Back in October last year, Novo Amor and Ed Tullett released a video for Terraform, the third single off their collaborative album. In an equally gut-wrenching narrative produced by filmmakers Sil van der Woerd and Jorik Dozy., the video relates the lives of the sulphur porters of the Ijen volcano complex.
Named ‘one of Earth’s most dangerous jobs’ by The Ijen Assistance, the job involves mining and transporting heavy loads of sulphur (used in many of our daily products) without protection against harsh conditions and toxic sulphur gas. Not only that, the porters are severely underpaid for their work despite it being one of the best earnings in the region.
The Ijen Assistance is a multi directional collaboration led by Heinz Von Holzen. Started from the video, it aims to raise financial support from the public for the miners in Ijen and their families.
Last month, we sat down with Ali Lacey, the man behind Novo Amor to find out more about this movement, and his latest work—Heiress—with fellow producer and songwriter, Ed Tullett.
You previously mentioned that syncing your music to films is a big focus for you. Was that why you eventually enlisted filmmakers Sil and Jorik to come up with the video for Terraform?
Well yeah you’re right. Film scores are something that’s interesting to me. I studied all that kind of stuff and read up on orchestration before I started writing songs for music. I knew Sil and Jorik through Ed. He produced for an artist and the filmmakers made a video for that song. We were like, you have to pitch something for us.
Sil lives in Amsterdam while Jorik’s in Singapore. They found Kawah Ijen by scouting places with great land textures for a huge movie that they were working on. For Terraform, they came back with the photos and concept and we just left them to it. We thought it was amazing.
It’s an extraordinary mix of output, which brought awareness to situations around the world that we aren’t necessarily aware of – especially when we are so caught up with the bustle of city life that we tend to think that this is all that’s happening.
Have you always been invested in social causes or situations that people find themselves in?
Yeah. I mean, I’m not an activist or anything but consider myself a humanitarian. I care about things and in any big city where you have skyscrapers next to slums, you never really think about it. It’s just normal, you know?
We went to Kawah Ijen yesterday, met the miners in the video and had lunch with his family. We also saw the villages and schools where the donations from the video go. Like you said, you don’t really think about it until it’s right in front of you. Things that I’m interested in exploring in the future would be plastic in the oceans — how that affects pretty much everyone.
How was it like working with Ed Tullett?
Ed has been a long time friend of mine for four to five years now. Since we met, we found each other in the same line. We don't really have much interest in much else apart from just making music.
He was very motivating and would say things like, let’s just make them. Don’t think about how to make them work. For me, I would sit for a month thinking if I should make something before actually doing it — which is good because it refines my work.
But I thought since this is a collaborative process, we should just go with whatever we’re making. It’s nice to bounce ideas off him, and get another person on the writing and production perspective. I guess I get kinda stuck in a narrow line sometimes.
This album is a little bit different to the one I’m making at the moment and things I’d done before. This one sets itself apart from anything we’re doing individually.
There were many textures in the song. Were you particularly motivated by anything in the process?
Not really. We made it all pretty much in my old home. It was a city house with a bunch of rooms. There’s a piano room and my recording space is in another room. The lyrics were mostly written by Ed, which is something I usually do on my own. There are certain themes to the songs that I wouldn’t necessarily think about — landscapes and places he’s been… I don’t think the textures are necessarily inspired by anything.
There’s a song on the album called Freehand — it’s kind of lo-fi, noisy and we pretty much recorded most of it with the windows open.
Were you ever worried about the quality of music?
Yeah, no I worry about that a lot all the time.
It’s hard to know what people want and what people are turned off by. It could be a really great song that’s not produced very well. And it could be a horrible song that’s produced very well and so people like it.
I’m just really trying to find the right level — there’s only so much I can do at home but I think there’s kind of a rawness to the record which makes it feel real. There’s a softness but there’s also something really harsh about it. It’s an intense beauty kind of thing.
How does it help having Ed on the live band?
Especially seeing as we have a bunch of songs together and last year we hung out so much because of this album. The touring we’ve been doing, he’s out writing with me for a lot of the songs that are coming out in the future.
He’s been around with all these ideas and it’s nice to have someone around for me to ask, is this good? Is this crap?
It’s refreshing hearing you talk about the process with Ed. In a previous interview with METAL, you guys were talking about how the distance actually helped bring this album together as compared to if you guys were together all the time.
Yeah, I guess. He doesn’t live near me so the process of making the album was sporadic in the sense that he would be with me for a week, then disappear for five weeks, and come back. I think that was what’s good because it helped us refine it, come back and listen to things, spot what worked and what didn’t.
The fact that we had no plans for any release schedule of sorts… The record was just finished and we didn’t know what to do with it at the beginning. So we wrote more songs and got rid of the ones we no longer felt for.
I’m personally interested in learning more about the song, Anatome.
Oh you need Ed to come on and talk about it. He’s gone around somewhere. He got the idea of writing a song about gender dysmorphia — you look at yourself in the mirror and realise you don’t want to be who you are. It’s written from an empathetic state since that’s not something we have been through. But there are people who do feel like that. It’s about observing the desire to change who you are, and telling someone that it’s okay to be who they are.
Will you ever play it live?
We need to get a real piano on stage.
How do you deal with the subjectivity of art and music?
Every time I make a song or work on an album, I can’t help but wonder what other people are going to think about it. It’s something you shouldn’t really think about, but you can’t help it. If you consider yourself an artist but make music just for yourself, why would you even release it?
I listen to a lot of my music when I’m making it and after that I’ll pretty much never listen to it again. That’s when it’s given to someone else. You have to think about how it feels to listen to it. It’s kind of difficult to deal with, the subjectivity of that.
‘Novo Amor’ means new love and was something you created out of a personal experience. Where does the distinction between Ali and Novo Amor lie?
Yeah, you’re right. It was back in 2012 when I started this whole thing. It felt really alien to me to be making music, try to play it live or even release songs. A lot of my friends would go, what are you doing making these songs? You alright?
My dad phoned me when he heard some of my first music. I had to assure him that I was fine. It was just music and I’m just expressing. There’s nothing to be worried about. It has taken me a few years to feel normal about making music. It kind of got to a point where this is my whole life and it’s all I do. I live pretty much in my studio. Most of my friends now, I know them through music. I feel deeply embedded into it. There are definitely drawbacks, like relationships getting ruined but music is the most important thing in my life right now.
That said, I’m glad I didn’t start releasing music as Ali. I feel like that’s where the separation is now. Ed’s gone through a similar thing lately. Since our record started to get his name out there, he feels like there’s no separation between artist and person.
There’s no privacy for people, and your life gets misinterpreted sometimes. It’s a little bit different, really.