Three years ago, Leah Nobel set out to capture the diversity of human experience and set it to music. After interviewing 100 people in public spaces like the YMCA and coffee shops and through social media, Nobel used these shared stories of joys and vulnerabilities to create her latest album, Running in Borrowed Shoes.
“I think in the beginning, I was afraid that I wasn’t going to be able to find people to interview,” Nobel says. “But I realized a couple of things: As human beings, we want to feel connected. We want to feel like we’re part of something, and I think sharing our story with other people helps us get there.”
To find her subjects, Nobel posted ads on social media and sat in public spaces with a sign that read “Come talk to me” in all capital letters. In an effort to find diverse voices, she even sought out specific communities like a church offering services for refugees.
According to Nobel, the song “Steps” is the only direct musical translation of someone’s story. “The two people that ‘Steps’ is based off of … they are refugees from Rwanda,” Nobel explains. “The story of steps is specifically the brother’s story. He was a child during the Rwandan genocide.”
This album serves as a window into the hopes and fears of strangers, but there’s a feeling of familiarity throughout.
“I was sort of obsessed with trying to get the most diverse landscape of human experience as possible while making this project,” Nobel says. “But after the fact, I realized, yes [that] mattered, but the core things that make us human, the things that we want the most, they’re all the same.”
Running in Borrowed Shoes is available now via Big Yellow Dog Music. Nobel spoke with NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro about the making of the album, the individuals that inspired it and more. Hear their conversation in the audio link.