Thursday, 3 December 2020

INTERVIEW: Novo Amor (Dec 2020)

Happy day-after-Spotify-wrapped-day... while the streaming model certainly has all kinds of flaws for artists, it can clearly be a superb tool for music discovery. I was pleased to find that my top five artists are ones whose album I've bought this year - if you find something you like, buy the CD, the vinyl, a gig ticket (one day!) or get yourself some merch! Tell your friends if you think they'd like the music too. Follow them on social media. Your appreciation in those ways is worth far more than a stream - but stream away too, you'll find some of your favourite new artists there! 

No surprises for me to find that Novo Amor was right there at the top of my wrapped (again) - my top artist, top song, and 17 of the top 100 songs (including a bunch from his brand new record Cannot Be, Whatsoever.) I'm nothing if not a little bit predictable. With that in mind, it's really exciting to finally be sharing this interview today. Ali was kind enough to agree to answer some questions about his previous record at the start of 2019 and I finally got round to sending some over a couple of weeks back... better late than never? 

Yesterday, he premiered Please Don't Stand Up When Room Is In Motion, a documentary created by his director pal Josh Bennett, which serves as a timestamp of his musical career up to now. It's a lovely watch for fans but also just a really interesting insight into the process of making a new record (and it's put together beautifully) and expands on a lot of the things touched on here - I've embedded it a little further down, but if you can't wait that long, it's here.

Hello! Firstly, for those who haven’t seen the hundreds (almost) of posts that I’ve written about your music in the last couple of years, who is Novo Amor, and why the moniker?

Novo Amor is the artist name I gave myself back in 2012. I never wanted to put myself out there using my own name; I wanted something/someone to hide behind and something that could be ambiguous - a music project that could be adaptable as a I release more and more music, allowing myself to sit somewhere between a solo artist and a band, flowing from the sound of one to another.

Discovering you via the Birthplace video in 2018, I felt a little late to the party and as if I had some catching up to do (I think I’ve managed it..) It was clear online and at one of your Union Chapel gigs that you had a really loyal and global following. I’m intrigued to know how things started… were there any earlier iterations of the project, and had you always wanted to make music?

I’ve made music for a long time, since I was 12, when I got a game called Music 2000 on Playstation. In the years between 12 and 20 I was playing drums in bands and just producing as much music as I could. A lot of music discoveries happened in those years and it inspired me to flow between making electronic music, cinematic pieces, orchestral scores, rock and metal and the folky alternative stuff that became Novo Amor

Through my time at university I was an aspiring film score composer, scoring small films and passion projects when I could. It wasn’t until I stopped studying that, I guess, I found my voice and started to put a name to what I had been working on: a catalogue of music that was inspired by my previous year in upstate New York. 

We’re talking (via the internet) as you’ve just released your second record Cannot Be, Whatsoever into the world. Congrats! After loving Birthplace so much and spending so much time with your music over the past two years, this record still managed to surprise me and I love that. How does it feel to have the record out, particularly in such a strange time for the world and for music?

No surprise that it feels strange, as the times are. It was a very long lead into the release, sharing half the record before it was out, so it feels like it’s taken up a lot of my year and been given the attention that it needed. Sitting here in November 2020, looking back at what my year was meant to be like, is quite saddening. I’ve been very bored this year. I like to travel and accomplish things. 

Touring the Birthplace album was almost like a way of putting the record behind me, closure to move onto something else. I played about seventy shows around that album. By the time we hit the final show, it felt like a big moment, a real accomplishment for me and my touring friends to be proud of. I’m worried that I’m not going to get that from this album. It’s a shame, but I’m okay with it.

What was the recording process like? The when, the who, the how… feel free to get as musically nerdy as you’d like (the more, the better!) How did it vary from with Birthplace?

Both albums were self-produced and recorded in the same place, here in my studio in Cardiff, but they feel very different to me. Birthplace, my debut album, felt like closing a chapter on a lot of my past. The album really focused around the era where I started writing music as Novo Amor, back in 2012. Whereas Cannot Be, Whatsoever feels more focused on the present. If Birthplace is the countryside, then Cannot Be, Whatsoever is the city: it’s not where I’m from, but it’s where I’ve been for a long time now. 

The process of recording was a bit more collaborative, with more of the sounds and parts coming from other people than before, mainly my collaborator Ed Tullett who co-wrote a lot of the music with me. Making music alone, which is all I used to do, can get old pretty fast. It’s nice to share the experience with somebody else and accept other people's ideas. It definitely makes for a better outcome. The majority of the recording was still just me at home on my own, layering ideas, deleting ideas, working through the mistakes and taking it one day at a time.

On this record (and across your music more generally) are there any notable influences, musical or otherwise? As a nature-loving bookseller, I’d love to hear about any natural or literary influences…

The last time I finished a book was about five years ago. To be honest, pretty much all the influences in songwriting come from personal experience, a mental digestion of my surroundings or view of my past from my present. Growing up in deep Mid-Wales, surrounded by nature, has probably had some sort of an impact on the music I make. I’m definitely drawn to relaxing and calm music, I love ambience and texture and sounds that feel as though they could represent natural landscape and stillness. 

I think nature became a bigger visual influence than anything else. A lot of my videos are based around bodies of water and set in remote, almost otherworldly natural environments. The Birthplace video was all shot in the ocean, Terraform was shot on a volcano, Holland and Anchor were shot against the sea, From Gold - on a lake, Alps was shot on a snowy mountain in Scotland, Repeat Until Death was shot in the snowy hills of Mongolia with a tribe that live amongst reindeer. etc etc...

You know that I have a particular soft spot for No Plans (that drop… damn) but do you have a favourite track on the record? Is there one that you’re particularly excited to play live with the band, when you’re allowed to?

No Plans is definitely one that will feel great to play live. It brings me back to my rock music roots. I think Decimal or Halloween are my favourites. Decimal is one of the best songs on the record and Halloween is just a song I feel a strong personal connection to.

On that note (sort of) it’s no secret that I love how conscious you are of the environmental impact that you have as an artist. I guess I’d like to ask how important that is to you? Personally, I think you go far beyond the majority of artists - recycled and sustainable merch, less emissions when touring, reusable bottles, only asking for what you actually need on the rider, etc. With so much emphasis (rightly) on climate change and finding environmentally friendly ways of doing things, I’m finding myself drawn towards artists (and by extension, venues and festivals) who I can see making a tangible effort in this way.

Even though my choices are only making a small direct impact on the environment, I think it’s the message that’s carrying. It’s important for people to understand that there are, for most things, more than one option. The more we lean into the sustainable and ethical options, the more feasible they become for the rest of the world.

Finally, something I like to ask everybody - what are you listening to at the moment? Any new artists that you’re really excited by, or old favourites you can’t get enough of?

I’ve been listening to Magic Oneohtrix Point Never the new album by Oneohtrix Point Never. It’s the guy who scored the film Uncut Gems. Also been loving Great Grandpa, Holly Humberstone and Christian Lee Hutson.

You can (and should!) buy the new album Cannot Be, Whatsoever here

Follow Novo Amor - Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.

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