Trust the process.
It’s a phrase that Philadelphia 76ers fans like Nick Noto have muttered over the years since then-General Manager Sam Hinkie popularized the phrase while stripping the team’s roster down to its bare bones and building a competitive squad from scratch.
“Trust the process,” though, can also be used to describe the way that Noto views his music career and his musical outfit Old Friends.
Noto, himself a former athlete at Hammonton High School, never envisioned himself playing music on the big stage. He found it, as many of us have, while getting over a breakup in high school.
“I started playing guitar at 17,” says Noto. “I didn’t have the intention of starting a project or anything like that.”
Those intentions changed after a conversation with a marketing professor at Stockton University.
“I met with my professor at the beginning of the semester and mentioned that I wanted to go into the music business,” he says. “She heard me out for a while and then she said, ‘Why don’t you play music instead of being in the music business?’”
After that conversation, Noto took his professor’s advice, and like his fellow Sixers fans hoping that Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons would pan out, he trusted the process.
The process, however, didn’t come to fruition overnight—rarely does it. In fact, it took a lot of time, dedication and discipline. Noto went to numerous open mics in Atlantic County, but he had to overcome stage fright in order to perform.
“I went to my first open mic; completely got stage fright and couldn’t get on stage,” he says. “My second one, couldn’t do it. Went to one in Ventnor and I couldn’t get on stage there. I finally went back to Egg Harbor City around Christmas time and there were only two people there. The owner of the bar asked me if I was gonna perform that night and I said yes. After I was done they said, ‘Please come back next week.’”
The bar was so impressed with his performance at the open mic that they asked him to perform cover sets. At the time, Noto had to be explained what “sets” were in music, but he later realized how valuable doing those cover sets down the shore would be for his music career.
“That’s how I got my foot in the door,” says Noto. “I was able to meet connections and future bandmates. I also learned how to play to a crowd. Like, these people are over 50? They definitely don’t want to hear me scream Nirvana tonight.”
When he wasn’t playing open mics and cover shows, Noto was also influenced by the music in his own backyard.
Noto is a native of Hammonton, a town that is famous for being the blueberry capital of the world and, perhaps ignominiously, for being Kellyanne Conway’s hometown. Hammonton also has a small, but mighty music scene as well. While it’s not New Brunswick, Asbury Park, or even Glassboro, Hammonton has produced many recording artists.
“When I grew up in Hammonton the scene was rock and metal, and it’s a hard scene to break into. At the time, it seemed like everyone was listening to Title Fight and wanted to get a scream,” he says.
One of those artists that Hammonton produced was Ace Enders. And if you can’t hear it in Old Friends, the Early November singer is a huge influence to Noto.
“If I blink hard enough, I can still see the ‘I Want To See You Sad’ music video that was filmed in town. He’s a legend in town and one of the nicest human beings that you’ll ever meet. He’s been super helpful,” Noto says.
Also Noto was influenced by the band Pinegrove from Montclair—that influence trickled down to Noto’s band’s name, Old Friends.
“I love their song ‘Old Friends’ and subconsciously the name got into my head,” he says. “Pinegrove is a big influence for me. I think a lot of New Jersey kids look at Pinegrove as the way out of Jersey since they did it.”
Noto was also influenced by Neil Young, Nirvana, City & Colour and Have a Good Season. Those influences were present on Old Friends’ latest album Coming of Age.
Coming of Age was recorded at Little Brother Audio in Philadelphia; what the album is about is pretty self-explanatory, but Noto extrapolates anyway: “It is essentially a coming of age album. For a band, we are discovering our sound, and this is the first cohesive record we have done, and I think of it as our coming of age. The album is about growing up, facing challenges and getting through them.”
One of those challenges that Noto faced was running away from his problems, something he highlights in the song “Run.”
“‘Run’ is about a car accident I was in,” Noto says. “I burned my bridge with my booking agent after the car accident. I was overrun, working three jobs, and was completely burned out. I wasn’t answering the phone for anyone, and I was embarrassed. Anything that could have gone wrong did, and I ran away from my problems.”
When Noto isn’t busy refreshing Twitter to see Ben Simmons trade rumors he is working on another EP, and he has returned to playing shows.
Noto recently played a show in West Chester, PA, and has two gigs coming up in different parts of New Jersey. On Sept. 10, he’ll be playing at the Station in Merchantville, and will be playing at 902 Brewing in Jersey City on Sept. 15.