INTERVIEW: Blake Noble
Originally from Byron Bay, on the East Coast of Australia, it was during the summer of 2012 that Blake Noble made the decision to call Seattle home. Since arriving stateside, Noble has toured extensively, gaining a strong amount of attention not only for his music -which is engaging and potent- but also for his curious style of guitar playing.
Blake Noble is a master guitarist and didgeridoo player known for his unique ‘Percussive Guitar’ style played simultaneously with the ancient Australian didgeridoo.
“I wanted to be original, not just another singer songwriter. I could play guitar, I could play drums, and I could play Didgeridoo. One day I tried to play Didge while also playing guitar, and luckily for me I was able to do so immediately…The biggest challenge is to be able to have several different rhythms running through your body at the same time. Imagine the top half of your body dancing along to one song, while the lower half of your body dances to an entirely different song. That’s kind of what is happening,” says Noble.
I had the chance to chat with Blake about being taught the didgeridoo “the traditional way”, walkabouts, what it means to play the “entire guitar”, ping pong and Crocodile Dundee.
Make sure to visit Blake Noble’s website to purchase his new album Those Who Know and to view upcoming gigs!
the mixtape: What brought you from Australia to Seattle?
Blake Noble: Originally, it was love. Quite a bit has changed since I arrived here just over three years ago.
tm: What’s your experience been like exploring the Seattle music scene?
BN: Ups and Downs, twists and turns, like any music scene. I’ve been able to grab some attention from local media due to the fact that I’m the only Aussie guy in the PNW playing Didgeridoo and beating up my guitar at the same time. Sometimes it’s lonely to be in your own genre. Sometimes the powers that be in the industry don’t have any idea how to sell or promote me, so they don’t. Having said that, I’ve had many amazing opportunities that have given me the best musical experiences of my life. I’ve jammed with some music legends and a few of my idols, so I really can’t complain. The music industry as a whole is very difficult to navigate, but I find that positivity, and being humble and kind to people can often work in your favor.
tm: From your bio: “Originally taught in the traditional way by an Aboriginal Elder, Blake is now blessed by elders of the Bundjalung Nation in Byron Bay, and more recently was blessed by Xavier Rudd himself, to perform and teach Didgeridoo and it’s significant culture and history.” Tell me about this…What does it mean to be taught in “the traditional way”? Is one not allowed to play or teach Didgeridoo without a proper blessing?
BN: Traditional way means that I learned directly from an elder, and I respect the way they played the instrument tens of thousands of years ago. Didgeridoo, or traditional name ‘Yidaki’, is the oldest wind instrument in the world, so I try my best to tie all that in when I write and perform. It’s important to carry over the culture behind it because most people have no idea about Aboriginal people. Anyone in the world is free to play Didgeridoo, and most Aboriginal players would be happy for them to play and share the culture. It’s different when you put yourself in a spotlight and get some media attention, especially in another country. It can be a powerful tool. When I was taught, I was told that it was my responsibility to not just play and leave it at that, I had to tell the story behind it, and behind the culture, so that we can all learn more about the oldest continuous culture on earth. Yidaki is not just a musical instrument.
I was blessed by Uncle Lewis back in Byron Bay from the Bundjalung Nation, right before I moved to the US. Fast forward a couple of years and I found myself hanging out with Xavier Rudd backstage at The Crocodile in Seattle for like 4 hours. We have many things in common, including mutual friends from back in Australia. Somehow we got our wires crossed and Xavier was telling me that an important elder had died. I immediately got very sad as I thought it was Uncle Lewis (which I found out later that it wasn’t). Xavier asked why I was so sad, and I said that Uncle Lewis was my connection to the Aboriginal people and the Bundjalung Nation. To me he is like a living spirit guide. Xavier then told me that he would be happy to become that connection for me, as he lives in Byron Bay (Bundjalung Country), and he blessed me to continue on my journey. So now I am blessed by Uncle Lewis Walker and Xavier Rudd, which makes me feel strong when I speak about these things.
tm: You play the Didgeridoo simultaneously with the guitar. Why did you decide this was the winning combo and what was the biggest challenge in bringing this task to life?
BN: Well, I didn’t really decide, it just kind of happened. I knew it was unique and that there weren’t many people who could pull that off. I wanted to be original, not just another singer songwriter. I could play guitar, I could play drums, and I could play Didgeridoo. One day I tried to play Didge while also playing guitar, and luckily for me I was able to do so immediately. The challenge was to combine the percussion with guitar playing, while also circular breathing into the Didge, and then keeping a beat with a kick drum. The biggest challenge is to be able to have several different rhythms running through your body at the same time. Imagine the top half of your body dancing along to one song, while the lower half of your body dances to an entirely different song. That’s kind of what is happening.
tm: Besides the Didgeridoo, what are some other aboriginal music influences or sounds that are on your new album that the average listener may not recognize?
BN: I really tried to fold some stories into the Didgeridoo parts, with specific calls and noises. Mainly I wanted a real Tribal feel to the album, which is why the first song is called Tribe. I wouldn’t say there are too many Aboriginal musical influences, but there are definitely some Australian Roots musical influences. The use of slide guitar and dobro, for me, gives it that Aussie sound – similar to Xavier Rudd and John Butler Trio. I didn’t want to have some strange drone album with some random guitar parts thrown on top of it, I want to show that Aboriginal culture, but I also really want to rock out.
tm: I noticed on your Facebook page under Band Interests you have this list: Travel, fishing, ping pong, all instruments. How’s your ping pong game? Do you enjoy any other table top sports?
