Meet Erica Noel… She started a new record label!
From: Northern California | Occupation: Chief Creative Officer, ALo Records; Owner, Cricket+Moxie
There’s something to be said for a shift in perspective – specifically, the shift that comes from someone seeing for the first time things that you’ve driven or walked or biked past a thousand times before; not just seeing them, but adoring and appreciating them in a way that reminds you of the weird magic that surrounds you every day. This is how Erica Noel makes me feel about Macon. A native of Northern California who most recently lived in Colorado before her April 1 move to Macon, Erica is fully attuned to the beautiful details that surround her here, from the red brick streets near her downtown home to the vibrantly painted houses that dot the landscape to the rich musical history that literally permeates almost every inch of our city. I mean, c’mon – earlier this very afternoon, Little Richard’s dilapidated childhood home was loaded onto the back of a truck and hauled across the interstate to be saved from demolition. That’s not the kind of thing that happens just anywhere. Macon sometimes seems like a place where anything is possible, no matter how odd; Erica’s here in part because of that magnetic lure, and in less than a month’s time, she and her lovely canine companion Eleanor Dogby have become a vibrant part of the community – and she’s poised to make even more of a big splash soon.
Erica comes from a big, blended, artsy family, and it shows in both her self-confidence and her honest, appealing individuality – she has two half brothers and two half sisters, her mom is an artist who runs an art museum in Colorado, and her dad’s an award-winning filmmaker. Her uncle is a talented jazz guitarist who helped her refine her own musical taste, her grandfather played banjo, one of her brothers plays violin, both of her sisters play piano, there’s a cousin who plays drums, and her great-grandmother, who immigrated from Portugal in 1912, took to the ukulele like a natural when she ended up in Hawaii, inspiring Erica to pick up the uke herself. “Having so many talented musicians in my family who all had differing musical tastes gave me the chance to appreciate all genres and all types of music,” Erica says. Her current faves include Gary Clark Jr., Leon Bridges, Otis Redding, Nina Simone, Janis Joplin, and The Eagles.
So we’ve established that Macon’s a music city and Erica’s a music maven, but how exactly did she end up here? That’s a story that starts seven-ish years ago, when Erica met Makenna Johnston in a Denver bar. Makenna’s a dynamic, ambitious business strategist and life coach who also owns Julia Child’s former summer home in France, where she teaches cooking classes part-time; the rest of her time is spent here in Macon. Erica had recently set out to work for herself; she started Cricket+Moxie, a marketing & consulting agency, which she still runs today. About a year ago, Erica, mired in depression and disillusionment, mused “Can you have a quarter-life crisis at 30?” on social media, prompting Makenna to call her and ultimately hire her as a virtual personal assistant. Fast-forward to February, when Makenna requested that Erica meet her in Macon so they could do some work face-to-face. “I’d never been to the South before,” says Erica, “and I really had no idea what to expect. I for sure didn’t think a West Coast girl like me would like it enough to move here.” But the city had other plans – less than 24 hours after arriving here, Erica knew she’d found her home.
Here’s another fortuitous Macon occurrence, in the form of a regular ole backyard hangout: Makenna and Erica are sitting around in Chris Nylund’s yard, brainstorming on the topic of pressing records onto vinyl and how to turn a profit doing it – “We’re like gasoline and fire when it comes to ideas sometimes,” says Erica, “She has an incredible brain for business, and I have a Willy Wonka brain for marketing.” Five minutes in, the two have solved all the pricing and marketing issues, prompting Denny Hanson to wonder aloud “Why don’t y’all just start a record label?” The question may or may not have been rhetorical, but the response from the two women was immediate and positive, and that’s how ALo Records was born.
ALo is short for A Label of One’s Own, a shout-out to the iconic Virginia Woolf essay about the importance of women claiming space – both literal and figurative – within the male-dominated literary world. The music industry is no different – women don’t hold a lot of power positions there, but Erica isn’t intimidated. “I think being woman owned and operated affords us some gentleness that isn’t always seen in the industry,” she says. “I’m not naïve enough to think that some men in the boardroom or concert venue might look at us like two girls in over our heads – but we aren’t. We’re strong swimmers.”
Freedom and security are two concepts integral to ALo’s business model – Erica wants to create an atmosphere of creative openness, a space where artists will feel free “to create that album that’s in their heartbeat, rattling around in their head,” – there’ll be no stifling, no conforming, no making music based solely on the prospects of its commercial success – not that commercial success wouldn’t be wonderful, because of course it would – just not to the detriment of artistic integrity.
The ultimate goal is to create ALo INC., an incubator space – “This is the part that really excites me,” says Erica, “because it’s like all my dreams happening in one place, under one roof.” There’ll be a storefront where visitors can enjoy coffee or cocktails – Erica spent sixteen years working in the craft beverage world as a barista and bartender, even competing in the Southwest Regional Barista Competition a couple years ago; she loves innovating new, creative libations out of unexpected ingredients, and envisions ALo’s physical location as a space where she could pass this knowledge on to others as well. This concept is still in the gestational phase at the moment, but with these two dynamic women at the helm, there’s no doubt that a combination of hard work and serendipity will have everything falling into place as it should.
In the meantime, you can find Erica out exploring everything Macon has to offer, eagerly absorbing the beauty, history, and hospitality exuded by this sweet, eccentric little city, and making new friends wherever she goes. “Strangers say ‘Welcome home,’ when they find out I’m new in town,” Erica says. “It brings tears to my eyes when I think of all the kindness I’ve been shown over the last three weeks. I’m really happy to be here.”
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