Music News

The Possible In Impossible: An Interview With Singer-Songwriter Terra Naomi

Photo by Nick Holmes
Photo by Nick Holmes


By Savannah Davanzo


In 2006, young singer-songwriter Terra Naomi won the first-ever Youtube award for “Best Music Video” for her release of “Say It’s Possible”, a track that quickly went viral, accumulating nearly 5 million views so far for the original video and over 1 million for the award-winning music video. With her first hit, beloved the world over, Naomi intended to send a message about maintaining ambition and spending the time and effort to make dreams happen. To do this, she enlisted the help of friends, family, and strangers across the world, asking them to write down what they would do if anything were possible. A montage of strangers holding cardboard signs with dreams penned in sharpie and footage of Naomi strumming her guitar and singing, the music video for “Say It’s Possible” went viral because it sent a message.

Now, to celebrate the ten year anniversary of its release, Terra Naomi is back again with another ready-for-repeat track, “Help You Fly”, along with a music video utilizing the same concept from her first single. This time, though, she takes to crowdfunding to request help from her fans once again. Launching a fundraising campaign through Indiegogo, her goal is to raise $100,000 to release an inspirational album then match the donations in order to eventually raise $1 million for charity.

In a similar fashion to “Say It’s Possible”, the music video for Naomi’s new release “Help You Fly” shows fleeting images of strangers sharing what they are doing because everything is possible. Just in time for her current campaign goal to be met ($35,000 and counting), Terra Naomi opened up to Elmore Magazine in an honest and inspiring way about the project, her biggest influences, and, of course, her biggest dreams. Read the interview here, watch the music video for “Help You Fly” below, and connect with Terra on Facebook.

EM: How does your hometown in upstate New York differ from the years you spent in Ohio – and finally where you are now based in Los Angeles?

TN: Well, my hometown isn’t much different from Ohio, actually! Schenectady feels more like the Midwest than the Northeast, and LA differs from everywhere, in every way. It’s basically another planet. I’ve acclimated to all the things we take for granted here…I forget most people don’t drink kale juice…at least not willingly!

EM: How has your music evolved since releasing your award-winning, fan-favorite track “Say It’s Possible”?

TN: I feel like my music has matured, kind of in rhythm with my own personal growth. I was quite angsty and dark when I wrote that song. I love it, but I was living with a lot of fear and sadness about my own life and the world in general. At the time I really had nothing to worry about… things were pretty good, I just couldn’t see how good they were. Then everything in my life really did fall apart. I experienced so much loss, and went through a period of giving up and not caring anymore, paralyzed by the circumstances in my life. When I made the decision to pull myself out, I had to relearn everything I thought I knew about my place in the world. My music reflects that journey, and it also reflects the broader range of emotions I feel now. It’s more multifaceted, less self-reflective and cathartic, and more outwardly focused, optimistic, and universal, in the sense that it speaks to more people’s experiences rather than just my own.

EM: Can you talk a little about your philanthropic pursuits and your goal with releasing your latest track (and campaign of the same name) “Help You Fly”?

TN: I was raised in a family that valued and emphasized charity, but in recent years I had not been involved in much charitable work. I was so concerned with my own struggle that I really missed out on the powerful benefits of being of service. When I initially thought about getting back into the studio and recording these songs I’d been writing for years and not releasing, my initial thought was “what’s the point?” I just didn’t feel motivated enough by the thought of recording another album. It didn’t seem “big” enough. I had so many friends who were doing amazing things, creating organizations that served people around the world, and recording an album felt small and self-centered. And then I realized that putting myself back out there, doing what everyone told me could not be done (I’d “blown my one shot,” it was “too late” to start again, etc.), had the potential to inspire so many other people to believe in themselves. Especially women.

Then I had this idea to raise money for charity while raising the budget for my album — help others while helping ourselves — and I set out to get 10 philanthropists to agree to match $100,000 for a total of $1,000,000 in charitable donations — I thought it was crazy, but it was the kind of big idea I needed to really get excited about the campaign. I went to the biggest philanthropist I know and asked him to be part of it, and he said yes. The organization he chose to support is called Jewish Community Watch, and they protect children from sexual abuse. Other donors are supporting World Wildlife Fund, TED, and ASPCA, all important issues to me. A few dropped out mid-campaign, a couple others got on board — I’m not sure what will happen with this idea. I know how ambitious it is, but I’m doing my best and we’ll see how it turns out! At the moment, the $1M is covered, assuming no one else drops out…now I just need to raise the $100,000 to unlock those charitable donations!

