COVER STORY: Lau Noah discusses her unique acoustic style

Transcendent Guitarist Opens Up On The Creative Possibilities Unlocked by Being Self-Taught   

The amazingly talented Spanish guitarist and singer Lau Noah recently sat down with Performer to chat about her musical upbringing, her creative process when it comes to approaching the guitar and her individual style, as well as her decision to put out an album of duets featuring some of her favorite contemporary artists. Join us as we get to know Noah in more depth as part of our special Acoustic Issue cover story…

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

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Yeah, absolutely. Well, I’m originally from Spain. I grew up in a small city…you know, no big metropolitan life, no big music communities or anything. And since I was a little kid, I really loved everything that had to do with creating something that did not exist before. So I love drawing, painting, I love music. And I loved most of all the soundtracks of movies, so I would watch all these movies and even [as a young girl], I would try and transcribe the lyrics even if I didn’t know how to write.

I moved out of my parents’ house when I was 16. I went to music school when I was a little kid, but the Academy was really not for me, so I quit around 11-12 years old and then I kept on playing piano — at 19 years old, I moved to New York City.

Wow, just like that?

I found a job as a nanny. It was not for music purposes.

So what prompted you to move from Spain to the United States? Was it the job or did you have aspirations to live here and perform?

I needed to have an interesting life. Truly though, as a teenager I suffered from agoraphobia and from really high levels of anxiety. And I had body paralysis and all these things. So when I recovered from that, I told myself you have to travel the world, you have to live in many places. You have to live in a way that when you’re old, hopefully you get to being old and you can look at yourself in the mirror and be like, I had a pretty nice life.

So it was a bit of that. I didn’t have a big dream of becoming a touring musician or anything that I’m doing right now. It was mostly I needed to start somewhere and I found a job there that paid for [it]. So I just jumped and I did it at19 years old. And I worked as a nanny upstate New York.

And then when I could get out of that because it was pretty terrible, I moved to New York City, and I worked as a waitress, as a dog walker, babysitter — all of these things that immigrants without means do because that’s my background, you know, and that taught me so much. Especially being surrounded with children and having to work with children. It forces you to be in this extremely creative mindstate. You have to become a really good storyteller because that’s the only way a kid’s going to be sitting in front of you listening for an hour straight.

What’s interesting is when you were growing up, you were talking about the piano. But obviously now most people know you and associate with you with the acoustic guitar, classical guitar. Where did that enter the picture for you?

It happened in 2016 in Montreal.

Wow, OK. Tell us a little bit about how the guitar entered your life — because it seems like it was a little bit later in your story.

Absolutely. It was very late and it was very strange. I had gone to Montreal to visit a friend and it was February, so there was a snowstorm. It was miserable. My friends had gone to a Patrick Watson show and they told me they had tickets for me and eventually they said they had run out of tickets. The weather was really bad, so I was stuck in that apartment by myself and my friend only had a guitar in the house. He didn’t have a piano. He didn’t have anything else. And I had tried playing guitar before, [but] it never worked. It hurt my fingers.

I don’t know why I picked it up, but I said, ‘Alright, well I don’t know how to [play] this. The only thing I can do is go note by note trying to find all the sounds that my brain hears. And harmonize myself as I was singing.’ And that’s how I developed this very weird thing that I do now, but that people eventually started saying, well, this is counterpoint. I was like, ohh, OK, you know?

It’s an interesting style for folks who haven’t heard you yet. It is very contrapuntal. But you know, that’s something that I think doesn’t come from being taught in a traditional sense, like you didn’t take classical lessons because that’s not normally what would come out of that. Can you talk a little bit about your process of how you started? Did you learn from anybody or were you completely self-taught?

I was completely self-taught in terms of the guitar. Obviously you know I’m part of this beautiful music community in New York City and we would [all] hang out. But I had no interest in knowing the chords and the names of things.

I was a little bit apprehensive because I don’t want to play like everybody else. I mean, this thing seems to be working out for me. So I don’t want to know how you do it. I want to see how I can do it without knowing anything, you know?

So that’s how it happened for me. I just did it note by note and I don’t think it’s an extraordinary thing. When people learn music in schools, they learn chords and they learn scales which are blocks of information.

A lot of people probably assume because you come from Spain and here in the States we actually call the classical guitar a Spanish guitar, that that you would have picked it up back home.

No, I have tried. Actually I think the classical guitar is such a big universe that I’m still working on that. But I have this dream of playing electric guitar for sure, and I hope at some point I get there. Yeah, but in Spain? No. I didn’t even grow up listening to Spanish music. You know, I’m from Catalonia, from the northeast. For classical guitar Spanish guitar, it would be like traditional folk and Flamenco, coplas. Other stuff my family didn’t listen to — we listened to Elvis Presley, you know?

