Soul singer Noel Gourdin burst onto the music scene in 2003 with his single “The River”. Immediately drawing comparisons to icons like Al Green, Noel seemed destined for R&B greatness until promotion from his label stalled. Soul Train sits down with the Boston-based crooner to discuss his transition from Sony Music to eOne Entertainment, working with American Idol Ruben Studdard on his second album, and how he’s giving back to the R&B community by opening his new album to up and coming songwriters and producers.
Noel Gourdin: Wel, I was born in Brockton, MA, about 20 miles south of Boston. It’s kind of a contrast because my folks are from Mississippi and me growing up a city boy. When we would go down south for family get togethers and reunions my father would always put together this music for us to ride to from Boston on down south. It was all soul music like Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Solomon Burke, Johnnie Taylor, Tyrone Davis, Otis Redding, and Al Green. It was that music that became synonymous with going down south. That became my love and my passion. It’s the music that inspired me to do what I do and I try to stay true to the path that was before me.
ST: Staying true to that path do you ever feel any pressure to conform, because the music business is really tough right now on R&B artists. Do you ever feel that pressure from label, or management, or just in general to embrace that crossover sound?
NG: Well, there has been pressure because I have been offered deals in the event that I would change up my style, and needless to say those deals have been turned down. There’s nothing coming from my team that has been trying to change me. I make music that makes me feel good. I have musical integrity and I feel there’s not a lot of musical integrity left. I have to maintain that, because without it I really wouldn’t be having fun.
ST: I can definitely understand that. Now with your most recent album, Fresh: The Definition, tell us how the experience was putting that together, as well as how it was transitioning from Sony Music to eOne Entertainment.
NG: I had to say it was great to be able to make Fresh: The Definition. First of all, coming out of the whole Sony situation, the way the relationship kind of fell apart especially after me having a number one record, I kind of went into a depression. I was wondering why things had happened, why the relationship deteriorated, and why we just didn’t seem to see eye to eye. It was great that I got another chance with Mass Appeal Entertainment and eOne to get back into the studio after dipping into such a dark place. I had fallen out of touch with my family and God, and my brother sat me down and showed me all of the views of my music and shows and he was saying, “People want you back. They want to hear your music.” So that got me back into things again and I started writing and sealing that deal with Mass Appeal. I have to tell you it was a pleasure. I had the chance to work with the Heavyweights, Rio [Mario Winans], Ryan Toby, Dl from Mass Appeal, and Ruben Studdard. I did the majority of the work with my man Alvin Garrett from Birmingham (of Ruben Studdards’ former band Just A Few Cats), and it was like everybody was on the same page. The records just came about all together. I had a meeting with everybody first on the direction of the album. I just wanted some feel good music. It was an easy record to put together, especially coming from Sony and the powers that be and the struggle it took to get the album [After My Time] to where it was. So to all the younger artists out there it’s important to have your musical integrity because one it’s out there, it’s out there forever. I don’t regret anything from my experience with Sony at all because it happened for a reason, and I still have a lot of relationships from that experience that I still uphold today. I believe that relationships are key.
ST: Now lately there’s has been a crop of R&B artists like you, Keke Wyatt, Ruben Studdard, Brian McKnight, and others who have taken the independent route. Do you think that R&B has a shot at going mainstream again without losing some of its substance?
NG: At this point and time, I don’t really see it happening. It’s so unfortunate and disheartening that you have such great artists out there [not getting shown support]. You know I still look at myself as a new artist. I have two albums out, but you have artists out there like the Anthony Hamiltons, the Eric Robersons, the The Brian McKnights that have been out there for so long. It’s really disheartening to see them not get the support they deserve. It’s really hard to look at. I really don’t see it, but what I do embrace is all of the new internet radio stations because i really believe that they are the future. I look at them like the pioneer people that used to be around back in the day. DJs back in the day just took a chance on records they loved and felt. Nowadays it’s just like no one is willing to take a chance, no one’s willing to just take an artist that they believe in and just go with them. i don’t see it going mainstream and it hurts because when you look at it, what has been around and even today is being sold late nights on cable is soul music. We’ll see, because they say things always have to get worse before they get better.
ST: So let’s talk about your new album. I saw on Twitter where you’ve opened your new project up to new songwriters and producers. Let’s talk about that and what we can expect from the new album.
NG: For me, reaching out to new producers, I’ve always been a person who felt they could be reached by the public. You know I love movies, so I always feel like I’m the Rocky type of artist. people can give me input, they can send in, people can get in touch with me. There’s a lot of hungry people out there with so much talent but because of the state of the industry right now they’re undiscovered. I was in that place before, so I love to give people an opportunity to creatively put in input on my album. So if I’m not able to get to them on this round or it doesn’t fit the direction of this album, then maybe next go around. That’s important to me to give somebody a chance like that, that may not otherwise get that chance. This new album is really coming together well. My last album has just passed a year [since its release]. So my new single, we’re looking to put out to the public in June, and either an EP or LP by the end of the year. So I’m really excited.
ST: What’s your favorite Soul Train memory?
NG: Well first I have to send my condolences to the family of the great Don Cornelius. My favorite memory would have to be when Marvin aye was on there singing “Got to Give It Up”, and it was great when Don Cornelius got on the line as well. [Laughs]
You can follow Noel Gourdin on Twitter @noelgourdin.