We recently had the opportunity to catch up with Independent Soul Artist Noel Gourdin, and what a great conversation we had. As an avid music follower, I’ve paid attention to a lot, not just with Noel, but music and artists in general. He’s released arguably some of the best albums music has seen in years, yet, we don’t necessarily hear very much about that. In my mind, that puts him in a very “elite” class with a list of other artists, and we talk a little about that. He’s done some powerful things in music with his releases, and this interview gives us the opportunity to spotlight that like never before. He has a great story in the fact that his road has been bumpy along the way, but he has managed to see his way through it while doing something that he absolutely loves. We talk a lot about following your passions, and in talking to Gourdin, it’s clear that he’s indeed following his passion. He’s living proof that you can follow your dreams and come out on top just by believing in yourself. Gourdin talks to us about everything from his start in music nearly 15 years ago, to the things he currently has going on, including his latest release “City Heart, Southern Soul”, touring, the new project he has in the works, and his new radio show.
Urban Grandstand Digital: First and foremost, I offer a heartfelt thanks to you. There’s a lot that you have to offer, obviously in music with what we hear, and there’s a lot I want to cover. I think you’re one of the types of artists we truly love to promote. I’m grateful to you.
Noel Gourdin: Thanks a lot. I really appreciate your words. That’s a lot of encouragement and praise. I appreciate that.
Urban Grandstand Digital: Obviously, being part of the industry, I know you take witness to the many things we see, some good, and some bad. You release great music, music that’s heartfelt, and we can see that you’re following your passions. That doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves, and we’ll talk a little about that. But ultimately, it’s been a decade, and you’ve been working hard. The fact that you’re still pushing, despite the setbacks, it’s a real testament to your hard work.
Noel Gourdin: That’s the mission, you know, to try and have that longevity. It’s unfortunate that we don’t get that light of day that we should. I think that artists with the likes of me, with the same similar principles, moving forward and making music, all we can do is make the best music we can, and pray that things turn around.
Urban Grandstand Digital: I think they are turning around. The more that people like yourself continue to put it out, and stand by it, I think more people will follow.
Noel Gourdin: Let’s hope (laughing). Let’s hope that, because we’ve been treading water for as long as we can (laughing).
Urban Grandstand Digital: Definitely. I see a lot of it with what you’re trying to do with your music, and we’re along the same lines. Obviously, you’re trying to change the way music is received, and I’m along those same lines in journalism and the things we promote with UGD. I opted to launch my own because I don’t care for a lot of what is put out by media. I think media gets a bad name, and surely because of what has been done over the years, but on the same token, I felt like why not do my own. I like the fact that you’re independent, and doing what you really want to do.
Noel Gourdin: I commend you for doing that. It’s almost the same as an artist and going independent. Standing firm on what you put out, and what you want your name on. That’s a beautiful thing when you step out on a ledge and live on faith, move forward, and believe in what you do. You hope that it’s really time for people to grasp it and support it. That’s a beautiful thing. That’s what we do as indie artists and hope that they are ready for it. There’s a lot of music out there that you can’t believe gets the love that it does. That’s what it is.
Urban Grandstand Digital: I know man. Some of the things I see, it’s like really?
Noel Gourdin: Yea, but look at the award shows. It’s all over the place.
Urban Grandstand Digital: I know man. I know. But like I said, it’s great talking to you. Looking at the road you’ve traveled, you’ve worked hard at doing what you love. You never want to feel trapped in doing what you don’t want to do just for money. But when it doesn’t work out as planned, however, it can be devastating to a lot of people, especially in an industry where you’re seemingly backed by a label who may not get the picture, and don’t know the way they want to go, or it can be a variety of reasons. There’s a lot of disappointment with that. Things may not sale how they want. You may push 250,000 copies, and for them, it may not be enough, but reality says that is a lot of people. It can push an artist to not wanting to do it anymore. How have you been able to push through that sort of thing?
Noel Gourdin: It definitely can be devastating. You think in your eyes that it’s a clear victory, but in other eyes, at the bottom line, it’s not. It can be crushing. It can crush a person, and as artists, we’re already sensitive anyway (laughing). I think it’s instrumental to be able to pick yourself up. You have to be able to take criticism and grow a thick skin. When I started this, I really started doing my music hard in 2000 or so. I wasn’t doing it full time, but when I really started to make trips to New York from Boston, and sleeping in cars to try and get opportunities to speak with people walking in and out of buildings, it was a hustle. That was around 2003 and 2004. That’s when I jumped into it full time, and got a deal with Sony in 2005. When things don’t seem to pan out, it’s always important to pick yourself up. That’s to the young artists out there listening. It’s always important to pick yourself up. You get all these no’s, and things don’t pan out the way you envision, but it’s that one yes, or that one piece of good news. For me, it was Steve Harvey, putting in calls to labels. He wanted to play the record, and things changed. I remember where I was and everything. I was back in Boston Massachusetts, and I had just had a long night. I was in the bed when I got the call about that. You just have to remain optimistic, keep a clear head, and stay focused on what you want and what your vision is for yourself. You have to form a thick skin. Emotions get thrown around, and it can be a harsh industry. You have to be ready for anything. One day you can be riding high, and the next day, you know.
