Images and Video by Jan-Willem Dikkers
“Acting is a very competitive field, whereas this, I have complete control over.
If I want to write a song it’s like, well…
I have the capacity to just go sit down and write a song.”
— Noël Wells
Noël Kristi Wells (b. 1986) is an American actress, comedian, director, musician, and writer. She is known for her television roles on Master of None and Saturday Night Live, as well as writing, directing, and starring in the film Mr. Roosevelt. Her debut album It’s So Nice! was released August 30th, 2019. Wells is also an avid photographer and has had her photography featured in exhibitions and the literary magazine Oxford American.
MASTER OF NONE
Master of None (2015-) is an American comedy-drama web television series, which was released for streaming on November 6, 2015, on Netflix. The series was created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, and stars Ansari in the lead role of Dev Shah, a 30-year-old actor, mostly following his romantic, professional, and cultural experiences. Master of None has won three Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe.
Samuel Thomas Fender (b.1994), is an English singer-songwriter who was named one of the BBC’s Sound of 2018 alongside other emerging artists including Sigrid, Lewis Capaldi, and Khalid. His single “Play God” was featured in the FIFA 19 video game. He won the Brit Awards Critics’ Choice for 2019.
She’s made us laugh in the comedy series Master of None, Saturday Night Live and the film Mr. Roosevelt—which she wrote and directed—but it turns out that Noël Wells’ talent doesn’t stop there. She’s also a songwriter and singer and has recently released her debut album, It’s So Nice!, traversing folk, pop, alt-country and psych-rock. Just before jumping on a North American tour with Sam Fender, Noël chatted with us about alienation, the freedom of creating music, and what it means to be optimistic in our current climate.
Where are you from?
I’m from Texas.
When did you start making music.
I started making music two and a half years ago. So at the end of 2016.
How about back in childhood?
When I was in childhood, I was in a band and I played clarinet and saxophone. When I was in high school I bought a guitar off eBay for ninety-nine dollars with tip money that I saved up from Sonic. But it was really cheap and the strings were too hard for me to play.
I just taught myself some chords and wrote a bunch of music and then I did have a band but I didn’t play anything. So I was the singer and I did that until I was seventeen. I did record an EP with them by selling anti-George W. Bush buttons in high school. Then I got in trouble. My mom was really mad at me and she said I disrespected the President.
“I did a record an EP with my band by selling anti-George W. Bush buttons in high school. Then I got in trouble. My mom was really mad at me and she said I disrespected the President.”
– Noël Wells
I think maybe that’s why I gave up music because my mom was mad at me. I recently started doing this, like, I bought a guitar in 2016 and spent a year writing music. Is that cool? I don’t know. I should probably come up with a cool answer.
Well, who did you listen to growing up?
Honestly, I listened to mostly radio music. I think I was a really big fan of, well..so like, whatever my mom listened to. So it was Alanis Morissette, Prince and Jewel. A lot of Shania Twain. A lot of country music. I really liked country music. I remember when I was a kid I was obsessed with Dwight Yoakam.
That’s kind of the music that I listened to and I didn’t really get into the sort of music that I guess inspired me to make music until I was probably around twenty-three.
I listened to the Beatles for the first time and it was kind of like ”What?” But I didn’t listen to the Beatles because my high school boyfriend cheated on me with a girl named Ashley who liked the Beatles. You know how it goes. The music that I feel inspires me is… I really love the Beatles, the Pixies. I also really love Nancy Sinatra. I listened to her a lot when I was a kid, when I had Napster, I would download Sinatra songs. Yeah, I need to come up with something very succinct.
How did you get started this time around?
This time around it essentially just kind of happened. I got very sad. 2006 I think was a very weird year for everybody. I think politics was getting really out of control and the negativity was really personally affecting me. I had just filmed my movie and finished it and I’d been traveling all over with it.
It just felt like I wasn’t really where I wanted to be and also I felt things about the world that nobody seemed to be seeing. I kind of knew that Trump was going to get elected like that. Nobody believed me and so I started writing songs based out of… I guess whatever.
It was like a way for me to talk about things that nobody could hear. The music for me at the time was also really speaking to me like every act, I would walk outside and music would be everywhere and it would be speaking to what I was thinking. I was like, “Maybe music is a way for me to get out what I’m thinking as well.”
How did you decide to go for it as a recording artist?
It actually just was that I had nothing else. It was like, this is what was happening and I just felt really passionate about it and I knew the songs were really good. Like it would be a bummer if I didn’t record them. To feel like, “I wish something had happened with it.” But now I have the songs recorded. They exist. It’s like a little time capsule for this time period.
Tell me a little bit about the collection of songs on It’s So Nice!
The songs were all basically written in this room. It’s like, wow, I was definitely exploring how sad I was. I do sort of feel they all have a sense of hope. As sad as I get I’m always still processing things through. Not necessarily through an ironic lens, but I do think the world is very funny and even in my despair, I am always looking at it from another point of view where it’s gonna be fine.
I guess the collection of songs is it really is channeling how I felt at the time. But at this point, there’s also…I can’t let myself wallow too much. Even if we’re living in a very strange time it’s kind of incumbent for us to also make our lives still worth living and have fun.
Ultimately that’s where the album landed. It’s sort of a mourning, but in that there is a rebirth and embracing a new type of life to be living.
“I’ve always really struggled to connect with people and I want desperately to connect with people and I think so many people feel like outsiders and loners and there isn’t really a place for them in the world. I feel like I’m singing to that.”
