’s fair, I was just using it as a reference point.

Notelle - But it does happen. But a lot of the time…. Say we write a song together, and you don’t really like the track I came up with - what I can do if you say “This is not for us.” but I feel someone else might like the work, you can say to the DJ “Hey, that’s cool. Do you mind if we relinquish rights to what we did individually and pitch to somebody else?” And most of the time they’re cool with it. So I think the good thing is that even if someone scraps it, you can find life for it elsewhere. So that makes it not as big of a deal.

N/I - So when it comes to toplining versus solo stuff, in making the decision to go along with more concerted Notelle efforts, when did that come along? Or when was that decision made?

Notelle - Let me preface it by saying I really enjoy the toplining work, it’s really cool. It’s interesting, because you get to flex and work the muscle that is just songwriting.

N/I - But at the same time, with songwriting, there’s an anonymity that probably sticks with that versus being a solo act.

Notelle - I think it’s more of writing with somebody else being the purpose, or someone else’s needs being the end goal - that is less daunting, because you have a color palette or a paint by numbers outline. You can put your touch on it, but you already have the structure, which provides more and less freedom at the same time. What I struggled with was that I felt that there was a whole other part of my creativity that was not finding a home in the toplining world. Things like weirder lyrics or stranger melodies, or pushing production in. I felt like I wanted to explore that, so I thought “If I’m not going to do that now, when am I ever going to do that?” So that was probably a year and a half ago when I decided to go for it. It’s definitely been more creatively rewarding. It’s definitely a different type of writing for sure. It’s definitely more challenging in some aspects.

N/I - So did you have to start over when it came to getting connections in town as a solo artist as opposed to toplining?

Notelle - I think I was lucky that I got to network with people that had a revenue stream that they could tap into. A little tiny business that I could network on behalf of. So I think making those connections work as my own tiny little business gave me more clout than if I had just come in and said “Hey, I’m an artist.” The response to that is “Yeah, you and everyone else.” And that’s such a shame, honestly that that’s what people say in response.

N/I - It’s tough.

Notelle - Because in my opinion, every artist is an entrepreneur. But that opened more doors for me and I found a lot of support from the people that I originally networked with - they’re people who are excited to see something different. I think that I didn’t have to start over in maintaining a network I had already built, but I have had to network with an entirely different community. It’s more artist-focused and less business focused. But it’s been really cool. That’s the most exciting part of it all, honestly, getting to tap into just how much talent is here. You go to one show on a Tuesday and it’s like “Holy….” I love it so much. And now I get to be a part of that.

N/I - Well it’s a great and ever growing component of Nashville right now - all the pop and electronic music scenes and their respective subcultures. Over the six years that you’ve been here, have you seen a lot of change among them?

Notelle - Honestly, I feel like the past few years, it has exploded. It wasn’t even here at first. Maybe it was because I wasn’t really aware of it, because I wasn’t quite in that community, but all of a sudden I look up and there are six different pockets of show promoters and pop music producers. Every time I run into somebody, they’re doing something pop, and all of it is good. Even the “bad” things are good. I think it’s exploded.

N/I - Well I was curious, being adjacent to that scene, there are all sorts of people in that world, and it’s not looking like it’ll slow down any time soon.

Notelle- I feel a lot of pressure to “beat the clock,” even though I don’t know what that clock is - maybe it’s because there are just so many other people here doing really good work, and make sure I’m at the top of the wave. So I feel like the more people you meet that are doing the same thing you are, it forces you to step up your game. That’s a good thing. I think the more people I meet doing good work in pop music makes me work harder and lights a fire underneath me. If I’m going to do a good job, I’m going to do it now.