Novo Amor Interview
Most singers and bands start off in their home town and build an audience. Eventually the labels and managers come to investigate and a tiny handful get signed and then head off to London to see what luck might bring. Some find another path and Novo Amor seems to be one such artist. He lives in Cardiff but is probably better known in the States than he is in Wales. That looks set to change when his new album ‘Birthplace’ is released in October. We wanted to find out more about how he came to be making such beautiful and atmospheric music.
Novo Amor is derived from the Latin Novus Amor. Why did you decide to adopt this moniker and what does it mean to you?
I didn’t want to release music under my own name, so I was trying to piece together something that could sound like the name of a person, rather than a band name. Something that would be unrecognisable to most people, but also encompassed why I started the project. Novo Amor – meaning ‘to make a new love’ – encapsulated why I started making this music back in 2012. I’d recently left a job, was going through a romantic breakup and moved back into my childhood home in Mid Wales. There was a lack of direction in my life at this point, so I needed some time to re-evaluate where I wanted to live and what I wanted to do with my life. I set up a small studio in my old bedroom and spent the summer writing and recording. By the end of the summer I emerged with seven tracks, two of which I’d end up putting online under the Novo Amor moniker. I felt that the name explained why I was writing, to make a new love from my passion of music. It felt like a way to give myself direction.
Tell us a bit about how Ali John-Lacey became a musician and ended up releasing music as Novo Amor.
Some of how ‘Novo Amor’ came about is explained above, but there is a long trail of recordings, jobs and experiences that led to my emergence as Novo Amor. So, the short version is: I started playing drums at 13 after getting interested in punk and rock music from skateboarding video tapes. I played in bands in Mid Wales as a drummer for 3 years, while teaching myself how to produce and record music. At 16 I left Llanidloes – where I grew up – for Cardiff. Here I studied music technology for 5 years while learning guitar, piano and just constantly making new music. I got really into film score music, the idea of creating moods and enhancing an audience’s emotions through music felt really interesting and fun to me. I made a lot of cinematic demos and did a lot of free work trying to break into the industry. It wasn’t until I turned 20, after spending 7 weeks in upstate New York, that I got really into folk music and songwriting. My summer in NY changed my perception of a lot of things and started the aforementioned romantic relationship, which had run it’s course by the time I was 21, when I moved back to Mid Wales and began writing music which would turn into Novo Amor. Following that summer I moved back to Cardiff, asked for my old cafe job back; I’d received very little interest in my music up until that point. I then wrote, recorded and released my track “From Gold”, which changed everything. I haven’t looked back since.
Bon Iver is an artist who regularly crops up in information about you. What other artists did you listen to growing up?
From the age of 9 I listened to a lot of punk such as Alkaline Trio, Green Day and The Offspring. But if we skip forward to when I was around 20, I’d find myself listening to artists such as Keaton Henson, Sufjan Stevens, James McMorrow, Daughter… There was a big surge of this alternative folk around 2010-14, or maybe that’s just when I got into it!
You come from Mid Wales but now live in Cardiff. How do the two places differ as places to live and create music? Do you find the music scene radically different in each place?
I’ve lived in Cardiff for 10 years now, so the last time I properly lived in Mid Wales was at 15. My music taste has changed a lot since then. I love Mid Wales for it’s restfulness and nature, whereas I love Cardiff for it’s versatility and it’s people. When I go back to Mid Wales, the same bands are still playing the same shows as they were when I left. I actually went back last weekend, met a 9 year old drummer who’s recently been playing drums in the band that I played for when I was 14. I like that nobody in a small town like this is trying ‘make it’, they’re just playing gigs because of their love of music. I’m not saying that Cardiff doesn’t have that mentality. It does; it’s just different. I can’t imagine living so far from people again. Maybe when I’m old…
You’ve been working closely with producer and song writer Ed Tullett for a few years now. How did that collaboration come about and can you describe your working relationship?
