With her debut record Invisible Crown, Courtney Noe’s vocal and lyrical skills were on full throttle. Embracing a classic Motown pop vibe through its five tracks, Invisible Crown gave us the perfect introduction to the rural Oregon native. However, diving into the pieces of her forthcoming sophomore EP, Bad Attitude, it's clear that our first glimpse of her ability was only the tip of the iceberg.
Developed over the span of two and a half years, Bad Attitude takes on whole new levels of sound that Invisible Crown never got to explore. With its fingers in rock, synthpop, Motown and trap, the final product is an EP that not only continues to show Noe’s lyrical and vocal ability, but her versatility in music and ability to experiment with sound while still producing a cohesive record.
And while Noe may be in a new territory, she continues to prove her ability as an artist both sonically and visually. Because for Noe, music isn’t just about the sound—it’s about the experience.
Ahead of the full EP’s release, Noe talked to Vortex about her vision for Bad Attitude and the journey she took in the process of its creation.
Tell us a little bit about this new EP, 'Bad Attitude.' What’s its origin story?
I started working on it in January of 2017 and I told my producer that I wanted to have a live show in mind for every song. I wanted it to be a little more upbeat and make sure that it would translate really well for live. I’m always concerned with making sure people know that I can actually sing. But my producer was like, “Don’t worry about that. Just make it so people can sing along. You can have moments of belting, but you don’t have to yell through the whole song, like ‘I can sing! I’m proving I can sing!’” He kind of had to talk me off a ledge there. Just chill out and have it be vibey and have it so people can sing along.
“Beg” and “Woman on the Prowl” are standouts because they’re so different from what we’ve heard from you before. 'Invisible Crown' had this kind of pop and Motown-inspired sound, while this EP has its hands in a lot of areas. There’s a lot of rock influence coming through, and both these tracks have such a heavy vibe. How did that shift in sound occur?
I had performed a handful of times for Invisible Crown and I would always leave the stage feeling like I had more to give. So, I knew when I was starting my new stuff, I wanted it to be a little more energetic and dramatic. I think with Bad Attitude, I was just kind of in a bad mood at the time (laughs). So, everything was just a little more dark and grungy, and I wanted a bunch of distortion and effects on everything. I was more open to using different types of tools. You can probably hear I have vocal effects on stuff, and before I was like, “No, we can’t do any of that.” I was obsessed with proving I can sing raw or whatever. I had to think of it as getting dressed, because fashion is my thing. It’s like an accessory you put on.
And even though there are those accessories on this record, the rawness still comes through just like it did on 'Invisible Crown.' You have this very honest and forward personality in your writing. Do you find that’s how you are in your day-to-day life? Or does your music allow you to open up a part of yourself that you wouldn’t usually?
I’m definitely confident in day-to-day life; I’m pretty blunt. But I’m not confrontational, so I’ll usually let things go and I won’t actually say a lot of the stuff that I say in my lyrics to a person. I’ll just save it for my own mind. I don’t really like a lot of attention in real life. I get overwhelmed. It’s definitely parts of me, but with my music, it’s a little more level 10.
Even though there are so many sounds, not only is there that rock sound, but you have some trappy synth pop on “Reckless,” and you go back to that Motown-inspired vibe on “Something Special.” There’s a lot of different elements to this, but it still feels pretty cohesive. How are you able to keep a common thread going through with so many variations in genre?
I never felt like I fit into one specific genre, and I have no problem saying that I’m pop. But I definitely wanted to show that I can do different types of sounds. For part of this, I was listening to SZA (that’s where “Reckless” came from), and then I was listening to Gin Wigmore (and that’s where the rock came from). It took me like two and a half years to make it, so of course I’m listening to a wide variety of other artists, and I think I’d just get into a trend of listening to one thing and then being like, let’s write a song like this.
And pop is such a diverse genre these days. There are elements of hip-hop, rock, jazz, that are all fused under the pop name. Do you feel like you’re riding that wave a bit, embracing the pop genre but allowing yourself to experiment with it a little bit?
Yeah, I’ve always said I was pop. And I don’t know if it’s because Portland doesn’t have much of a pop scene here, but I always felt like it’s a dirty word. Like, “Oh, you do pop?” as opposed to like rock or indie or whatever. But I always felt super connected to the genre of pop because I feel like it’s really versatile. Even back in the day, you think of Motown as a genre now, but that was just pop back then. So, it really just morphs into history.
What part of this EP do you feel most proud of? What stands out to you?
I think “Reckless,” being it was such a feat for me to finish the song. It’s a little bit lighter in delivery. And I protested that song. I love the instrumental of it, I love the melody. But when I had to go sing it, I hated everything about it because I wasn’t used to singing that lightly or in that tone. It took a year and a half to get a version of it that I liked, and then we got it all finished and I told my producer I hated it and didn’t want to release it. It was this ongoing push and pull. And now it’s probably the one I’m most proud of, because it’s also the most vulnerable lyric wise.
Was it hard being that lyrically vulnerable on a track?
Yes. Especially because I’m not good at being vulnerable in general. And when I’m writing, I’d just word vomit onto a page. I’d have to show [my producer and co-writer] the lyrics, but I didn’t even want to pass over the paper. So, it was this push and pull of me getting comfortable enough with them to show them the lyrics, let alone make a whole song.
You’ve grown as an artist since 'Invisible Crown' based on what we’ve talked about—opening yourself up to experimentation with sounds, being more emotionally vulnerable lyrically. How do you feel you’ve grown as a person as well as an artist since your first EP?
I think I’m more sure of decisions I make regarding music and branding and visuals. I kind of just go with my first instinct and what I want to do, where I used to just ask everybody for their opinion. I’m more confident in my first judgement. And then I think if I get scared of saying something that’s too bold or too vulnerable, I just think, "Well, what songs do you like that have helped you process what you need to process?" It’s usually the ones that are super brutally honest and so specific that you know they wrote that about something that literally happened to them. I just try and channel that as well. Because I think people really appreciate honesty and just being real.
What are you most excited about with this EP dropping?
I’m really excited for the live show. I’m working with my producer to make it seamless, so I won’t have starts or stops. Once we start, we’re going. I basically told him to make my set like Beyoncé’s Homecoming (laughs). That was basically the idea behind the live shows. I’m just excited to perform it and have my dancers and my costumes and just really give the whole experience of why I made the EP in the first place, which was to have a really fun and exciting live show experience.