Howlin’ for Higher Ground: A Conversation with Naomi Wild

Howlin' - Naomi Wild © 2018
Howlin' - Naomi Wild © 2018
Atwood Magazine speaks to emerging artist Naomi Wild about her family, songwriting, sneaking into Coachella, and more.

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Naomi Wild was always meant to sing, though that fact went unbeknownst to her for much longer than one would expect. Today, she looks back incredulously on a time where she didn’t expect to be right where she is. That is, playing sold out shows alongside electronic phenoms ODESZA and Grammy-nominated for penning (and singing vocals on) their infectious track, “Higher Ground.” Atwood Magazine spoke to Naomi Wild about her family, songwriting, sneaking into Coachella and more.

Listen: “Howlin'” – Naomi Wild

:: On Her Family ::

My family was always really musical around me, but that never, never was a thought that I’d be doing music. My dad was signed to RCA, my mom was in Playboy’s “The Girls of Rock ‘n’ Roll” and my grandma was the lead singer in The Platters. [My dad] had a Yamaha synthesizer in our kitchen and I just remember my first kind of attempt at playing an instrument was probably going through the hundreds of presets, playing around and liking it because it sounded like space. My dad wrote a book and he also had a CD out at the time, so he put the CD in the back of the book. One day I guess at the piano, he always tells me this, I don’t remember it at all, but he told me when I was probably around five or six, I was playing around on the piano and singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” And he was just like, “oh my gosh, she has something.” So I guess he recorded it and ended up putting it on the CD, and the book ended up getting on the Bestsellers list. He ended up going on a book signing tour and taking me with him, and he kind of turned it into a tour for his band, as well. So we would go and do book signings at Barnes and Noble during the day and then go play shows at night where I would sing his original songs with him. It’s so nuts, it didn’t seem like anything really at the time and it just seemed normal, you know, that was just my family. So that was my first introduction to music and I guess performing.

:: On Her Siblings’ Influence ::

My brother, who’s seven years older than me, he was the one that introduced me to electronic music. The way that kind of played out was, we made our garage into his room and he was just like always playing Daft Punk and Justice and Yelle. Just super heavily into the electronic scene. And he was producing drum and bass using Ableton and he was just like my hero. So I would always like knock on his door and like hope that he would let me hang out with him. And if he did, we’d basically just be like, dancing around in his room to all these different artists. He’d teach me about the culture of electronic music, where these different dance moves are originating from, which at the time it was like the whole “milky way-ing” thing that was happening in France that was coming over to the states. He ended up teaching me a bit of Ableton, when I was probably around twelve. And I was just like obsessed with all of it and was always trying to be around him. Then when I was fifteen, my older sister who’s always been a daredevil called me up one day and was just like, “we’re going to a concert.” She didn’t tell me what concert it was, who we were going to see, nothing. The next thing I know we’re in the parking lot of HARD Summer. I see all of these like, you know, fishnets and the platform boots and I’m just like, “I don’t even think I’m allowed to be here.” I actually was talking to my mom about this recently and she was like, “I didn’t know you went to that concert.” I was just like, “I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life.” Like, I went with my friends to see Taylor Swift at the Staples Center and this is just not the same thing. It was crazy. We got inside and the first live performance that we saw was Theophilus London. It was just the most overwhelming thing. It was like I had discovered a whole new planet. It was probably the first time that I felt like I fit in somewhere and I think that’s why it was so impactful. I was like, that’s what I want to do. I want to be up there, I want to do that. I don’t know how, I don’t know anything about what this takes, but like that’s my end all be all goal. It just changed everything.

