Keri Noble Biography
Last updated: 09/09/2010 12:00:00 PM
When Keri Noble was growing up in Michigan, the universe of rock bands and singer-songwriters were unknown to her. Born in Fort Worth, Texas, her family moved to Detroit, where her father is the pastor of a Southern Baptist church in the city’s southwest.
“Growing up, the music I listened to was mostly Christian and Gospel,” Noble says. From an early age, she sang in the choir, where directors commented on her natural ability to execute complicated phrases with her rich alto. She also took piano lessons for a while. In her sophomore year, she transferred from a suburban school to attend a Christian high school in Detroit, where her mother taught Spanish.
“There were lots of kids with different musical backgrounds,” Keri remembers, “and many of them weren’t just listening to Christian music. My first experiences with local Detroit radio introduced me to Urban music, R&B and Hip Hop for the first time.”
As evidenced by Fearless, released March 2004 on Manhattan/EMI Records, Keri Noble did not become a Christian, R&B or hip-hop artist. Exactly how she did emerge, gradually marshalling such unusual authority and depth, is the story of both this bracing new singer-songwriter-pianist and her exceptional debut.
Noble began within a rich yet sometimes jarring cultural mélange. “My father, who was raised in a jungle in Peru,” Noble says, “is the pastor of a Spanish-speaking church. There were all these influences I was exposed to, many of which came from the black community. The whole idea of rock bands came to me much later. In fact, they only surfaced when I discovered singer-songwriter music. When I first started writing songs, somebody gave me Joni Mitchell’s Blue album. I had never even heard of Joni Mitchell. I thought, ‘Oh, does anyone know who this woman is.’ “
Noble first encountered the example of Mitchell when she realized that a young woman might seize upon music to speak her mind. She was then attending community college in Dearborn. By this time her journal and poetry writing had begun to flower into songwriting. Because music represented her only unwavering passion, she decided to leave college to pursue her musical career. “I waited tables and kept writing,” she says. “At some point enough people had heard me playing at my house and said, ‘I like your songs and style - you should be playing at local bars and coffeehouses.’
Life began to make sense. “I was determined to express myself,” Noble says. “I played maybe three times a week, mostly in coffeehouses in the Detroit area that sat about 80 people. Just my Roland keyboard and me. I drove a little Neon, which I called the clown car; it had my portable sound system in it, the keyboard everything.” One night, Noble met musician Billy McLaughlin, whom she uncharacteristically approached, introducing herself as an artist. After hearing her work, he offered to showcase Noble in Minneapolis, where she eventually moved and continues to live.
“I was so struck at how much art there was in Minneapolis.” Detroit’s never been a town for singer-songwriters. In Minneapolis, it’s so cold that lots of people just get together and play in their houses and jam. For me, Minneapolis was like this mystical place; I couldn't believe such places existed.”
McLaughlin introduced Noble to artist/producer Jeff Arundel who helped her demo her songs. The plan was to pursue showcase performances in New York, Los Angeles and other cities. Arundel said, “Look, there's a way to do this if you want to see how far you can take it.” Noble wanted to. While in Minneapolis, she signed with Blue Sky Artists Management for representation and Monterey Peninsula Artists for bookings. Eventually she was heard by Manhattan/EMI executives Ian Ralfini and Arif Mardin, who signed Noble to their label, ultimately executive producing Fearless with Jeff Arundel producing.
Noble is not the first young singer-songwriter whose debut depicts the flowering of her talent. Yet it is safe to say that few people ever make such an album as distinguished by musical clarity and emotional complexity as Fearless, recorded in New York and Minneapolis. Ballads such as the haunting “If No One Will Listen,” the lushly textured “Answered Prayer,” the cascading “Look at Me” and the suspended-in-air “Falling” are the songs of somebody hitting exactly the arresting ways of stating her mind – something that in Noble's case seems as crucial as breathing.
The album was recorded with a core band plus occasional string sections arranged and conducted by the legendary Grammy award winning producer, Arif Mardin. Most of Noble's vocals were tracked live as she sat at the piano and played; this is a feature of her recording that seems entirely appropriate to the unfolding directness of her songs and her story. “The songs do not tackle huge issues,” says Noble. “I’m not trying to take anything or anyone on. I’m just trying to express my life experiences through my writing.” Ian Ralfini says, “Keri is an artist who writes, sings, and plays intensely. She expresses the views of young women. She talks about the sensitive side of falling in love, how vulnerable a woman is. And yet in another song, she will stipulate to a man that ‘no, you cannot treat me like that, I don’t want to be just your trophy.’ ” Her special ability to wrap emotion into vibrant song forms struck Ralfini and Mardin the first time they heard her play. "I was impressed immediately with Keri as a writer and performer," Mardin remembers. “She truly writes songs from her heart, and she sings them with passion and conviction.”
On Fearless, Noble’s soulful voice explores everyday issues that happen to real people and affect their everyday lives, which end up seeming anything but routine. Her songs are about empowerment (“I Won’t”) memories (“Rain”) and farewells (“Piece of My Heart”), first crushes (“Talk to Me”) and potentially long romantic unions (“About Me”). “My album is really a kind of coming of age,” Noble says, “the dawning of understanding that so much is out there, that it’s ok to talk about how you feel. Until I worked through all of this, I didn’t even know there was a hole in my life. But as that hole fills up, you learn where you fit in, and you grow, you start to realize: ‘Hey, I can talk about this.’”
— December ‘03