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Rebecca Noelle. Photo provided by the artist.

Interview: Ottawa Arts Council award recipient Rebecca Noelle trades the big stage for a bedroom studio

By Bruce Burwell on April 30, 2020

Last weekend I was listening to Rebecca Noelle’s “Soulstice” release from 2016. And I kept wondering: Why isn’t Rebecca a really big deal in Canada by now? She has the amazing range, the subtle vocal styling, and the songwriting chops to be a star. I guess we have to be happy that she hasn’t gotten all famous and moved on up away from Ottawa. She did recently get some major local recognition though, winning the Ottawa Arts Council’s 2020 Peter Honeywell Mid-Career award.

Rebecca has been a fixture on the Ottawa music scene for what seems like forever. Apart from her solo career, she has been working with The PepTides for the last 10 years! And more recently she has been doing vocals with the funk/Motown outfit The Commotions.

Apt613 spoke to Rebecca Noelle about the impact of the Ottawa Arts Council award and her recent work. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Apt613: The award has a decent cash value, but other than the money aspect, what does the award mean to you?

Rebecca Noelle: In this industry, the accolades and awards are valuable because they help give you a little bit of weight to the people who aren’t familiar with your work. It encourages the people who aren’t familiar to check you out, which is really great. So for me it’s just kind of a little bit of a bump up on my profile.

Rebecca Noelle performs at the Black Sheep Inn. Photo provided by the artist.

It’s been a few weeks now. Have you seen any impact? Have you had people calling you that weren’t calling before?

There was just a little bit of press coverage right afterwards, which was a nice little bonus for me because with what’s going on right now and everything being canceled, people don’t have much to talk about. I’m working on a new album right now, so it was really great to have a little extra attention on my work behind the scenes. It’s hard to get media attention and interviews when you don’t have anything going on. And that’s the story for every single musician in the city right now. So it’s been really great for me because I know that I’m not the only person who’s working on an album right now. But because of that award, I was probably one of the few people who were able to talk about my album with the media during this time.

I hadn’t seen any awards before that were labeled as mid-career awards. Do you feel like you’re in the middle of your career?

That’s a really interesting thing too. I remember when I found out that I was being nominated and that there were two categories. There were emerging artists and mid-career artists. I’ve spent my whole life calling myself an emerging artist. It’s funny because you don’t really know when you officially turn that page. So I said to the person nominating me, you can put me in whatever category you think is right. I thought there was a chance I might get bumped into the emerging category but apparently I fit the bill for the mid-career. On the national scene I would still call myself emerging, but in the city, I guess, mid-career is more appropriate.

You mentioned you were working on a new album. Around the city, lots of creative people who can’t get out there and perform are using the time to create. So are you getting a lot more time than expected on the new album?

I had a very intense week of work with my producer Eric Desiro, who’s located in Victoria, the week before everything got shut down. So I was able to squeeze in all of this productivity. And so then I came back and I had a couple of weeks of quiet time at home. But I was still riding that wave of motivation. The plan was that I was going to return to Ottawa and I was going to record my vocals at a local studio. And then when everything got shut down and locked out, I found myself now at home with the songs that I’m ready to record and I can’t go anywhere to do that. So it’s actually forced me to become my own little recording studio and buy all the software and the microphones and so to learn how to engineer my own vocal sessions. And so that’s where most of my effort has been going these last few weeks.

Rebecca Noelle’s bedside studio. Photo provided by the artist.

Will you actually be able to turn those recordings into the final product?

I think that it will probably end up being the final product and it’ll be cool. Cause every time I listen to those recordings I’ll say: “Hey, I did that in my room cause I had no choice.”

With the people that you normally collaborate with in Ottawa, The PepTides and The Commotions, are there any opportunities that you’ve got to collaborate? Or is that just done until things unlock?

You know what? Actually, we never stopped working. The PepTides were sitting on a bunch of unreleased content. We’ve got a really cool music video that’s come out. We’re also working on the sequel to our album that came out two years ago called Galapagos Vol. 1. And so we’ve been sharing Dropboxes and files and having group calls and sending videos back and forth like crazy. Everyone’s been really great at adapting and actually it’s the same deal with The Commotions. Brian and I have been exchanging pieces of music and lyrical ideas and content for The Commotions’ upcoming album, which is also in the works.

We’re trying to get as much done as we can behind the scenes and every day that goes by, someone learns a new skill and someone breaks down a wall and figures out how to do something virtually that we previously had thought was impossible.