Interview: Leah Nobel on her “Running in Borrowed Shoes” project

Leah Nobel took on an incredibly bold project and attained incredibly beautiful results. Leah conducted a number of interviews with people from all over the United States and the world. From these interviews, she created the record, Running in Borrowed Shoes. I asked Leah to provide more detail about the project and share with me how this project has changed her. 


MFL: How did the idea for Running in Borrowed Shoes come to you and at any point, did you have second thoughts on the project that you took on?

Leah Nobel (LN): The idea for Running In Borrowed Shoes came to me when I took some time to mediate on what I wanted to create next. I knew that I wanted to step outside myself, and open myself up to absorbing something bigger. I knew I wanted to tell a great story, and I knew I wanted it to be a community effort. Once I figured out those things, the idea just reached out and grabbed me. I never had ‘second thoughts’ on the project because after just one interview I already felt fulfilled and I sensed immediately that all of my time and effort would be worth it. Of course, I did have many periods of self- doubt, and fear throughout the process but never ‘second thoughts’.


MFL: Do you have any idea how many hours and how many miles went into Running in Borrowed Shoes and when did it all begin?

LN: I am not sure if I am able to calculate hours spent but I can say that this project has completely consumed my life in the best kind of way. The idea for Running in Borrowed Shoes was ‘conceived’ in October 2015 and I began my interview process in November 2015. It took me 11 months to interview 100 people. I recorded all my interviews and went back and listened to them at least once (sometimes several times) in order to transcribe them. There was a lot of scheduling, paperwork, and logistical efforts that were just as time consuming as the interviews, not to mention the time spent writing (my goal was to write 30 songs and I will choose the best ones for the record- and I am still in the writing process!). In terms of ‘miles’- 48 interviews were conducted ‘in person’ in the Nashville area and 62 were done over Skype and FaceTime with people all around the US and internationally.


MFL: In what ways has this project changed you as a person or as a musician?

LN: I think my biggest take-away from this project is learning how to be truly empathetic as a person and a writer. I thought I was an empathetic person before, but I realized through this project that I was more sympathetic rather than empathetic. Each time I interviewed someone, I would record it and transcribe it. When I transcribed the interview, I wrote my notes in first person and it’s in that moment that the personal transformation happened within me. I went from saying “I recognize your pain” to “I feel your pain” and that is how I was able to write from a place of authenticity even though I was not writing about my personal experiences. That process also made me hyper aware of how fierce my own judgment is about other people and I now work diligently on looking at all people and situations through an empathetic lens.


MFL: Did this experience have any unexpected lessons, events or results?

LN: I’m not sure any of my lessons were ‘unexpected’ as I sensed immediately when I began this endeavor that it would be life-changing. I will say that one of the greatest gifts has been the close relationships with some of my interviewee’s that I have formed. I have made many deep connections and friends through this process.


MFL: Besides all of the amazing people you interviewed for Running in Borrowed Shoes, who else is to thank?

LN: My manager for keeping me on track with deadlines, all the people and organizations that helped connect me with interviewee’s, my partner for his patience and support, and if this is allowed- myself! For sticking with a massive undertaking.


MFL: Before Running on Borrowed Shoes, where did you draw inspiration for your songwriting material from?

LN: I mostly drew song inspiration from my own life, or the lives of the people I am closest to.


MFL: When did music become the focus of your life and how did your upbringing influence who you are as a musician?

LN: Music has been a focus in my life since my sophomore year of college. That’s when I recorded my first EP and that’s when I knew that I wanted to try and do this professionally. In terms of my upbringing, I was not raised in a particularly musical family but I do come from a family of writers. My creativity was always nurtured and celebrated as a child and I believe that’s part of the reason why I have such a healthy relationship with it.


MFL: When you look at the future of your musical career, is there anything in particular you want to see?

LN: I’d like to see myself honoring myself at each stage of my life and continuing to do what I feel called to do. I hope I continue to challenge myself creatively and push boundaries. Most importantly I hope that I always have a healthy relationship with music and that it continues to bring me joy.


MFL: Tell me about your experience with NPR’s Tiny Desk on the Road Contest. Very exciting!

LN: Last year I submitted a live video of a song that I wrote, “Secret Room” to the NPR Tiny Desk contest and was able to play the Tiny Desk Showcase in Nashville with a handful of other incredible artists. I felt very honored to be chosen for that.  


MFL: When and where can we see you live in the coming year?

LN: Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question yet as I have taken a hiatus from performing as I try to finish writing Running In Borrowed Shoes. I am hopeful by mid-year we will have some tour dates on the books.




Thank you to Rich Nardo of 24 West for setting up the interview and to Leah for answering my questions. You can follow Leah on Facebook or check out her website.

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