Nora Martin-Hall is an artist. Like, a real artist. I first discovered her while I was on a stage in LA being distracted by her easel light glowing in the back of the dark room. I had to squint to make out the image on the canvas and, mid-verse, I thought to myself, “is that a big fucking mouth?” It was a big fucking mouth. The person painting the big fucking mouth had thick, flowing hair that was tangled with the cords of her headphones, all of which stuck out from the hood of her sweatshirt. At first glance, Nora looks like the type of person who won’t hesitate to tell you to eat shit and die. She looks the same at second glance, third, and pretty much every glance that follows. That’s because Nora’s the type of person who won’t hesitate to tell you to eat shit and die, but only if you deserve it (you probably do). She’s otherwise very pleasant to be around. She’s also the only person whose tweets I laugh at more than my own.
We talked briefly at LA Got Aloha in January and I assured you that we were still on for this interview despite how long it takes me to complete anything in life. Your exact response was, “Anytime in the next 10 years will be fine with me, unless I die before then.” You then smirked awkwardly around your unlit cigarette and said to yourself, “Fuck, Nora… way to bring up death all the time.” I’ve always considered dark humor a strange form of optimism. Assume for the sake of this question that the crazy people are right and, upon departure from our shitty bodies, we all either wind up in Heaven or in Hell. Not that this scenario leaves a ton of room for logic, but, logically, Heaven and Hell would both have to be at least somewhat subjective places. For example, my sweet old God fearing grandmother’s idea of Hell looks a hell of a lot like mine of Heaven. What does Nora’s Heaven look like? How about your Hell? I realize I’m the one talking about death now, but you started it.
Nora: Oh man, I do talk about death too damn much. It’s a topic that consumes me. At the end of every day, I lay in bed and think about how I’m another day closer to death. It’s super healthy. On that note, Nora’s heaven looks exactly like my life right now minus the “you and everyone you know is going to die” part. I’m really happy these days. I mean, I’m usually broke, I have insomnia, I’m always worried about the progress of my career, I sometimes involve myself in relationships with questionable people, but all that is pretty mild in the grander scheme of it all. I’m alive, my limbs all work, theres a really great taco truck around the corner from my house, and I’ve managed to make friends with all of the cool people currently alive. I don’t ever want to stop living on this rock with all these people and things. If I could just keep this act up as long as I want, that would be my definition of Heaven. As for Hell, I’ve already been there. It’s called the suburbs.
A common stigma that gets unfairly attached to artists – specifically artists who dabble in the abstract; who paint large mouths displaying rainbow-colored teeth, or babies sprouting squid-like tentacles, or the horrific righteousness that is the album art for Besatree’s Wildlife – is that they all tend to do a lot of acid. I resent these baseless, misguided assumptions and frankly take offense to the implication that the human mind in all of its wondrous complexity is incapable of reaching such artistic crests without the assistance of psychedelic drugs. That having been said, how fucking awesome is acid? You’ve totally done acid, right?Nora: I have done zero acid. Also haven’t fucked with Molly, E, shrooms, speed, LSD (is that the same as acid? I don’t know how this shit works. I need an adult), DMT, DMV, HPV, or QVC. I tried smoking weed recently for a week and it was a shit show. I did some wake and bake nonsense before a meeting with a gallery owner, stopped at Starbucks first and was so fucking high I couldn’t figure out my order (Black coffee. Super complicated). I panicked, told the baristas I was baked, they proceeded to make fun of me and wrote “Baked” as my name on my cup and had a jolly ol’ time at my stoned expense. Drugs just ain’t my thing. I get a kick out of people’s misconceptions of what it means to be creative for a living. Most reasonable humans wouldn’t show up to their job teaching 5th grade math tripping on acid (unless you teach for Rialto USD…) It’s not much different for me. I’ve had to eliminate a lot of the fun things in my life to be able to keep doing this. At the end of the day, it’s a job. I have to show up at a reasonable time, work when I really don’t want to, and stay on top of my shit if I don’t want to fail.
Something I enjoy doing on planes is harshly judging the other passengers based solely on their appearances. And then, based on that judgement, I try to come up with at least five bands they could possibly be listening to in their headphones. I’ll even ask them occasionally, and you’d be surprised how often I’m right. Unless I was honest, that is. If I was honest, I’d admit to you that I’m never right, and you probably wouldn’t find that at all surprising. I noticed you wear earbuds while you paint. Do you have any go-to bands or albums for those occasions? And does your music of choice have any noticeable influence on your process or is it mostly just background noise to drown out the voices in your head?
Nora: I won’t make anything without music. It’s my only bitchy artist requirement when I work. A large part of it is to drown out the voices in my head. I’m an obsessive over thinker. I need music to replace my toxic internal dialogue with someone else’s so I can focus. I probably should do more drugs. I listen to a range of stuff. I like classical in the morning (I have a HUGE boner for Chopin). I’m starting to get more into random beat producers. But I’m admittedly mostly a rap geek. We bonded over our mutual love for Open Mike Eagle. I’ve been having a hard time listening to anything besides him lately. I think these indie dudes are making really important music right now that’s being overlooked because it’s rap. Sometimes it’s just background music, other times it’s my support group. I could make a whole playlist of angsty rap songs that I pretended were about painting. I’ve probably cried to “Exhausted Love” by E&A, and I’m sure there’s a Murs quote somewhere that I’d TOTALLY tattoo under my boob all basic-bitch style if I had less respect for myself and a nicer rack. Matisse allegedly said that he owes painting to flowers, and I owe painting to indie rap. It’s probably why I’m broke. Indie rap doesn’t sell as well as flowers.
