WORDS AND IMAGES BY KELLY CASTER
I was given the opportunity to do a phone interview with Nova who graduated from UNT with a degree in classical vocal performance. Read on to learn about Nova's experience growing up in a family with a traveling evangelist, her love of Kendrick Lamar, her memories of time spent in Denton/UNT, and much more!
I first saw Nova perform as My Brightest Diamond at the Paramount Theater in Austin in 2006 and Nova’s powerful vocals and lyrical stories have stayed with me. It’s been 11 years since that performance and Nova continues to shine.
When Nova enters the room you take notice. I’m not sure if the first thing that caught my eye was her vibrant red hair, which was a change from the last time I saw her perform. She began her set with "This Is My Hand" from her most recent album of the same anme. When asked how it feels to be back in Denton after so many years Nova replied “It's surreal. It's amazing. It's like seeing double. It's kind of a strange thing to go back into your life and to feel all the memories that are there and how huge an impact that time in life is, really.”
Nova’s grandfather worked as a traveling evangelist for around 60 years and took his family (included Nova's dad) around with him. Her grandfather worked as a pastor of a church and her dad as a music minister. They moved around several times over Nova's childhood until she was a young teenager when her family moved to Dallas.
"I was an opera student and I was also singing in punk bands and I learned to play guitar in my dorm in Kerr Hall.” She told me about her first show where she publicly played songs she had written. It was at a memorial service on the square for a friend of hers who had died. She also remembers playing shows on the roof of Cool Beans. “Maybe there would be 25 people there drinking beer but that allowed you to develop without a high pressure situation versus when you get into a club scenario where you’ve got to have a hundred people show up or you don't get paid or the venue’s upset.”
Nova goes on to mention a few other Denton venues that are no longer around. “An old movie theater on the square, The Argo, and Rick’s Place on the corner of Fry street - what was amazing about that time period was that there were four or five different venues on Fry Street. You could be playing shows three and four nights a week. I used to call up all the Barnes and Noble’s in town and I’d get 60 bucks for playing two hours sets. I was also waitressing throughout school but every night I was also doing shows. It was kind of an incredible environment to spend doing my 10,000 hours of learning how to play live and develop my craft.”
During her set Wednesday we were treated to four new songs, at least two of which featured strong political messages. Nova introduced the song "Mama So Mad" by briefly mentioning her move to Michigan and the ongoing Flint water crisis. Nova described to me why she felt compelled to write "Mama So Mad." “First of all, that song is based off the melody of Nina Simone’s 'Mississippi Goddam.' I deliberately wanted to tie myself to her and the story of 'Mississippi Goddam' and to look at racism, putting a line there. You can't be a white person moving to Detroit and not look at what your presence there means. In fact, I do represent the gentrification. I moved from New York to Detroit and I'm trying to be responsible as a foreigner there and not be afraid to look at my own racism and begin the process of dismantling it." Some resources Nova has found helpful to her are The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, The Blue Eye Brown Eye Experiment by Jane Elliott and a study on white fragility by educator Robin DiAngelo, PhD. says “I do a lot of YouTubing. It's an amazing resource."
On the topic of becoming a mother while at the same time being a musician Nova said, “I went from I to we. It is so incredible to see that. In the first two records I’d had a death in my family and there was so much grief in those two albums but by the third album I'd had a baby and that “we” consciousness really showed up.” She shared how she began to see a bigger picture and thinking “not only about your own child but about who has come before you and who is coming after and the society your child lives in.” During this time she has became more environmental in a larger sense but not just about the health of the planet but also in regards to society.
When asked about how she approaches creative dry spells she says, “You fill them up. Creative dry spells for me come from when I don't know how to do something technically. It has a lot to do with education. I may spend 30 hours reading or YouTubing on logic or ProTools or audio. It can also come from wrestling with something internally. So you just nurture that space by reading or listening to music that's really inspiring to you. Something that will kick-start you because dry spells are not from having nothing to say, it's from not knowing how to get out what you want to say or needing to further articulate what you want to say. It's not an emptiness there's actually a lot going on in those seemingly empty creative days.” She goes on to say, “I think it is just not succumbing to fear and doubt and freaking out that something is not coming. Also, I show up to the office every day. Leonard Cohen treated songwriting like he was a plumber I heard that from him years ago and I took that lesson really deeply to heart, like wear a suit to work. I get up, I get dressed and I dress like Shara Nova. I'm dressing like I want to go in and make a song. I go to the studio every day at the same time. I keep regular office hours.”
Out of curiosity I wanted to know what music Shara Nova has been listening to recently and what book her fans might find her reading. She seemed excited to share. “I love Kendrick Lamar. He's my new favorite. I'm completely compelled by his artistry and this morning I was listening to Ghanaian music from the 70s, like Afro funk and the new Sampha record. He has a song called "(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano," when I heard that I just started bawling. I’m reading The Chronology of Water: A Memoir by Lidia Yuknavitch. It’s so good. It’s so hardcore.”
Thanks again to UNT's Fine Art Series for providing us with another wonderful opportunity to take in some entertaining art and learn a little bit. The next Fine Art Series will take place in April and see the South Lawn of UNT's Union filled with several different "walk-through" sculptures as part of the Luminarium: By Architects of Air exhibit. For more info, click here.