Rory Noble is one of New Zealand’s best-kept secrets. An enigma and a genuine triple threat, Rory has shown his skills with his production, songwriting and recently, his solo music. Growing up in the humble city of Palmerston North, Rory’s career has already seen him do some seriously big things. He has production credits and collabs with the likes of Kanye West, DJ Mustard, Just Blaze and Tinashe.
Last year saw him release his debut single as a solo artist, Team, and he's just released his new track High Again, which captures the pain of losing his father at the age of 21. It's an emotional track and is a taste of what's to come on his debut EP, WHERE DO WE GO WHEN THE WORLD ENDS, set to arrive in 2022.
Speaking about WHERE DO WE GO WHEN THE WORLD ENDS, Rory says, "The project represents stories of the last three years of my life and a lot of the times when anxiety was ruling my head. For me, it's a vent. I hope other people can hear that I’ve been through all sorts of crazy situations but I'm still standing, breathing, and here to tell the tale. I just want to put out the most interesting music I can, regardless of genre."
We sat down to talk to Rory about his career to date, growing up in a musical family, pulling the middle finger to expectations, working with Kanye and more. It's a great insight into the mindset of an artist stepping out from behind the production curtain, as well as how someone's upbringing can influence their creative journey.
You’ve been in the game for a while, producing music behind the scenes - can you tell me a bit about your journey from producer to artist?
Over the last four-five years working as a producer, I’ve always written songs for myself and always had this idea of putting out stuff. I used to joke about it. I didn’t think it would ever happen. And now… it is.
Producing for other artists - having to be that sort of translator for other people - and now doing it for myself… it’s been a weird experience. But I think my debut track, Team, summed it up as a good starting point for my artist project. It’s also pretty me. It’s got all the instruments I play on it.
What instruments do you play?
Well, I was brought up learning from ear. I pretty much just got an instrument and had to figure it out. Started off playing piano and keys, then eventually drums, guitar and bass. I think in Team it’s interesting because I play the guitar in that, I play the running bass line, and even when those drums come in – I recorded them myself with an actual snare. Now I’m thinking about the whole Team thing, and how it’s just me playing all these things, it’s kind of ironic.
There’s always the music and then the message behind the music right? What is Team about?
To be honest, it kind of is about that. I guess on a more conscious level it’s knowing that you have yourself. The whole song is about shit going wrong, then picking yourself up afterward and being like “whatever, I got my Team with me”. I’m grateful to be able to say mentally I’ve always been strong when situations are really tense, but I also know that I’ve got a real OG squad of people that have always got my back when life gets rough.
Like in the second verse I’m talking about when I went to Atlanta, my mum told me to get insurance before I went over to the States, and I didn’t. I got my laptop stolen out of my mates’ truck, and then later on that night I got attacked by a bouncer. He choked me out and threw me down some concrete stairs. I landed on my face and was just knocked out, lying on the ground.
Wow, that’s so rough. Were you by yourself?
I was with my mate Luke, he’s a longtime friend of my older brother’s, a Palmy dude, but now he’s a real estate mogul over there. Big time. He let us stay with him for a couple of months. He’s just a fucking good dude. I was in his truck when my laptop got stolen. Straight after, he felt so shit for me - he was so invested in what we do, making music, and he knew I had to go to L.A. next week for some sessions - so he took me straight to Best Buy and bought me the best laptop in the store. Just told me to pay him back when I could, and not to worry about it.
But yeah, Team is about being able to pick yourself back up and surrounding yourself with good people that are going to help lift you up.
I’m lucky enough to surround myself with those sorts of people, most are from my hometown. I’ve noticed that being from a smaller town means the attitude is just a bit different.
Would you say you grew up in a musical family?
Yep, more musical than most. In a way that, like most parents, if they’re getting their child into playing an instrument they’d get them lessons, whereas my experience grew from getting shown the basics on the piano and then by 12 I was playing in my Dad’s band in pubs, all the way up until he passed when I was about 21 - I was always doing stuff with his band. He was an all-round performer. He was a singer. He played everything. He taught us the basics. All my brothers play instruments and they play everything.
