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Interview with Novanauts
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
When I was about 10 years old, my oldest sister started taking guitar lessons. Our teacher, Andy, came to our home in Rickmansworth. My parents thought it would be a great idea if I took up the instrument as well. It was a natural extension to take lessons from the same teacher after my sister. At first, I was not very interested in learning guitar. It was acoustic and my fingers hurt, but I stuck with it and learned some basics. Everything changed when my sister got an electric guitar. I used to use it when she wasn’t around. I heard Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and learned that famous riff, and my world opened up when I found the overdrive channel on her Marshall combo amp. The rest is history. Lessons were now my path to creative agency and rocking out.
Brett was also in a musical family. His brother was taking guitar lessons and he would watch. He decided it was so cool and he loved being with the music, so he decided he wanted to do it too. He also started taking guitar lessons after his brother, but two lessons in, he decided… this is not for me. He learned he had a fascination with sitting behind the drums during his dad’s concerts. His drummer would let Brett play after the performances. When Brett’s brother got into the drum line in the marching band, he taught Brett his first drum beat when they got their first drum set. Interestingly it was the same drum beat to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Cool coincidence. He played it over and over with his hands for months. From there he started playing in church and in bands with friends he met in high school and then around 15 started getting serious. Now here we are. Always students.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I’m a fitness enthusiast. I’m trying to stay active in the gym and playing soccer (football sorry). I’m also a surgery resident at one of the academic health systems here in Atlanta, which keeps me fairly busy outside of music. I’m also married to my beautiful wife Christian and we love spoiling our dachshund Winston (named after Winston Churchill and Winston-Salem, North Carolina where I went to medical school). Working in surgery is a very creative pursuit as well. I encounter countless interesting human experiences and interactions. I have to take these experiences and data and propose creative solutions at the individual and system level, which is an amazing job. I’m very grateful.
Brett is a big fan of film and collecting DVDs and vinyl. If he’s not working, he loves playing video games. These things, these collective stories, are all stimulating because they flex the creative mind. The general intention of taking in film, music, video games, and recognize the time and sweat and feelings that went into these journey is cathartic. It influences him by allowing him to be fully immersed in what he loves most.
How long has your band been around?
Brett and I have been playing together since 2006. We started as Novanauts in 2010. Before this, we played together in a few different projects. Our first project was a hardcore band. Our second project was an ambient post-rock outfit. Our journey and experimentation with different styles developed into Novanauts.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
We started in Valdosta, Georgia which was full of punk and hardcore bands in 2004 after I moved there from England by way of Japan. We claim to be based out of Atlanta, Georgia. I live in Atlanta, GA now. Brett lives in Charlotte, NC. Our practice space is conveniently in between in Greenville, SC. We make use of technology and file sharing to create over distance and meet up every 4 to 6 weeks or so to play, write, record, or all of the above. That's how we make it work.
Brett and I both grew up in church and playing music in churches. His dad is a music minister. We both enjoyed understanding the qualities of church music and the role it played in our culture. Fascinating to think about how music played a role in bringing people together. We both grew up doing this multiple times a week and a lot of our creative experiences come from this utility aspect of music for shared experience.
The music scene in Atlanta is one of the best in the southeast. Atlanta has a lot of really talented bands that frequent the many small clubs we have in town. There's a diverse indie rock presence which would make sense with the history of Athens, Georgia being so close. Athens is where we played some of our first shows. Athens has always been open to experimental, genre blending music. Even though Atlanta is very well known for hip hop and pop music, there are a lot of alternative, indie rock, and pop punk bands here.
Atlanta is an edgy, multicultural city surrounded by rural Georgia with access to one of the best airports in the world. It has a rich history of arts and music, human experience, war, and literature. Perhaps subconsciously its diverse history influences our sound. We also take much of our inspiration from rock coming out of the UK in the 90s and early 2000s. What was popular in the UK around that time when I was living there and starting my interest in music left a profound impact on me.
