Leah Nobel

by Amanda Flinner

The Nashville-based artist on her popular song "Beginning Middle End" and her alt-pop alter ego, Hael.

Throughout To All The Boys: Always and Forever, the third installment of the Netflix teen rom-com trilogy, high school lovebirds Lara Jean and Peter are in search of "their song" and finally find it with Leah Nobel's "Beginning Middle End."

Despite providing a crucial element of the plot, Nobel, a Nashville-based artist from Arizona, didn't even know what movie she was writing for. The initial brief from the film's music supervisors didn't divulge the title and provided little information to go on.

"I remember it contained a few vague plot themes and maybe some key words, but there wasn't much there other than a nugget of inspiration," Nobel told Tunefind. She had the title "Beginning Middle End" in the notes app on her phone and crafted lyrics around it based on her own romantic experiences.

The hopeful love ballad was a change of pace for Nobel, who tends to explore the melancholy side of love in her music. But she likes to get creative and challenge herself in different ways. Wanting to branch out beyond the genres of folk, pop, and alternative, Nobel created her raven-haired alter ego Hael in 2016 and experimented with beat-centric progressive pop. As Hael, she's landed a number of sync placements in commercials and TV shows, including Grey's Anatomy, Wynnona Earp, Reign, and Lucifer. She also released the EP Mood Ring in 2020.

The Northern Arizona University grad also put her journalism degree to good use with her 2019 album, Running In Borrowed Shoes, which had her interviewing 100 people from diverse backgrounds about life and love and adapting their stories into song.

In our Songfacts interview, Nobel spoke about "Beginning Middle End" and her recent song "Talking To The Dog At The Party." She also explained the importance of keeping her musical identities separate.
Amanda Flinner (Songfacts): Let's start with "Beginning Middle End." It's such an integral part of To All the Boys: Always and Forever, but I was surprised to learn you initially didn't know which movie you were writing it for. How did the song evolve from the demo stage to the version(s) we hear in the movie?

Leah Nobel: Yes! It was a very interesting process. The demo version of the song sounds closest to the pop version of "Beginning Middle End" that you hear playing in the credits of To All The Boys: Always and Forever. Although the pop version was definitely dialed up intensity-wise and had a little more polish than our demo. The Always and Forever version was a longer process.

My collaborator Quinn Redmond and I worked in tandem with the music supervisors of the film to craft the song perfectly for the slow-dance scene. Overall, there were minimal changes to the lyric across the board but lots of sonic adjustments to create the Always and Forever version. Including the amazing string arrangement.

Songfacts: As an introvert, I totally connect with "Talking To The Dog At The Party," but it's also kind of nostalgic listening to a song about social gatherings during a pandemic. How did that song come about?

Nobel: I am also an introvert! I enjoy being social but my battery dies quickly in social situations and shallow conversation drains me the quickest. I think the political atmosphere of 2020 combined with the drama of the pandemic made me just a little bummed out over humans. I saw so much ugly on social media and in the news. It made me think back to human interactions in my life (pre-pandemic) that made me feel lonely. Instances where I would rather talk to the dog.

Songfacts: What is your songwriting process?

Nobel: It usually goes one of two ways - but often these methods intersect. Sometimes I start with a lyrical concept or title. I am a big idea collector. Sometimes I don't start with any sort of direction. However, I always start with the music first. Sometimes lyrics come quick, other times I start with a melody and sing along with it in gibberish until I understand what I am supposed to be saying. Overall, my songwriting process is happy and quick. I am not a big editor after the fact. I think writing at such a large volume has afforded me this belief - I often feel like the first instinct is usually the right one.

Songfacts: It seems most musicians head to Nashville to pursue country music, but you didn't. What drew you to the country music capital as a folk/pop artist?

Nobel: I think Nashville used to be considered just a country and gospel town. But by the time I moved there in 2015 artists and producers from different genres had already started making their exodus from New York and Los Angeles and landing there. I chose Nashville because I knew there were opportunities there for me, and it seemed like a more peaceful lifestyle than I could have in LA.

Songfacts: "I'm Not Ready To Say Goodbye" is also one of your most popular songs on Spotify. What do you recall about writing that song?

Nobel: I wrote that song with Josh Bruce Williams and Jeff Bowman nearly five years ago. To be honest, that day is a little blurry in my memory. I remember that was around the time I had just begun cowriting. Cowriting culture was not part of my creative upbringing so it was an adjustment for me after always writing alone. But the guys were welcoming, and we decided early on that we wanted to write an emotionally loaded song that was vague enough for people to insert their own stories and memories into. I think we succeeded. Part of the reason it's popular on Spotify is because it was placed in several TV shows [such as Station 19].

Nobel as Hael

Songfacts: What was your primary goal for creating your alt-pop alter ego? What was the first song that you felt really fulfilled that vision?

Nobel: Hael was created for two main reasons. One, I really wanted to experiment with some different sonic and lyrical landscapes and in order to really feel free to do that I had to remove myself from my personal artistry and identity. Two, it was also to protect the sacredness of my "Leah" art. If Leah were to experiment in certain ways it would be confusing to people.

I can change my voice pretty radically and that can be hard for people to follow. It also allows me to say anything I want as Hael without it affecting how Leah wants her art to be portrayed. It has given me so much freedom and fun. I highly recommend alter egos. I think the first song that felt really "Hael" was a song called "Between Wind and Water."

Songfacts: You've already had so many sync placements as Hael. Which has been your favorite so far?

Nobel: I think my favorite recent placement was Hael's collaboration with Oshins for the first half of season five of Lucifer. The song ["Darkside"] played at the very end of the episode and could not have fit the moment more perfectly. It was pretty epic and suspenseful!

Songfacts: Running In Borrowed Shoes was a fascinating project that had you interviewing 100 people and adapting their stories into songs. You've said the track "This Pain Will Be Useful" impacted you the most. Can you talk about what that song means to you?

Nobel: I think part of the reason why that song means so much to me is because of the deep connection I formed with the interviewees that inspired it. They started off as strangers and now they are a part of my life. The song was based off of a line in a poem by the Roman poet Ovid. "Be patient and tough; someday this pain will be useful to you" and I now consider it one of my mantras. It helps me remember that pain is not only temporary but fruitful.

Songfacts: Which songwriters have had the greatest influence on you?

Nobel: I think whether it's conscious or not I am influenced by every song I've ever listened to. My taste is wide - from folk to gangster rap. My brain is like a sponge soaking up melody. So much so that I often have to check myself when I write something hooky and ask, "Does this already belong to someone else?" One of my "holy grail" songwriters and artists is Paul Simon. In the modern pop world I admire Julia Michaels and Sia.

Songfacts: Any advice for aspiring singer/songwriters?

Nobel: The more you write the better you get. Also... have another job. Until you don't have to! Being an indie artist is not financially sustainable or emotionally healthy for 99.9% of people and no one does it successfully without financial help from somewhere. You take a tremendous amount of pressure off yourself when you have another job.

Keep up with Leah Nobel and Hael on Instagram.
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