Your dad sounded like an incredible man. How many brothers do you have?
There’s five of us, then we’ve got three sisters.
Wow. Big family!
Everyone’s musical. All my brothers are professionally musical now. But yeah, I was playing in all sorts of things from a really young age. We used to go to this country club just outside of Palmy, in this town called Fielding, every Sunday from when I was maybe like 7. And my dad would make me and my younger brother Taine sing a song every Sunday. It was a country music club, but my Dad made it real soulful and R&B. A lot of my country influence came from playing in that sort of shit.
Yeah it is! Weirdly it is. Melodically it’s just so great. One of my favourite bands is The Eagles. Super country, but also super rock, and soulful too. So many songs you forget are theirs. Another one that’s the same is the Bee Gees, I didn’t realise how many of their songs I grew up playing with my dad. And they’re all just hits. So many styles too. Fuck, their disco shit was the best of that disco era. I used to just take the piss and play Stayin' Alive out in the clubs.
So, when did you start making your own music?
I didn’t get into making beats until I was about 13. My older brother Matt’s a producer, and he was making beats. All his beats were fire. So he got me into it. I was just making beats until I was about 18-19. Then I sort of had this revelation when I was in the States that I could be putting all my instrumental talents and skills into my music, and from there I started crafting more of a sound and being a bit more unique. I realised not everyone can play with these instruments, so if I incorporate them into my production then that’s something that helps make it stand out.
Who’s a big inspiration for you right now?
Songwriter wise, Julia Michaels. She’s behind so many great, melodically amazing songs. They’re super pop, but they’re such great melodies. And the way she’s able to portray her emotions in her voice for her own artist stuff, it’s crazy. She’s macked out so many hits in the last four or five years, like number ones! She’s one that comes to mind. There’ll be a bunch of people that I look up to.
Let’s talk about your voice. It's only recently that the world’s got to hear it!
I don’t know, aye. I always thought my voice sounded shit until people started saying it sounded good recently to be honest. Well, not shit. I’ve always written songs, and had my artist thing, but in the past, I’ve also always been… I wouldn’t say put down, but people - without hearing any of my stuff – I suppose I thought they thought maybe the idea of my own artist thing kind of being like a joke… Sounds real depressing aye.
Well, I mean it’s awesome that you’re here now. And you’ve done it. You’ve said it’s something you always wanted to do but never did.
I felt like I was always pushed into this “I’m a producer and a writer. I can’t really do an artist thing” coming up the ranks a bit in the industry, I just thought, the only way I got to where I am now as a producer and a writer and doing some really serious stuff is because I said “fuck you” to everyone who said “you can’t do that, you shouldn’t do that,” and I thought “well, I think it’ll be way better to do it this way…” And then just ran with it.
It’s like you said, trusting yourself, and having your own back.
Yeah, it wasn’t really saying fuck you to anyone, it was saying fuck you to the expectations, and the way that you can get boxed. I then started finding a lot of great artists who had a songwriting and production background that later did their own artist thing. I’ve always been a singer, that was one of my main things growing up. I was always shy, but I sang in front of some pretty big crowds as a kid. But then being a producer that was more singing for the fact of songwriting, all I had to do was make myself sound good on the mic, I didn’t have to sing in front of anyone. To be honest I’m still shy. But I think my attitude has changed a lot in the last couple of years, in the sense of being able to do whatever I want. I don’t give a fuck if I mess something up. If I make myself look like a dick. I’m not dead. It’s not going to be that bad.
It’s funny how we can actually be the ones who hold ourselves back the most. There might not even be specific haters. It’s just noise.
Yeah, it’s noise. And that’s a thing I noticed in working with other artists that hadn’t released anything. These guys held themselves back, I thought I can’t be like that. You’ve got to be a bit more ruthless and just not care. In that sense, I’m in a good sort of level to have my songs come out, and just be like, “sweet these are with the world now”.
A lot of people get scared having a debut release, it’s all like “maybe this isn’t the right song, maybe people won’t like this from me.” And that’s the thing you’ve got to say fuck you too. I feel like I’ve come in at the right time, knowing what I know and having done what I’ve done.
