Noah D’s hypnotic, mellow rhythms and global sensibilities emanate from my speakers as I sit down for my first listen to his new album, Perspective. I was expecting something different—womp-heavy, aggressive tracks á la Skrillex, but this album has come to surprise me in more ways than one. Perspective is the first full-length compilation for Noah D, who was born in San Jose and currently resides in San Francisco. He’s spent the last decade gaining significant buzz in the underground dubstep scene for his percussive rhythms and a musical taste that spans genres from grime to folk. Having just signed to SMOG records, the musical conglomerate headed by American dubstep pioneer 12th Planet, he seems to be on his way up; yet, he maintains a levelheadedness and devotion to his own music that’s admirable in a world where electronic DJ’s are subject to the same meteoric rises and falls that have pervaded the music industry for years.
We meet Noah D on the SMOG compound rooftop in downtown Los Angeles. Even this high up, we can’t escape the ring of sirens and the pulsating tremors of helicopter blades, but it’s still pleasant—the serenity of the open sky coexisting alongside the migraine-inducing buzz of the city. I can’t help but think that in a lot of ways our current space could be a metaphor for Noah D’s music: the calm in a proverbial dubstep storm. As we both soak in the gorgeous day, I’m caught off guard by Noah’s request to interview me first.
He learns that we’re both fans of soul music, Sam Cooke and Otis Redding are unmatched in our eyes, and I tell him a little bit about our family at Flaunt. I’m never one to talk about myself for too long though, so I quickly refocus the attention onto him.
Let’s start from the beginning. How did you get into music?
Well I’d like to start with the fact that I never thought I was going to be a DJ, let alone an electronic producer. I mean, I could imagine myself doing that more so back in the day, but I was always doing live music. I was playing heavy alternative rock and Deftones-esque kind of stuff back when I was younger, in my high school and my after high school kind of years.
So you’ve always been a musician?
I’ve done music for a long time. I had a little drum kit when I was a baby, like a little Kermit drum kit or some shit. I actually had a turntable when I was a kid too and I loved it. My mom always tells me how much I loved it. I used to call records …sa-la-di, or something that makes no sense, and just sit there and put on records all the time. Sometimes I forget about that because I’m more focused on now. For a long time growing up I was just really, really into music, but I didn’t want to play anything. Then, around high school, I started playing guitar and it kind of changed my life. I was feeling directionless for a long time, and kind of struggled through school. I wasn’t a horrible kid, but I just didn’t have that much direction until I picked up a guitar. My dad had already been playing guitar for years but I just didn’t really feel much interest, and all of a sudden that just changed. I picked it up and couldn’t put it down for like a few years. I would take it to school, I would be skipping meals, I just always had that guitar. Since then it’s just what I’ve been doing.
What about dubstep, specifically?
After a while I started listening to drum and bass. Artists like Photek and just intelligent drum and bass. After jungle [music], there was ragga-jungle and all of that stuff. Around the mid-to-late nineties, it started to form into drum and bass and I got really into that stuff, but I still wasn’t thinking I was ever going to be a DJ. I thought maybe I might make some beats. At one point, I was trying to make drum and bass with some friends for quite a while, a good year or two, and I just kind of realized, after listening to more of it, that I needed to learn more about it so I started buying more records. At that time, it was still 2001, you had to get a lot of that music on vinyl, so I started buying records kind of just to listen and study. By 2001 or 2002 I had started DJ’ing.
Do you still play guitar?
I try to. I put it down for like five or six years while I was doing the other DJ stuff. I didn’t touch it; I didn’t take it out of my closet. And then, it was actually Jose Gonzalez, he’s an indie folk artist, when I stumbled upon him the music really affected me. I picked up the guitar again for a while and I was actually trying to teach myself flamenco guitar, which is arguably one of the hardest styles of guitar on the face of the planet. So I haven’t gone very far with it.
What was your upbringing like?
