Mennesket og kunstneren bag Heather Nova
Nogle mennesker har en mission med deres liv. Heather Nova er et af disse mennesker! Missionen går ud på at skabe musik, der forbinder og beriger andre menneskers liv, blandt andet ved at skrive om og vise de følelser, vi alle har, når livet gør ondt – og når forelskelsen rammer os med et kølleslag. Jeg glædede mig derfor til en samtale om det nye album Pearl, som i høj grad handler om Heather Novas seneste liv, der har været præget af skilsmisse, men også om at finde ny kærlighed og om at finde tilbage til sig selv. Mødet med mennesket bag kunstneren blev præcist så betagende, som jeg havde forestillet mig, og det kom til at handle om alt muligt andet end Pearl.
Dybt inde og nede i kælderen af DR Koncerthusets imposante betonklods møder jeg den spinkle kvinde, som sætter sig på kanten af sofaen med sit dampende krus the, parat til at svare på mine spørgsmål.
Diskant: Do you get a sense of the cities you are visiting while on tour?
Heather: Well, today the bus parked under the building, and it’s easy just going in backstage, get on your computer and never go outside. And sometimes I really have to make the effort to go outside, and I always feel better when I do. Unfortunately, we are not right in the center of Copenhagen – I love Copenhagen – and mostly I love to walk in the center.
There are some beautiful cities on the tour like Gent in Belgium, and you go outside, and you see this architecture and you realize that many tourists have booked a holiday to come to these places. And we are just getting off the bus to do a gig, and we get the privilege of visiting these incredible cities. That’s why I like touring Europe so much, there’s so much beauty and so much culture. We were in Den Haag one day and I had a day off and I just went to this incredible museum and I saw Rembrandt’s self-portrait. Things that you dream about seeing. And it was like two inches away and I could see the brush strokes, it was incredible.
Diskant: What is the difference between touring US and Europe?
Heather: I really don’t tour the states any more. I mean, with my first two records I did really well over there, and I toured a few times, but around Storm the record company was getting all … a lot of the artists were getting dropped because the labels were merging, and I got dropped from my US label and instead of trying to find another deal over there, I just decided to focus on Europe because I feel more connected. I love it over here, I love the audience, I love touring. At that time, I was also about to have a baby and I didn’t feel like I needed to be everywhere and touring all the time. So, I focused on releases and touring. I feel like there is a mutual appreciation between me and my audience, I really do. I have so much love and appreciation for the people who come to my shows, because so many of them have been following my music since the nineties, and that’s a relationship, I mean, that’s amazing, and I appreciate it very much.
Diskant: I actually saw your first show in Denmark almost 25 years ago, when you were touring with Oyster. We were around 50 people at the show that night!
Heather: I know, but I love how it started so small, because I think … and I say this to young musicians now … they see these shows on tv like “Britain’s got talent” and “American Idol”, and they think you get discovered and you’re a star. And I am really old school. It’s so important to build it up from the ground. I once did this support in the UK in the nineties, where I was opening for Killing Joke and it was so awkward and we are driving around in the country in a car and sleeping on peoples floors, and I’m opening with my guitar for this punk band, which made no sense. People were buhing me off stage. But the thing was that you build strength that way, and you get better with your music. And then you feel like you earned it, when you come to a place like this.
Diskant: Let’s talk about your latest album. What is the connection between Oyster and Pearl?
Heather: I think there is a connection because there is a little bit of a return … I wanted to go back to the band sound with the really raw kind of rock guitars but with really delicate cellos as well. To find that dynamic again. But I never wanted to get back and repeat myself, as an artist I need to keep moving forward. I just had an appreciation of the sound sonically that we got on that record. And I wanted to find a little bit of that again. And, it’s funny, because I went through thinking about working with many producers. I had a list and I was reaching out to them and I send them my demos and they actually were all “wow, these songs, I wanna do this record”. And then, nothing felt right, and I thought “hey, why don’t I just go back to Youth, and see if he wants to work together again”. And we really hadn’t seen each other in twenty years. So, I send him these songs and he was literally like “wow, these are amazing, let’s do it”. So, we went to his studio in Spain and we did it in 14 days, which was really fast, but I think that is good, because then it doesn’t get overcooked. Stays fresh!
Diskant: Did you think of Oyster, when you made the arrangements?
Heather: Not like directly referencing, but I think it was just that the combination … I mean, I had said to Youth “hey, look, I am looking for a similar sonic, pallet, as that”. So, we did have it in mind. And I think it naturally happened with his style of bas playing and my voice and my style of guitar and having the cello. We created the ingredients to produce that similar sound. But the songs were new, and it’s always obviously about that, and we have an expression in the studio: To serve the song! You never try to impose a production on to a song. You play the song and you let it invite you in to what it’s looking for. But I think with Youth – the best thing with him – is the rhythm section that he creates in the studio, because he directs the drums and obviously writes the bas lines, and that just gives this really cool rock’n’roll kinda flavor to it.
Diskant: The first time I listened to Pearl it struck me that the guitar sounds like David Ayers, and I was wondering if he was back in the band?