I’ve heard that you recently worked with Kanye West?
Yeah, so that was a really cool thing that I was lucky enough to be a part of. This production duo called Finatik and Zac, there these two Aussie guys who are based in L.A., they produce heaps of ASAP Rocky’s shit, and all of Denzel Curry’s stuff and just some fucking really cool hip hop tracks.
I met them a few years ago but then I worked with them in the States last year and they tasked me with helping them do musical ideas for the Jesus Is King album. I think I came on to it in the last week of them finalising stuff. I made like 50 ideas that week, and it wasn’t until after the album came out that Kanye heard a couple of the ideas that I did with Finatik and Zac and there was one he really liked. He made it a piece in his opera. So these parts that I’d recorded with my voice he got his whole choir to sing and do.
Wow. What a buzz.
Yeah, there were like 50 people or more in his Sunday Service choir, all on stage at the Hollywood Bowl, a sold-out one-time opera show.
Did you know this show was going to happen?
Nah, I got a call from Finatik and Zac when I was in Melbourne last November. Isaac rang me up and was like “Kanye really fucks with this idea, him and Big Sean are fighting over it in the studio”. And I was just like, "Oh sick! Any of them can have it, I’m a big Big Sean fan too.” The next day Isaac rung me again and was like, “Yo, so I need your publisher’s details, your lawyer’s email, if you’ve got a manager, cause they’re not sure what they're planning but they want to use the loop for something in the next couple of days. We have no idea.” Sent that. Day after that I had to get all this shit sorted for it to be used for the opera, and then one day after that it was the opera.
Holy hecka. That’s a tight turnaround!
Yeah honestly, I reckon Kanye probably came up with the idea to do the opera on that day they let us know that the song was going to be done. Just watching how everyone pulled everything together was insane, the email to my lawyer had like 30 @yeezy.com people in it sorting all this shit. Kanye calls the shots on everything. He literally has a whole team that anything he says they get it done. I’ve been such a Kanye fan since I can remember. I’ve always been so intrigued by his productions and the music he makes. His messages are on another level, so it’s cool to get my first major placement with him. Feels unreal, aye.
What did you get up to during the lockdown?
I was in Auckland until Level 3, then I took a little trip down to Palmy. Mum’s down there, me and Mikey Dam went down, and I also took my younger brother who flew in from Germany who had just finished isolating in one of the hotels for two weeks. I made some songs. Took the studio gear down so we could just fuck around. Worked on Mikey’s EP, that I’m producing. We’ve just been finishing it up and it’s sounding sick. It was a good time to just chill. But also, I did a lot of work.
Going into lockdown I had a lot of artists that I’d done songs with, they had nothing to do so they were like, “let’s finish these off real quick.” I finished mixing them and got them lined up for release. I actually found that really easy, because I didn’t need to sit in a room with anybody. I was just in my own space doing it by myself. I think a lot of producer friends are in the same boat. When you don’t have to worry about trying to make the person sitting next to you feel happy, it means you can try a bunch more stuff that you wanted to do.
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Alright, final question! Where do you see yourself in five years?
Just to be rich as fuck, aye.
Touché. Me too.
Five years? Yeah, just having a great musical, creative team that’s doing really cool shit. Whether that’s my artist thing, or someone else’s artist thing, or just… heaps. I think that’s just a passion. I couldn’t say I hope to be a superstar in five years as an artist, because I’ve just got to see where it goes, and trust where it goes. But I want to be really successful, on another level. Financially on a level especially, where I can just invest into doing a lot of other things in the music community.
There are some things I’m trying to set up at the moment, trying to get more artists, writers and producers engaged. We’re organising a bi-weekly writer’s night, across four or five studios. Pretty much like a song hub thing, where you have four or five people in a room, and you have a few hours to make a song and then share it at the end. People will rotate every session.
That sounds like such a cool project!
Yeah, we want to get people leaving and feeling like “fuck, I need to collaborate more” and spreading that into the wider community.