Meet Noonie Bao: the surrealist singer-songwriter of unimpeachable pop with a name that sounds like an anime character and a reputation for tussling with gigantic vacuum cleaners. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, just watch the video to her hit I’m in Love — you’ll be just as hooked we are.
The Swedish singer Noonie Bao intrigues with her cinematic visual choices and smart melodies that get stuck in your head for days. Like a quirky good witch, she uses her magic not only to release her own songs, but also to write for music giants such as Avicii, Charli XCX and Say Lou Lou. When I catch up with her during a quick Skype rendezvous, she is just waking up in Los Angeles, where she is promoting her forthcoming second EP.
Where is your favourite place for writing music?
“It can differ hugely from day to day, depending on my mood. With the EP that is coming out soon I’ve been feeling very restless, writing and producing all around the world. Me and Linus Wiklund have been in a little village in Sweden, in Skåne, Ibiza, LA, everywhere. The music changes with the place. Sometimes I need to be completely alone in my room, sometimes I invite family and friends to play together. But if I had to choose just one place, it would be Vejbystrand in Skåne — a beach where my creativity flows freely.”
Are you more of a city or nature person?
“I like contrast — first writing out in the wild, then a quick trip to New York or LA. I travel to big cities to collect impressions and then I take them back to a peaceful place and transform them into songs.
“I love human encounters, listening about different lives. After periods of being enclosed in my own world, I thirst for inspirational exchange. It’s also cool to meet somebody totally different and talk about something other than music. My brain is full of music 24/7, so it’s good to change the topic.”
If you could design your dream city, what would it look like?
“It would be surrounded by majestic nature — huge mountains, huge lakes, but at the same time, ultramodern. Kind of a mix of Lord of the Rings and Tokyo.”
You were raised in the suburbs of Stockholm — how did the city influence you?
“Growing up, I was rather inspired by escaping reality. I wanted to be somewhere else, away from school. But what inspired me positively was that Botkyrka was very multicultural and full of different kinds of music. At my school in Alby we made our own plays and wrote music together. Many girls were not afraid to just go for it and follow their dreams. There was a sense of sisterhood and community that definitely formed me as a person.”
What’s your favourite place in Stockholm today?
“My parents run a cosy bistro, Rost at Wollmar Yxkullsgatan. It’s definitely my favourite hangout, mostly because of the wonderful regulars who go there. Each time I go, I end up hugging and kissing half the visitors. You can meet the most interesting people and hear best stories there.”
You have a very quirky and colourful visual world. Even your website is more of a personal gallery of inspirations than a typical page about a musician. How does the visual world influence your music?
“That’s true, I am becoming more and more visually inspired. I collect weird images from the internet and often look at inspirational pictures while I write. I have thousands of surreal pictures on my iPad; they stimulate my fantasy. For my new EP I was working with Sebastian Mlynarski, the director of the video to I’m in Love. When I met him, I knew immediately that he was a person who could make the visual world I have in my head happen.”
Would you like to do your own movie?
“My dream is rather to write the soundtrack to an entire movie. I often watch films on YouTube, but I take away the sound and think about how I would put my own music to each scene. My favourite films are The Fifth Element, Pan’s Labyrinth, Spirited Away and Wes Anderson movies. If I made my own film, it would probably be a mix of fantasy and Wes Anderson.”
I cannot help getting the impression that in contrast to your personal lyrics, the character you create in your videos is very mysterious and surreal. Even your name sounds more like some kind of fantastic creature or superhero. Is this contrast something you choose consciously?
“It’s all me. It’s the way I see the world and how I can reconstruct it and show it to others through my music.”
How is your new EP different from your previous one?
“The first one was a collection of my songs that I had been writing since I was 15 and I was finally ready to get out. This one is definitely more attached to the more recent years of my life. I wrote a lot of the tracks just with a guitar and piano, and then I added the whole world around. I listened a lot to older singers such as Annie Lennox, Joni Mitchell, Suzanne Vega. The sound could be described as fantasy/Nintendo game/1980s. My lyrics often talk about daring to be yourself and not caring what the others think, fighting your fears and following your own way.”
In addition to doing your own music, you often collaborate on projects and write songs for other singers. How does it feel to give away your songs to somebody else?
“I love social meetings and writing together. That’s why I started writing for others in the first place. Before, I used to sit so much on my own. At first, it was very difficult and I was afraid that I would not be able to write with somebody else, because it’s so personal, but I decided to try, just because I like conquering my own fears. I don’t really care what happens with the song itself — whether it will come out or not finally — but I enjoy the meeting and the collaborative process.”
Is there anything about how your songs have been received that has surprised you?
“I don’t really follow the reactions to my music that much. I concentrate on the process. But I am very happy when my songs become part of somebody’s personal story, like when people tell me that they dance to my last single, Pyramids, at home. Since I was small, music has been my way of recording memories, so it feels great to know that my songs can be a soundtrack to somebody else’s life and become their memories.”
Words by WERONIKA PÉREZ BORJAS
Photography by OSKAR GYLLENSWÄRD
Styling by PEJMAN BIROUN VAND
Hair & Make-up by OSCAR SVENSSON AT MIKAS
1 TOP BY ANN-SOFIE BACK
2 TOP BY MARIMEKKO