Howlin' - Naomi Wild © 2018
Howlin’ – Naomi Wild © Dana Trippe

:: On Her Childhood and School ::

I was the most shy kid ever. Like, I had to whisper to my parents what I wanted to order at a restaurant, scared to talk to servers, that kind of thing. So it was just kind of funny to be like put on a stage, being known as this really shy kid. And then being a student at this art school, they started teaching us instruments really young. I learned violin in probably sixth grade, and they would teach us an instrument each year. So it started with violin and then the next year I learned how to play saxophone. And we had a class, it was just called singing where we would just be taught all these songs and we’d all have to sing. The grades were really intimate so there was only 25 kids per grade. So everybody in my class I was really close with and that’s probably why I was more comfortable to start singing as I got older because I was close with all those people I was singing around. But I had this one friend specifically that – this just is still like the craziest thing to me – like when we were super, super young, our parents were friends before we were even born, and we went to school together for like 16 years. She was the first person to tell me like, “you’re going to be a singer.” And I was just like, “Dude, no way, like I’m too scared to do that, I don’t think I’m good.” It’s just crazy because she called it before anyone else and now today she’s always just like, “dude.” But that’s kind of how that started and I was learning all these instruments in school but I just never learned how to, like I didn’t really learn how to read the music, honestly. I just fucked around too much and wasn’t paying attention. So that ended up being me having to like fake reading tests for playing these instruments. I regret it because I wish I knew how to play those instruments better now, but I think that’s what ended up making my ear stronger for pitch when it came to singing ’cause I just knew what note I had to hit. And to this day I do not understand music theory, but I think that really, really helped me out because now I can just like sing what I want. Communicating in sessions is a lot easier. But, you know, all my friends were listening to Taylor Swift and I was listening to like Yelle, and Justice. So I just had this disconnect from them, which ended up making me kind of a loner in school.

:: On Coachella ::

I was in high school and I snuck into Coachella and we had like 30 friends with us and we’re seeing ODESZA at the DoLab tent. I hate to say this because this term is used loosely too often, but it was truly like an out of body experience. Like it was the same feeling that I got when I was fifteen at HARD Summer. It’s just an overwhelming feeling of like you’re standing with your feet on the ground and you know, you’re supposed to be exactly where you are in that moment. Like there’s nowhere else you’re supposed to be. It was really just, yeah, it was one of those things that makes you not really feel like you’re actually just human. And so I’m standing there and I’m just imagining what it would be like to be up there singing with them. And I wasn’t even making music at the time or singing or anything, but I was just like, wow. Like this is kind of the same thing that I felt before, like I want to how do I get up there? And so that, that experience was kind of the whole, the inspiration why I started actually trying to write music in college. And that’s what started the whole thing in college is that experience at Coachella, which is crazy to say now I’ll get to go play Coachella with them on the main stage. But I’m saying it’s just so like… I don’t even like saying it’s crazy because it doesn’t even really justify like how I actually feel, it’s so much more than that.

:: On College and Dropping Out ::

I ended up going to college in Santa Barbara. Um, which for me was like this exciting thing because I was like, okay, maybe I didn’t really fit in in high school, didn’t have that many friends, but I know that college is like a new start for everyone. Maybe I’ll start it over. So I go to college and I ended up being in a dorm room with six girls and it was just like probably one of the worst things ever. Just like so much estrogen in one small space and young girls that are competitive. And I was just so, so turned off by that, that all I wanted to do is be alone. I smoked cigarettes at the time so I was like going out in the parking lot of the student dorm and I just had headphones in literally 24/7, like I don’t remember many times where I didn’t have headphones in. I was basically like isolating myself in a way. The girls would go out to parties and I’d be sitting out on this bench just going through SoundCloud, just digging and digging, trying to find more beats that I liked and chain smoking. And it was just a really kind of dark time to be honest because I really loved where I was. It was this frustration of still not fitting in with people and not connecting with people that like the same things that I liked. But at one point or another, that’s where the songwriting started because I just think that I was so lonely. Like I wanted something to connect to and I wanted to kind of find some sort of validation, something that I was good at because I had fucked up a lot in school. I wasn’t super academically inclined, but I was going to college for psychology and philosophy and I thought it was really cool. It was just still the idea of like there’s so many people that are so much more passionate about this than I am. And I can’t imagine myself sitting in an office. I wanted to try to believe that that was something that I would be able to just do because I didn’t know that I was going to be doing music yet, but I couldn’t picture my face in that situation. So I ended up dropping out of school. I called my dad one day and I was just like, “hey, I’m dropping out of school, like literally not going to class today and I’m not going back.” And he was just like, “okay.” I was like, “aren’t you supposed to get mad or something? Like, what’s supposed to happen now?” He was like, “very musician’s dream is for their kid to be a musician.” So part of me feels like I’m fulfilling this thing for my dad, which is just a really cool feeling because it’s a genuine love for doing it. After that I worked at a restaurant for a while just trying to save up tips because I wanted to take Ableton classes just to kind of refine my skills, so I did that until I ended up moving back to LA, started working at the location there and ended up saving enough to take the classes.