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
Novanauts is a derivative of Kalvinova. Kalvinova is a misspelling of the keyboard I’ve had since I was about 10 years old. The Yamaha Clavinova. I previously recorded a lot of instrumental tracks under the name Kalvin Nova and then changed it to Kalvinova for stylistic reasons. When Kalvinova dissolved, though I was the principal songwriter, it didn't feel right to continue the name Kalvinova without Mason Lusk and Jeremy Bell, my former bandmates. We wanted to move forward but keep the spacey theme with “nova” and I always liked the suffix “nauts”. It felt like explorers or astronauts. We wanted to keep it in the same vein. We've always been interested in space and we even had a conversation the night before naming the band about quantum theory and supernovas. What is a black hole anyway? We like what space can invoke, you know; this endless expanse. There's always new opportunities in space it seems. There are always undiscovered worlds. The idea of the massiveness of it is beautiful and scary all at the same time. Like being a human and existing in this life.
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
We’ve played in a variety of spaces. One of our most memorable shows was in Athens, GA. We randomly set up our equipment outside of a dormitory on the University of Georgia campus. We rocked out right there while people were mingling about. A crowd formed and soon people were using their dorm light switches to synchronize with the tunes we were playing. It was amazingly organic, silly, and fun. At the time we were so young and appreciative of the fun of performing and creating. Now when we look back, that was a beautiful experience.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
Our favorite venue to play at currently is Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta, Georgia. It has a really intimate feel but a nice sized stage for us and a 100 capacity room that feels great when filled up! We are excited to play some of the other venues in Atlanta as we continue. A dream venue would be Red Rocks at sunset. Other places include The Fillmore, The Masquerade, and The Eastern down the road, the Roxy. There are tons of great choices.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
This is an insanely difficult question. A dream tour would be Muse, Mutemath, The Killers, and Radiohead with guest appearances by Metallica and Underoath with a Fred Again and Rufus Du Sol afterparty.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
Why you do what you do is so much more important than the actual act of doing it. You don't do it for the competition. All of that is very human. You know, things we can kind of fall into. But I think it's so much more important to realize that we do what we do because we love the music and we want to give people a shared experience of hope whenever they come to a show. We want to give people a shared experience, for whatever time frame, that everything is gonna be alright. Take all of these little micro moments that we have and make good use of them in this life. Sometimes the music industry feels like a very negative place, but it's up to us, the creators, to champion the positive. So you have to rise above the noise and ignore it. Be authentic and treat people well. Practice diligently and intentionally. Do the difficult work to find your style and enjoy that process. Don’t be afraid to mess up! Don’t be afraid to make a mistake, because it’s the lessons you learn from the sting of messing up that always land the hardest. Sometimes these moments can be beautifully impactful and lead to a better path you would have not discovered otherwise.
It's not easy to find shows at first. Sometimes you have to fight the idea of a bunch of people gatekeeping all of the venues. That's not the way to be. Take chances when they come, have a growth mindset, and always practice gratitude. Playing and sharing music is a luxury and a beautiful sweet privilege afterall. Don’t lose sight of that. We musicians should come together and support each other, raise each other up, and realize that everybody has their place in the scene.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
It takes persistence, patience, and consistency. You have to quiet the voice in your head that “it's too hard” or “you just need to give up” and “just move on to something else”. That's not a way to be. Be authentic. Your music is your chance to communicate, so what are you saying and how are you saying it? Continue to keep up a cadence of creation. Form a team, love your team, and have fun together!