“Help You Fly” is all about surrounding ourselves with people who inspire us, and celebrating life together, lifting each other up, supporting each other, affirming each other’s goals and dreams. That was the motivation behind the video — I wanted people to commit to being who they want to be. I wanted them to declare these affirmations publicly, to bring their intentions to life. Music has always been about connection to me. It’s the language I speak. So it’s important to me to create an inclusive experience with my music. I created one of the first user-generated content music videos back in 2006 — meaning people from around the world submitted videos that I then used as the basis of my video. A massive collaboration. I did that again with the video for “Help You Fly.”

EM: What was the songwriting process like for “Help You Fly”?

TN: I wrote it in my car, on the way to a songwriting session with a producer. I had no idea what we were going to write, and by the time I’d gotten to his studio, I had the whole thing written. It came out of nowhere! I was not in the happiest of places when I wrote it, but something inside me clearly wanted to be happy and believed it was possible. That often happens when I write — this flood of words comes out, and I have no idea what I’ve written until it’s done. Then I look at it and I’m like “Wow — I had no idea I felt that way!”

EM: Who are your biggest inspirations, both musically and personally?

TN: Musically, I love Joni Mitchell, Patty Griffin, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Carole King, Sam Cooke, Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan. I also love Radiohead. I love music with strong melodies and lyrics. That’s really what I listen for. I’ve always been more into the song than the production.

Personally, my inspiration is constantly changing. I tend to be most inspired by people who do seemingly impossible things, who defy the odds, who accomplish things they were told could not be accomplished, probably because being the underdog seems to be a theme in my own life. At the moment, I’m most inspired by the love I feel in my relationship. I’ve never felt love like this. My career has always come first, I’ve been in relationships for a total of 15 months of the last 8 years, and I hadn’t given up on love, but I didn’t necessarily expect to find it. This relationship has changed the way I feel about everything else in my life. It’s shifted my perspective, opened my mind to the possibility of things I thought I no longer believed in. It’s wonderfully inspiring.

EM: You revealed on Facebook that you’re collaborating with a few talented dancers for your campaign. What’s it like collaborating with other talent, either musically or within other art forms?

TN: I love collaborating! I haven’t done enough of it, to be honest. I was very guarded for a long time, not letting people in, and that’s not a good place to be in, for collaboration. That’s changed so much recently, and now all I want to do is make cool stuff with other artists! Tara-Jean Popowich, the winner of So You Think You Can Dance: Canada, was at my show in LA last month and told me she wanted to choreograph a dance with Marko Germar, a SYTYCD All Star dancer, and I was thrilled. I’ve wanted to make a dance video for as long as I can remember, and these two are such technically strong, emotionally connected, expressive dancers. They’re perfect for the song. It also opened the door to a collaboration with a director I’ve wanted to work with for about 5 years. She’s a friend of mine and making a dance video has been her dream, too….that’s all I’ll say about it for now, but I can’t wait to share more about it soon!

EM: What are the benefits of recording original tracks and the benefits of performing covers?

TN: I love both. There is something about a good cover that just fills me with joy…when you hear someone play a song and you’re not sure what it is and then you know — that moment when the song reveals itself — it’s so much fun. Covers can be a great way to discover new artists, too. Sometimes I hear a cover I love and I immediately search for the artist online.

EM: What has been your best memory so far of your musical career?

TN: There have been some pretty great moments. I definitely think playing at Wembley Stadium was one of the best moments, although I was terrified until about halfway through my performance. I played “Say It’s Possible”, solo, in front of 80,000 people, and I was fairly certain I’d pass out mid-song and have to be carried off the stage. I even talked to one of the stage managers right before I went on, and asked him to please pull me off stage if I went down. (Happy to report I remained conscious throughout my entire performance!) That whole period of time in general was pretty amazing — when I’d just arrived in London, before things went sour with my record label… it was a whirlwind and I loved it — video shoots, recording sessions, stylists and tour managers and my band… playing festivals all over the UK, opening for incredible artists… there was so much excitement, all the validation I’d been seeking for so long — but that’s why it ultimately felt so terrible, because I looked for validation outside of myself, and for that reason, it was able to be taken away.

EM: What are the advantages and disadvantages of being an independent artist vs. being on a label?

TN: The advantages and disadvantages are pretty much exactly what you think they would be — a label has resources: money, connections, influence, power, people working on every aspect of your career, and they also have a lot of control over every single thing you do as an artist. Being independent gives an artist lots more control but fewer resources, less funding, less assistance, you’re doing everything on your own, and it’s much harder to get the music out to a wider audience.

Elmore Magazine: Finally, we have to know: what will YOU do because anything is possible?

Terra Naomi: I am raising the funds I need to record and release my most exciting, inspiring album yet, I will tour to support it, and I will balance my career and personal life to create the life that makes me the happiest, according to my own values and priorities.

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