Urban Grandstand Digital: Looking back, what would you say, for those up-and-coming artists listening now, was the hardest part of getting your deal?
Noel Gourdin: I would say self-doubt. You start to question yourself and your abilities, and whether you are worthy to be in this industry. You start to doubt yourself, but you have to think back and know in your head that you’ve already had your validation moments, and it’s time to move forward with the confidence you had when you were traveling to have that meeting. It’s about staying true to yourself. Don’t let that doubt creep in, because that is just the devil trying to steer you clear of what is written for you. You have to be there to be in the game of winning. That was happening to me. I had all these moments of validation. I was out with Dr. Dre in L.A. in his studio for about a month and almost got to a point of a deal, and with Kay Gee in New Jersey. Before I was signed, I was on the soundtrack and at the beginning of the movie “The Cookout”. There’s moments where doubt crept into my mind. I said now, I deserve this. I’ve worked so hard and devoted myself, and sacrificed. I didn’t want to let them down. So I always kept it in my head.
Urban Grandstand Digital: I think it’s great advice. It’s also good to point out people and recognize those who also sacrifice to help you along the way. People like Steve, and the way he pushed “The River”, how did that come about? Was it expected?
Noel Gourdin: It came out of nowhere. I did not expect it. It was crazy, getting to know him afterwards, he said he was in his car and the song was playing. He said he had always heard it, but never knew who it was. He said he got a chance to hear it from the beginning, and he found out who I was. That was the day that he had played it maybe 5 or 6 times. I think my phone was dead, and I had gotten like 30 messages from my then-manager. Each message got louder, and more profane (laughing). I didn’t expect it at all. That’s what I mean though, with keeping your eyes on the prize. Stay focused and grow that thick skin, enough to keep you in the game. To have your life changed like that by Steve Harvey on his syndicated show, I was blessed. I’m fortunate that I was still in the game, and had enough to keep me alive for that long, fighting the good fight.
Urban Grandstand Digital: There has to be something satisfying in knowing that when people speak your name, they know the music is good, and it’s quality. I think of so many people, a long list of artists who have been working hard, and they may not seem as popular, but when you hear their name, people just know! Like Bilal, Rahsaan Patterson, and you’re in that bunch.
Noel Gourdin: I appreciate you saying that. Yes, there is a prestigious group of people making music, and I mean the under-appreciated artists, like Rahsaan, Dwele, Eric Roberson, Avery Sunshine, and all of these people. They are leading artists in the industry, putting out some of the best music, and they’re not getting the light of day. That’s the mission for me. Quality control. I’ve always been listening to albums, and you have to skip around. Where’s the quality control? You actually sat at a round-table and said this whole album is right. I take pride in that, and the people I trust who i can work with and ask how they feel about it. I want the entire album to scream quality. I believe in that, and try to make every record on my projects part of a continuous thread. I want to be sure it’s quality. I try not to use profanity. I want everyone from age 2 through 92 to be able to listen. That’s beautiful the way you put it. When people hear the names of the people you spoke of, they know it’s quality.
Urban Grandstand Digital: You mentioned Calvin Richardson. I spoke to him about the same things, and a collaboration he did with Angie Stone and Raphael Saadiq almost 15 years ago, and the fact that I can still listen to it like it came out today. It’s unfortunate that a lot of that is overlooked.
Noel Gordon: Absolutely. Like I said, these artists are making that timeless music, and I call if retro-relevant. It’s got that throwback feel, but it’s still relevant and it stays fresh. That’s where you cross lines with age. That’s why it’s called timeless. People will enjoy it thirty years from now. Can you say that about today’s music?
Urban Grandstand Digital: It’s funny that I was just talking to someone a couple days ago, and saying that today’s generation, they won’t have what we have in terms of music of the past. They just have the “Nay-Nay” (laughing). We had the Temptations, and the O’Jays, and people who were out when we were younger.
Noel Gourdin: That’s another thing. We have those infomercials at 2 and 3 in the morning. You actually stay up when you can’t sleep and watch about these albums and compilations. Think 20 and 30 years down the line with today’s popular music. I know I won’t be watching (laughing). It doesn’t have that staying power, or that ability to captivate the way music did before. That’s what today’s artists are trying to do. We’re following suit in a sense, but staying true to what made you feel so good about listening to the O’Jays, to Marvin Gaye, to Sam Cooke, to the Temptations, to Blue Magic. That feel that you had, that’s what we do, but still keep it relevant. You get the best of both worlds. you get the classics, and the oldies but goodies, and you get today’s music. I appreciate that you put me in that distinguished group. I feel like we’re bringing you the best of both worlds.
Urban Grandstand Digital: You’ve been blessed to collaborate with some amazing people. There’s a song with you and Avery Sunshine, and oh my god, it’s amazing. I would love to hear you with people like Algebra Blessett, people like Jill Scott! Are there people you want to work with still?