:: On Songwriting ::

I had this ongoing struggle of being such a perfectionist and having such high expectations for myself that the idea of songwriting was always something that intimidated me. Even when I was younger, my dad was playing guitar and I always wanted to write my own songs, but I just had no idea how to do it and I didn’t want it to be something that I didn’t like because I wanted to do it so badly. I didn’t want to fail, you know, and obviously being young, not knowing that being able to fail is the only way that you grow and you learn. So, I just started to dig even more heavily into just finding more music that was underground that I really connected with. I was sneaking into a bunch of local shows and just trying to immerse myself in it because I felt like that was home for me. And that’s kind of where I learned a lot more about the different genres within electronic music and finding different artists that I felt really inspired by, which in high school ended up being like Mr. Carmack, Kaytranada, Stu, Tokimonsta. All these people that at the time were still kind of coming up and I felt like I was gold mining because I was finding all these artists that were just so incredible, like before they were really known. Um, and that just made me feel like I had a good ear. I went into a session with, he was Bee’s Knees at the time but now he goes by Novodor now. He was the one who really taught me how to songwrite. And, it turns out he had actually hit me up on Facebook, like, six years earlier, so it was just so full circle again. So, he teaches me to songwrite – and I could write, but telling one story in a cohesive thought was difficult for me. He kind of helped me do that and we ended up writing a whole project that was supposed to be my debut, but I still didn’t feel like I’d found my sound yet. I just knew it wasn’t time to drop anything because I wanted to know who I was as an artist.

:: On Her Early Writing and Recording Process ::

I was just like really, just depressed, in this low place and sat down on the bench one day and I wrote some lyrics. And I went back into my dorm room and while the girls were at a party or something I just plugged in my headphones into my laptop and played the beat from SoundCloud and sang into the voice notes in my phone, like to make an acapella. And I don’t even know how I knew how to do this, like I wasn’t looking things up. I was just like maybe if I do it that way and then I can just send the vocal to somebody. And obviously with that there’s no like comping vocals, it’s just like one full thing. So I would sing, like I would write these things and how I was feeling and then freestyle these melodies over as I was reading them. And so it would be like one full take of something and then I would do it over and over again until I had a take that I liked. So that was the first time that I did that and I kinda just started messaging people on SoundCloud and being like, “Hey, do you have any songs you want vocals for? Blah blah blah.” I don’t know, I just did not stop doing that. So I’m sending them around and about the third or fourth song that I wrote like, it’s so weird to say, but it ended up just completely blowing up because I found this beat and I was like, “this is cool, but it sounds like it needs a vocal.” It’s so beyond me still. And this was like two years ago. So I wrote something in like 30 minutes and there was a party going on in my house at the time and this guy was like, “oh are you going to send the vocals?” And I hadn’t done it yet. So I was kind of like doing it out of like, oh shit, I forgot to do that. So I was like, hey, do you mind asking everybody to be quiet for like five minutes so I can just do this really quick? And my best friend Whitney literally shut the whole party down. She was like, “everybody, you need to be quiet for five minutes, just five minutes.” So there’s like 70 people in our house, like all just whispering while I’m in my room singing into my iphone and, that was the Tim Legend song. Like afterwards I showed Whitney and some of the other roommates and I was just like, honestly I don’t really fuck with this, I don’t like it, I think it’s kind of corny, whatever. But I was like, whatever, fuck it, so I sent it to him. He literally just layered it over the beat. The whole thing was one take and he uploaded it to SoundCloud.