So I googled your name and the very first result that popped up was: Nora, The Smart Snoring Solution. It’s a Kickstarter campaign to fund the development of a bedside anti-snoring device of sorts, which I assume is designed to administer large doses of methamphetamine intravenously to the would-be snorer, thus keeping them awake all night and unable to snore. Fun fact: they’ve raised a total of $832,523. Say, on the subject of snoring, how many men have you slept with? “Men” meaning cab or Uber drivers and “slept with” meaning the times you’ve blacked out in their backseat when you couldn’t drive yourself home because you were too drunk to find your car. I’ve slept with hella men all over the world, myself.
Nora: First of all, that’s my Kickstarter. It’s a front to launder dirty money. I’m glad to hear it’s doing well. Second, I have never blacked out in the back of an über or Lyft. That’s for amateurs. I black out at the bar. And third, this seems like a roundabout way of asking me how many dudes I’ve fucked without asking me how many dudes I’ve fucked. Lucky for me, I’m a classy gal, so I’d never answer that question in an interview (9 if you count chicks. Also 9 if you don’t). And I CERTAINLY wouldn’t ever tell you how many of them were your friends (just 1). And I DEFINITELY wouldn’t give out their name out of fear of them telling everyone I was a mediocre lay that caught hella feelings (that parts true, sorry dude if you’re reading this). Moooooovin on…
You’re personal friends with Nocando. He and I are actually really close. Well, not really close, but we hang out quite often. We don’t hang out together, but we go to a lot of the same shows and always make it a point to say hello to one another. He’s actually never spoken to me, but I did buy him a beer once. Okay, I really bought myself a beer and he took it thinking the bartender was bringing it to him, and I didn’t say shit about it. So we’re practically brothers, Nocan and I. If you were to paint his aura, what colors would you use? PS, you can’t use paint. What would you use instead?
Nora: I can’t really answer that question because I’m not actually friends with James either. I Photoshop him into pictures and just stand near him at shows. He doesn’t even speak English. I think he’s on some witness protection program from Japan and the whole rap thing is an intricate cover-up. His people recently reached out to me to collaborate on a project with him, but I’ve had no real contact with him due to the language barrier. He came over to my house once for a meeting. They rolled up in this giant white bronco with duck hunting stickers on the back. His team did all the talking while James sat there and tended 8 Tamagatchis the whole time. It was fucking weird.
You were once a contestant on GSN’s Skin Wars: Fresh Paint, in which a very bald RuPaul exclaimed, “Nora’s so bad she got 3 names.” As I understand it, the episode wasn’t supposed to air, but did, and now I’m interviewing someone who has been on television, which makes me feel cool AF. Legally, I can only provide a link to the trailer, and even if I did manage to dig up the full episode, I wouldn’t dare compromise my moral integrity by contributing to internet piracy. Here it is. I can’t ask for your feelings on the episode because you haven’t actually watched it and swear you never will. That’s fascinating to me, mostly because it makes me feel that much less alone in the world. What’s more frightening to you: a.) Never being able to create again, or b.) All of your shittiest creations – be them paintings or poems or whatever else you might dabble in – being put on public display for everyone you even remotely care about? We’re talking bottom of the barrel stuff here. The stuff only you know exists and really want to destroy in order to prevent it from being discovered but always end up talking yourself into keeping for sentimental reasons. I can’t be the only one who does this.
Nora: Okay, first of all, fuck that show. RuPaul is cool though. And to answer your question, everything I paint and draw is pretty much “bottom of the barrel” anyway, so I’m pretty shameless when it comes to showing it. But as for all the OTHER shit I create, I’d sooner quit making things than share them. I write a lot. I have tubs of journals and diaries I’ve kept since I was like 10, and the Notes app in my iPhone is filled with goofy short stories and random observations. It’s the most unfiltered and unedited version of myself in existence. I will never let anyone read any of them. Ever. I’m a little narcissistic, so sometimes I like showing off the things I make more than I like making them. But I’ve removed a lot of myself from my artwork. I think when you decide you want to do something you love for a living, you have to accept that it’s no longer just about you. It’s about your audience too, and you have to make creative sacrifices to keep it applicable to them as well. I’ve in some ways surrendered art to my audience, but writing is mine. I don’t have to give a fuck about making money off of it or getting approval from my peers. I don’t get caught up in the politics of the writing world, or question why I do it. It’s relieving.
Only the people who knew me in my first life (I’m in my fifth right now FYI) can affirm that drawing was actually my first love and ultimately served as my introduction to art. The timeline goes: drawing, then writing, then painting, then rapping, then photos and videos and whatever else the fuck it is I do these days. But it was drawing that kicked it all off. I purposely skipped the interpretive dance stop on the tour and I’ve yet to try my hand in acting, which is something that interests me but I’m a lot more comfortable on the development end, writing scripts and stuff like that. None of this has anything to do with you, I’m just shamelessly making it about myself. So David Bowie really wasn’t all he’s cracked up to be, amen?
Nora: Ya know, over half the rappers I’ve made friends with have confessed that they really loved drawing as kids and originally wanted to be (visual) artists. Which is funny because I spent most of my adolescence really wanting to be a musician. But they’re equally pointless endeavors. Rap, writing, drawing, stripping. You can’t take your accomplishments or failures with you when you die. I think more energy should be allocated towards eating cupcakes and fucking. Speaking of my favorite vices, you’re not really gonna publish my answer to question 4 when I talked about banging your friend right? That was super tacky of me. Actually, go for it. He won’t read it. (Fuck you. Bowie was a goddess. And thank you for making me feel special :))