Picture this: You are a singer signed to label that houses artists like Beyonce and John Legend. On your debut, they pair you with successful producers and musicians like Raphael Saadiq and Salaam Remi and you have a smash single, “The River.” Sound too good to be true? If you’re Noel Gourdin, it was.
Although he has a chart topping R&B single, fans recognized the song and not the singer with a silky tenor and crisp falsetto. I caught up with Noel to talk about his new album Fresh: The Drefinition, the camaraderie of R&B musicians, and his favorite female vocalists in the game.
Fresh:The Definition is your second album out. How is it different from your first?
I’d have to say it’s a lot more live instrumentation this time around. From the drums to the bass guitar and grand piano and horns. It was just something I really wanted to have apart of this album. I really wanted to do it on the first album, After My Time, with Sony. But this time I wanted to make an earnest effort to get that pure production value into it. I wanted it to be reminiscent of classic soul music. Another thing was being able to have more creative freedom. There was a more tight knit group of writers for this project. There were five including myself. I feel this album is more me.
How did your personal trials and tribulations between your two albums add to the musicality of the new album?
After leaving Sony, I did have a rough patch. I went into a depression. I fell out of touch with God and stopped praying. I even fell out of touch with my family for a large part of time. For people who know me, that’s not me. I’m very family oriented. They had an intervention for me where they told me, “You have to pick yourself up, get back in the studio, and start writing again.” But being able to get back on the horse was a big step for me. Overcoming depression and being able to do what I felt was true to the album made me feel good. Those trials have contributed to my growth, not only as an artist, but as a man. This album allowed me to put the rejuvenated spirit I had into my music. The title is Fresh: The Definition because I wanted this to be a fresh start for my career and life.
You seem to have a genuine love for soul/R&B music. What are your thoughts on the condition it’s in now? The Gramm
ys are cutting out a lot of awards for you guys and the feeling of soul music isn’t what it used to be. How do you feel about that?
It’s disheartening. All the music getting love and the spotlight is like that electronic style. A lot of the lyrics aren’t particularly for young kids. I don’t want my nieces and nephews listening to most of the stuff that’s on the radio. I can only speak for myself, but I’m sure other artists in my genre feel the same way. We make music, for the most part, that’s clean. A vast majority of people can listen to our music. It’s respectful and tasteful. We, as R&B singers, have a tough challenge. It’s going to take a movement. It’s not up to one artist or one fan. We have to band together and keep this music alive because it is so important. A lot of people say it’s purely entertainment, but it’s not. When you have people back in the sixties and seventies whose records started baby booms. That’s not entertainment, that’s a way of life. The music from that time will never die and it’s kind of scary to think of what our kids are going to be listening to 25 years down the line.
You spoke of artists needing to band together in order to keep the music alive. What is the camaraderie like between R&B artists?
For the most part, people I’ve run into have been great. Running into people on the road like Eric Benet, Anthony David, Rahsaan Patterson has been really good. The camaraderie between most artists is great. You know, you have a select few who I choose not to be around too much. [laughs] I think this music is bigger than that–bigger than the egos. I think we can get past all of that and band together more to get soul music where it needs to be.
Your first single from the album is “Beautiful.” That record contains a positive message towards women. How do you feel about the objectification and the hypersexualization of women in videos and in the industry as a whole?
I think it starts with the self respect type of thing. It’s not right to treat a woman a certain way based on what she’s wearing and all of that, but it’s a self respect issue. If they continue to allow themselves to be objectified, it will continue to happen. It is what it is. Sex sells. It really does. Personally, I will not jeopardize the integrity of my music and artistry. Like I said before, I want to be respectful and tasteful. I want my grand mama to be able to enjoy my work. So it’s very important to me to not be condescending or disrespectful to women in my music. I still feel self respect is the main issue because there are some records out there with the rudest lyrics towards women and women are out there reciting all the words, putting themselves down.
Because you make clean music is it harder to get played on a mainstream hip hop/R&B radio station?
It’s tough. “Beautiful” was number three on the Adult Contemporary charts. I’ve come to realize I’m not a hip hop/R&B radio type of artist. I’m more of a classic soul and today’s R&B type of guy. Should a record like “Beautiful” be played on a hip hop/R&B type station? Yes, because it’s got a positive message. However, the positivity of the music isn’t accepted as much as everything else. But I’ll just continue to make music that I feel from the heart and soul. I just hope things will get better.
What was it like having your debut single, “The River” become a big song and sort of overshadow you as a person and artist?
I made it a conscious effort to bridge the gap between the my first album and second album. I wanted to let people know that was me singing “The River” because when I go and do shows and sound check “The River,” people are always like, “Oh, that’s him?! He’s the guy that sings that?!” [laughs] So I’ve run into Anthony Hamilton and Jaheim on the road and they have both said, “Noel, a lot of people think that I’m the one that sings ‘The River.’” I always reply, “Damn man, you trying to take the hits!” That’s our running joke.
Personally, I like Fresh: The Definition more so than After My Time. Conceptually, it felt like After My Time was more about a young man trying to find his way in love and relationships. Fresh: The Definition is more the man finding that type of love he’s been searching for and not accepting anything less.
Exactly. You are absolutely right. It definitely shows growth, not only as an artist but as a man. That was the vision we had when we sat down with the writers and talked about the project. It was great to have that come to fruition.
When I told some of my female friends I was interviewing you, they were like, “His voice just makes me want to fall in love.” They said other things I won’t be repeating. Just know it’s all good stuff. [laughs] But which female vocalists have that effect on you?
[laughs] Jazmine Sullivan. Just the conviction she sings with is incredible. I know she’s taking a little hiatus, but I’m hoping she comes back. The game needs voices and talents like her. Lalah Hathaway has an incredible voice. Ledisi’s voice is amazing. She has a classic feel to her voice which I love. Gladys Knight’s voice is crazy. She’s still got it. It just blows you away. Also, I’d have to say Miss Jill Scott and Faith Evans. Those voices are from the heart and soul. You know they’re doing the right thing with their lives by the way they make people feel.
Speaking of Jazmine Sullivan, right when she went on her hiatus she said she always told herself she would stop performing when it stopped being fun. Obviously, she’s stopped doing music for the time being. What advice would you give her to help her rediscover her love for music?
I understand what she means. It’ a personal thing. I just think she is so talented. The legacy she will leave is already impactful, even if she never makes another record. Imagine how much more impactful her legacy would be like if she came back. We need her. She’s one of the front runners leading soul music. The industry needs her. Our genre needs her back. I believe she will come back because this music is her passion and I think being away from it is going to eat right through her. I’m waiting on her next project, whenever it comes, because it’s going to be special. Come on back, Jazmine!