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Buy one of the following Noe Venable CDs from amazon.com:

'Down Easy' (2000)

'Fancy Blue' (2002)

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Grape Escape?: Noe Venable has to keep the Fruit-of-the-Loom guys on a leash when she walks them in public.

Making a Splash

Singer/songwriter Noe Venable sleeps with the fishes--at least that's our theory

By Adam Cotton

Around the once flourishing island of Atlantis, there were said to be mermaids who would sing the most mesmerizing melodies. Following its demise, the Atlantean mermaids sadly swam the seas serenading lone sailors and the occasional passing fish. Recently declassified government documents assert the suspicion that one of these maids' descendents may have evolved feet and be walking among us today.

I believe I've found her. Noe Venable, who plays Henfling's Wednesday, is a San Francisco-based singer/songwriter with a windy-smooth, provocative and childlike voice who sings of wild worlds and stark realities. Like the fabled sea maids, Venable's songs and the way she sings them do indeed seem to be supernatural.

Whether or not she actually is magic, she does believe in it.

"I do believe that as humans at our best we have the chance to open ourselves up like a door, and have winds blow through us," she says. "To me, that's what feels like magic."

Doors open and winds howling, Venable has been causing ripples wherever she wanders. Citing influences ranging from Radiohead to Tom Waits, she has recently been in strong company, opening for Ani Difranco, Dar Williams and They Might Be Giants, among others.

Venable's fifth record, The World Is Bound by Secret Knots, will be released this week.

"One of the things that this record is about for me is trying to make sense of the way things are connected in the world. I have always had a sense of being part of some kind of story," she says, "but at the same time I don't have some feeling that everything is predestined."

The album, which does flow like a story, is filled with soaring melodies, evocative lyrics and Björk-esque backdrops.

Writing her first songs--which she describes as strange, dark and cathartic--while sick with mono at 19, Venable's relationship with the creative process seems to have reached a healthy coming of age.

"Now it's really about just sort of waiting for the next key to hand itself to me, and then waiting to see what door it opens, and then trying to be open to what's there on the other side. Because sometimes you don't want to write what you need to write, but you have to write it, because that's the only way you can transform into your next thing," she says.

Venable's trio is comprised of Alan Lin on violin and electronics and Todd Sickafoose on bass and keyboards. They will be joined by Dan Morris (who's also worked with Rufus Wainwright and Smashing Pumpkins) on drums. The group has played with different audio effects--which at one point, Venable says, almost took over.

"Now we maintain this delicate state of equilibrium, you know, between chaos and control, between organic matter and machine."

With Venable, that idea of order vs. chaos always seems to come up.

"I think that the place where I am right now is sort of between those two things, seeing the order and then also seeing the chaos. If you lose touch with the chaos and go too much towards the order then you lose some really important things. And if you lose touch with the order and go too much to the chaos, then you also go a little crazy. I think the tightrope between those two things is a very fertile place to be; there's a lot of vitality there."

The Atlanteans would be proud.


Noe Venable performs Wednesday, Aug. 2.

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From the August 20-27, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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