Ed became a great friend of mine after we met at a mutual friend’s gig in 2013. We wrote and recorded an album together over the first 4 years of knowing each other, which was released as a collaborative collection last year. Ed and I have a very similar stylistic views on music, which makes writing and recording together easy, for the most part. We wrote a lot of the music on my to-be-released album ‘Birthplace’ together. It happened so naturally because we spent so much of the past year just together in a room full of instruments. I think collaboration can be important for inspiration and broadening your music horizons.
Your new album “Birthplace” is out later this year. Tell us about some of the songs on the album, what inspired them and the recording process/method you used.
I think the over-arching theme of the album is about growing up, looking back on my late teens and early 20s with a sense of peace. A lot of my previous music has dwelled on my time in NY in 2011, and while this album heavily references this place and period of my life, it feels more conclusive. By that I mean I feel as though the album leans towards a resolve than a self-pitying theme of “I miss this place, I miss this time of my life, I miss you”. There are songs written about my time with friends over the years and how their drug habits have manifested, a song about a town in Nebraska that argued its way to disincorporation, and songs about letting go of my past.
Your music is released through Believe/All Points Music. They have an impressive roster including Alela Diane and James Vincent McMorrow. Why did you choose that label and how has the experience been so far of working with them?
After hearing his debut ‘Early In the Morning’, James Vincent McMorrow became one of my favourite artists in 2011. Being given the chance to work with the same team as him really did it for me. My manager and I did a lot of research into a handful of labels, including Believe, and they kept coming out on top. They’re a massive label with a huge global force behind them; you just don’t see that from the outside. I’ve managed to retain essentially all creative control over what I do and the last year working with them has been a great step in the right direction.
You recently performed at the Festival of Voice in Cardiff alongside Susanne Sundfor. What was it like playing such a high profile gig in your adopted home town?
I was honoured to be asked and think Susanne is great. Unfortunately I can get incredibly nervous on stage, especially when playing in front of people I know, so my performance was not my best. I’m glad I did it nonetheless. It was my first Cardiff show in 2 years. I’m hardly a social butterfly.
You are passionate about the environment and support plasticoceans.org. What steps do you take as a working and touring musician to reduce the use of plastics?
When artists tour we rarely consider the environmental impact of what we’re doing. We forget about the thousands of litres of diesel we burn across tens of thousands of miles, the plastic bottles and disposable cutlery we use once then throw away, and we don’t often stop to think about the inks and fabrics we use for our merchandise. To take a step in the right direction, I’m collaborating with two UK charities – Julies Bicycle & Energy Revolution – to limit the environmental impact of my work. An example of this will be to balance fuel consumption and CO2 emissions with the funding of projects that generate clean, renewable energy. We’re essentially giving ourselves a pollution tax which will help fund projects such as community solar power in the UK, wind power generation and reforestation in India.
If you’d like to read more about what we’re doing: https://www.novoamor.co.uk/sustainability
What plans are there for your album release? Can we expect some Welsh gigs this year??
I have a UK and EU tour in October, as well as some to-be-announced shows on another continent. Maybe I’ll get a special Welsh show in there somewhere this winter.
27 Jul ROAM Festival Lugano, Switzerland
16 Oct Gorilla Manchester, United Kingdom
17 Oct Saint Luke’s Glasgow, United Kingdom
19 Oct Brudenell Social Club Leeds, United Kingdom
20 Oct The Haunt Brighton, United Kingdom
22 Oct Union Chapel London, United Kingdom
23 Oct Union Chapel London, United Kingdom
24 Oct La Maroquinerie Paris, France
25 Oct Kulturhaus Karlstorbahnhof Heidelberg, Germany
27 Oct Vega Copenhagen, Denmark
28 Oct Kagelbanan Stockholm, Sweden
30 Oct Botanique Orangerie Brussels, Belgium
31 Oct Paradiso Noord Nieuw-amsterdam, Netherlands
01 Nov Gruenspan Hamburg, Germany
02 Nov Funkhaus Berlin Nalepastrasse Berlin, Germany