Birthplace: Novo Amor in Conversation and Concert
The Sinclair looks different today. In a space usually occupied by amplifiers, multiple guitars, and people, the stage is now littered with tree branches. (Correction: tastefully placed tree branches). But branches exist for a reason. They, along with the gorgeous purple and magenta lights, transform the stage into a mystical forest dreamland, illuminating the musicians and a simple backdrop with two words: Novo Amor.
Novo Amor, a moniker for Welsh musician Ali John Meredith-Lacey, has produced, in my opinion, one of the best albums from 2018. In his 2018 album Birthplace, Novo Amor has created and shared his uniquely propulsive sound. The sound is not overly forceful but amplifies when it needs to make a point. His high notes contribute to an otherworldly yet vulnerable language. As Novo Amor explains to me, his role as a musician-producer allows him to output consistently great music without the pressure of changing his sound to fit mainstream musical tropes. This is the album that Novo Amor has wanted to produce, and he certainly delivers.
Even as an audience member who’s repeatedly listened to Birthplace, experiencing his music live is such a surreal moment. At this sold-out show in November, the level of engagement is high. I sense that audience members clench onto the melancholy lyrics and his incredibly (and beautifully sung) high notes. In particular, I am transfixed by Terraform, sung by Ed Tullet and accompanied by Novo Amor. The song turns painfully regretful during Ed’s solo: “Call me out, Stay platonic, I’ll find a chaperone.” Moments later, when the instruments pick up the melody, I feel the audience let out a giant sigh. Novo Amor doesn’t say much between songs, but there’s no need to—the transitions feel purposeful. And that night, the Sinclair is perfectly different.
Along with Harvard student Daniel Bodea, I was fortunate to sit down with Novo Amor before the concert. Accompanied by early warmup sounds and the occasional buzz from automatic fans, we chatted about his 2018 tour, his previous and current collaborations with Ed Tullet, and his evolution as a musician, producer, and artist. Read snippets from our 19-minute interview below or listen to the full conversation.
What is your process of developing a song? It seems like you have some of the same instruments in your songs, but also you choose a variety of different instruments.
It varies song to song and most of it is genuinely just experimentation. Say, you know, you have a melody in your head and you don’t always envision which instrument you can pick and what instruments it can be on. You just try to lay it down. I’ll try and run through an example. So the song "Birthplace" I made, it was just me at the piano and then I just played a few chords. I happened to be recording accidentally and I recorded some snippets. I didn’t like how it sounded on its own so I ended up chopping up the piano and moving it around in the music software. And that gives it a different timbre and makes it sound less like a traditional piano. And you feel like you just know what comes next in terms of sounds and what things go well together, like piano and violin.
One of your songs from your latest album, Utican; the beat is more uplifting than some of your other songs, but the lyrics on the other hand are still of the same melancholiness. So how did you balance the tension between the beats and the actual lyrics?
I think the juxtaposition is going to be there, and it's kind of nice having that contrast between celebratory and driving and melancholy. I think it attaches to two sides of people. People can associate with the four-on-the-floor rhythms, the stuff you hear on the radio, and it just feels uplifting. But then the sad lyrics touch another side of people. Here another thing, it didn’t really get thought about, it just kind of happened. Because it got written on the piano just slamming chords. I didn’t really think about what the drums would be—whether it would be something completely different or it would just follow the duhduhduh. Tension is made through dynamics because you have the loud and the sudden quiet. That’s what gives it the tension because it’s kind of like a stop and start and you don’t really know where it’s going.
I'm curious as to how you made the decision to have fewer lyrics.
It's very melody dependent because the melody will come before lyrics, usually. And if there's any certain amount of syllables in a melody then I'll try to fit the lyrics around that. Sometimes we’ll have to change it and add syllables to fit the words we want. But a lot of it comes from just literally mumbling when writing and then trying to fit things around that. And I don't like songs which are too obvious. I'd rather have ambiguity and lyrics that are a bit vague so that people can attach their own meanings to it. I don't like it when a story is told too obviously. I feel like you are giving away too much or it just feels too traditional for me.
How do you think your sound has evolved over time?
I see myself as more of a music producer than a songwriter or performer on tour. My sound has changed in that my production has gotten a lot better so I've learned way more about production. And I've gotten better at playing guitar and singing and just everything that comes with it. I’ve evolved into more of an artist than a music producer and that's kind of helped my sound. I looked back at my old songs and I don't like a lot of them lyrically. I think some ideas are boring and I just think I've just become better and more aware of myself, which is kind of bad in a way because once you start becoming really aware of what you're writing, you start to judge it and freak out that what you’re doing isn’t good anymore.