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?
You're right. Film scores have always been interesting to me. I studied that 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. I knew then that they had to pitch something for us.
Sil lives in Amsterdam while Jorik is in Singapore. They found Kawah Ijen through scouting places with great land textures. It part of a huge movie that they were working on. They brought the photos and concept back while working on Terraform, and we just left them to it. We thought what they did 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 shining light on social causes or precarious situations?
I’m not an activist or anything but consider myself a humanitarian. I care about things and in any big city where there are 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.
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 anything else apart from just making music.
His process is much more spontaneous. He would tell me, don’t think about how to make them work. I'm used to sitting down for a month thinking if I should make something before actually doing it, as I believe that refines my work. However since it was a collaborative process, I thought we should just go with whatever we're making.
It’s nice to have another person contribute perspectives to the writing and production. I guess I do get 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?
We pretty much made it all in my old home, a city house. I had a piano and recording 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 to… 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 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 also a type of a softness which feels really harsh at the same time. It’s an intense beauty.
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?I’m 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.
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?
It was back in 2012 when I started this whole thing. It felt really alien to me to make 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 songs. 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 in 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 different, really.