For Ali Lacey, a place is a feeling. His debut full-length album under the moniker Novo Amor is titled “Birthplace” and isn’t even really about where the Cardiff-based musician was born, but more about discovering himself during the time he spent in Woodgate, New York. He even has the zip code written on his guitar.
Tuesday night Novo Amor packed a late night show at the Record Bar in Kansas City, decking out the stage area with foliage and the balcony with Christmas lights. The whole scene looked like an intimate backyard performance, which was fitting for the clear Spring night that it was. Gia Margaret opened for Novo Amor as she accompanied Ali and his band on tour, including “Terraform” bandmate Ed Tullett. The artists made frequent appearances in each other’s sets, matching with smooth melodies despite colds.
After an explosively orchestrated set, in which I was probably one of the few people dancing, but did not care, I was able to wrangle an interview with both Ali and Ed.
Here’s the raw audio if you want to listen along. My favorite part is the beginning with the girl who claims she’s “not a freak.”
Sign up for the LISTENING NOW weekly music newsletter here for all the best music discovery delivered right to your inbox.
MJ: This latest album is about Place. You talked in interviews about being in New York when you wrote the lyrics for the album and what that place meant to you, do you feel like that’s changed?
AL: The place hasn’t changed the meaning. It’s written about a place I was in 7 or 8 years ago now. And the album is about my time from there to now and what happens in the gap. And how you do change over time and looking back on that place with completely different eyes. I’m thankful because that place made me what I am now. So I think the album is going to become more and more meaningful to me now since it’s a staple of that time in my life.
Do you associate those feelings with that place or the music with that place?
More the feelings.
So, you made this album in a year, and in one of your interviews, you said that you don’t think music should be made within a deadline. What’s your ideal process and how do you cope with being on a deadline?
Well, this is the first time I’ve worked properly to a deadline for music. For something so creative, I find it very hard to work on a deadline. It was good in the sense that it gave me something to work towards. Otherwise, I could’ve spent two years with this. I wonder what it would have sounded like [if I had more time]. But I didn’t cope very well. I found myself on the floor at about four in the morning screaming like “why isn’t this song working?” I spent a month making a song or two, and they had just fallen apart in my hands. It was really disheartening for the one thing you love and the thing that is your hobby to turn into what feels like a pressured activity. But in hindsight, I’m happy I did it to a deadline. And it wouldn’t sound like it does without that.
You’ve talked about how artists like Sufjan Stevens have changed your life or inspired you. Are there other artists that have inspired you?
James Vincent McMorrow was one of the first folk artists I got into. You know, he’s not that traditional folk, he’s kind of mainstream, but he was different for me. His songs came at a period in my life where I fell in love with a girl, and then it ended, and we broke up in the end. And it was kind of a horrible time in my life. And that spurred me to make my own music. Listen to other artists and how they put themselves into the music to try to relieve themselves from the pain.
Keaton Henson also has an album called “Dear,” which is brutally sad. Also Bon Iver and Sufjan Stevens.
What made you want to put your music out into the world? I know you’ve done other work before this, but this is your first full album.
Yeah, I’ve made a lot of music before this, but that’s a weird one. I feel like I got dumped for a guy who played guitar and is a songwriter and I wasn’t, so I was like “I could do that.” I lot of my time was spent trying to prove that I could be someone as good as he was, which is kind of horrible. But I love music anyway. It’s just what I do. I wasn’t a songwriter at the time. I didn’t sing at the time. I kind of trained myself to do those things so that I could, I don’t know, express what I wanted really. It was really about getting over a relationship.
Do you feel like you’re over it?
Yeah, I’m fine. Totally fine.
Who do you play for now?
For myself and you guys!
Ed is the whole reason I got to interview Ali. I saw the band’s tour bus outside of the Record Bar and thought I’d walk up and see if I could get an interview. Serendipitously, Ed was walking out of the bus. And, since, as you all know, I research all the artists I feature, I knew exactly who he was and said “Ed!” (Admittedly, his shaved head and glasses are also a giveaway.) He assured me we could talk after the show and that’s pretty much all I talked about at dinner at the Belfry (which is super yummy).
I knew Ed from his work on Terraform with Ali. And I was excited to see that he was on tour with Ali as well. The show itself was proof that though Ali is the face of the band, the other band members carry just as much weight musically. After I interviewed Ali, I pulled Ed aside to ask him some questions. No surprise, the guy is crazy talented.
MJ: How much do you feel like place related to your work on the album with Ali?
ET: To me, it was like, with Birthplace, because we co-wrote a lot of the ideas and stuff. It was really fun to be creative in a short space of time and to help him get ideas for stuff. But also I could be quite detached and two months later he’d just come back and show me a fully completed song and I’d be like “wow this is amazing.” It’s really nice to not have to do a lot of the work. To me, Birthplace is the best thing that he or I have done. Together or separately. I’m really proud of it as a writer.
What else are you working on?
This project that was playing right now is called Hailaker. It’s myself and Jemima Coulter, and she’s an amazing musician from Cardiff. Yeah, she’s incredible. We got to work together a couple years ago but then we met up again and made this record that’s coming out at the end of April. We’ve already written and recorded a second album and we’re making a third.
I’m kind of not really doing stuff by myself anymore. After Heiress (which was my first bigger album), I liked it, but I think it made me realize that that’s not really what I want to do. I don’t really want to be “the guy” I don’t want to be “the artist” I just want to make music and not have to deal with releasing it. That’s why I like Hailaker because it’s not just me, it’s also Jemima, and it’s under a different name and it’s not very person-focused, it’s more about the music. We’ve got this amazing person called Mike Roth and he does all the artwork. But yeah, super excited about that. That’s my mine artist focus [right now]. I’ve just been doing more production and writing for people.
I fully co-wrote and produced an album with Oliver Spalding. He’s another artist. That’ll be out later this year. It’s kinda 80s, kinda cool. I’m just super lucky to get to do this. Doing the live stuff with Novo Amor is amazing because it’s just enough for me. I never saw myself as someone who would be doing live stuff much. ANd I never really enjoyed it that much. But to get to go to all these places and have enough people kind of care who I am but I’m not like “the guy.” That’s perfect for me.
Like we play “Terraform” in a set and we do “Alps” most nights, not tonight. It’s just nice to have a tiny bit of something, but not have to be that guy. And I wouldn’t want to be Ali, so, yeah, it’s great. I’m super lucky to get to do it and really thankful to Ali. I’m moving to Cardiff soon so hopefully, I’ll get to keep working and do stuff with him.
And Hailaker is released on a label called Low Summer, which is own by me, Ali, and Andy our manager. Ali played drums on this record and the next.
That’s a lot of stuff. How do you feel like you balance that creative energy?
I guess you can’t really complain when you get to be a musician full time. I’m incredibly lucky to get to do it. I guess it comes in fits and starts. Yeah, I think that’s why I was so thankful to meet Jemima and get to work on Hailaker because it’s just a whole new creative outlet for me. To me, the stuff I’ve been making on Hailaker is the best music I’ve ever made. She’s just amazing. You should check out her solo stuff as well.
Check out all of what Ed does here.