NoMBe on ‘They Might’ve Even Loved Me’ LP and The Women in His Life
This Friday, March 23, electro-soul artist NoMBe is releasing his debut album, They Might’ve Even Loved Me. The LP, almost entirely written, produced and composed by the Berlin-bred, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter and producer, invites listeners to learn about the loves of NoMBe’s life, from his mother to his grandmother and girlfriends. It’s a project about women and one that inspired the artist to look at the lack of female recognition in the industry.
In this Q&A, NoMBe elaborates on the process, eclectic makeup and female-dominated project that is They Might’ve Even Loved Me, his mother’s time in jail, which inspired his powerful track, “Rocky Horror” and his childhood memories in Berlin with his family friend and godmother, Chaka Khan.
Tell me about your forthcoming album’s title, They Might’ve Even Loved Me. What does this mean?
When I came home one day from auditions — I used to act more when I moved to LA — and it was one of those auditions where I couldn’t really tell if they were fake or if they liked my performance or not. When I got home, my girlfriend asked me how it went, and I told her, ‘They might’ve even loved me.’ And when I said it, I thought it was a weird phrase. So, I wrote it down, and I thought that would be a really great title.
I know that the album is about all the women in your life — your mother, grandmother, girlfriends, etc. Can you tell me a little more in depth who you are talking about and why you decided to do this album about women?
It just came out that way, to be honest. I didn’t sit down and say, ‘Ok, let me write this conceptual album about women.’ The subject matter was so on my mind. Every song I wrote, it came out in some way or another, about a story — the past girlfriend I had or a person that’s dear to me. Some of the songs are like three, four years old. It’s just a long compilation of experiences, and it’s not a feminist record per se. It’s more just a collection of personal situations.
When we finished the rough album, my manager was like, ‘Did you notice all the songs were about women on here?’ I didn’t even realize it until he said it. It all kind of just happened that way. It was a very natural process, I think.
You recorded with an all-female band as well. Were you recording with them before the album became all about women?
No, the album was 99% done by me as far as instrumentation goes, but I wanted to use more women going forward. Last year, when we had most of the album already, we basically decided to reboot the band, and we just figured out why not just hire all girls with the new band? My manager also forwarded me an article that said that 80% of festival acts are men, and the article just raised some interesting questions, so we were like, ‘Let’s hire aall-girl band.’
For me, it was really important that it wasn’t like some affirmative action thing. Like, I wanted the players to be really, really good, and I told the girls that too. Like, ‘Listen, you’re not here because you’re a girl.’ I really wanted to steer away from that because it can get pretty lame quickly. But, yeah, they’re amazing players and amazing people, and I love being on the road with them.
So you’ve been releasing one song a month since January 2017. Why did you choose to roll out the album like this?
The idea was … it was a couple of things. The music industry has definitely moved into a more singles-driven market. The other thing is that… the songs that I wrote are kind of all over the place. There are songs that are leaning into a more bass-y, future sound. There are other songs that sound straight up like Jimi Hendrix. There was a really wide spectrum of sound, so we were basically debating, how do we brand this as a classic album? At the same time, we couldn’t really identify a clear single. So, at some point, I just told my manager, why don’t we roll out a single a month and see how it goes? A lot of the time, it’s a non-climax when you release an album. You release it, and you hope all these things happen, and it’s just a waiting game. I think, for this particular album, it was a really good way to introduce this palette that we had. At the same time, each single got attention. This year, I get to release an actual body of work, and people are already acclimated to the fact that not every song is going to sound like the next.
It seems like you’ve been able to perform with some really cool musicians like Billie Eilish and alt-J. Talk to me a little about who you’ve worked with and how you linked up with them.
Yeah, that’s super cool. The first tour we did last year was opening for Bonobo, which was one of my biggest inspirations when I was starting out. He’s a legend. Alt-J were really cool guys, they’re social. We got to know each other, and they asked us again to come out in April for some shows. It’s a blessing. I just love to perform, and those particular crowds are really good for my sound. And Billie, the funny thing about Billie — I had met her brother years ago, and I went to his show, and we really hit it off and it ended up being one of those things where Billie and I would talk on DMs and I invited her to my show, and when her brother showed up, he was like, ‘Oh, yeah, [NoMBe and I have] known each other for such a long time.’ And I didn’t know that was her brother.
I read that your godmother is Chaka Khan. What’s the connection there?
So, a lot of people don’t know this, but she actually spent a lot of years in Germany, and she dated my dad’s best friend when I was a baby. This is also while my parents were going through their divorce, and there were a lot of days where my dad would drop me off and she would babysit me and she took a hiatus from her career. She was there a lot when I was a kid, and at some point, her and my dad became very close friends. She told him, ‘You know, I would love to be his godmother.’ And when he grows up, you never know if I could help him with music or whatever. We just remained really close family friends throughout the years and obviously, when I moved to LA, we started talking more. It’s funny, we don’t talk about music much. We talk about general life things. To me, it’s just like Auntie Chaka, kind of. I didn’t actually realize she was famous until I was a teenager, and my mom pointed that out.
I saw on one of your Instagram stories that the song “Rocky Horror” was related to your mom having gone to jail. Is that something you’re open to talking about?
Absolutely. The song “Rocky Horror” started as a song that was a narrative about The Rocky Horror Picture Show where people get stranded, and they’re basically invited to a house where they’re guests but they’re prisoners. They’re not allowed to leave. The hosts make them dinner. It’s this weird story of captivity in a place where you didn’t choose to be in. As I was writing a song, I wrote it as a way of having my mom in mind, who also, on many levels, has dealt with some tough situations — obviously, literal prison for her but also in her life a lot of situations where she didn’t have a choice and she was kind of stifled in her surroundings. My mom was wrongfully convicted of kidnapping my brother when she visited me in Germany. [My mom] is a book publisher, a literary editor. She’s an author. She is arguably the smartest woman that I know. It was just a real shock. She was in federal prison for a year and a half. It was a real impactful moment in my life, and that’s also why I started writing that song. In a grander sense, the song also speaks on that topic of how complicated our court system can be. “Rocky Horror” is one of my favorite songs because there are a lot of layers to it.
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