Noel Gourdin: Singing Redemption Songs

Don’t call it a comeback.

But it’s kind of hard to call it anything else truthfully. How else can you categorize an artist that bounces back from a personal and artistic slide only to return stronger than ever? Definitions aside R&B singer Noel Gourdin is in the middle of taking his art and life into a new direction. With a new label home and a new sound with a classic feel the Brockton MA native is on a mission.

Having already tasted success with his ballad “The River”, Noel is well aware of what it takes to make it. The song’s appearance on the soundtrack of Martin Lawrence’s Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins helped gain some much needed attention for the crooner. The 2008 #1 Adult R&B single earned Noel a trip through the major label system that left him with a first class education on what happens when the machine doesn’t see things your way. His debut project After My Time, anchored by “The River”, should have been a slam dunk. With names like Raphael Saadiq and Vidal & Dre on production the soul sound of Noel’s influences Marvin Gaye, Tyrone Davis, Johnnie Taylor and Sam Cooke should’ve been easy to obtain. But a few things with his former label home Sony let him know it wasn’t going to be a smooth as he thought. Operative word in that sentence is should. The pressure to make a “hit” combined with a lack of shared vision made it a doomed marriage. According to Noel the first hint of trouble was when Sony didn’t see a problem with a video for a song based on the Pachuta, Mississippi summers he spent as a child being shot in downtown LA and with no river in sight. Lukewarm execution for his follow up single let him know it was a done deal. After leaving following Sony his debut, Noel found himself back home with a depression fueled weight gain of 40 lbs in and ready to quit the music biz.

“It was fortunate that I had my family. All of their support and prayers did it. They were like ‘Get back on the horse, man. We from Brockton. We’re a city of fighters’. It’s key to have that strong support group when you’re down. Either your team, your family or friends. That and strong faith in God is what got me through.”

Getting “back on the horse” also included more control. While grateful for the opportunities that his time at Sony afforded him and the great people he worked with, Noel was ready for a change. With his new Mass Appeal/E1 project [fresh] the definition he took on the role of associate producer to ensure getting his soulful sound just right. From the looks of things he may have been right all along. USA Today, Vibe Magazine, BET and Essence Magazine have all spotlighted him as his first single “Beautiful”, a pledge to properly address his woman, is quickly rising on the R&B charts and well on its way to a quarter of a million YouTube views for his video. The question remains, how does a soul singer laser focused on maintaining a classic sound survive in a world where singers who can’t sing and rap songs masquerading as R&B dominate? Now with a new label, the right sound and a fresh attitude Noel seems poised to answer those questions. He spoke with via phone on the day before his album’s release.

G. Valentino Ball: Your journey to get to a new album hasn’t been easy. What are the major differences between the creation of this album and the process for the last one?
Noel Gourdin: The major difference is being able to spread my wings and to be able to have the tools to realize my vision. It’s more of a tight knit group with my new label, Mass Appeal. It’s more of a family oriented thing. It just feels a little warmer as opposed to being with the big muscle of the system with so many voices overcrowding mine.

G. Valentino Ball: What did that atmosphere allow you to get across?
Noel Gourdin: Don’t get me wrong. My first project is dear to my heart. But this time feels a lot more intimate. The live instrumentation I implemented this time’s a big difference between this album and the last.

The River

G. Valentino Ball: You talked about the instrumentation. People already put you in the vein of classic soul singers, does this album take you into that even more?
Noel Gourdin: Absolutely. On my first album there were a couple on there that are definitely on what we on now. But with this you can feel the drums, and the bass, the grand piano and the orchestration. That was the vision that we had. It was great to carry it out and pour myself into this album throughout the whole process.

G. Valentino Ball: Do you feel vindicated now that you are getting the reaction and love that you have been getting for the album?
Noel Gourdin: I absolutely feel vindicated. This is a redemption story. The title is a reflection of how I feel as a man not just as an artist coming back and resurfacing. It feels good. I hit a hard rock. I gained a bunch of weight. I wasn’t really focusing. I wasn’t really in touch with my family. And that was big because I’m really close with my family. I had fallen out of a lot of that. Just got caught up with regrets and “Why me?” It was the support system of my family and my friends that brought me back. Going through all that now I feel like I’m on top of the world.

G. Valentino Ball: How does it feel to see people really gravitating and connecting with the song “Beautiful” and its video?
Noel Gourdin: It just seems that everyone is putting so much passion in to it as well. E1, Mass Appeal and my manager Marvin Mack are just putting so much passion into it. I like to call it that “Jerry Maguire” effect. It feels like it’s one on one. Obviously they have other artists but it feels like that. And that’s the thing. Everyone puts that passion into it like it’s the only thing they got on the plate. It just feels that much better. It just feels like the looks that I am getting this time around are so key.


