Nov 12, 2021
By Caleb Campbell
Photography by Kristina Pedersen
Prolific Montreal singer/songwriter Cedric Noel is back today with his eighth album, Hang Time. Coming quickly on the heels of his 2020 albums, Patterning and Nothing Forever, Everything Noel’s latest effort finds him deep within a period of self-reflection, exploring the complicated boundaries of identity. Noel is also joined on the record by a host of other creatives, including drummer Liam O’Neill (SUUNS), Brigitte Naggar (Common Holly), Ella Williams (Squirrel Flower), and Tim Crabtree (Paper Beat Scissors). The full album is out now with Joyful Noise Recordings/Forward Music Group, but Noel has also shared a video for one of the record’s highlights, “Stilling,” premiering with Under the Radar.
As Noel describes, “[Stilling’] touches on trying to find a sense of place and struggle between two spheres of life.” That feeling of being both within and without is one that reappears consistently on the record and in Noel’s own life. Noel spent his youth moving around the world with his multi-racial family before settling in Canada where he found himself moving through predominantly white indie rock communities.
Where elsewhere on the album, especially on “Allies,” Noel wrestles more explicitly with the racial part of his identity, “Stilling” explores the boundaries and tensions between worlds of all kinds. Softly thrumming indie rock guitars act as the main accompaniment to Noel’s soaring, silken vocals, as he wonders “Am I still, still, still / A part of it? / Still, still still, / Apart from it?” The accompanying video, created by Ryan Hover, visualizes the tension within the lyrics. Three candles move together and apart in a mirror of the song’s own ebb and flow. The song bursts into color with the emotive and insistent heights of the chorus, just as the video merges the candles into explosions of brilliant fire.
Check out the song and video below. You can also read our Q&A with Cedric Noel below, where we explore his creative process and the inspirations behind the song and the record. Hang Time is out everywhere now via Joyful Noise Recordings/Forward Music Group.
This is your third record in just under two years and your 8th overall. How do you keep up that prolific output?
I really love to make albums. 🙂 It’s mostly just about me having fun. A record will usually come together in two ways for me: The first is just due to songwriting being an emotional outlet and release and so I’ll usually write a good number of songs in a short span of time. The other is I get really inspired when I hear music that connects with me and I want to challenge myself to see if I can make something within a similar ilk. That often leads me to having a stockpile of demos of records to make and that stresses me out so I try to get them done before it gets out of hand. I’m also into production and recording, so whether it’s making a record at home or in a studio it’s all equally intriguing and compelling to me. It’s also the antithesis to my day job so It rarely feels like “work”.
What are you doing when you’re not writing new music?
Probably thinking about making new music? Ha. I’m always thinking about future records and setting specific sonic and production goals for each one. But otherwise, I suppose I do have a life. If I’m not making music or at my aforementioned job I’m probably either playing in my friends’ projects, trying to learn about different instruments, or spending time with the folks in my life. Coming out of the pandemic, I’ve been trying to balance that a bit more. It got very easy for me to stay in my space and do my thing. I’m normally an introvert that likes to be social so like so many of us I’m trying to relearn the social part of the equation again. There is definitely a joy that comes from being around people that I find fulfilling. I’m also into geography and history so I do spend some time learning about those two subjects when I have the want and time.
What do you feel sets this record apart from your 2020 albums?
I think firstly that it was made before and in tandem with nothing, forever everything and Patterning. I started writing it in 2018 and finished it in January 2020. Hang Time is the only solo record of mine that I didn’t engineer and that was mostly made in a studio, The Pines. I worked on it with my good friend Steve Newton and I think he really elevated the sonic potential of the music in ways that being in a studio and working with an experienced and empathetic engineer can.
I think Hang Time is also really the end of me trying to write a certain kind of music. I was introduced to indie-rock and all of its offshoots in my early twenties and I think spent the next few years trying to write a record in that world that I could feel proud of. Hang Time for me very much feels like mission accomplished and onto the next thing for now.
Which artists were you listening to and inspired by when writing the record?
