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Nouri: No One Else Like Her

Nouri: No One Else Like Her

Dropping at the beginning of April, NOURI’s single No One Else heralded her debut EP ‘Handle With Care’ which followed at the end of that month. A heartfelt ballad, the single showcases the hard-working Kiwi/Kurdish artist’s incredible vocal abilities, enhanced with a stunning music video made with the support of NZ On Air Music. LA-based singer Vivian Nouri took time out of her busy life to talk with Kat Parsons about her music, her dreams and the Grammys.

“I swear I have such big goals, but they’re not big to me. They’re so in reach. It sounds crazy.”

Born in a Syrian refugee camp, Nouri grew up in New Zealand after her family received refugee entry when she was three. A long way from such humble beginnings, it goes without saying that the now 29-year-old international artist has worked incredibly hard to make her immense goals a reality.

Her debut single Where Do We Go From Here made #1 on the Hot 20 NZ Singles Chart in November 2018. Passion and drive have since taken her across the world to LA, where she’s released a number of tracks, collaborated with multiple artists and producers, sung the US national anthem to open a Knicks v Clippers game and even played a celebrity basketball game alongside Snoop Dogg. This year she ticked another big dream off her list when she attended the 64th Annual Grammy Awards.

“That was something I’ve always wanted to do since I was little. The fact that I got to be there and just experience it and see everyone perform, and just be in that environment was a feeling I can’t even describe!”

Like the accompanying video, Nouri’s emotive latest single, No One Else, is spellbinding.

“So I wrote this in NZ, with Neil MacLeod and Acacia Walker (better known as Aacacia), who are two amazing artists,” explains Nouri. “Neil was just kind of playing the keys and the feeling that I felt when he started doing that was just crazy. I was like, ‘We need to do something emotional, that’s what I’m feeling right now.’ The song just kind of wrote itself. The lyrics behind it are just personal experiences. I was going through kind of a weird situation and just had to write about it. That’s all I could think about. It was just how I felt about this person at the time.”

Produced by Wellington-based electronic/acoustic artist and producer Macleod, the powerful ballad is rich with atmospheric synths, acoustic guitar and thick harmonies, all supporting a provocative and captivating vocal performance.

“I definitely know when I’ve done my best take. I’ll go until I do my best but usually it is the first one, which is crazy. That’s where you’re not thinking about how to sing it, it’s just the emotion that kind of takes over.

“What I love most about the song is the chorus,” she declares. “It’s the harmonies that come in that just take it somewhere. If those weren’t in there, I feel like it wouldn’t give me that same feeling of emotion.

“It was Neil on the harmonies. I usually have a male in my songs because my voice meshes well with male voices. I wanted that kind of contrast and having his harmonies just took it to a whole other level. In the chorus, I didn’t think I was going to belt the song in the way that I did, but Neil said it would sound amazing if I did. I didn’t know I could actually hit those notes, to be honest!

“It’s kind of nice when someone pushes you. You just feel the emotion in it. I had to dig really deep into a sad place to even be able to get that kind of emotion out. I just had to keep reminding myself, ‘Think of something sad, think of something sad.’ I’m a very stubborn person and I always act like everything’s fine. I kind of bury my feelings, so I have to dig deep to find them,” she laughs.

As a songwriter, Nouri typically finds inspiration from her own personal experiences.

“If I’m not feeling anything, or I feel numb or like a robot, I draw from the people around me and what they’re going through. But 99% of the time it’s about me and what I’m going through.”

Like a richly gothic fairy-tale, the music video for No One Else, made with the help of NZ On Air funding, emotes feelings of heartbreak and loss. Self-directed, along with her sister and husband, Jennifer and Jackson Tamaariki, Nouri commands attention with a soft and melancholy performance.

“The concept came to me the night before we shot it,” she laughs. “I just wanted a simple video for once. I just wanted it to be nice and elegant, as a performance almost.

“I had my brother-in-law film it because I’m most comfortable with him, and my sister was there, she was pregnant. The place that I had rented out was the last day we could shoot there because they were going to go into construction for like three months. It was insane cos that’s the one place I wanted, so the fact that it happened that way was just meant to be. I just wanted a simple concept, almost like a princess fairy tale. I’m such an old soul. I just wanted that classic old Hollywood vibe!”