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
“Out In The Open (The Day When We Stood Still)”. I really love old sci fi and this whole idea of the song evolved over the matter of years. It wasn't like something that just came to me. It took a matter of years, thinking through wording, dealing with some negative thought patterns in my life and how that impacted my actions in the world and what was beneficial. The Day When We Stood Still is kind of like the title of an old sci fi horror movie, but really talking about the dangers or the terrors that can come from being paralyzed by overthinking. That can impact your life and your relationships. That to me is the message of the song. It plays with that idea and it plays with these very expansive, almost like landscapes a chorus of rolling hills and synthesizers and then just slamming against a wall and motivates you with this huge riff at the end. It's still one of my favorite songs of ours. It's definitely a journey finally crafted into a recorded experience that we were happy with.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
“Out In The Open (The Day When We Stood Still)” is certainly a jam to play. We’ve been told “A Little Better” is a song with broad appeal. It’s also super fun to play “Distracted”, because the way that groove hits when we both lay into it feels so great. We also love getting locked in on our upcoming song “Breakout”.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
I’m very methodical about archiving ideas. Our backlog of songs and ideas is huge. I’ve been keeping the backlog going since about 2005 or even before that. Some songs begin as snippets from a voice note, or a written piece of music, or a little riff. I love to develop from a spark and use electronic tools to get ideas developed, but we are a rock band at the core. We have electric guitar, vocals and drums, but we don't stay there. We're not married to that combination. We can explore other areas, but we like to write high energy songs that really enhance the performance of those core instruments. There is such a beautiful sound when vocals, electric guitar, and a drum set sit in the mix when they're locked in. That's been a lot of our true north when it comes to building up songs recently. Does it sound good stripped down? Then let's have some fun and add some atmosphere and some synth layers to enhance the experience. We ask ourselves, “could this be played on an acoustic guitar and people still say, ‘yeah, that's nice.’” We were trying so much at the beginning to throw on layers to sound more and more epic. Now we're finding ourselves saying, “if we take that one thing away it will be so much more epic, and it really is.” I believe that should be a guiding light. What can I do to get our music and our feelings across with intention. Because with the opposite, you can start to lose what you were trying to do in the first place.
When we started off playing our style of electronic alternative rock, the ability to play synth tracks and to sync with MIDI instruments was so new in the scene we were in back in 2006. I mean, people have been playing with backing tracks since backing tracks existed, but when it comes to our scene, it was rare. So we were eager to incorporate these tools that we were learning how to use in a cool, interesting, impressive way. Nowadays, you can basically do anything you want with modern music production technology and reproduce it in some form live. So the emphasis becomes less of, “I wonder what we can do?” and more “how are we doing it?”.
It's the intentional choices of how we are using synth or modulation on parts. I think it's very freeing as an artist. We have all this ability to shift and explore and morph over time with various tools. But still at the end of the day, we want to write good songs that feel good to play live and connect with people.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
Places that we want to go, people that we'd love to know, journeys we all hope to find are waiting for us out in the open. Life is worth living, people are worth loving, and this music rocks. We definitely want people to be encouraged by our music, but not shy away from the real experiences of this life and difficulties humanity can have with it. We hope to make music that encourages people to see the beauty of life, appreciate togetherness, and take positive action. Whatever our message is, it's a message of whatever you're going through, whatever you're feeling, whatever you're going through, you're not going through it alone, and we can get through it together. The lyrics might not always say that, but that's the feeling we want to invoke.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
The fact that we are good friends and enjoy spending long hours together makes it all even better. That’s the one thing that is kind of necessary in a band: that you actually stand each other. So, I'm glad that has definitely worked out. When we have disagreements, we try to think back to our first principles. Is this fun, recognizing that not every experience is going to be fun, but is the overall journey a joyful one? Are we writing good songs that feel good to play? Are we consistent with each other and honest and authentic in our music? Are we being intentional? These are just some of the principles we like to talk about frequently so that when conflicts potentially arise or decisions need to be made, we have a framework with which to work through them as a team.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
We have several new songs that will be released sequentially in the coming months we are very excited about
We're trying to stay in the live music circuit every 4 to 6 weeks. We see playing live as the completion of the creative process of a song; sharing it with people in a live environment. We're hoping to do a lot more of that in the future and would love to do a tour in any region that would have us.
Continuing to keep up our cadence of creation is something we feel very strongly about. Continuing to write, continuing to record, and continuing to connect with people in our live shows. We plan to develop our friendship and as individuals, as artists, and as professionals. We want to share our hearts with the world. We’re going to get through this beautiful and often messed up world together.