Howlin' - Naomi Wild © 2018
Howlin’ – Naomi Wild © 2018

:: On ROC Nation ::

Literally two days [after the Tim Legend track] I get a call, and I don’t know how the fuck this happened. I got a call from ROC Nation and they’re just like, “yo, like we heard your song, like, we really want you to come into the studio and a lay down some demos for Rihanna.” I never ever felt like I was looking for this. I really feel like everything just fell into my lap. Like there’s not anything else that I’m supposed to be doing, I’m like fully convinced. So they call me and they’re like, “yeah, can you come in in two days?” So two days later I’m like with my best friend pretending that she’s my manager going into ROC Nation and there’s fucking Michael Jackson’s white gloves on the wall and just like, they’re like, yeah, this is where he recorded “Thriller” and it’s just in the nicest studio ever. They sit me down on this couch and they start playing the tracks and they’re like, “yeah, so we want you to work on this one that’s like a DJ mustard, Travis Scott track, so if Rihanna were going to have a verse on this, we want you to write the verse.” So first of all, I’ve never written in front of other people or indoors and just like I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing but they were super nice. So I’m sitting there and it took me like probably like three hours to write two verses because I literally had no idea what I was doing.

I go in the booth and I cut it and that was the first time I’d ever heard my voice recorded. I think that that was the first time where I actually believed in it. I was like, “okay, everybody else has been hyping me up because they’re my friends or whatever.” But that was the moment where I was like, wait, I actually, I actually think I got this. So they didn’t end up using it, whatever. It’s just a like a crazy part of the story that was really pivotal for me. They’ve kept in contact with me ever since and they kind of check up on me, which is cool. But just that whole thing was just crazy. So that was kind of like the real turning point where I started to take it really seriously.

:: On “Higher Ground” and Meeting ODESZA ::

I woke up one day after going through writer’s block for honestly close to a year, and I didn’t know why I hadn’t been inspired. So, I woke up one morning and was like, “I’m going to write something today.” I went outside with my headphones in and I sat there putting myself mentally into this place of forcing myself to think about times when I had been really inspired. I thought about the moment when I was watching ODESZA at Coachella, and I wanted to write a song for them. So, that was the day I started working on “Higher Ground,” and I wrote it but didn’t have a means to record it, so I called up Adam [Novodor] and him and his roommate Nico ended up doing it for me, and that’s how “Higher Ground” happened. It was supposed to be kind of like, if I were to write a song as like a gift to them, that’s what I wanted it to be. I called my manager at the time and asked her to send it to them because I just had that gut feeling again. So, that night I’m driving to my Ableton class and I get a call from her and she’s just screaming into the phone like, “oh my God, I just got a call back from ODESZA and they fucking love the song you wrote and they want it to be a single on the album and they’re coming to LA and want to meet you in a week.” I’m just about to crash my car, screaming on the freeway, crying, just absolutely losing my whole shit. A week later I went to the studio with Adam and Nico and our friend Jamie was filming us, and I meet the guys for the first time. They were like, “we want to show you where the record is at right now because we got the acapella from you and we were about to go to dinner but we just completely stopped what we were doing and started working on it and we stayed there and pretty much finished it.” Like, he said the song wrote itself and I was just like, shitting my pants. So, it’s the same vocal, we never re-recorded it and the song isn’t much different from when they played it for me that day in the studio. About a year later the song ends up leaking super close to its release date and it does super well.