I have gotten this question a couple of times recently and I honestly have a hard time remembering most of them. I do remember listening to a lot of Lomelda and Okay Kaya for sure. Both of them hold a lot of space in the songwriters I listen to. I know there was lots of Solange and Blood Orange too. Sonically I think both Fleet Foxes’ Crack-up and Jon Mckiel’s Memorial Ten Count helped me figure out where I wanted the songs to sit in the headphones and come out of the speakers. I was probably getting into Sarah Davachi at that point and the Afterglows were on heavy rotation as well.
The album deals a lot with questions of identity. Has it been cathartic to process those feelings through your music?
Yeah for sure. That is usually always the case when I write. For the majority of the songs and pieces I make I tend to approach as improvisations and leave them be as they come out save for a few edits here and there. So my lyrics are usually coming from my subconscious and feel very unfiltered, a literal emotional release I think. Writing Hang Time was mostly the same process but I knew I wanted to write about my identity and my experiences around it. So I had to force myself to get into those headspaces more and improvise a little more consciously than I typically would.
I know you also come from a very diverse background and moved all over the globe in your formative years. How do you see those experiences coming out in your music?
I’m still learning so much of the effect of growing up in so many countries and cultures had on me and now with the music I make. I’m only 30, so I think there’s a way to go for me to fully understand it all. But I think I really view the world and people as mostly the same. I obviously understand there are differences but I really struggle with classification or putting groups of people in different boxes. So I see music in the same way, be it the way I consume it or create it. I can only speak for myself, so I find it weird as a musician to stick to making one kind of music if I have an interest in almost all of them. I want to explore my limits as a music creator but also see if I can find different approaches to making music and if I can attain them. Simply put, growing up I really saw the world as borderless and that was a real luxury and privilege in my opinion. That led me to seeing music in much of the same ways.
The record also has a big list of other contributing artists. What was it like bringing all these different talents into your music?
So fun. Just so fun. I feel so fortunate to have found communities of musicians and music enthusiastic artists that are so talented and bring so much to their own work and to others. The collaborations were really varied, I had some folks come into the studio like Liam O’Neill, Brigitte Naggar, and Kathleen Speckert or send in files like Ella Williams, Lisa Conway-Bühler, and Isaac Vallentin. There were also folks like Ryan Hover at Joyful Noise who designed the record packaging and made two of the videos and my mom Maria José Da Veiga Coutinho who let me use her paintings for the back cover and record sleeve. I wish I could list each person who contributed to this album because they feel so crucial to it. I invite folks to check out all their work if they can, they are listed on my Bandcamp. After doing almost all of the work on my albums for the past ten years, the luck I’m graced with to have folks help me is not lost on me.
Having Steve come in for this record was also huge, he is definitely the most influential collaborator on this album. He is the first person to spend more time on a solo record of mine than me. He was so happy to explain and teach along the way but also listen to my intentions and ideas to work together to find ways to make them happen. It’s also great to have someone in the studio say “hey, maybe that’s too many guitar tracks in the chorus.”
Truth be told, I see this list of contributing artists as kind of small and I expect for future projects I’ll have more folks involved and I’ll hopefully have a smaller ego in order to let others show off their personalities more.
Can you describe the inspirations behind the “Stilling” song and video?
I think this song came out of being thrown into a different life, in what felt like quite suddenly. When I wrote most of these songs I had just moved to Ottawa from Montreal for a year. I started a new job and felt very isolated from the social life I had begun to form in Montreal. At the same time, I was in the middle of figuring out what artistic communities I wanted to be a part of and whether the work-life I’d found myself in was for me. So that dichotomy was very present for me that winter and I think that “Stilling” came out of that push and pull of figuring out where to be.
The video was made by Ryan Hover (Sound of Ceres, Candy Claws). It’s been such a joy to work with him on the visual aspects of the album. I knew I wanted a lot of colour and I described to him what I thought the song was about and he came up with the idea of the candles moving back and forth against each other. He really nailed it, I’m so happy with it.