From Sufjan Stephens and the great American wilderness to the weight of skater rock, Ali’s influences thrum audibly around his music, pulling it into new dimensions.
Although he’s been making music since a teenager, his first proper album, Birthplace, is set to emerge in mid-October via the AllPoints label.
Constructed around the way we assemble and access memories in our minds, and channelling echoes of the months he spent in upstate New York, it’s a winsome ode to the tides of time.
The album’s title track, Birthplace, has already made a huge splash, with a spectacular cinematic video exploring the impact of plastic pollution on our ocean life.
Here, Ali, who's published by independent publisher BDi, talks us through his first musical moments, the making of that stunning video and why he’s teaming up with environmental charities Julie’s Bicycle and Energy Revolution to limit the impact of his upcoming 14-date European tour…
How did you first get into making music?
I got properly into music through skateboarding when I was nine. I used to buy skate team video tapes and got hooked on the soundtracks. Bands like Placebo, Bad Religion, Archers of Loaf etc. By the age of 12 I was more into the music than the skateboarding, I started playing drums, with my brother playing guitar. From this point I’d play music for hours every day, in bands, and just learning how music was made.
At 16 I left my small town in mid-Wales for Cardiff. Here I studied music technology for five years while just constantly making music, mainly cinematic score pieces. There is a long trail of recordings, jobs and experiences that lead up to my emergence or breakout as Novo Amor.
It’s a hard thing to pinpoint, but I’m definitely influenced by situation and circumstance. A significant proportion of my music is about a specific place in New York State where I spent a summer back in 2011. I think it varies from song to song, lyrically the songs will usually be inspired by personal events or places.
Different artists inspire different aspects of my music: the way that Keaton Henson bends his guitar strings as though he’s physically trying to pull the note out of the instrument has definitely inspired some of my guitar work. The finger-picking styles and slide guitar of classic American folk artists, as well as contemporary artists such as Sufjan Stevens and The Tallest Man on Earth, have also played a big part in this. I found my love of playing through rock music; the heaviness and intensity of the genre really stuck with me. I think some of this comes across in my music, mainly in the crescendos and distorted guitars, which I love.
What’s the thinking behind your debut LP Birthplace?
My music often gets described as ‘melancholic', which to an extent I can agree with. Birthplace is slightly brighter and more celebratory in tone. While it’s still deeply rooted in nostalgia, focusing on my time in upstate New York, it speaks to the idea that every year I get further away from that place and period of my life. The personality of memory looms large across the album. Every time we remember something we’re actually remembering the last time we remembered it, rather than the event itself. Because of this, the more we look back on something, the more it changes. Our minds conjure new details to fill in the blanks, giving us these warped versions of our own memories. This is reflected in a lot of the lyrics and the artwork. You could say that the record is me growing through my early 20s and looking at my past with a sense of restfulness.
On your recent collaboration vid, you highlight the issue of plastic pollution – how did the project come about?
It’s really all thanks to the directors, Sil and Jorik. They pitched the entire concept to me and it was too good to not say yes to. The plastic pollution issue is something that I’ve been aware of and cared about for a while, so once I was given the opportunity to use my platform in this way, I jumped at it.
Is it important for you to have a message in your music?
Not at all. Birthplace doesn’t have an environmental message and I’ve never written any politically-charged songs. Songs can be interpreted in different ways, which is exactly what the directors did: they found a meaning in the song and made it their own.
It was recorded in my home in Cardiff. Last year (2017) I moved into a detached coach house and renovated most of the top floor into a studio. While finishing it I was working on writing this record. The album was recorded between April 2017 and April 2018. It’s the first time that I’ve created a body of work to a deadline. It’s also probably the last. It might work well for some people, but I don’t think music should be made like that.
How does the LP differ from all the other projects you’ve worked on?
It’s broader in songwriting, production and instrumentation. This is the first record that I’ve made in this studio space, so without trying the acoustics were different, and the timbre of a lot of the instruments were different too.
The main difference however, was that I knew I was making an album centred around a campaign and release schedule. My other projects and releases have been created for their own sake; once I had music to release I could consider releasing it. The structure around this album facilitated a clean slate and gave me the scope to try ideas that I might not otherwise have bothered with.
You’re hitting the road this autumn, and are working with Julie’s Bicycle and Energy Revolution to minimise waste and CO2 – why is that important to you and how is the planning going?
When artists tour we rarely consider the environmental impact of what we’re doing. We forget about the thousands of litres of diesel we burn across tens of thousands of miles, the plastic bottles and disposable cutlery we use once then throw away, and we don’t often stop to think about the inks and fabrics we use for our merchandise.
To take a step in the right direction, I’m collaborating with two UK charities - Julies Bicycle and Energy Revolution - to limit the environmental impact of my work. An example of this will be to balance fuel consumption and CO2 emissions with the funding of projects that generate clean, renewable energy. We’re essentially giving ourselves a pollution tax which will help fund projects such as community solar power in the UK, wind power generation and reforestation in India. So far, the planning is going well. You can visit novoamor.co.uk/sustainability to read more about what we’re doing.
What else is keeping you busy at the moment?
After finishing the record, it was the first time since I was 14 that I didn’t have a song in production. It was nice to feel that sense of freedom, but the freedom quickly turned into panic and boredom. I’ve been working on some other music, preparing to do a lot of touring, and planning a few musical projects for the next year where I won’t be the focus, and also trying to find a new studio space.
What’s the last great record you heard?
Phoebe Bridgers - Stranger in the Alps.
Novo Amor's Birthplace LP is released on 19 October via AllPoints. Pre-order here.
Upcoming UK dates
16 October: Manchester, Gorilla
17 October: Glasgow, Saint Luke's
19 October: Leeds, Community Room @ Brudenell Social Club
20 October: Brighton, The Haunt
22 October, London, Union Chapel **SOLD OUT**
23 October: London, Union Chapel **NEW DATE ADDED**
Photo credit: Daniel Alexander Harris