Largely based in LA since 2017, where she first went to work with Grammy award-winning producer Brian Kennedy, Nouri spent the pandemic lockdown years in Aotearoa, working on the songs for her April 2022-released EP ‘Handle With Care’.

“It was definitely hard during the pandemic finding inspiration to write. I feel like everything happens for a reason though and I would never have had those songs had I not gone through what I went through.

“I had to relearn a lot of things because I was so used to being in LA and kind of having access to writers and producers all the time. When Covid hit, I realised that I didn’t know the NZ music industry like I thought I did. I didn’t know who to go to. So I just had to do some research, found Neil and I just loved his music and his writing.

“Writing on my own was really hard because, and I feel like a lot of artists felt like this during the pandemic, I felt stuck,” she divulges. “I got to a point where I was like,  ‘What am I doing and why am I doing this?’ I never think like that so for me to be in that headspace it felt like I’d hit rock bottom. I had this breakup thing that happened and it was a sad thing, but it almost needed to happen because it pushed me out of what I was feeling and made me want to write again, to push myself even more.

“New Zealand was opening up and then closing, so in between those times, I made sure I got out to Neil and made sure I was at the studio. It opened up again and I went to Melbourne and then actually got stuck and ended up finishing everything over there.”

It clearly wasn’t all work because GQ Middle East engaged the singer to ‘sing her tweets’ for a Youtube item. ‘Nouri, gets a lot of tweets, some good, some funny and some outrageous. While under lockdown in New Zealand, we asked her to sing us some of her favourite tweets from her fans.’ Added to her achievements in the States, it’s a pointer to just how wide her appeal and influence has already spread. Without skipping a beat this dedicated female powerhouse is already concentrating on her next venture.

“I’m working on the ‘big album’, she reveals, her excitement evident. “I’m working with Brian Kennedy, who was my first friend/producer that I met when I got to LA. He’s Grammy award-winning, he’s amazing. So I’m doing this album with him and another guy, [TikTok star] YX. The universe works in the most amazing ways because he was the person I’ve been looking for, to help me with this album. His schedule is crazy because he’s getting asked to do things like Justin Bieber placements, so for him to believe in me and clear his schedule to do this with me… It’s the best feeling in the world when someone believes in you that much,” she gushes.

“That’s what I’m focusing on right now. I can’t say much but I want to tell you everything. There are a bunch of important people involved and it’s just gonna be the biggest thing. This album is going to be the best work I’ve ever done because it’s already sounding insane. I’m going to events and I’m trying to still stay active out there, but my main focus is this album and the release. My plan is to get a Grammy for this one!”

Now that’s not a statement commonly attributed to Kiwi artists, and certainly not one for the faint of heart or resolve. The passion and the drive that exudes from Nouri is itself inspiring, it’s very clear that she won’t let anything stand in her way.

“I have to work for everything that I have,” she states firmly. “From the outside looking in it sometimes might look like this girl just gets this and that because of her looks or whatever. I was told that when I was in LA last time and I had to put this person in their place. Essentially anyone can get in the room, right? But what keeps you in that room? What is your message? That’s the important thing. Without that, looks can only get you so far.

“I was born in a Syrian refugee camp. For that to be my start and for me to even be in LA right now is just insane to me. Every day here is like a blessing because it’s just more opportunities. I get to share my story. I get to make people feel. I get to make the best work possible. I want to be on that Grammy stage one day, on the Billboard charts, and be like, ‘Yes, we can do it too.’

“That’s all I want,” continues the artist. “For people who have lost hope, to give that back to them. I wanted that when I was young, and I never had anyone to look up to that had gone through similar things. My mom has been through the worst you could possibly imagine, and for her to be so happy with just the little things – I feel like that’s where me and my siblings kind of got that from. That’s why she’s the biggest inspiration in my life.

“I do everything for my family and for the people back where I’m from, even NZ. That’s where I grew up, it’s my home. I know I’m Kurdish and I was born in a Syrian refugee camp, but if NZ had never taken us in we would still be living in a tent. I’m so grateful for everything that’s happened in my life. I truly believe everything happens for a reason. We don’t need to know those reasons straightaway, just as long as you believe it I think you’re good. Just aim high because, why not?”