I grew up in San Jose just about a mile away from where it gets kind of bad, but my neighborhood wasn’t bad. It was a pretty standard suburb, but not completely removed from the city, city-suburb kind of life. My family wasn’t very traditional; I was brought up with no religion. Overall, it was pretty happy. My parents listened to a lot of different types of music. My dad, he played a lot of music but never really wanted it to be a career or anything. He’s very musical and a die-hard Beatles fan. He listens to a lot of classic rock but stays a little bit on the softer side of things. He likes the Beatles, Jackson Brown and Grateful Dead. He wasn’t like a full on hippie, but he liked a lot of that type of music. He also likes a lot of folk music.
Did your dad influence your musical taste at all?
Sort of, but I rebelled against his taste a lot too. I was never a Beatles fan, and that might have solely been a little bit of rebellion against my dad. I prefer Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix and that sort of classic rock. Our tastes are definitely different; I went into the urban stuff way harder than he did. So, yes and no. The fact that he was playing guitar and a little bit of piano and was interested in music, I guess he did a little. I would definitely credit him with having a technological influence on me.
With this new album, Perspective, what was the main goal you were trying to accomplish?
I was trying to make the project appealing to a lot of different groups of people. I mean, I knew it was still [going to be] based in dubstep because it’s mostly around that BPM range and has a lot of those influences, at least from certain types of dubstep. I wanted it to be diverse and interesting and still have vocalists from different areas of the world and some urban beat kind of culture. On a more personal level, I’m trying to really let people know that I’m going to get more diverse here. Like, get ready. I just want my audience base to accept diverse music within a set because that’s what interests me. So diversity, depth, and being able to have big impact in a room with sound that’s not over the top because that’s kind of the sound of the day right now.
It seems to be a pretty mellow album, and also kind of heavy at the same time.
That’s something I’ve really been trying to convey in the scene. In the last few years, the dubstep scene has had a very rapid amount of change, and there have been a lot of arguments about what’s good and what’s not and what’s real and what’s not. I like to remind people that things can have a really heavy impact without being overly noisy and aggressive. Sometimes you hear a really mellow, pretty tune and it just has an impact on you because it’s got this emotional connection or whatever. I think that stuff is more long lasting.
How did the creation process for Perspective go?
It was a long process as most albums are. It took me about two years from conception to it actually being available to buy. Now that it’s just come out, I’m kind of figuring out what I want to do next. At some point, I definitely want to expand my live show, maybe do a whole project with one vocalist, but we’ll see. I’m the type of person, I like having plans for the future but I’m definitely aware that plans can change. I kind of just go with it.
Two years is a long time, did you find yourself going kind of crazy sitting with this for so long?
A lot of people from back in the day know that I can be obsessive about tunes. Now it’s much more refined, but it’s still there and I’m constantly trying to overcome it. I try to just get out more, even just get out of the room sometimes. Go downstairs, make a sandwich, whatever, go for a little walk around the block. You have to switch up your environment because sometimes you get too lost in it. You have no clear vision anymore when you’re in that state.
For all of the people featured on the album, did you have those features planned out before you made the tracks?
Yeah. The project was really special for me. The Grouch from Living Legends, I remember when he sent back that vocal, I was listening to it and thinking to myself, “Wow, this is crazy.” It was a cool little moment for me. I also already wanted to work with Jahden and everyone else on the album. I can’t believe it all worked out. They’re all very talented and very well known in their separate genres. They’re great artists.
How did you celebrate finishing the album after all that time?
When I finished the album? Well, when my part was finished the tunes were 90% done, but I still didn’t have the album signed! I wouldn’t really recommend that to anyone. It feels like the whole thing could have taken half the time that it did if I just had SMOG signed on as the label for the album when I was writing it. They could have been doing all their work behind the scenes, scheduling and getting press ready, all these things while I was doing the creative part and writing. I went through the whole long process of creating the album and then I had to find a label and then they had to do their whole job. Instead of us running parallel it became one thing and then the other. I wouldn’t want to do that again.
How is everything going since you signed with SMOG Records?