G. Valentino Ball: I know with “Beautiful” the reaction from women must be crazy. The song’s premise of the power of words must be striking a cord. What’s the feedback from women that you’ve been getting about it?
Noel Gourdin: I’ve been hearing everything. Things I didn’t even expect. From women who have been domestically abused to women who have been sexually harassed. They all just say “Thank you for putting yourself out there and taking a chance.” I say that its high time that someone said this. Women are so much more deserving of more than that. I like to think I played a little part in bringing awareness to the respect level that women should be getting. Not just in the Black community but all communities. It hits really close to home for me because right up until the point that I was born my biological father was beating on my Moms. To hear her stories now from my older brother and older sister, it’s heartbreaking. And on top of that he denied me at birth, so with those type of things going on it just hit close to home for me. We need to make a more conscious effort to respect our women a lot more.

G. Valentino Ball: Given the retro feel of the album, who are the artists that made a mark on your sound?
Noel Gourdin: All the artists that my Pops used to play. Al Green, Johnnie Taylor, Tyrone Davis, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke. There’s so many. Barry White, Al Jarreau, Michael Jackson and Prince with the falsetto. There were so many that my Pops listened to and in turn that is the music that made me feel good. This is what I was memorizing when I was 5 or 6 years old. It was that music and that feel that the music gave me. And I knew that’s what I wanted to do when I got older. I want to make people feel the way I feel when I hear this music. R. Kelly, Maxwell, Eric Benet, Joe Thomas. Joe Thomas might be one of the most slept on artists of all time. There are so many artists that are in my lane that are doing it but in relation to the entire industry it’s not that many. And it seems like their trying to push it out. So it feels good to bring out this album and try to keep this music alive because it’s vital. It’s scary what our kids and grandkids might be listening to. We got to keep this music alive.

G. Valentino Ball: I think that you’re a part of that resurgence. A group of R&B cats who do their thing with soul without feeling dated. Seems like it was a concerted effort.
Noel Gourdin: It’s a fine line. Just having that feel of old school classic soul but keeping it relevant is very important. But it wasn’t really conscious. If it sounds conscious that’s great. (laughs). No we just went in and did what we were supposed to do. Sometimes we would just listen to tracks. Sometimes we would form the track around what we wanted to do. We just went in and made music. Kind of like in the Motown days. They just went in and made good feeling music. Seems like people try to make microwave music. Trying to chase being the hot ring tone. More power to them. Its selling and that’s great. I’m happy for my brothers and sisters. But for me I want this music to stick around 25 years. And people who love and respect music seem to be gravitating towards it. Its my thought that we did something right. I hope the public feels the same way.

G. Valentino Ball: You talked about the closeness of your family. What’s their reaction been to you and the process of making this album?
Noel Gourdin: They are so proud. And they are so critical of my music and I love it. We have gatherings, sip on some wine and just listen to the music. They are my toughest critics. But they tell me that they are proud of me for picking myself up. And for me it’s great because I am doing this for them. For my Moms and my Pops, my nieces and nephews and all those that have looked out for me for years and years. It’s kinda crazy for them to be calling me up and congratulating me. And hearing how proud of me that they are it feels good; real good. Because I hit a hard rock and my family was there to hold me. It was God as well. A lot of prayer. Just keeping my faith in God, my family and myself.

Noel – Live on Stage

G. Valentino Ball: With this new project and all the attention do you ever see yourself as being one of the people to bring attention to the Boston area?
Noel Gourdin: Oh yea. It was hurtful to not see Boston on the map. I would always look at the BDS and my popularity in certain areas and I would always check Boston first. I’d go past all the biggest markets and look right at Boston. (laughs) I can tell this time though that my presence is being felt. That’s a testament to the passionate work that my team is doing for the project.

G. Valentino Ball: What would be the words that you would pass on to other artists or anyone who went through that kind of negative time like you did?
Noel Gourdin: Just like in life in general you have to have a belief in God that the path that he has laid is the one for you to walk. There was a lot of the time that it was out of my mind. It wasn’t even in my hands. Just going through questioning if I was supposed to do this and just being disappointed with the industry, the label and myself as well. I just had to believe and keep God in my heart. Until he takes you home you have to remember that it’s a path that he’s already laid out. Just know and believe that its going to get better. Things happen for a reason. Its also having that strong support. Family and friends. And it doesn’t take a whole lot either. I just so happen to have a large family. Its having someone that makes a connection with you and gets into you. They speaks to your soul. And you have to listen. I was listening. I wasn’t praying the way I do or following up with my support groups. Trust in God and the path. You have to believe that things happen for a reason and you will come out on top. You cant ever give up. I contemplated that as well. But that where the support comes in. You have to share with people who have those same goals. I found that out first hand.

by G. Valentino Ball