HEATHER NOVA - THE FORGOTTEN ANGEL
Whilst we’ve heard about the proliferation of female singer-songwriters in recent years, one name sadly neglected has been Heather Nova. Fans in Australia would remember the spellbinding performances she provided three years ago during a short acoustic tour. The show at the Prince Patrick’s Hotel in Melbourne was especially intimate and memorable. Following a hectic two-year tour with the album "Oyster", she settled back home in Bermuda to reassess everything and write songs. She moved to a new label, the aggressive V2 Records, and has now resurfaced with a brilliant album "Siren". This is a deeply personal, reflective collection of songs, with a new bite and drive in her voice and in the instrumentation. Heather was recently in Melbourne to promote her album and I had the pleasure of speaking to her about her new beginning.
# I read that you needed to get back home to Bermuda after your two-year World Tour. Tell us what it meant to you, and how productive was it?
1. It was really important for my state of mind as much as anything else, because I had been two years on the road and I needed to detox my soul. I needed to spend some time getting back to who I am, where I came from, and why I started writing songs in the first place. Being on tour, you get caught up with the whole crazy life of promotion. Returning to Bermuda was good for being near the sea, and living simply again for a while without the jetset lifestyle. I stayed in a cottage that belonged to some friends. It was right on the water virtually. I was disciplined in spending time with the guitar and the eight track.
Q. What was the feeling from the locals?
1. They are very supportive although I’ve never performed there. They read about me, hear my songs and see me on cable television. When I come home there is a lot of good reaction. The local radio station plays my songs every day. I will be doing my first show there in July. Being the first one ever, I will probably be more nervous in that show than playing to 100,000 people at a festival.
# I remember how you captivated the audience during your stripped back performance in Melbourne, on your previous trip. How do you feel about conveying your emotional love songs so openly on stage?
1. I feel really good about it. It’s very natural for me to do that. I’m the sort of person who internalises so much. I feel very emotional when doing it, and to bring it out in the open is a relief.
Q. During your "break", did you ever feel forgotten amongst the emerging female talent in the world music scene?
1. It was frustrating to return to the scene with this album and to hear people, who didn’t know of me before, say that I was another Alanis Morissette. I had already released three records prior to her first one, so it was a bit frustrating. I suppose you can’t do much about it. It’s just good to be back with this album and ready to perform many shows again.
# You have moved record labels and joined V2 Records. Tell us about that move, and did you feel as though you needed to make a fresh start?
1. Yes, definitely. I wasn’t happy with the previous label. I felt as though I didn’t have an understanding with them and I asked them to let me go. We just didn’t see eye to eye and, after a few little problems, made the break. Then I signed to V2. It was right at the outset of the label and it sounded interesting. There is always a risk with a brand new label, but I soon got to like all the people there. It came down to the fact that the individuals who took the running on the record seemed to understand the music and were very supportive. We have a very good relationship.
# With the "Siren" album, there is a lot of atmosphere with more of a rock ‘n’ roll edge helped by that raw guitar sound. You used Nicolaj Juel (from Addict) on guitar. Tell us about his impact on the tracks?
1. When I was in the process of making this album, the live gigs that I’d done had inspired me. Part of it was the fact that there was this raw energy more than what was noticed through the records. I wanted to try and capture more of that feel. I believe that, once you are in the studio, there is a temptation to polish everything and make it perfect. I wanted to avoid that. Nicolaj is someone I have got to know and I liked his guitar playing. It is very gutsy and he creates some great sounds. It comes down to the emotional impact. It’s interesting to note that, because he is Danish, I now have a Danish connection in the band, with a female guitar player as well as Nicolaj and his brother all from Denmark.
# It’s interesting to listen to "Siren" as a development from the "Oyster" album of a few years ago. "Oyster" probably showed a restrained Heather Nova with scope for greater confidence. Your voice has even undergone a slight transformation. Do you feel as though you’ve opened up?
1. Yes, I believe so. It was a reflection as a person in that I felt more confidence, musically and personally. I was accepting myself and felt that I was feeling more positive. The songs reflect that I think. The fact that I had achieved some success with "Oyster" gave me more confidence. It shows out more with the live feel also.
