Noah Guthrie is most widely known from the TV series Glee, where he played the shy yet talented Roderick Meeks.
However, what many people may not know is that Noah originally started out as a musician. He began writing songs at the age of 14 and has rapidly developed a reputation as a future Americana star, appearing on the likes of Dancing With The Stars and opening for acts including Ed Sheeran, Cobra Starship and Selena Gomez. Last year he released his seventh album, The Valley.
I spoke to Noah ahead of his recent performance at Nashville Meets London Presents about his latest album, touring in Europe, his time on Glee and his writing process.
How would you describe your music?
I guess I would describe it as probably Americana, kind of rootsy, little bit of rock here and there, little bit of soul. A little bit of everything, I think. Little bit of old school, little bit of new stuff. But I guess overall I would just say Americana.
What got you into music and why did you decide to pursue it as a career?
I’ve always been in a super-musical family. My dad and my stepmom were always singers and I was just always introduced to a lot of really great music growing up. I was always around the process, and then I think when I was in high school sometime I picked up a guitar and just kind of really enjoyed the process of songwriting and really started covering some songs and stuff on YouTube. I did that probably seven or eight years ago now, and that was when YouTube was still this kind of little platform – it’s crazy how big it is now, but it was a small platform and it just kind of grew and grew. I did these covers on YouTube, got a fan base there and then decided in late high school that I would just do this for my living if I could, and then luckily I’ve been able to ever since which is great. Had a couple of successes along the way and still just kind of plugging away.
Most people will probably know you from Glee – were there any similarities between that and your music career?
I guess I’d probably put it in the wildly different category more than anything. I’d been doing music for five or so years professionally before I got the call for Glee, and was just kind of touring and doing my own thing. Acting was not on my radar, it wasn’t something I’d ever set out to do really. And then I basically just got the call from them and they said they thought I would fit the part well so I decided to give it a shot. I did a self-taped audition, sent that in and then did another one, got on the show, and then I had to put music aside for about seven or eight months while we shot the show. I think there’s definitely the parallels between the two worlds in that Glee is a very musical show, but it really is a very different thing. I was going into Glee every day just like dancing and singing and acting all day every day, whereas singer-songwriter lifestyle is more ‘I’m gonna write this song now and then I’ll go tour for a little bit then I’ll write another song’. It’s a different lifestyle altogether.
Was there anything about the music that influenced your writing – either on the show or since?
I think if anything Glee kind of taught me to just not be afraid to sing again. I’ve always been a singer at heart and that’s the most unique thing about my sound, I guess would be my voice. As much I love songwriting sometimes I get so into the song that I’ll forget to just rear back and sing, instead of working on a nice melody or something which I love. I think going on Glee gave me really hard songs to sing and I had to get back in shape of just being a singer. So that was nice and I’m trying to take that over to my new stuff now.
Do you have a typical writing process?
It definitely varies. I do a lot of solo writing, I do a lot of co-writing as well. A lot of times it starts with just singing a melody that you had pop into your head while you’re driving in the car or something. I actually just had this thought the other day – I was in a co-write and we’d just finished a song, and I could just remember so clearly the moment when I first had the idea for the song. I was in the car and just kind of scrambling to record this little bit of a melody that I had pop into my head. And once you get to the finished product it’s really cool to see how that one little blip evolved into at least a three- or four-minute thing and is its own little piece of art. So that’s the wonder of songwriting.
Do you keep writing and touring separate? Or is it something that happens when you’re on the road as well?
Sometimes. I think when I’m on the road I’m pretty much just on the road. A lot of artists can write on the road very easily but I don’t know, for some reason I’ve never had that kind of luck with it. I’ve written a few things on the road over the years but not very often, just because I get tired [laughs]. But yeah, when I come home and I actually have free time to do it I can really sit down and try to just plug away at writing.
If there was one song you wish you’d written, what would that be?
