In the internet age, there are no boundaries to your creativity, and the ability to showcase your art beyond friends and family. This is the great musical revolution we are currently witnessing. Largely gone are the record label gatekeepers, the highly controlled and limited airwaves, and the weekly inkies, who back in the day could knock someone down as hard as they could give a helping hand. If you are willing and able, the playing field is now more even than ever. However, as always, cream often does rise to the top. As Tom Robinson, a champion of new music on the radio, said to Brightonsfinest recently, “You only have to put something on YouTube that is brilliant, and the word will spread. You don’t have to go through the bloody gatekeepers anymore.”
This is how Ali John Meredith-Lacey, aka Novo Amor, has managed to forge a music-making career these last few years. For sure, he’s not a household name as yet, and there’s much work to be done. Yet, he’s made some fantastic inroads already, through a combination of artistic creativity, and working hard to spread the word himself. It’s starting to pay off. His proper debut album, Birthplace, is about to come out, and he’s got a 29-date world tour to look forward to, including two back-to-back dates at London’s Union Chapel, and a show at The Haunt, in Brighton.
“Radio support has been terrible for me,” he says from his home-cum-studio in Cardiff. “I’m fine with that. I like music, and I like music business as well, and wanting to do things myself. I wanted to see how far I could take it. I started putting stuff on Spotify, promoting online, and emailing blogs. ‘Listen to this. Please, please, please!’ After I wrote my first song I emailed about 50 blogs and probably got a reply from two of them, but one of them posted the track. That was my first year as Novo Amor. It was crap. I was working in an ice cream parlour. But I was still making music, it was what I wanted to do, whether people were listening to it or not. I didn’t really care. I was just excited. I remember calling my dad and telling him ‘this song is getting about 50 plays a day on YouTube. This is amazing’!
“I signed to a Norwegian label for a little bit, for my first EP, because I couldn’t afford to do the vinyl myself, or pay for any PR. I needed someone to help me. But, after that, I kept self-releasing. I didn’t do many shows, I didn’t think it was a strong place to promote myself. I wasn’t a frontman of a band. I wasn’t a singer. I was just a music producer, who had written some songs, and I had to try and invent myself into this Novo Amor ‘thing’. It was the internet really. Word of mouth and people liking the music, and spreading it around, and me pushing it however I could. It’s been five, six years, and has snowballed a little bit. It’s all got out of hand to be honest!”
The videos that accompany some of his songs have also been a key factor in getting the Novo Amor word out. They look like big production, cinematic affairs. Check out the incredible videos for both 2015’s ‘Anchor’, and the recent ‘Birthplace’, both stunningly beautiful and humanistic affairs, the latter featuring free-diver Michael Board, as he engages with the underwater world. These productions helped. “I think my whole thing from the start was to put myself out looking like a bigger artist than I actually was. And it worked. I kind of faked it ‘til I made it. I dunno, I guess I am still faking it.”
Faking it, he is not. Novo Amor’s music is cinematic, thoughtful, and warming, topped off by his falsetto voice that recalls Bon Iver. Lead track ‘Emigrate’ sets the scene; finger-picked guitar, violins, brass, and marching drums are used to create an atmosphere that ebbs and flows, leaving a great deal of space for the mind to soak in its glorious ambience. ‘Birthplace’ revolves around plucked strings, a piano motif, and small bouts of thunderous drums, before gently easing into a calm conclusion. It’s beautiful stuff, made by someone who patently knows their way around a studio, and various instruments, with the help of violin and brass players. It also bears the hallmarks of his work with Ed Tullett, who he collaborated with on 2017’s Heiress album. “Because of the album I wrote with my best friend Ed, the writing on this album was about the same time as releasing that record, so a lot of his writing ideas ended up on this album as well.”
Birthplace is a reflective album. Primarily, it deals with change and letting go, the joyous-yet-tinged-with-melancholy music is a reflection of his journey that originated across the pond in the United States. “Birthplace, refers to the birth place of Nova Amor, which was this place in upstate New York. ‘Birthplace’ the song represents change, and the release of attachment. The way I put it was ’emigrating from myself’, the departure in the wake of defeat.” He is referring to the break-up of a relationship that he’s reluctant to explicitly mention, such was its seemingly painful aftermath. “I got pretty much broken up, but eventually pulled myself into songwriting. I’ve always been inspired by the sudden change in the movements in my life. It’s this emigration of self, six years ago. It’s expressed through a landing, or a becoming of self. It’s like a joyous look back at the past.”
Fully immersed in music making from a young age, with emo, punk and skateboarding initially on his mind, he took up drums at 13, then guitar, before getting his first computer at age 14. “It had some music making software on it, and I started learning how to produce. Since that age I haven’t had something in production.”
He left his small mid-Wales town at 16 to enrol at college in Cardiff, on a music technology course, where he did such things as making karaoke backing tracks for a company, sound design work, and ripping film trailers and adverts off YouTube. “I was re-scoring them myself with these symphonic libraries, which I would buy crap versions of, from a guy at college. And I was reading books on orchestration. I really wanted to be a film score composer. One of the first Nova Amor tracks, ‘From Gold’, I actually wrote for my friend’s indie film. Once I was done I wanted to turn this into an EP, and that’s how the Woodgate EP came about.”
Environmentalism, and the protection of our fragile planet is also to the fore. He’s recently hooked up with two charities, Julie’s Bicycle and Energy Revolution, in trying to limit the environmental impact of touring. “Energy Revolution is a company which transfers your travel miles into kilogrammes of CO 2 emissions. You essentially pay a tax which they then give to a project like reforestation in India. And Julie’s Bicycle is helping us to green our backstage rider, and our touring life. For example, not using plastic bottles and plastic cutlery backstage, and suggesting to the venues that they use eco-friendly cleaning products.”
Ali is often asked what Novo Amor means. He’s normally reticent in talking about this, as it is something that makes him cringe, but he’s making an exception for me. “Novo Amor is Galician, Portuguese for ‘new love’. I didn’t think it was an exact translation when I named it, it was meant to mean ‘to make a new love’. It’s printed on T-shirts in Brazil, people love that phrase. There was a TV show called Novo Amor as well! It was basically me making a new love for myself, in music. In the wake of defeat, changing myself after a break up, making music was my new life. The idea that it was Portuguese had no relevance. I just thought it would sound a bit more like a name that people hadn’t heard in the UK. I never really expected for my music to reach where it has.”