RR LogoKeri Noble part 2 headline

Interview with Joe Montague

I have not met Keri Noble in person, but I have now spoken to her a couple of times in the past few months and the one thing that is very easy to detect in the rock singer – songwriter’s voice is her sincerity when she talks about people and things that are important to her.  It was during our conversation last fall that Keri Noble first drew to Riveting Riffs Magazine’s attention that she would be taking part in a two week tour of Iraq, to visit and to perform for the American troops in January. At the time, it was obvious how honored she felt to have been asked and in our subsequent conversation just a few weeks ago, it was again obvious how privileged Keri Noble feels to have been able to serve her country in this manner. This was not a case of someone trying to grab a few minutes in the spotlight or a photo opportunity, but it is about the heart of a young woman who has already set the world on fire with her music, and her current self titled album is drawing rave reviews, as it should.

“I feel a greater sense of respect for the military in general. I have never been one of those people who have a strong opinion either way. I am not highly political, so I did not spend a lot of time asking, what did I think politically about going over to Iraq and what do I think about this war? I didn’t do a lot of that, but being there really drove home how young these guys are. These men and women, there aren’t many women, but most of them are so young. It drove home for me the sense of I am not in control of the plans as to why they were there. I can’t understand all of the reasons behind it, but I do know that regardless of understanding it or controlling it that these men and women need to be seen and they need to be noticed and respected for the sacrifice that they give. Even if it is not for a cause that you endorse, it is still a pretty incredible thing to give up a year or two years of your life to go somewhere and to put yourself in a dangerous situation. I just came away with a deeper respect for people who make that choice,” says Keri Noble.

Recalling the response of the men and women to her performances, Noble says, “It was like any other concert and I would play songs that I had already tested out and that people typically like. They were excited. I think after talking to a bunch of people before and after the shows, you get the sense that life is pretty monotonous. There is nothing for them to do and they work six or seven days each week. They are long days. The scenery never changes and most of them never get outside the base. There is no way for them to release. They work, eat and sleep. You get so sick of the scenery, even in two weeks of just seeing brown (she says with a definite resignation in her voice) everywhere, sand and rocks. There is nothing to even look at. It gets super monotonous. We felt with our performing that it was our job to take them away for a couple of minutes, an hour or seventy-five minutes, to talk about back home and to tell them stories that reminded them of their lives outside of this. I think that was the most important thing that we could do. We just wanted to take them away. They really, really were grateful for any kind of a break that they could get in their minds from the everyday monotony. Their families are never going to see what they do on a daily basis. Part of our job was to perform, but another part of our job that was pretty significant, was just being around when we weren’t performing to listen to their jobs and to witness what they do, because it feels good (for them). Everybody wants to be noticed for what they do. So much of what they do will never be seen by their wives or their parents. These are interesting and important jobs and that (taking notice of what the men and women do) became as important as doing a good performance, to listen and to witness them, so that they felt somebody saw them.” 

The first two and one half days of Keri Noble’s tour were spent in Kuwait City and she was transported with the protection of troops, from base to base by land, however upon arriving in Iraq, after departing Kuwait, it became apparent that the situation was far more serious. Keri Noble part 2 photo 2

“We landed in Mosul, which they say may still be the most dangerous city in Iraq, so my first impression when we got there was that we were definitely not in Kuwait anymore. There was a somber intensity from what we were used to in Kuwait, because in Kuwait it felt pretty laid back. When we got to Mosul it was quite different. You felt like you were on your toes a little bit more. Everybody was a little more on guard. I think that is when it really settled in on us that now we are here,” she recalls. 

Even though it was obvious that Iraq is more volatile, Noble noted that it also came with surprises, “Everybody who have been in Iraq for a while or who are there for their second or third tour, talks about it as being significantly different than it was, even a year ago or six months ago. There seems to be an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment and positive movement. That was surprising to me, because although I didn’t have any expectations, I did not expect people who are there to be pretty vocal about how different it is.”

As different as things may be in Iraq from what they were a year ago, nonetheless the protection and safety precautions were considerably amped up for Keri Noble and her band. “When we got to Iraq, they would not let us travel any other way except by air, with two blackhawks (helicopters) around us at all times. Even if you were going to a base that was only five miles away, we would have to wait for a helicopter so we had a way to get there, because they would not let us drive. Whenever we flew, we flew from a base not a major airport. The helicopters were parked on the tarmac and we were just out in the open, so we had to wear flak jackets and helmets and we kept them on for the flight and all of that,” she says.

While most of Keri Noble’s performances were on stages erected just outside the mess hall where the men and women in the military ate, with some evening performances on inside stages, there was one performance that the singer-songwriter is not likely to ever forget and it came at a location she could never have previously imagined. Upon arriving in Baghdad the military liaison who was assigned to Keri Noble and her band advised them they could have their meal in the mess hall or they could accept the invitation of the general for the Iraqi special forces who had learned that there was a western singer in town and wanted her to have dinner with him and his troops. 

“We were all laughing, because that was not a hard decision to make and we all went to the palace. That was a very strange and intimidating situation for me. I spent a lot of time in Japan, I have a good understanding of the Hispanic community and I have been exposed to a lot of different cultures during my life, but my Middle Eastern exposure is pretty minimal. As a woman you do not want to offend anyone or to be the brash American girl who offends everybody, so it was a little bit intimidating. My manager (Laurie Ziegler) and I were ushered out from the main area where everyone was, to a back area that I think was his (the general’s) office, which had been converted into this private dining area. There were lots of these high up generals and dignitaries and Laurie and I.  We were looking at each other like, what are we doing here and what are we supposed to do? That was a little intimidating, but we got to know and to talk to a lot of very interesting people. At the end of the night the general asked me if I would come back the next day after my lunch performance and to perform at a going away event for some of his men who were going on leave or who were going home. Of course I said yes. The next day I went over there and I was greeted by him and one of his, I think three wives. He said, ‘You go with her and change your clothes.’ I was kind of like, ‘Come again.’ He said, ‘Go change your clothes, go with her now.’  Laurie and I went with his wife and her assistant to their bedroom and she told us to take off our clothes (you can still hear the incredulous tone in her voice). They had got me a Kurdish party outfit that is used for celebrations. They wanted me to perform in it and I did. There is a picture on my website of that moment. It ended up being an incredible two days of “you had to be there kind of moments.” It was totally respectful. As I was leaving, he asked me if I would wear it to my concert that night and I said (you hear her hesitation as she recalls the moment) ‘I don’t know if I can do that.’ He said, ‘You must show the connection between the Iraqis and the Americans and this will honor us all. I did and it was an honor and it was one of those moments when you think, life is pretty incredible.”

When it came time to return to America, Keri Noble and the members of her band were ready to come home, but there remains no doubt that she also cherishes the moments that she spent getting to know the men and women who serve, often in obscurity in Iraq and other countries. Most impressive about Keri Noble’s perspective of her two week tour in Iraq is the fact that she places far more emphasis on spending time with the men and women one on one and ensuring that they realize someone is taking notice of what they are doing in their jobs, than she does on her performances. Keri Noble traveled to Iraq as one of America’s fast rising rock stars, but she would be the first to tell you that she returned home with something far more valuable and precious. One gets the sense that if there is a message that Keri Noble would want the wives, husbands and parents of those serving in the military to hear, it would be something like this, ‘Be proud of these young men and women for the sacrifice they are making.’  They may be out of sight serving in countries like Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan, and you do not have to agree with the reasons that wars are fought, but none of us should forget that these men and women keep America and Canada relatively safe. For that we owe them a debt that none of us will ever be able to repay.