"If Birthplace is the countryside, then Cannot Be, Whatsoever is the city."
Wales-based Novo Amor has been turning musical heads since 2014. ‘If We’re Being Honest’ is a joyous listen. Feeling akin to the sonic version of a sunrise, this track is nostalgic, yet oddly contemporary. Twinkling piano structures and soft, subtle string work gradually erupt into a chorus, exuding an almost Icelandic, Sigur Rós feel. Novo Amor’s sophomore album, Cannot Be, Whatsoever, lands in November, and if ‘If We’re Being Honest’ is anything to go by, it’ll be a captivating listen. FUZZY caught up with Ali ahead of the release of the latest track to chat all things Novo Amor.
FUZZY: The new album, Cannot Be Whatsoever, is out in November. Congrats! How does it compare to your debut?
It's definitely a progression in terms of sound and style. There are a lot more upbeat elements - not necessarily super happy music, but when I look back at my debut album I feel all these folky elements which I don’t think are that big of a part of this new album. The way I’ve been seeing it is if Birthplace is the countryside, then Cannot Be, Whatsoever is the city. It’s two years later and two years of me recording in a new space, having lived two more years of my life. It has a sense of Novo Amor, without me changing my genre completely.
FUZZY: What are your main influences for this album?
My friend Ed Tullah is in my live band and we did a collaborative album a few years ago. For this album I wanted him to be around a lot more. It turned into more of us sharing ideas and sending each other bits back and forth, and the album came together in that form. I think that's a big reason why it sounds a bit more different: I’ve let people in rather than sitting on my own and trying to do it myself.
FUZZY: Do you find building relationships and bonds with other musicians is important for your music?
I prefer to work on my own when I'm mixing and doing production, but the relationship that Ed and I have is unique. Some of the songs on this record and the last record just wouldn’t exist without his input. I don’t write with anyone else apart from Ed - I’m very lucky to know someone like him who has such incredible ideas. I’ve also done collaborative work with my friend Gia Margaret. She came over from Chicago and we wrote and recorded two songs.
FUZZY: ‘Opaline’, ‘Decimal’ and ‘Halloween’ have already been released, and ‘If We’re Being Honest’ is arriving on the 3rd of September. Could you talk a little bit about these singles?
I wanted to put ‘Decimal’ and ‘Halloween’ out as a double single because it had been so long. I really wanted ‘Halloween’ to be heard: I know it's a short song, but I wanted to see people’s reactions to it because it’s different. That's something I feel is inspired by the resurgence of indie guitar chorus effect music, especially by female-driven bands like Soccer Mommy, Phoebe Bridgers and Pinegrove. It inspired me to make that sort of music myself.
’Opaline’ is the first track on the new record. It ends the chorus with “now I feel like I’m finally me”, and that was a statement for the new album, kind of like a rebirth with a much more upbeat, energetic song that exclaims to have moved on with a new sound or attitude to life. ‘If We’re Being Honest’ is one of my favourite tracks on the record. It calls back to Birthplace. It’s about being completely overwhelmed and infatuated by this place and period of your life. It kind of built my career on Novo Amor about reminiscing and being nostalgic about my time in upstate New York.
FUZZY: In terms of the artwork for the tracks, could you give a little bit of background behind it and who designed it?
The artworks are hand-embroidered by this lady from The Netherlands called Tilka Swardz. You don’t really notice it unless you look closely. The album artwork, the white piece with the red hands, is a piece she had already made back in 2001. I found that piece and I felt like it represented a lot of what the album was about: indecision and suffering with making sense of everything in my life. The box on the front of the artwork is kind of like a head with loads of things floating in and out, and there are loads of little saying and phrases all over the album cover, relating to how messy this album feels for me.
FUZZY: What would you say the future looks like for you?
Apart from the new album, I’m meant to announcing a bunch of tour dates soon but the fear is that we will have to reschedule them within a couple of months. The music industry is falling apart and it’s very scary because so many people I know are out of work. I’m probably going to use the time to keep writing and recording, with no pressure to release anything. To make music and not really tell anyone I’m making music.
FUZZY: What would be the biggest musical thing you would want to achieve?
When I first started out, all I wanted to do was play on this session program that someone from my city ran on YouTube. Then, I wanted to play St Pancras’ Old Church in London and I did that, and then Union Chapel. Now, I’d love to play at Redrox Amphitheatre in Colorado, but that’s years away if I ever reach that at all. The achievements are just making the albums and the music I want to make really. Playing live is satisfying in a way, but I’m so much of a perfectionist and I have bad anxiety getting on stage that I can’t enjoy myself while I’m performing. I want to build a new studio for myself and make the best album I’ve ever made.
FUZZY: Finally: if you could only listen to one album for the rest of your life what would it be?
That’s tough! I would say something by Great Grandpa, who I’ve been listening to a lot during the pandemic. My friend Gia Margaret - I love her music. We toured together, so her music is really nostalgic to me. There's AJAIMAL too: he's released a new record, and he’s massively underrated. A band called Boy Azooga and my friend’s band Hailacre, who I help out with drums and guitars: their first record is one of my favourites.
Words by Eleanor Noyce; Interview by Elle Woods-Marshall.
4th September 2020.