Donning five-inch heels and sequin-studded costumes, you would never guess that Portland’s Courtney Noe was raised on the country life. Her debut EP, Invisible Crown, melds a variety of established styles, delivering a collection of pop ballads with a Motown backbone. The resulting unique sound is a direct result of Noe’s life, blending modern pop with classics of decades past, transitioning her from country girl to the pop artist she’s made all on her own.
Growing up an only child in rural Oregon, Noe’s childhood was defined by her parents and the music they raised her on. “I didn’t have siblings, so I spent a lot of time in my room listening to music, drawing, singing, dancing and dreaming,” she says.
Her earliest memories were soundtracked by some of the best of the '60s, '70s and '80s. “One set of grandparents lived in Corvallis and we visited them frequently,” Noe recalls. “So on the hour-and-a-half drive over I’d be singing along to The Beatles, The Mamas & the Papas, Leslie Gore, Whitney, Aretha, The Supremes, The Jackson 5…”
These earlier influences definitely show in Noe’s own music, but what of the large pop production that shimmers in her performances? The effect of pop music presented itself later when Noe started taking the bus to school. The closest major city being Eugene, 104.7 KDUK was the only station with a good signal and this meant more exposure to “Today’s Best Music.”
These influences gave her the fuel that would carry her towards her own unique sound, but there’s more that played into her transformation. While being raised on a mixture of music, Noe was also raised on fashion and this has played a major role in the development of her current persona.
“Before I started telling people I wanted to be an international pop star, I told them I wanted to be a fashion designer,” Noe says. From an early age, Noe had an interest in design, making bathing suits, trench coats, her own dresses for prom and more. She found fashion inspiration everywhere—from the Spice Girls, from Miranda of Disney’s Lizzie McGuire, from Grease’s Rizzo. This interest in fashion design has carried into her current knack for style and the costumes she showcases at her performances. “My adult style is definitely inspired by Sex and the City,” says Noe, noting that she is “a Samantha." She also lists Rihanna and Kim Kardashian as inspiration for her current aesthetic.
With the music and fashion elements more or less set from an early age, there was only one step to completing her transformation to pop star: choreography.
“Growing up, I’d see photos and videos of Destiny’s Child or J. Lo putting on a show and notice there were costumes, dancers and choreography,” Noe says. “So that’s always been in my head as part of the deal when you’re a singer. You’re an entertainer.”
Noe took this idea head on, creating her own stage presence in a way that reflected this pop star image. With choreography, costumes and powerful pop music, her live show does more than entertain the audience—and for her, it’s therapeutic and empowering.
“I get really anxious before I perform,” Noe explains. “I get really shaky, my heart starts to race and I lose my breath. The elements that help deter my anxiety is the ability to move around, being on a high stage and, of course, being in a good outfit. And heels.”
This energetic pop star persona is something she has dubbed her “Diva Mode.” Though showcased in her live performance, this energy is not lost on her recorded music.
On Invisible Crown, Noe brings together all of the elements that made up her transformation to create a beautiful collection of songs, set to a landscape of horns and strings. The production of the EP owes its dues to Kyle Devine of Devine Noise.
“The first couple of sessions [for the EP] consisted of myself and Kyle sitting in the studio for hours, building the beats,” Noe says. “We’d go through dozens of different drum sounds, strings and effects to find the right mixture.”
Prior to the initial construction of the record, Noe and cowriter Ashley Kervabon (known by her stage name Ashley Xtina) discussed the direction the songs should go. They both agreed: strings, drama, emotional, raw.
“Kyle was really on board to produce what I had in my head and not settle for a mediocre product,” Noe says. The time spent shaping the EP into exactly what was envisioned was time well spent. A job that originally was slated to only take two or three weeks ended up turning into six months of work, but Invisible Crown’s polished finish makes all that time worth it.
Standout tracks off of the album include the very raw and emotional “Alone,” a track Noe penned about her own struggles. “I wrote ‘Alone’ because I was depressed,” she says. “I’d been so for over a year. I never got a medical diagnosis but I know I was. I never knew what people meant when they claimed they couldn’t get out of bed until I really couldn’t.”
“Alone” is by far the saddest song on the record, but it's also one of the most beautiful. Noe imagined it as the song she could listen to when she starts to get stuck back in her sadness, and hopes it can help someone else struggling with the same feelings.
Along with “Alone,” the title track is a definite highlight, trading in the raw emotion for a more upbeat and uplifting number. The only song written without Kervabon, “Invisible Crown” is, as Noe describes it, “a song for people who know who they are and own it.”
“Someone had recently pissed me off with some smartass remark,” she says of the track’s inspiration. “‘Invisible Crown’ is essentially a rant. I just started to list everything that people pick at; something about me that I should improve or that is ‘undesirable.’”
Though the EP may have its standouts, there’s no denying that the whole of the record is polished and impressive. This is very much due to Noe’s own determined and perfectionist attitude. “I love and stand behind all of my songs,” she says. “I made it a point to not cop out on any of them and say, ‘Eh, those lyrics sound good enough.’”
Noe admits that the process of recording and finishing the EP was an exhausting one. Between nerves and days where she was just trying to hold back tears, she's put everything she has into Invisible Crown. “I thought I’d never finish the EP,” Noe says. “Every doubt you could have, I had it. But every once in a while I’d have a breakthrough and feel this burst of what I believe people refer to as happiness. I’d walk to my car after a good day of recording and think, ‘This is why you’re putting yourself through hell. This is why you aren’t settling and playing it safe.’”
What’s left is an extremely powerful piece of art, one that gives a perfect introduction into the life and style of Courtney Noe. Invisible Crown seems to be the ideal stepping stone for future success in Noe’s pop career, a future which she says has a lot in store.
“I’m definitely proud and relieved that it’s done,” she says. “Glad to finally have something original to show people, but I’m already creating and working on the next thing.”
For Noe, this is only the beginning. Her dreams of international pop stardom have yet to be realized, but with a growing local following and the persistence that created this EP, it won’t be long until Courtney Noe is in the headlines. Fans have a lot more to expect: more music, more honesty, more sass and a lot more costumes.
Noe makes it clear: “I’m not going to be satisfied until I’m sitting in the same row as Rihanna at the Grammys, nominated for Best New Artist. I’m not going to be satisfied until I’m on the cover of Elle, until I’m selling out Madison Square Garden.”