:: On Performing Live ::

The guys called me and they asked how I felt about performing live, and I’d never officially performed live aside from with my dad when I was five. But it was just like, let’s fucking do it. Like, I’m going to do this no matter what, even if it sounds like shit, I look like shit, there’s no way I’m going to pass this up. So, they have me take a video of myself singing just to confirm I could do it live and the next thing I know they’re like, “alright, you need to molds for in-ear monitors, blah blah blah.” I have super small ears so basically I had to get them redone and it was this whole rushed, crazy chaotic thing because we had to expedite them and I didn’t end up getting to practice with them until soundcheck at this headlining show in Seattle alongside like, Big Sean and Lorde. It was pretty much like a baptism by fire but the guys were like, “we’re so proud of you,” you know? And I really, really needed that because it’s so, so under hyped how hard it is to be an artist and be a performer. It’s two different lives completely because when you’re performing you’re really showing who you’re are. It just really sprips you of any ego because you’re on a silver platter there for everyone to judge you. When I look back on it I was bugging, my bones were shaking, but I was really living life and I was really proud of myself. I ended up jumping all over the stage, like, didn’t sound that great. But, after that I was like okay, let me focus on how I can get better as a performer, so I started working with dancers. And it’s all about bringing out like your personal swag, how your body likes to move naturally, and I got a lot more comfortable. I think the whole tour ended up being about, for me, you know, a mixture of getting to tour with my favorite band but also trying to utilize the platform and really learn how to perform and be comfortable with myself on stage. Letting go of trying to force something, and it became a lot more about growth. Speaking from personal experience, when I go and watch an artist, I don’t want to watch them being their own hype man. I want to see what it’s like for this artist who experienced this, what it was like for them to write it. How are they experiencing it and enjoying it, living it out on stage. After coming back from tour and figuring it out, I really felt like an artist. So, I came back with this fire inside me.

:: On “Howlin” and Her Upcoming Project ::

I started going through like “speed dating” with producers and it was just not fitting, and I got super frustrated. So I just sat down at the kitchen table with my boyfriend, who goes by Eric Von, and I was like, we’re just going to fucking to this ourselves. So, we just turned our kitchen into a studio and started making shit. I knew exactly what I wanted, and what I didn’t want. I just followed that feeling of how I want them to experience me live, and that’s how we made “Howlin.” It was the first one we wrote after I got off tour and it was just like, “bang, bang, bang.” Every night we’d be up in the kitchen until three, four in the morning working on shit, writing stuff, finishing stuff, recycling old shit and rebuilding it. The whole process and the whole message behind the project that I’m putting out, it’s really about stripping things down and rebuilding and having patience, because I think that’s the reason I’m really starting to bloom as an artist. I’ve been so hard on myself and it’s been really difficult at times ,but I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am otherwise. That’s why this project is super special because I co-produced it, my hands are completely in it. I engineered it, did my own vocals, did the songwriting, so it’s just super like, directly from my kitchen to everyone, which is really cool. “Lessons” came out about eight months ago, and I think it’s a really great record. I’m definitely not gonna hate on it, I just don’t think I connected with it the way I do with this project. “Lessons” was co-written by Daniel Church and it went more in the urban lane, which I love because at the time I was working with a lot of rappers because I wanted to keep my cadences and show my lyricism. It was cool, but I never felt like connected to it. I think it’s a great track but I don’t think it represents me the way this project does. It was a complete diss track so this whole new project is really about like, killing the ego. I want my music to take you somewhere, like make you feel like you’re literally in a place you’ve been before and remind you of a specific time. I want it to really be an experience because when I do this live, I want to be impactful in a way where you’re completely taken. I’m actually sitting on probably fifteen songs that will definitely make the project, so I’ll probably do a couple more singles to get people warmed up since it’s kind of a new sound I don’t think anybody’s really expecting.

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:: stream/purchase “Howlin” here ::

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Howlin' - Naomi Wild © 2018

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