Q. Do you have a routine for writing songs? Do you need to be in a certain situation?
1. I need to have space and time for writing songs. I’m not very good at writing while I’m on the road because there is so much around me. I like to be in nature, like being close to the sea. I gather all my ideas during the year, or when on tour, but when I put everything together, I like to be somewhere very tranquil.
# How do you rate "London Rain"? It must be pretty special and so highly regarded because it has appeared on several compilation albums.
1. It’s no more special than any other song. They are all special to me. It was simply the first single off the album and it received more attention than the others. I don’t really like the way the music industry worked around singles, because I think of myself more in terms of being an "album" person. That’s the way it works though. There are other songs on "Siren" that I would like to see get as much attention as "London Rain" did.
# The song "I’m The Girl" speaks about moral goodness and being a warrior. Do you see yourself painting a picture for all women of the world?
A. Yes, it’s a song about the connection that we have to each other as women. We lead different lives, have different careers, and have different priorities that we have this common link of going through similar physical and emotional changes all through our lives. It’s a tribute to dealing with the same issues even if we’ve come from one hundred years ago to now.
# With the extra emphasis of cello and violin into the songs, did you wish to create more moods into your observations of life around you?
1. I was just experimenting with different sounds. I had the opportunity to work with a string orchestra on some of the tracks which was fantastic. Recording at Abbey Road studios was very historic as well, and I used keyboards for the first time, with the piano and Hammond organ, which I love. Any record is just a chance to try all this stuff. It’s so much fun being in a studio.
# The nineties have produced a string of tremendously talented female singer-songwriters. What are your views on how the gender issue has developed?
1. I think it’s been such a good time in that we’ve gained recognition. Previously, when looking at women in rock, we were seen as a front person for a band. There was always a man behind the scenes doing all the real creative things. Now, the recognition is there that women are singers, songwriters and producers. It has been a big step and it’s really positive. The Lilith Fair in North America has helped enormously in bringing women’s musicianship to the foreground. I performed a number of dates in America in 1998 and it was good fun. It’s a nice experience.
Q. Tell us about your involvement in The Clash tribute album? What brought you and Moby together for your duet?
1. Moby called me one day and asked whether we wanted to do something for the tribute album. I have always been a fan of The Clash and I thought it would be good fun. When he asked what track we’d do, I told him that I always wanted to perform "Straight To Hell", and he said that was the song that he wanted to do also. It was perfect and we actually recorded it over twelve months ago. Our song is probably the most radical track on the album.
Q. What do you like to listen to?
1. I haven’t been listening to much other music lately because I’ve been in Bermuda writing, and I tend not to listen while songwriting. Over the last year or so, I’ve liked records by Air, Mercury Rev, P.J.Harvey and Lori Carson. I still like to listen to old music from Al Green and Jimmy Cliff, and I always go back to Dylan.
# What would like to say about your fans on the Internet? You have great fans that love to analyze your words and music.
1. I’m really touched by the support out there. I know that there are several web pages around. The fans seem very loyal and it’s nice to know that they are out there. It’s interesting how in touch they are. They know what I’m doing before I do, particularly when I’m playing next. I don’t know where they get the information from, but they’re usually accurate.
Q. When are we going to see you back in Melbourne for a concert tour with the whole band?
1. When I speak to my record company. I would have liked to have done it this time. I’d like to come back again soon.
# You’re booked for a number of European festivals during the northern summer. You must get a real buzz from doing these big arenas...
1. Yes, having done them for a few years and even headlining some, it’s a good feeling. We’ve played some really cool places and I’m looking forward to doing these shows. It’s nice to see the other bands play also.
Q. What are your aspirations?
1. I would like to write a song that the whole world relates to. Generally though, to write really good songs because it’s such a challenge. I would also like to work more in soundtracks. I believe that my music is well suited to film.
Q. What would you do if you weren’t a musician?
1. I would be into some form of healing, particularly the Chinese approach. But I can’t really get away from music. When you’re on tour and you hear about these crazy crimes that are committed, it gets me down. Playing music keeps me going.
"Siren" album is available now through V2 Records