Capturing the attention of Skrillex is no easy feat. As the leader of one of electronic music’s fastest growing labels, OWSLA, he’s the primary recipient of many unsigned demos. However, 21-year-old Mark Johns found herself on Sonny Moore’s radar earlier this year without even seeking his attention. Rather, Sonny found her.
Meet Naomie. She’s an aspiring vocalist from Singapore who records music under the pseudonym Mark Johns. She was born in Canada to Moroccan parents, but spent the majority of her life growing up in Asia. She’s short and soft-spoken, but looks you dead in the eye when she speaks. She has no formal background in music -- in fact, she’s only been writing songs for a year -- but she’s the newest addition to the OWSLA family.
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"I heard her music and she sounded like someone that I could really connect with," says Skrillex. "We've never had anyone like her on OWSLA and with her unique sound and our friendship it's going to be a lot of fun for us.”
So how did this Canadian-born, Southeast Asian transplant of Moroccan descent win over one of dance music’s favorite tastemakers? We tracked her down to find out.
Naomie's new residence in Downtown Los Angeles' Arts District is a cozy setup that Sonny helped her find. By the time we’re through with the interview, no less than seven music producers have shown up at her place to hang out -- everyone from Barcelona’s TÂCHES to the Philippines’ Manila Killa. Sitting in a circle with their laptops open, the producers talk technical jargon like a second-hand language. As Naomie explains, it’s a regular occurrence where she lives. It’s the kind of creative environment she thrives in.
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The story of Mark Johns begins exactly a year ago. A chance online interaction with Manila Killa led to their first song together and Naomie’s induction into Moving Castle: “an internet collective of really talented producers from all over the world” in her own words.
With the collective behind her, Naomie found her music's first platform. The turning point came when she recorded a cover of Kanye West’s “Ni**as in Paris” alongside her frequent collaborator Sable. As the blogosphere consumed the single, Naomie’s social feed blew up when Skrillex shared the song on Twitter. From there, the two struck up conversation via email. Sonny proposed meeting in Los Angeles, inviting her to come out for a week.
Her adventure to the city proved to be the most important decision of her career. Finally coming face to face with the OWSLA founder, the two spoke at length about the idea of pursuing music full-time. Upon hanging out with the rest of his crew, Naomie was sold.
“They’re a super family oriented label which was comforting for me,” she says. “My family lives in Asia, and I don’t get to see them much. The idea of moving to LA alone was scary, but after meeting the team and getting to know them over those couple of weeks, I had made up my mind. I definitely wanted OWSLA to be my new home.”
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In the weeks after, Naomie recorded 12 songs in just as many days -- one of which was her collaboration with The Glitch Mob, “Better Hide, Better Run.” Talk of a record deal slowly became more serious, and a few months later, Mark Johns officially joined OWSLA’s roster. The young vocalist now finds herself among the likes of Kill the Noise, What So Not, The M Machine, Hundred Waters and more.
"That voice! From the first minute of hearing her I knew I wanted to work with her," says Kathryn Frazier, owner of Biz3 and OWSLA. "Her talent coupled with her brains and vibe make her a perfect fit into our OWSLA family."
The deal signifies more than a career landmark for Naomie -- it's also a personal triumph.
“I’m just happy that I finally have a sense of direction,” she says. “It came at a time when I think I needed it most. I used to be super anxious all the time, worrying ‘what am I doing with my life?’ But that feeling is gone... it’s been replaced with this feeling of peace that I’ve been waiting for all along.”