Noel Gourdin: Well this next project, I do have something like that in the pipeline. It’s interesting that you said Algebra, because we were on the road, and spoke about doing something. I also wrote something with Calvin Richardson and Conya Doss, and Eric Roberson, David Hollister… I have something in the pipeline. Just make sure you keep your ear to the ground. That’s where I’m at right now. I’ve had a lot of opportunity, but hadn’t moved forward because I want people to get to know me. For that reason, there haven’t been a lot of guests. Aside from Avery Sunshine, I did a record with Latrese Bush, who is a wonderful independent soul artist. On my second album, I had Courtney Harrell. So with my next album, I’m looking to rub elbows with these artists that I happen to be friends with and have in my phone (laughing).
Urban Grandstand Digital: I think it’s awesome. I’m excited, as I’m sure so many others are too. I question whether I’m getting old, or is it just that my taste of music has changed. What you’re giving us is something I look forward to in what I purchase. I’m just getting back to that point where I buy music again. Nobody was really worth me spending the $20. That’s a lot of money for some people, especially if it isn’t quality.
Noel Gourdin: Well, I appreciate that. I always try to put a great deal of effort into messages and stories. It’s funny that Tonya Simpson called me a southern fried soul singer. She loves the stories that I tell.
Urban Grandstand Digital: It’s true life though. I look at the videos and what you’re saying, and it’s the same thing everyone out here is going through. It’s true to life.
Noel Gourdin: That’s what’s real important to me as well. That speaks to the quality, and those human qualities and instances that everyone goes through. That’s what I try to do with every project, is speak to hearts and souls. Whether it’s in a certain way, that’s the thing is coming up with new ways. Coming up with slick ways and fun ways that make you shut your eyes a little and smile. That’s what I do when I listen to old music that makes me feel good. I grew up on the oldies that my pop loved so much. That’s what I try to do when I make music. I try to make music that has a great message, something with substance, but still make you move and think about that first love, or first breakup. Something to put you in a different space.
Urban Grandstand Digital: Do you feel like you were able to accomplish your goals with your latest album?
Noel Gourdin: City Heart, Southern Soul, was me paying homage to all the inspirations I’ve had since a little boy, growing to love soul music and what it did for me. I feel like I met all the criteria in making that, and having it represent me as an artist and as a man. There’s a lot of records on there that I adore. “Photography”. “Adore”. They are records that people enjoy. I worked on them with a few people. We all envisioned the same thing, and I feel good about it. A lot of people feel it’s my best work. It was with a tight-knit group. A lot of people that should have more notoriety. They’ve worked with a lot of big names in the industry, but have not gotten their names to the top of the list. It was great to work on that project and I love the way it came out. “Heaven Knows”, “Spotlight Loving”, “Foxy”, “Patience”. I was able to pay homage to the music of the past, but keep it retro-relevant.
Urban Grandstand Digital: I think you’ve been able to change lives with it. Sure, people rate each album amongst each other, but I don’t look at sales. I look at what people gain from it. Are they able to learn and grow from the album? Can they apply it to their lives? It’s not about the sales. That comes and goes. The idea of anyone being an artist is to be able to change lives. That’s why some of my questions, I use as a way to get out to people that you are human too, or you might have slept in your car, or this happened, or that happened! People coming behind you need to see that because they are dealing with a lot of the same things. It only helps to know that someone else experienced it. Sometimes, it’s the very thing that gives somebody the spirit to keep pushing. Also, I mention Steve Harvey a lot, but it’s monumental to have someone on his level and it’s not forced. You didn’t call him and say “hey, can you push my music”. He did it on the strength of you being a good artist. I had a similar story, and like you said, you hear a lot of no’s, or people flat out ignore you, and it can be discouraging. I wanted to work in radio, and was literally being ignored, but my person to help me was Russ Parr. He doesn’t know me from a hole in the wall, but one email to him, and he spoke to the right person to get me in. That’s why say it’s good to look back and thank those who help.
Noel Gourdin: Absolutely. If you’re not there, you can be in the game, if you’re not in the game, you can’t win.
Urban Grandstand Digital: Exactly. Now what other things are on the horizon, aside from shows?
Noel Gordon: I have a number of shows coming up. Chicago, Los Angeles. Everyone can stay up on dates through my website. www.noelgourdin.com
I’m working on a new project. I’m still on the road to promote City Heart, Southern Soul. A few more singles will be released. People are sending scripts for plays and shows. I’m busy with that as well. I also have a radio show, The Soul and B Revival.
Urban grandstand Digital Are there any final comments at all?
Noel Gourdin: I just want to say I appreciate my supporters and fans alike who have been there. It all means a tremendous amount to me. I put my love, heart, and soul into everything I do. Hit me on all of my social media accounts, @noelgourdin, and on Facebook it’s facebook.com/therealnoelgourdin
Check out my radio show on Facebook at www.facebook.com/soulnbrevival
and on twitter its @soulnbrevival