I’ve known them for a while. I’ve known John [Dadzie of 12th Planet] since back when he was doing drum and bass stuff under the name Infiltrata. We used to book him at our drum and bass weekly events up in Portland. So, I’ve known him for the longest out of the crew and I’ve known everyone else for a while. We’re all friends and we all have a lot of respect for each other. This is my first project with SMOG so they were very easy going with me and pretty much let me have complete creative control. I can’t really comment on releasing tunes with them just yet, because I haven’t been with them for too long, but I’m really excited to be on board and working with these guys. [What] we’re building [is] really strong right now and [we're] about to be a really significant force in west coast dubstep. They’re a good team and they completely recognize different areas of the scene. They understand what it takes to be underground and respected and to still be doing good things on that level.
Are there any collaborations between SMOG artists coming up?
Definitely. Some of us have collaborated already. Me and Antiserum have a tune on Perspective and we’ve done some other stuff in the past. SPL and myself have done some stuff also. We [at SMOG] are loosely planning a compilation right now that is going to have 12th Planet, Flinch, SPL, Antiserum, and myself on it. It will probably be two tunes from each person for a summer kind of thing. So yeah, there’s going to be a lot of interactivity. Now that the team is really starting to form we want to do more SMOG specific stuff.
We haven’t talked about live sets at all, what’s your most memorable performance experience?
It’s funny, the first moment I can remember being significant, where I kind of realized I might want to do something in the entertainment industry or on the stage, was back when I was in grade school. They used to pretty much make us be in these plays. Our school was really good at it and they were kind of well known for that. I never had any significant parts; I was always just some little extra, but just the feeling of being up there afterwards when you get a standing ovation. When I was young I liked that energy. I really always remember that and I was interested from that point on.
That’s so funny. I remember having those performances in school too. What about performances since you got into dubstep?
I remember this one. For my first European tour I was in Gothenberg, Sweden at a small club. I had already been playing shows for a while, but it was just one of those nights where everything was working. The place packed out and it wasn’t just people around the dance floor that were dancing, it was pretty much everyone. People were just really into it. Sometimes, in those smaller places where people don't really have as much to do, they’re just really appreciative of music and entertainment that comes through. It was just one of those random, special nights.
You seem to be pretty musically well rounded. What kind of music do you like to listen to?
I’ve been listening to a lot of stuff from the past for the last couple of years. I listen to a lot of soul music. Sam Cooke is my man. I like modern soul too, like Raphael Saadiq and Janelle Monae. I love a lot of reggae and dance hall, like Busy Signal’s new album called Reggae Music Again. I’ve been kind of getting into some of the trap stuff just for fun. I like the beats a lot. Those sluggish, heavy kinds of vibes. Van Morrison, I think, has a voice that’s pretty much unparalleled. I like music that has some timeless elements to it.
I’m curious to know, what’s the craziest story of your career that you can tell us about?
One time, some of my good older friends, the guys at Babylon System [Roomate and No Thing], and I were playing a show together in St. Louis or something and afterwards the promoters took us to White Castle, the place with the little slider burgers. They have this cardboard kind of suitcase-looking thing filled with those burgers called a Crave Case. We ate like one each and were like, "These are horrific." We went back to our hotel room and had a burger fight in the room.
Did you regret that the next day?
The next morning we woke up with pieces of meat on our clothes and in our hair, ketchup and mustard splotches on the wall, and I woke up completely late and had to rush out for my flight. I got all my stuff together and while I was running to the door I got a glimpse of myself in the mirror and I had this grey jacket on and there were splotches of burger all over it. I had to do a quick sink wash on it. It was such a mess, dude. There’s been a lot of craziness.
Where do you see your genre [dubstep] heading in the next few years?
It’s a technology-based music and technology has allowed more and more people to be able to make music. Now you can see how the electronic world is so massive and I feel like that’s part of the reason it’s so successful. Back in the day, you had to put in a lot of money just to have even a humble studio and now it pretty much is accessible to anyone who doesn’t live in a Third World country. The genre is so massive and expansive and I think it’s just going to keep on.
And for you?
For me? Part of the album was not really a full departure from being a genre-based artist but like one step out. I’m just going to keep on going that way pretty much. I’m not going to stop doing dubstep or 140 BPM type stuff because I still feel like there’s a lot that I would like to do with it, but I think I’m just going to get more and more diverse and try to work with different people. I could be starting like a soul band next year though, who knows? I can never quite predict what I’m going to do next. It might be quite a surprise.