Isla Noon emerged in 2020 with hit tracks Summer in August, Talk About Us and I Need To Go Home and has swiftly established herself as a dexterous and fresh songwriter. Weaving her unique, alt pop universe, Isla Noon’s releases have been described by Rolling Stone as “glistening dance-pop perfection”, while her musical journey itself stems back to listening to Boney M’s The Rivers of Babylon every night before bed; a core memory and key inspiration for this sharp and engaging artist. From starting guitar lessons at the age of ten to studying music at university, Isla Noon’s pensive and vibrant style ultimately took full flight when she harnessed her post-graduate free fall into seeking creative fulfillment and breaking down her own walls as an artist and as a human. Thus, Islan Noon the artist truly arrived.
Name: Isla Noon
Alias: Real name Shani Sauerman.
In less than 50 words describe your music and yourself.
Sitting somewhere in the alt-pop universe, specifically a little Isla Noon corner with a lot of lush synths, big guitars, intricate lyrics and sprinkling of pop hooks. I am an artist and songwriter.
What was the first rock/pop concert you attended?
I remember my Mum taking me to see local Afrikaans artists when I was super young in Cape Town where I’m originally from. The first concert I ever bought a ticket to myself was Taylor Swift’s Speak Now tour in Auckland – I was fifteen. I lined up in the morning with my friends and watched all the crazy pyro and sets and choreography from the front of the crowd. I vividly remember the moment the show started with Taylor rising up out of the stage. I was just completely in awe the whole time.
Punk or Goth Music:
Puuuuuuuuuuuuunk! I’m swayed massively by the fashion influence too.
Who are you excited about, music wise, at the moment?
Caroline Polachek is such an intriguing artist that is artfully towing that line between alternative and pop music. Her visuals are so ethereal and mesmerising, as is her vocal style. I’m also looking forward to Holly Humberstone’s debut album coming out this month, I still feel her music is really underrated.
The Best live artist/band you’ve seen:
Wolf Alice. Ellie Rowsell’s vocals are next level, and the band creates such an atmosphere. I’m also just a massive fan of their music, in particular the most recent album Blue Weekend. I don’t own a record player but I ended up buying the vinyl for a friend, which has worked out well for both of us because she loved the record and I’m always sneakily putting it on whenever we hang out. It’s a calculated win/win.
Your “In the mood for love” song:
A Case of You – Joni Mitchell. Or Suzanne – Leonard Cohen. Both songs are kind of bittersweet but I think that’s what makes them feel so human.
What are you currently reading?
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I’m almost at the end of the twelve-week course that she sets out, and it’s been game-changing for my creative process. I went into it a little skeptical but open to the concept, and now I’m like a walking advertisement for The Artist’s Way. Which is completely unnecessary considering the massive reputation it already has.
Your favourite Sunday morning chill out record?
Right now, it’s In the End It Always Does by The Japanese House. It’s got such a good mix of addictive melodies, these kind of wistful and wandering guitar and bass parts and a really optimistic atmosphere. It feels clean and hopeful, which makes it a perfect morning album for me.
Which song do you wish you had written?
First one that comes to mind is Get Out by Frightened Rabbit. “I’m in the arch of the church between her thumb and her forefinger, I’m a worshipper” – the lyricism is just beautiful. Another would be Somebody Else by the 1975, which has kind of a nostalgic element for me as it was the soundtrack to a pretty significant year in my life. I never get sick of it, and I would get so much joy out of being able to play that every night at a show.
Author Manuel Puig said “I’m not terribly happy about rock and roll. Rock music is uninspiring, numbing; it makes you feel like an idiot.” Discuss.
I get the feeling it’s not the rock music making you feel this way, I’m sorry to say, Manuel…
Vinyl, Cassette, CD, mp3 or Streaming?
I’m big on CD’s. I still collect them and have done since I saved up for my first CD player at age eight. I remember it cost $40 which felt like a fortune at that age. With CD’s you get the tactile thrill of physical media at a more accessible price point (and storage space demand) than vinyl. I will say, streaming has become so easy and is often the way I go for exploring new music. From there, I tend to buy CDs of the stuff I want to play on repeat. Or at least in my car, because it’s quite literally too old to play music any other way.
If you could hang out with any music artist, in a bar one afternoon, who would it be?
Paul McCartney. He feels so larger than life that I think it would be amazing to get beyond the initial “I can’t believe I’m talking to Paul McCartney” and actually be able to have a conversation about life, songwriting, music. Imaaaagine the stories he has.
What is your worst habit?
Probably continuing to pretend I don’t have a caffeine intolerance and drinking coffee anyway. It makes me feel terrible but I just love having a coffeeeeee. And I’m yet to find a good decaf. I would blame Auckland’s massive coffee culture, but I think I only have myself to blame…
How often do you look at your mobile phone?
Less now, but still way too much. I recently took a week off my phone which was liberating and also made me scarily aware of how much time and energy it takes up. It’s tough to achieve a balance when it feels like the world lives in a little backlit rectangle. I make a conscious effort to keep it out of reach when I’m writing though. Getting a little bored or taking an empty pause is an important part of the creative process for me, and picking up my phone can just totally block what might come up in those moments.
Any good backstage stories?
Not my own stage, but when I was nineteen, I somehow ended up getting mistaken for a media representative at a festival, which I just went along with and ended up backstage hanging out with the band Chvrches. At some point someone asked me about my work as music journalist – pretty sure I fumbled through an answer and then went so far as to pretend I was “taking notes for my piece” on my phone. Nineteen-year-old me was committed to the bit, that’s for sure.
An alien lands on Earth and wants to know what Rock and roll sounds like. What song do you play it?
Barracuda by Heart.
Favourite all time TV show:
Total comfort watch – Gilmore Girls. I could loop it on repeat.
What is your specialty in the kitchen?
Does a drink count? I’ve built a bit of a reputation for making mulled wine at Christmas time for my friends.
With whom would you like to record a song with?
Sam Fender would be amazing. The voice! The songwriting! Troye Sivan would also be a big one for me, his music has really influenced mine over the years.
You have tickets to see The Killers and Bruce Springsteen but they are on the same night. Which one do you attend?
I feel like the tactical move here is Springsteen, because he’s older than The Killers (sorry Bruce just doing the maths, love ya) so in theory I’m more likely to have another opportunity to see The Killers in a few years. Also, I just really want to experience Dancing In The Dark live at some point!!
Where do you hope to be in twelve months?
I hope to have released a big project that I’m working on now, and maybe head out on a New Zealand tour. I can’t wait to play this music for people! I’d also love to travel – dream destination right now is Berlin. More than anything I want to keep pushing myself as an artist. When I first wrote my recent single Body I thought “there’s no way I can share this – too raw, too personal” and then a year later I made a music video and released it. I’m so grateful for the response it has received and how it has connected with people. It’s one of the greatest things I could hope for as an artist.
Lush, hypnotic and brimming with alt pop whimsy, the brand-new single Body from Aotearoa New Zealand artist Isla Noon is an electrifying ode to growing up from one of the scene’s most exciting up-and-comers. A dynamic addition to Isla Noon’s ever-growing repertoire, Body is also accompanied by an enigmatic music video featuring the artist herself in a potent display against a fittingly eerie locale.
Body is Out Now
Interview by Geoff Jenke