“It’s A U S T E N, With A Space Between Each Letter.”
“In the write-up, how’d you like me to refer to you?”
“See, that’s a little complicated now.”
Austen Nobles has been making music since we met in 6th grade. He’s been writing and performing as “Nobility” as long as I can remember. He’d release tracks that sound so professional, no one would expect a high school student had anything to do with their production, much less author every aspect himself.
On February 20th, I met the further improved A U S T E N.
Photo courtesy of A U S T E N.
Austen finished his degree in Recording Arts at Tribeca Flashpoint College. He produces beats to match his own lyrics, or at the request of other musicians. His own lyrical strength is in verses. He laughs as he admits it’s too bad, because choruses are what make you like songs. He’s always been good at free-styling, but we both felt awkward just calling his music ‘rap.’ So we talked about it. He sighed and spoke honestly: “It’s a joke to say you’re a rapper; you come off like a try-hard.” We moaned about Soundcloud-pushing artists, but Austen admits you don’t need to be signed anymore, if you can build your own fan base. And no, that’s not easy, and yes, I have no shame.
Austen produces for different artists based on reference tracks. He tells me a lot of beats get made and never used. But they always get finished. Of course, that doesn’t mean he’ll stop working when a track is technically complete. “I was going to release a song for Valentine’s Day,” he said, “but it’s still not good enough.”
I hate asking the question “what are your influences?” because it’s so plain. Thankfully Austen had interesting answers which managed to save this part of the write-up.
The first name mentioned was Childish Gambino. I was giggling and said he and Donald are both quintessential “Black Nerds,” and added if I’d had to guess his favorite influence, that’s who I’d have picked. Austen laughed and explained. “I really just relate to Donald Glover. If you’re a suburban black kid, you probably really like Childish Gambino.”
*Pause for 12 minutes of fawning over Atlanta.
“Childish Gambino expresses insecurity in his songs, and that’s relatable,” Austen continued. He added that we’re bored of the overconfident theme. Austen tries to portray a mix of some confidence and some insecurity in his music. “Where I’m at now, I could make sexy songs but I don’t feel comfortable doing that with my style just yet,” he smiled.
“So no ‘Adult Music’?”
“No ‘Adult Music’ here.”
I pressed him to elaborate on style: “Your music is nostalgic and fun. You have such a range and it’s not every day you find a rap song you just enjoy listening to. How did you manage to do that?” Immediately, Austen gives credit to his upbringing. He had plenty of exposure to indie, folk, metal, 80’s, you name it, and a love for different genres shows in his imaginative tracks. “Taste,” he says, “is the give-away that you’re new to this.” An artist unsure of their style won’t cross genres and their music feels limited. Austen continued, “You’re either a niche artist or you’re an evolution artist. I am—at least—I’m aspiring to be an evolution artist so my music can change.”
Austen at the Music Garage, Summer of 2016. Photo courtesy of A U S T E N & Taylor Nettnin
I looked down at my paper for the next question.
“How’s your foot?”
Austen leaned his head back and covered his eyes with his hand. He grinned.
The last time I saw Austen perform, he had kicked off the brace holding a stress fracture together so he could dance. “Did it hurt? Yeah. But there’s this thing called adrenaline,” he added simply. I hate to say the risk of him getting hurt was worth it, but that was one hell of a performance. I didn’t know rap could be so engaging to watch live. He obviously cared a lot about how he performed, so I asked him why.
To him, gigs are a lesson. “What worked? What didn’t? Like, I learned which songs the crowd participates with and which ones not perform.”
“How do you tell an artist has experience based on their performance?”
“They’re calm. They already know how to capitalize on moments in a song, but they won’t look rehearsed. Each time performing feels fresh.” Austen earns this by treating each performance like it’s his last, and cited that sage advice was from his dad.
I sure would like to tell you about Austen’s unfinished songs I got to preview, but that’s not for me to disclose. I will say I’m excited and I’m really feeling the perks that come with writing for college radio.
Photo courtesy of A U S T E N.
When my questions had been exhausted, we wandered around campus catching up. I made Austen do something I like to call “The BSB Challenge.” We walked into the center of the Behavioral Sciences Building and I asked him to find a random numbered classroom. After 20 minutes in the riot-proof, unfinished, Brutalist cement trap the Flames call home, there was no sign of Room 357 and we were in need of some fresh air. We did make it onto the roof though, and what BSB lacks in aesthetic, it makes up in location.
Humble to the end, Austen stood staring at the skyline and said, “I’m really not one for photos, and I hate to ask, but this view is so good.”
“No worries! And it’s not just good, it’s un-BEAT-able.”
“Just take the picture.”
Photo courtesy of Jamie Leigh.
Have a Scien-tastic Day!