by Nicole Hanratty
Posted: January 10, 2013
There’s a reason they call Carolyne Neuman aka NOVI the Electro-Pop Queen of Sass. NOVI’s most recent music video “Blackbird” starts off with a pair of black combat boots and proceeds to kick some lyrical and cinematic a*s which I can definitely say if NOVI can sing, “I told my father that this mother f*cking town is getting old.”
Watch NOVI “Blackbirds” feat. Lee Miles music video on Vimeo
There is a stunning juxtaposition between this beautiful woman and her choice of NOVI derived from Homo Novus (with Latin roots meaning “new man”) as a stage name. I asked Carolyne how she became Novi and she told me, “For a long time, I was trying to figure out if I wanted to have a stage name, or a stage persona… And, my mom, actually, came up with the idea of NOVI because, I don’t know exactly how she figured that out, but we’ve always known that Neuman, which is our last name, is Homo Novus, and then, we were thinking, maybe, Novus. Then, NOVI was kind of like a cute, shortened version…and we just decided to keep the name NOVI because, I don’t know, it started to work. People started to call me that.”
Reinventing oneself is no easy task musically or artistically. I pondered this topic with NOVI and asked her, “What does it mean to you to reinvent yourself artistically?” NOVI shared some things she has learned throughout the process. “In the beginning, I wanted to change the name and have this whole persona sort of created. And, that was working a little bit, but what I realized is, I have to be very honest and truthful with who I am, and if you try to put on too much, some sort of thing it’s not honest. It’s not natural, and so, I’ve really realized, just in the last few months, even, that those things have to just evolve on their own. …I feel like you can change anything you want at any point, but you have to stick to who you are, and what comes naturally because people, people won’t believe you, if not.”
Besides her enviable stunning looks–yes I want her flawless hair, piercing eyes and unending legs–NOVI’s ability to capture a universal feeling with her own twist Alanis Morissette style makes you want to sing a long and just hang out with this say-it-like-it-is genuine makes-you-laugh girl. I asked her, given the knowledge she’s gained about staying genuine to who she is naturally, who does she think that person is.
NOVI replied, “Well, I’m me. I’m definitely an artist. My basic goal, here, is just to create good music, and, lately I’ve been really into the more upbeat, sort of, throw your hands to the sky, kind of funky sort of music because during the live shows, I realized, that’s really what gets people involved. And, for me, personally, it’s my favorite thing on the planet to feel like I’m picking up the crowd. With a lot of my earlier tracks, those tracks didn’t evoke that sort of emotion in people. And so, with the new stuff, I’m just trying to create those songs that get people riled up honestly in one way or another, and that’s so fun for me.”
Fun is a definite theme of NOVI’s music but was also the answer she gave when I asked her which song title out she would choose to describe her personality. She laughed when she realized that’s the band’s name, not a song title and I gave her clearance to run with it, “You can be my first artist to just completely override the song title and go straight for the band name.” “Okay,” NOVI laughed, “I love it.”
From being raised in Ashland, Oregon, to living in Los Angeles, this fun girl has experienced a dramatic change in living environments. I couldn’t resist asking her what she misses most about Oregon and what attracts her to L.A. She told me, “Ever since I was little, I would ask my mom if I could move to L.A. It was so funny. I remember being like 13, and I was like, ‘Mom, I want to move to L.A. so I can be an entertainer.’ And, she was like, ‘Um, well, you know. Let’s wait a few years on that. But, maybe when you’re 16,’ and she would sort of put it there, or say, ‘Perhaps,’ but then, it wouldn’t happen. I always had a draw to L.A. I’m not sure why, exactly. I think there’s just a bigger game to play here. In Ashland, Oregon, it’s the most charming, little, aesthetic town, such a creative little village, and I love it, but, there’s only so much you can really do there as far as music. Or, anything in the entertainment world, obviously, this is the hub, here, in L.A. and New York.”
She went on to admit, “I miss Ashland because I feel like I go there, and everything just calms down. Just the whole energy of the place is so mellow and so beautiful, and time just slows. And, here in L.A., the second I get off the plane, I’m like, “Okay. Got to go here, got to go here, traffic.” Just crazy. And, I’m like, “Whoa.” It’s just, it’s funny, different places in the world have different–not to sound kooky–but vibrations of energy. I love going up there when I just need a little time to get a little bit of grounding. It’s so nice to have it there because my parents still do live there most of the year, so I go, and I can write music by the stream, and go hiking. And, that’s my roots, and I do feel so inspired when I go. It’s easier for me to write more honestly, there, I feel like because it just sets the scene and a lot of my music is based off of, of that place, really, and my experiences there.”
“Blackbirds” is an example of a song that was written about Ashland and the honest lyrics that town inspires in NOVI. I asked her about the construction of that song and she explained, “Well, that’s so funny because certainly, a lot of times I’ll get in the studio, and I have one main guy I work with. His name is Lee Miles, and he’s a brilliant, just, producer, musician, singer, songwriter himself. So, a lot of times we’ll just go in the studio, and sort of, kind of come up with some ideas, and he’ll start working on the track, and I’ll start writing lyrics. Or, I have an idea for a hook, and we sort of work together.”
“But, “Blackbirds,” particularly, was one of those, I literally wrote that song in 10 minutes. Up in my bedroom, I was just playing around on GarageBand. They have loops on there, and I was just throwing some loops in, and then, I just started singing that hook, (sings) ‘I’ve seen blackbirds sucking on the side of the road.’ I was drinking a glass of wine, just upstairs, and I had a bunch of girlfriends downstairs. My roommate was there, my cousin, and they, I just hear them start cracking up, and I’m like, ‘What?’ And, they’re like, ‘What are you singing up there?’ (laughs) And, I was like, ‘I don’t know. Let me be.’”
