While she may have been born in the wrong decade, Noa Zimmerman is by no means lost. The misplaced hippie did not begin her path toward becoming a musician when she was accepted into USC’s Thornton School of Music to major in popular music performance and music production.
Instead, the drive toward creating music was instilled naturally into a young Zimmerman, whose childhood was composed of instruments in the living room and a family that loved to play them.
“My parents played a lot of music when I was a kid and we had a piano in our living room and my older brother played guitar so it was just like music instruments all around,” Zimmerman said. “I just sort of naturally picked up the guitar [and] piano and yeah, it was just kind of what I gravitated towards.”
Zimmerman’s music fascination also came from discovering the famous English rock band, The Beatles, at a young age. Her 1960s-inspired sound stems from her love for the band — so much so that her friends describe her as a hippie in the wrong era.
“When I was 11 years old, I was obsessed with The Beatles,” Zimmerman said. “I think that The Beatles have influenced so much of my life. Through their music, it really influenced mine and got me passionate [and] helped me learn guitar.”
Now, as a Thornton senior, those musical seeds that were planted so long ago have organically grown into an ever-expanding repertoire of artistic projects. During her time at USC, Zimmerman has made an impression on Thornton’s popular music program chair, Patrice Rushen.
“Noa has always been very studious. She started off very shy and I think as she gave herself permission to allow her artistry and her interests to find their path,” Rushen said. “What’s been so beautiful is that her passion for the music has created a platform for her to be able to explore some of the other things in life she really cares about.”
Zimmerman may sound like the next “Folklore”-era Taylor Swift, but she is in fact, the first Noa Zimmerman. The latest fruits of Zimmerman’s work are two new singles, titled “Palindrome King” and “Invisible Strings,” which were released Oct. 7.
In “Palindrome King,” an ode to the slanted nature of our emotional inclinations, Zimmerman explores the difficulty of seeing circumstances straight when the subjectivity of feeling clouds the reality of life’s ups and downs. Rather than wallowing in life’s sorrows and rejoicing in its triumphs, “Palindrome King” promotes the feeling of something in the middle. The song is delicate in its acoustics, with gentle vocal slides that lend to the feeling of floating up and down.
With the song’s surreal crafting, Zimmerman develops a profound message: Without life’s lows, we cannot appreciate the highs, and without the light, we would not recognize when we slip into the dark. Despite the constantly shifting state of things, the song points to the importance of maintaining an internal balance that prioritizes self-peace.
“It’s like trying to find a balance within yourself, like realizing that without the happiness and the joy, you won’t have the darkness,” Zimmerman said. “But without the darkness you won’t have the happiness and joy.”
The crux of the song’s message is delivered powerfully at the end of every chorus: “Without light there’d be no shadow / Without high there’d be no below.”
“Invisible Strings” expresses a similarly dreamlike analysis of the human attempt to make sense of the world and our existence within it. Drawing inspiration from her studies in Hinduism and Buddhism, Zimmerman develops a spiritual take on seeing the world for what it truly is: something much smaller than we tend to view it.
Zimmerman plays with the idea of our seamless relationship to the world we live in — rather than being just a tiny part of it, we are connected to it and each other all at once.
The idea of “Invisible Strings” is best captured by Zimmerman herself, who explained that “nothing’s as big as you think it is … you are nothing and you are infinity and you are part of everything.”
These two new singles are only a glimpse into the collection of Noa Zimmerman’s music. For someone raised in an environment of artistic expression, Zimmerman certainly has the work ethic to show for it. Two previous albums can be found on Zimmerman’s Spotify page, and additional releases can be tracked throughout her Instagram posts. Her folky, delicate sound is present in all of her songs, and the masterful lyricism is always stunning.
“I think she became aware of how fearless she could be,” Rushen said. “What I love about Noa is over time she definitely embraced that so she in a very quiet way has developed a certain kind of acknowledgement that I really respect.”
Writing and playing songs is not where Zimmerman’s contribution to the artistic community stops. Zimmerman recently co-headed the creation of a nonprofit organization that aims to connect artists who specialize in activism. The idea for the nonprofit, brilliantly titled as The Artivist, began among the protests and calls for justice that erupted during quarantine.
The Artivist team consists of 13 members, some of whom Zimmerman considers to be her best friends. The camaraderie between the artists behind The Artivist is a huge part of their cohesiveness as an organization. Emily Goniea, a co-founder of The Artivist and student at NYU, is not only a business partner to Zimmerman but has also been her lifelong best friend.
“She is the closest thing I will ever have to a sister,” Goniea said. “It is difficult to explain our friendship because I think not a lot of people are lucky enough to have a close friendship the way that we do in their lives. I feel really lucky to have had her in my life.”
Though The Artivist plans to expand its operations to more artists, the nonprofit is still in the early stages of its development. The organization has focused on a project called The Collective, which aims to connect artists through social media, allowing them to sell or collaborate on art projects. Looking forward, they hope to provide a space for artists to connect on both local and global levels, and provide these artists with the resources they need to make their voices heard above the stifling and saturated landscape of social media.
“We want [artists] to get their voices out there in a way that current social media platforms stifled because there’s so much oversaturation and they don’t really reward authenticity and creativity,” Zimmerman said.“We want to create an alternative platform that’s a really specific environment and space for people who are passionate about creativity and social action.”
Zimmerman recognizes the importance of art in moments like this in history when demands for change must reach all varieties of audiences and communities. The Artivist hopes to amplify the voices of artists who are trying to use their work to reach those audiences and communities, as they call for social, racial, environmental and economic justice.
Goniea is also Zimmerman’s biggest cheerleader; the love between the two friends is palpable. Goniea admires Zimmerman’s authenticity and determination in her pursuit of music.
“She is one of the most hardworking people I have ever known, especially when it comes to music,” Goniea said. “She has always been incredibly disciplined when it comes to practicing, playing and writing even when she was younger.”
Though Zimmerman’s soul is one straight out of the sixties, her drive toward creating will prove instrumental in the decade to come. At the start of the 2020s, when the need for art that uplifts and encourages positive change is so crucial, Zimmerman will continue to meet the challenge with her gracefully devoted desire to create.