So, that that brings us to where we are now; I know that there’s a new album coming out, which is very exciting because it sounds like you’re doing a lot of collaborative work with other artists. Can you tell us a little bit about how this project came about and some of the people that you’ve been working with and some of the things that you learned?

Yeah, absolutely. It was a bit weird. Everything was very strange. I feel very lucky and at the same time I look back and I go, ‘the amount of work that [went] into this was crazy.’

I was in in New York in 2022. I had just cut my hair and I needed cash because [they] only accepted cash. I went to the ATM and I got to see how much money I had left in my bank account and I was like ohh, I’m broke. So the only thing I could do was to book a flight and go back to Spain for a bit to recover. And do some classes online, but I couldn’t afford the New York rent and when I was in Spain, I thought how about I just could have booked some sessions with musicians I lost [touch with] from here throughout the COVID years. I had met a lot of people on Instagram because I started posting videos of myself playing.

Right.

So one day I would wake up and I would find Jacob Collier following me the day after be Jorge Drexler and all these people that are [on] my album now. And so when I was in Madrid, I was playing, I was recording with some friends of mine and it came to me. It was like an epiphany. I was like, I’m going to make an album of duets with all of these people, and it’s going to be like two chairs facing each other. And that’s it. And two microphones, and that’s all. And I thought I’m going to dream big and I’m going to ask my favorite musicians with whom I had a relationship with before. Obviously, I wasn’t just hitting someone’s DMs.

It all became a reality in the in the real world, right? So when Jacob came to play the Blue Note in New York, I hit him up. I was like, ‘I’m really excited to meet you,’ and we ended up playing together at the Blue Note. And that’s how we met. And to me, the important thing and the reason I think they ended up saying yes, apart from the fact that I think the music is good, the songs are good, is that we had spoken about things that weren’t music. We had become friends. We spoke about life, we spoke about the human psyche and things that that connect with other people.

You had real connection with these people outside of the musical world. Do you feel like that made the musical connection stronger when you were performing with them?

Absolutely. Well, at first there was a willingness to make it work. Many of them I had never played with before. But when we got to the studio and we recorded the takes of the song that [would] be on the record…it was magical. It was amazing. I believe that if you have something in common in the human conversation, there’s no way the musical conversation won’t work. It’s completely linked and connected.

When you recorded these songs, were you physically in the same space as your partner(s) or did you have to do remote recording?

That was a must for me [recording the duets in person]. My only requirement was that I had to do these things about the human connection. It was an antidote to the years we had of staying at home and not playing with anybody. So how it went was I would work really hard in New York City as a babysitter, as a tutor, making the most amount of money. Buy a flight, go to these people’s houses or a bar in Madrid, a living room in LA. Go there. Stay with friends. Eat very cheap and go and record these songs with them and then go back to New York and go back to work. And meanwhile I had just stumbled in my place, paying my rent, you know? So it’s like a balancing act trying to figure out how to do this when there was no financial aid, you know?

The record comes out this month, I believe. Is that correct?

January 12th, yes. 

Did you find that it was difficult to get the record to sound cohesive, since it was recorded in many different places?

I had a blind trust that [it was going] to work. First of all, I focused on the emotional connection between the musicians over the sound quality, right? It was like the emotional quality of the session [first]. So I had no doubt that that would make up for whatever sound issues we would have. But I also thought nowadays…unfortunately, people don’t listen to albums from the beginning to the end.

I don’t think it’s that important because there were live sessions and it was very clear to me that there had to be live sessions, not like pieces of stuff. There was no overlaps in the sense of like the two voices and the guitar were always live and they were always recorded at the same time, so to me it was like if it has this live feel and it has different sounds because we’re in different rooms, I don’t mind. Then I got the same person to mix it and the same person to master it, which helps to makes sense sound-wise.

I feel like this was a bit of an antidote to this dehumanization of art, right?

Is there anything else that you want to let people know about?

I’d actually like to talk about something because I had this tour with Ben Folds that was supposed to be across the UK and Europe and he developed tendonitis in the beginning of the tour and he cancelled the European leg, which was nine shows in very big places. And as an opening act, you have to front all the all the accommodation and everything.

And so I reached out to my community on Instagram and we managed to put together a tour for me in three days. All over Europe, with incredible dates in so many countries in so many cities, I got so many offers and I’d like to mention that because I think this is extraordinary, you know, without the help of an agent or anybody. I think the community really, really showed up and I’m really proud of this group of people, musicians, artists and music lovers that that are in this community. So yeah, I think that’s important.

That’s amazing.

I ended up playing in all [types of] venues and little theaters — people would be like. ‘I have this local theater in my city. I’m going to go tomorrow and convince them to book you.’ Strangers…it was really beautiful. It’s my favorite thing that happened this year; it was great.

Follow Lau on Instagram @launoah57

Photos by Diego Torres and Jo Berrojalbiz

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