Heather: That’s so funny, that’s so interesting. The guy who plays the guitar is my boyfriend, Vincent, and he basically is a photographer, but he knew my music from the nineties and loved it. And I was writing songs and I asked him “hey, do you wanna hear my new songs?”. I let him hear my acoustic demo’s, and he was like, “can I put some guitar down on that?”. I knew he played a little guitar, like I’d heard him play some acoustic guitar, but I didn’t know if that was a good idea. I didn’t want to be in that awkward position to have say “it’s not that good”. But he took it away and he put these electric guitar parts down and I was completely blown away. It was like “this is exactly what these songs need”. So, I said “I think you should come and play on the record”, and he was … well, he’s an amateur guitar … but he was the exact right person. He had the right sensibility, and he knew Oyster, so he got it! The vibe and the sound. It worked so well.
Diskant: Maybe because he is so much focused on the feeling than being technical? He is not playing a super technical guitar.
Heather: Which I don’t really like. My favorite guitarist in the world is Neil Young, because he is the opposite of a fancy guitarist. His solos are noisy and immediate, but there are so much emotions in it.
Diskant: Will Berit Fridahl be on stage tonight?
Heather: Yes. We’ve been playing live together for twenty years now! She is an amazing live guitarist, but different guitarists have different skills. Some people – like Vincent – would be really great with coming up with lines, and some people are more great live. And she is more a live player – she is phenomenal live!
Diskant: You are a very emotional songwriter. We feel that very much on Oyster, and it is like you do the same on Pearl, where the songs are centered around you as a person and things that take place in your life.
Heather: It’s not even like I try – I don’t know any other way (laughing)
Diskant: It’s like you move in a cyclic way. Always on the move to somewhere and then turning back.
Heather: Oh, wait, what do you mean? This is interesting.
Diskant: Well, I feel like you are going back to Oyster on your new album, both in the sound and the textual universe. Also, when we talked the last time, it was about your album 300 Days at Sea, and you told me about how that album was about travelling back and finding your roots.
Heather: I guess it’s because songwriting is always for me a process of searching, searching for answers. I don’t think I am always going back, though. In fact, I think this album is a lot about moving forward. Songs like “The Wounds we bleed” is really about letting go, about divorce, and I needed to do that to get moving forward. And the same with the love songs on the record is very much about being present and new life, new love. But you’re right, it’s always a process of inner searching. And that’s just what I really need to do in my life. I write songs to make sense of things. Some of them end up intensively personal because of that like “Something come undone”, which was about having to tell my son that we were separating. That’s the hardest thing I ever did in my life. I had to write this song, but then I had a song that I’d written and I was like “okay, do I wanna share this with the world?”. It’s really personal about what I’ve learned, and if you do that – if you risk that and share what’s really real and raw – that’s what makes the connection with people. That’s the gift. That’s the gift you give in music. It’s being honest and being real. And think of all the other mothers and fathers who have had that same moment in their life. We are all humans, we are all having these similar experiences, and so, yeah, so I share them.
Diskant: I think it’s a very special gift you have being able to be so honest.
Heather: I think it’s my purpose more than a gift, that’s how I feel.
Diskant: In a more philosophical manner?
Heather: Yeah, like that’s what I’m here to do. Listen, if I played it safe, because I’m a good songwriter, and I can write songs that stayed on the surface – I could do that – but I don’t think I would reach as many people and the music wouldn’t be fulfilling the potential that it had, to make bridges so that people feel less alone. You know, when you hear a song and you think “oh yes, that’s how I feel, thank God that somebody wrote that. I needed to feel that”.
Diskant: What would happen with Heather, if you weren’t able to write these songs?
Heather: Well, I do other things, I mean, I paint, and I am always creative. But what would I do if I didn’t have the writing in me?
Diskant: How would you fulfill your quest?
Heather: I don’t know, I’d have a different quest. It’s like, everybody has a purpose. You have a purpose, which is to interpret and express for people whatever you are writing about. You are doing that, and there are people, who are plumbers and their purpose is to keep peoples homes functioning and there are people, who are nurses, who are saving peoples lives. And all these people have a purpose. And I don’t think artists have a higher purpose, I really don’t, I think each is born with something we are good at.
Diskant: How do you see the music industry today?
Heather: I’m not sure, it’s very confusing. But I know that I’ve had to become more and more of a business person as well as an artist. Partly because I wanted to have more control over what’s going on. You know, in the early days I was on major record labels and it was like “oh wow, I get all this money in advance to live on, and then I’m realizing that I have to pay much of it back. They spend quarter of a million dollars on each video and 500.000 in my recording and suddenly … I’m still not recouped on my albums. I will never be recouped on those records because they spend so much money. When I started to realize how it was all working, I was like “hold on, wait, I wanna take control”. So, I am independent as an artist and I have more control creatively and businesswise.
Diskant: How do you earn your money?
Heather: And that is hard now as you know. In fact, in Scandinavia apparently nobody buys cd’s, it’s all streaming, right?
Diskant: Except for one thing!
Heather: What’s that?
Heather: Vinyl’s back?
Diskant: Of course, it is.
Heather: Oh, but we have vinyl.
Diskant: Actually, we talked about this ten years ago and I asked you – in a very serious manner – why you at that time didn’t release your music on vinyl.
Heather: At that time, I guess I didn’t know how big it was becoming. But I remember I promised to make the next album on vinyl just for you.
Med en høj, klingende latter sluttede den yderst behagelige samtale med aftenens hovedperson, da tourmanageren, Achim, stak sit krøllede fjæs ind og kiggede alvorligt på Heather. Det var tid at fokusere på aftenens koncert. Men inden jeg fortrak, fik jeg en autograf på den medbragte vinyludgave af Pearl, som jeg takkede for at hun havde udgivet bare for min skyld!