– Noël Wells
What are some things that are important to you that you like to address through your music?
Interesting. I really feel like…connection. I’ve always really struggled to connect with people and I want desperately to connect with people and I think so many people feel like outsiders and loners and there isn’t really a place for them in the world. I feel like I’m singing to that. So while the songs are deeply personal, I do think it’s a universal thing to feel alienated from other people and also from yourself.
Like, in an attempt to fit in you sort of lose the thread of what really makes you ‘you’. And also I think there is hopefulness and peace. There’s a part of me that’s like, “Hey, I think that there are better times ahead.” It’s kind of like we have to come together.
There’s my Ringo ‘peace and love’ sort of vibe in it. I don’t know why we can’t just have more fun. Like, things suck but also we get to make up reality and so we just don’t take this all so seriously.
What do you feel you get through making music that’s different from acting, directing, writing, drawing and taking pictures?
It’s very direct and I get to have control over it. I love acting— it actually feels very similar to how I feel when I’m acting in something good and I really like it. The sort of freedom that I feel is the same as when I’m performing or writing music but it’s hard to get acting jobs.
I mean, I get acting jobs but it’s a very competitive field, whereas this I have complete control over. If I want to write a song it’s like, well nobody’s gonna tell you to go write a song of your own. I have the capacity to just go sit down and write a song.
Especially when I’m upset it’s a really good way for me to deal with my emotions. Sometimes I’ll sit down, I don’t know how to talk about something and I’ll just start strumming and all these words come out and I’m like, “Oh that’s it.” Even if it never sees the light of day, I got it out.
What it sound appealing to create a project where you would tie all your talents together?
Yes. I like just working. I truly love working and I love being able to do what I’m good at. If there is a way for me to put it all together I definitely would. I’m now getting into this mode where I like working on things for longer periods of time.
There seems to be less of a rush, and so if those things can kind of come together in an organic way, that would be great. I would also really want to plug into other people’s stuff, like if people said, “Oh, Noël would you like to make music for this project?” or “Would you act in this?…” It gets alienating doing it all by yourself.
“Acting is a very competitive field, whereas this, I have complete control over. If I want to write a song it’s like, well… I have the capacity to just go sit down and write a song.”
– Noël Wells
Who would you most like to collaborate with?
I feel we’re in an age where people are still very focused on getting their careers going and so there isn’t as much collaboration, but I’d love to bring musicians and talented filmmakers and actors together. So in my head, I’m always thinking of writing for certain people.
How cool would it be to have a good movie with…I don’t want to give it away. But, like some really great musicians because I know they all want to be actors. Musicians want to be actors and actresses want to be musicians. We kind of bring this stuff together.
But on another front, if I can work with people…as an actor I’d love to work with Noah Baumbach. I just really love his films. I love Mike Mills, Miranda July. I really love Spike Jonze. I feel very similar to him and the fact that he is a song and dance man even though he does acting too. But he’s sort of like a dancing, sort of musical…even visually in his filmmaking. It would really be really cool to work with him in some capacity.
When I spoke to you last I didn’t really know much about your drawing and music. What else do I not know about?
Well, the drawing sort of happened. When I was a kid I drew a lot and during that sad period, I started drawing again. So you wouldn’t have known about it because I’d just recently picked it up and since then I think I’ve laid it all out on the table.
I think maybe there’s a lot more writing in me. Do you know that I do animation and I worked as an animator? When I went to college I focused on animation so I did a lot of motion graphics and animation. It’s very tedious but I would like to do more artistic versions of that.
I think that would be it. I’m good at cooking too when I do it.
Euphoria is an American teen drama television series created by Sam Levinson and based on the Israeli miniseries of the same name, originally created by Ron Leshem, Daphna Levin, and Tmira Yardeni. The series stars Zendaya and premiered on HBO on June 16, 2019. It follows a group of high school students through their experiences of sex, drugs, friendships, love and trauma.
What’s your favorite book film and music right now?
I’m watching Euphoria. I think it’s beautiful. I think the casting is incredible. People are saying that it’s sort of exploitative, or kids don’t really go through this. Even if kids aren’t all doing drugs and having sex and I think it is sort of indicative of what it feels like to be growing up in this time.
So even if you can’t articulate it or you’re not going out shooting up drugs I think that it’s sort of the whole escape that we’re in and I think it perfectly encapsulates that. And if it was not encapsulating it for kids it’s definitely encapsulating it for how I feel. So I appreciate it. So I’m really, really into Euphoria now.
What about films, music, books?
I just read a lot of self-help books so I’m trying to think. I’m reading all these self-help books that reference the Bible a lot, and weirdly I’m like, “Oh, now I kind of understand how it works as a parable.” So there’s a part of me that wants to get back into the Bible just to say that I’m doing it, but that’s not true.
Movies: I haven’t really watched any. I’m watching old movies right now. I just watched The Shining last night. I watched The Talented Mr. Ripley and looking at a lot of horror films or psychological thrillers that I really loved as a younger person. I don’t know why. That’s where I’m at. Maybe it’s Euphoria inspired.
I’ve been a fan for a while but I really loved Weyes Blood’s latest album. I really love Lucy Dacus. I think she’s so talented. I really think women are making incredible music. Almost every female musician is getting attention right now. I really love Billie Eilish. I feel so weird to be an adult person and just being obsessed with this person but I’m like, “You go girl.”