When NOVI tells this story about writing the song and her friends laughing, you feel like you are in the room with her, as she has a way of telling a story that makes you feel included in the moment and part of the memory. Her notable song line, “I’ve got bar flies sipping on my mother f*cking drink,” paints a vivid image of the boredom that comes from familiarity and is really at the core of what motivated Carolyne Neuman to transform into NOVI and hit the road to pop stardom.
She says, “I wrote that song, and that song’s about Ashland, and just, sort of, the idea that, when you are in one place, you can get, it can get sort of stale, and you want to go somewhere else. And then, you go somewhere else, and you’re like, ‘God. I kind of wish I was back there.’ That was the whole pedal me back concept. I really thought it was a joke. I mean, this whole song was just such a novelty track kind of a thing, and then, I sent it to my producer, Lee, and he was like, ‘Oh my God. This is brilliant.’ He couldn’t get it out of head. And so, then, we just went in and recorded it for real. But, you just never know. Sometimes, I’ll just get hit with one little inspiration, and that’s the song, and I can just write it in 10 minutes. And, other times, it’s grueling trying to figure out what to say, and how to present it.”
“Blackbirds” stuck in my head–and I’m from L.A.–because the subject matter she touches on is universal. Everyone at some point struggles with the feeling of waiting for their moment to be free. We all want to fly. She seemed to understand how even a girl not born in Ashland could have that same feeling, “I know,” NOVI replied, “and it’s just, it’s, I didn’t even mean to. But, it’s just, I think the biggest thing in writing songs is, if it’s true for you, people all over the world have that similar experience. And so, it’s just so important to write honestly, and I think that’s why that song works. It’s like those universal concepts, and people love that, and they, they have understanding of that. So, yes, that one’s a funny one,” she says and laughs.
NOVI’s music has elements of electro, pop, and rap so I asked her to share with me, “in those three music genres, specifically, electro, pop, and rap, which artists you think are really excelling at their craft?” True to form, she gave an honest answer, “I don’t know about the rap part just because I put raps in my music just because I like to do it, and I think it’s fun, but, I don’t follow a lot of the hip hop world that much. I mean, I like all genres of music, but as far as the electric pop goes, I’d say, right now, I mean, Lana Del Rey seems to be hitting that. I think electric pop is like a new genre of music. I don’t think that’s been around for that long, and it’s sort of just mish mashing different genres, and making it unique sounding. But, I would say, I love her. I think what she’s doing is really cutting edge, and also, Florence and the Machine, she’s not really electric pop, but I liken myself to her because I want to be like her. I like her beats and her voice and just her lyrics and just everything. I aspire to create stuff that she’s put out there. Her whole record and everything, I’m like, ‘Wow!’ But then I love like Rihanna, I think she’s incredible and I’m into all those sort of pop, you know, I feel like they’re just pop idols.
“So what’s the most recent song you’ve downloaded or added to your playlist?” I ask the Queen of Sass. “Alt-J,” she replies. “I don’t know a lot about that band, but they have a song called, “Taro,” And, something about that song, I mean, I’m, like, dancing naked in my living room, freeing the demon from myself, just, it’s got these tribal beats that come in, and, this sort of Middle Eastern sound. I’m really into worldly sounds… Big African drums, those sorts of things, just get the body moving, you know? I love that, and so, I downloaded their whole record. It’s amazing. And, that song, particularly, is my theme song for, for the next couple weeks, at least.” We both laugh and I ask, “You’re saying, I should prepare to listen to it alone in case I’m inspired to take my clothes off, and dance around?” “Yes,” she replies and through her laughter I just hear Carolyne’s voice–the girlfriend you’d want to have a glass of wine with and share your demons, “you definitely better be in a nice, personal space.”
NOVI is set to release “Now I’m There” in 2013 and she described it as sassy. “I have, maybe, three or four tracks that I know I want on that EP, and the first word that sort of comes to mind is sassy, just because it’s sort of, they’re a little bit fight back. Like, one of them is about a breakup, and it’s called, “Make a Scene,” and the lyrics and choruses [say] ‘I’ll make a scene, like, Ms. Monroe, steam my panties from below. I’ll return just like the King, swing until the bell goes ding. My momma said that I should knock you out. I’m quaking, get ready, oh yeah.’ They’re just, sort of, kind of like, ‘f*ck you,’ a little bit (laughs). But in a really fun and lighthearted way, you know?
In addition to “Blackbird,” highlights on NOVI’s EP “Now I’m Here” also include the seductive “Irretrievable” track, the funk-infused prelude “Now I’m Here” track, and “Time Bombs” which opens the flood gate to the power and versatility of her voice. One listen to NOVI’s “I’m A Walrus” cover and you will see exactly what we mean. Carolyne Neuman has the talent to transform any song–even an iconic Beatles song–into something spectacularly her own and in doing so succeeds in transforming herself into NOVI, the Electro-Pop Queen of Sass we all secretly want to be.
Novi “Make A Scene” is with music that conjures Mad Men images and Twiggy’s 1960s fashion with raw and edgy lyrics combining to make a lethal one two punch that will “knock you out.”
NOVI ON THE WEB
WE ASKED NOVI HER FAVORITE
Flavor of ice cream:
“I’m in for the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough action.”
Brand of jeans:
“Paige and Denimocracy”
“I love my freaking Daisy Rock guitar. It is so cute.”
Favorite place to perform:
“So far, it’s been Bardot, in Hollywood, just because it’s, there’s no stage, and you’re just in everyone’s face, and you just crowd surf around. It’s so fun.”