BN: I haven’t changed that list for a few years. I should probably update it! It’s all accurate though. I used to play ping pong all the time! It’s addictive once you get into spinning the ball with top spin or backspin. I got pretty good for a while, but I don’t get a chance to play much anymore. As for other table top games – I don’t know …. like beer pong? I’m not really a drinker, so that’s out. It’s not often I get to sit down and play games like that anymore unfortunately. I should make time!
tm: Why do you choose to create instrumental albums in lieu of having lyrics? Are lyrics of any interest to you?
BN: I never planned on becoming an instrumentalist, it just happened. I write all kinds of songs, including songs with lyrics. I’ve been writing lyrics and poetry since I was young. I love words. Personally, I’m always disappointed when I see a singer/songwriter who has a beautiful voice, but is an average guitarist, or vice versa. I think that a lot of singer songwriters these days tend to just throw out some words that are catchy, with keywords that trigger an emotional response, but they don’t really mean anything. If I’m going to sing something and tell you a story, I’m going to do you a favor and bring a message that truly means something and is worthy of your time listening to it. If you listen closely to my music, there are plenty of messages within the notes. My music speaks for me, and the beautiful thing about instrumental music is that I’m not telling anyone what to feel. It’s open to interpretation based on how it makes you feel at that moment, and me too. In this way, the song meaning or feel can change over time. I like that idea. I’m constantly writing, and I do plan on releasing an album of songs with my lyrics sometime.
tm: From Twitter: “It’s the power of nature, not the nature of power. Gone walkabout. Back never.” What is the importance of this statement?
BN: The first part is from one of my favorite vocalists, a jazz vocalist from Australia called Vince Jones. “It’s the power of love, not the love of the power. It’s the power of nature, not the nature of power.”
I added “Gone Walkabout, back never” because I feel like I have just begun a new journey. Walkabout is a traditional Aboriginal practice that is a return to more traditional ways, out in nature, on a kind of spiritual quest. Sometimes we get wrapped up in life, the grind, work, and find ourselves dealing with complex emotions. Some people go to therapy. I go to nature. Sometimes I don’t want to come back.
tm: What’s the music scene like in Australia?
BN: It’s great. Strong. There are some incredible artists there that most Americans have never heard of. Matt Corby is one of my favorites. For the guitar minded folks, you can’t go wrong with my guitar hero Tommy Emmanuel, closely followed by Joe Robinson. Most Aussie musicians would kill to play in the US, but it’s very difficult and expensive. It’s easier for us to tour Europe or Canada. I am quite lucky to be here, and I remind myself of that every day. I do miss playing gigs on the beautiful sunny beach, though!
tm: Explain, if you will, how you play the entire guitar and where the idea to do so came about.
BN: When I first entered the music scene as a full time musician, I played on the streets 6 or 7 days a week. I didn’t have much money at the time as that wasn’t important. I was living in a tent. I would walk with my guitar to the street every day, and I developed my style over time. I didn’t have a guitar amp, so I had to play loud to get over the traffic noise. I would break a lot of strings often. Some days I would only have 3 or 4 strings left on my 12 string guitar, but I had to be out there making a living no matter what, so I went back to my roots of drumming, and I started to play beats on my guitar with my hands so I could make enough money to buy new strings. Immediately, people took notice and started throwing money at me, and I started to book gigs. My hands would be covered in blood and blisters some days. Sometimes I would play djembe or bongos while busking with friends, and people didn’t notice. When I do the same beats and rhythms on my guitar, people are fascinated. Essentially I am playing the guitar part, the bass part, and the drum parts all at once. It’s fingerstyle guitar with percussive guitar. The reason it’s different to others who do this style is that I do it with a Didgeridoo and kick drum, and I’m not aware of anyone else who does that combination.
tm: If Blake Noble were an action figure what would your accessories be?
BN: Coffee on command. Flip Flops. Guitar Picks for fingernails.
tm: Crocodile Dundee, Crocodile Dundee II or Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles?
BN: Oh man, this is a tough one. Probably Crocodile Dundee II. Americans always liked the idea of some random Aussie dude from the bush who can catch crocodiles and snakes with his bare hands. At the same time, many Aussies always liked the idea of catching a beautiful American girl.
tm: What’s next for Blake Noble?
BN: I wish I knew. Now is a time of change for many people, including me. I’m more focused than ever on my solo career and songwriting, and my latest album ‘Those Who Know’ is doing pretty well so far and getting some attention from licensing companies. I’m also a member of Rust On the Rails with my mates Cody Beebe, Tim Snider and Scott Mercado. We have some great opportunities coming up too, so that could keep me in the PNW. There are many things that make me want to stay in this area (I’m currently living in the mountains outside of Yakima, WA). However, I also feel the pull of a walkabout in my near future. A spiritual quest to find where I belong next. I’ve lived in Rome, Italy, Monaco, France, Brighton, England, Wellington, New Zealand, various places in Australia, Boston, NY, WA, the list goes on. Obviously I’m not one to stay still for too long, and now that my feet aren’t bound, really I could end up anywhere in the world.
Gone Walkabout. Back … sometime.