Lots of people nowadays tend to look at the current musical landscape in contrast with the landscape of the past, and wish that things would go back to the way they used to be. Music was just better back then, right? It had actual soul! Well, Noon Fifteen is one of those groups that makes one question the legitimacy of that claim.
Noon Fifteen defines themselves as a “progressive soul” outfit that takes heavy inspiration from the 1960’s and 1970’s pop-soul music scenes, particularly those that burgeoned in Memphis and New Orleans during the time, and synthesizes them with their own incredibly unique blend of internet-era, DIY, multifaceted musicianship. The result? Incredibly danceable and enjoyable tunes with complex structures, varied instrumentation, dynamic arcs of energy, and witty lyrics. To top it all off, all of the members of Noon Fifteen are incredible musicians in their own right.
Mandy Goldman, the group’s main vocalist, is incredibly charismatic and skilled on the mic. Her vocal performances are so on-point in terms of style, affect, and emotion – she ties together the group’s instrumentation with a stunningly beautiful sonic garland. The rest of the group is equally notable for their monstrous talent – multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Sam Lupowitz, Harry Nichols on bass and vocals, Phil Shay on drums, and Joe Massa on lead guitar create the awesome, energetic, soulful force that defines the sound of Noon Fifteen (which, frankly, cannot be very narrowly defined).
Noon Fifteen recently recorded and released their newest single, “Thaw,” which came out on March 13th. The track is an impressive tour-de-force of Noon Fifteen’s influences and a masterful weaving of numerous different styles into one dynamic track that jumps from 70’s soul ballad, to 70’s funk jam, to a face-melting rock-n-roll jam, to neo-Celtic funeral march, to ragtime piano madness, and back to ballad effortlessly and seamlessly. In addition to their music, Noon Fifteen runs a podcast which features all kinds of behind-the-music info and other goodies, and regularly releases video content on their Youtube channel.
I admire and appreciate artists who work diligently to push the boundaries on what’s been done in the past and innovate in their craft, and I think Noon Fifteen is a great example of a group of artists who do just that. We had the chance to talk to Lupowitz, who provided most of the answers below.
How would you describe your musical style? We call what we do “Prog Soul” – we’re starting from old-school, R&B/Motown/Stax influenced pop music with lots of vocal harmonies, like The Beatles were aiming for early on, but we like to throw in time signature changes, whiplash stylistic shifts, and unusual structural choices. The idea is that it’s all got a pocket, and that’s what ties it together.
What’s the inspiration behind your newest single, “Thaw”? The song was written about a house that Mandy (Goldman, lead vocals & guitar) and I were living in for a couple of years (we’re married); it was at the top of a long, gravel driveway that sat at about a 45-degree angle. It had a little spring running underneath it, and in the winter the gravel would freeze solid under three inches of ice. We’d have to park our cars down at the bottom o the hill, and just getting out of the house some days was a challenge. Turns out the house was also full of black mold, but that’s another story… Anyway, the song had been part of our set for a while before we were invited to play a regional festival called the Finger Lakes Thaw, and we thought it would be a perfect time to record it and put it out as a single. A few days before the release, the festival was postponed due to COVID-19, of course, but it wound up being an appropriate time to put out a track about being trapped inside, afraid to travel, and just waiting for nature to give you a break and let you escape.
Is it part of an upcoming EP/LP or just a standalone single? We started putting out a series of tracks last summer as part of a series called Finish What You Started. The idea is that all the singles will fit together in a way that creates a coherent, thematically related album, when all is said and done.
Where was it recorded? We recorded at Sunwood Recording in Trumansburg, NY, which is also where we tracked and mixed our last release, At the Festival. Chris Ploss, the owner/engineer of Sunwood, just seems to get what we do; he’s a joy to work with, and it’s a beautiful space full of fun instruments. Other than the horn section at the end, we laid down the whole song in one day, overdubs and everything.
What’s the story behind Noon Fifteen? The five of us had all been involved in various projects around our local scene before we got Noon Fifteen together in 2016. Mandy was looking for an outlet for the songs she’d been writing, Harry (Nichols, bass & vocals) and I had both folded our solo projects, I’d also left a touring band, and we were all looking to do something new and collaborative that put band friendships first. We’d all played with Joe (Massa, lead guitar) in different bands over the years, and when he expressed interest in being part of something new, it was an obvious fit. We had a few different drummers before Phil Shay wound up in the fold, but he was the perfect complement to our musical aesthetic and our collective sense of humor, so it really has been the Band of Friends that we set out create.