Oh Lord! I feel like I say this every day with like a million different songs. Um… I think I’ll just pick one, I won’t put the pressure on myself. So the first song I ever did a cover of, that kind of got the ball rolling for everything, was Where The Streets Have No Name by U2. And U2’s always been my favourite band for a long time. It’s so funny because I often talk about U2 in interviews and stuff, but my music isn’t exactly U2 – it’s very the opposite. But I don’t know, I’ve just been enamoured with Bono and that whole group for years and years and years, and when I first heard Where The Streets Have No Name when I was a kid I remember just being transported to this other place for the length of the song. It still has that kind of effect on me when I listen to the original today, so I would give anything to have gone back in time and written that song.
Your latest album is The Valley. Do you have a favourite song on the record? Were there any that were particularly easy or difficult to write?
Yeah, I think it changes when I listen to the album, but if I had to pick one right now I would probably say the title track, The Valley. It’s a song that over time kind of shifted in meaning for me. I wrote that song with a good friend of mine, Amy Stroud, who’s in Nashville and we wrote that song a few years back. It was more about a relationship and ending a relationship, and when I finally got to record this album I was looking back through old songs to see if I had anything to go with. I found that one and it just spoke to me in a whole new way. I don’t know if it’s because when I was making this past album we had the election and just a bunch of stuff happening in our country, so I think it kind of speaks to a broader feeling of ‘you’re going to get through this’, whatever it may be. It feels good to play now with that intention behind it, so I think I’d say The Valley.
You’ve mentioned your cover versions – who would you like to cover one of your songs?
That’s a good question too. I think… I mean, I have tons of favourites but for some reason, like if Chris Stapleton or somebody wanted to cover one of my songs that’d be amazing. I don’t think he’s really in the business of doing that [laughs]. In some dream world. So that’d be cool.
You’ve been over to the UK a few times now. Do you find that fans over here react differently compared to other places?
Definitely. We go over to Europe in general a couple of times a year usually and we’ve had a lot of really good turnouts and good people come to the shows. The UK itself has been one of our least toured sections for whatever reason, I just don’t think we could get the dates lined up, but I’ve done a few shows over there. Everyone was amazing. There’s something I can say about European audiences in general that’s just so different from the US. o matter the setting – I’ve played in tons of bars and stuff in the UK too, but no matter the setting they’re just in tune. People are listening and attentive to your songs, and we’ve had that reaction in Germany as well. That was one of the most shocking things when we went over to Europe – I think we had our first show in Germany or the Netherlands and everyone was just dead silent the whole time we played, and then would just erupt after the song was over! You can get that in America but you have to work a lot harder for it, for whatever reason. But yeah, you guys just love music and I love that! [laughs]
What’s the one thing you’ve learnt from being on the road?
There’s a lot you could learn but if I had to pick one – probably that it’s a long race, it’s a long marathon that you’re on in this business. It’s not an overnight thing and I think with social media and stuff today we can take that for granted sometimes. We see this one band or one artist that’s about to blow up, and it really does seem like it was overnight, but this was after they and their people put in seven, eight, nine, ten years of work to get to that overnight success. And that’s something I try to keep in mind for myself. I’m young and I’ve got a long time so really it’s trying to keep my head up and it’s just a long race and endurance.
If you had a career bucket list, what would be on that?
Well, at some point I would really love to play Red Rocks. That would just be magical for me. But yeah, honestly I love venues like that, and I love the Greek Theatre in LA and stuff too. I would love a Grammy at some point, whether it’s one of my songs or something I’ve written on or something like that. But I’m really just out to do this because music is my outlet, it’s my expression. It’s not as much about materialistically where I get with it, it’s just kind of how I feel when I’m doing it, and right now I feel pretty good. There’s different levels of success and right now I feel I’m on a certain level. But I just enjoy music and I wanna be able to do that for my whole life.
What’s next for you – more writing, more touring etc?
Yeah, definitely both. I know that we’re setting up another European tour in October – I think that’ll be at least a couple of weeks long so I’m hoping to get back to the UK with that. But yeah, just lots of writing, lots of touring, hopefully release something new pretty soon – maybe in the next six months or a year or so. But I’ve already started writing new music so I’m on the right path I guess.
Noah Guthrie’s latest album The Valley is available now. Guthrie performed at the first Nashville Meets London Presents, which takes place monthly at Pizza Express Live in Holborn, London.