What’s next musically? In the immediate future, we have a few more Finish What You Started tracks that we’re hoping to put out later this year. We have lots of plans for new music and accompanying videos and other media, and I know we’ve all been writing in isolation, so hopefully humanity can get this virus under control so we can get back to making things as a group!
Describe your songwriting process: We’re a band of multiple songwriters, sort of like The Beatles or Queen; we’ll sometimes co-write in different combinations, but often Mandy, Harry, or I will just bring a song into the band and see what happens. That can be everything from a fully realized arrangement that the band then outs our personalities into, to a basic chord/vocal outline that we arrange collaboratively. We all have a lot of trust in each other to support enhance and realize our respective visions.
Three records on a desert island:
Sam: Rubber Soul by the Beatles, 11-17-70 by Elton John, and the original concept album of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Mandy: Mad Dogs and Englishmen by Joe Cocker, Abbey Road by the Beatles, and Sunday in the Park with George (Original Cast Recording)
Joe: It’s really cruel to only let us have three. Abbey Road by the Beatles, The Royal Scam by Steely Dan, Act II: The Meaning Of, And All Things Regarding Ms. Leading by The Dear Hunter
Phil: Blindfaller by Mandolin Orange, TOTO IV, and Djesse Vol. 2 by Jacob Collier
Harry: Brian Wilson Presents Smile, Abbey Road by the Beatles, and Teen Dream by Beach House
Song/artist you can’t stop listening to:
Sam: Lately it’s been Theo Katzman. Vulfpeck was a big influence on the funky, DIY aesthetic for Noon Fifteen when we started, but Theo’s solo stuff is a different animal, breathtakingly heartfelt songs presented simply and powerfully. His newest record is so of our time, like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young must have felt in 1970.
Joe: My answer would probably be different if you asked me a week from now, or a month ago, but in the last few weeks, it’s been The Police.
Mandy: Can’t’ stop listening to Emily King.
Harry: I can’t stop listening to The Menzingers at the moment.
Favorite way to spend a Friday night: Playing a show to an enthusiastic crowd! Though I will say, take-out and early to bed feels like getting away with something sometimes.
Favorite part about life in Ithaca: Small town community, big city cultural opportunities. Thanks to Cornell and Ithaca College, we have wonderful restaurants, live music, and new people and ideas coming in at a rate well beyond other towns this size. I think we Ithacans get a little big for our britches about that sometimes, but it doesn’t stop me from calling the place home.
Fun fact about Noon Fifteen or a member of the band: Some of the other names we considered for the band were “Ticklesaurus Rex” and “The Hey Listens” (or just “Hey! Listen!”). Well… some of us considered them.
If you weren’t playing music, you’d be: We all have things besides music that fill our time and pay our bills – teaching, crafting, writing, A/V support, painting houses, giving out mortgage loans. A few of us have little kids. So, we do a lot other than music, and I think for us – like for many artists – music is such a deep part of who we are and how we express ourselves, we’d be doing it no matter how many other things demanded our attention.
What the rest of 2020 might have in store for Noon Fifteen: (aside from quarantine & surviving the pandemic): We write at a much faster pace than we can keep up with, so we’re looking forward to releasing more tracks, as well as some new videos, podcasts, and other fun supplemental content. As an antidote to how many artist e-newsletters get kicked into our “Promotions” folders, we kicked off our snail-mail list, “Noon Fifteen’s Totally Rad Awesomesauce Banana Pants Mailbox Goodie Club,” early this year, and we’re looking forward to actually using it when it’s safe to send people physical objects again.
Closing words: Our Noon Fifteen Podcast is full of behind-the-music info (plus live tracks, early demos, and mix stems), and we release all of our tracks through there for free as well. Subscribing to that (wherever you get your podcasts), our Youtube channel, and our social media is the best way to keep up on what we’re doing. We like to talk to people about music! Thanks so much for giving us the platform.
Band Photo by Armitage Photography