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A Spotlight Interview with Sylvia Rose Novak

A new album release from Sylvia Ros Novak bares an incredibly honest and up-front approach and a cinematic and vast undertone that blends realism and edgy pop rock feel that borders on alt-rock and really shines with anthemic energy and impactful choruses that stick in your head for days on end.

The A Miss/ A Masterpiece album is brimming with a deepening inner soul feel, like it all came from someplace real and genuine. Like she had to make this record to survive. To get all these things off her chest and out of her head. Like it's therapy. And maybe that's what it is to artists like Sylvia. Maybe you can't help but create the things that call to you.

Her performance is not just passionate but all in, every single time. She puts everything she's got into her vocal performance and her heart is out there for everyone to see the whole time.

She's got this almost late 90's rock touches here and there and it makes you think of bands like Live for example. Songs that have that rock from that time period and with that really soulful and unique singing.

This record has so many payers and so much impact that it's engulfing. And it's best to just let it happen. Roll with it and see how it feels. You'll see just how relatable the songs are and how they make you feel.

This album does indeed make you feel. It makes you think as well.

This is best listened to in its entirety as well. There are plenty of gems but as an album, it's almost like a concept record. It's got that pull and it's such a gracefully woven and performed record.

With the release of this album, we wanted to have a chat with Sylvia to find out where this all actually came from and what may be next for her. here's what happened.

RAG: Okay so let's start with the A Miss/A Masterpiece album. This record has an amazingly powerful undertone to it! Where did this album come from?

I wrote the majority of A Miss/ A Masterpiece between May and November of 2020. My fourth album (aptly named BAD LUCK) released in May 2020 and, while it was received well, ultimately ended up lost in the fray of the early months of navigating COVID-19.

Knowing that being unable to tour to support BAD LUCK was going to set us back career-wise was crushing. Writing has always been one of my main outlets so that’s what I did. I know, I know - that’s what everyone did. But I wrote and self-edited. Scrapped half a dozen songs. Saved the stand-outs. And started recording A Miss/ A Masterpiece in a professional studio in late August 2020. I wrote some of the songs during the span of recording and even rewrote the majority of “Man I Used to Be”, lyrically, in the studio. I care a lot about the way a record flows. No two songs should sound or feel exactly the same but everything should work to create one solid block of music that makes sense and is engaging.

Being stuck at home offered me a lot of clarity about the type of music I was making. How I really felt about it. Etc. I’ve always listened to rock and experienced my pre-teen/teen years in the early 00s emo boom. In High School, I went to hardcore shows and wore studded belts and converse.

With A Miss/ A Masterpiece I wanted to break away from the Americana genre in a big and pointed way (for a lot of reasons that will step on a lot of toes if I list them). So, I set out to make a record that was my spin on the music that I love to listen to the most.

I was also really really angry (and really really sad) when I made this record. Not like a volcano or an earth quake, but like a seemingly serene river that is actually full of piranhas. Everything bad was well-hidden under the surface and I channeled it into these songs.

RAG: So how did this all begin for you? When did you fall in love with music really?

There’s a picture of little (3 or 4 years old) me, somewhere, holding my mom’s acoustic guitar in my lap and staring at it with an unusually soft look on my face. I think I’ve furrowed my brow since I was old enough to entirely control my facial motor functions. I used to sing as an infant. Not words, but sounds. Especially when I needed a diaper change (apparently, I’d sing instead of the standard crying that most babies do - I’ve been weird from birth).

At age maybe 8 or 9 I started taking piano lessons. When I was 12, I signed up for middle school band - I played Trombone and did that very successfully through High School. My parents have a video of my senior year marching band solo on VHS. - and started taking electric bass lessons that same year. My mom also had her acoustic guitar (the one from the photo) set up and gave it to me as a Christmas gift the same year. From that point on, I learned and studied a myriad of different instruments just because I could. My band directors and music teachers were not only encouraging but also engaging. They also didn’t accept mediocrity from students that they saw as talented and I - who, believe me, was maybe one of the top 10 but not remotely the most talented student in that program. I had high school band mates who were composing whole symphonic scores on piano and writing them on staff paper when we were teenagers - was pushed from the jump to always be a better musician than I was the day before.

In the world of songwriters, sometimes - sometimes - people look down their nose at anyone who isn’t self-taught, but I firmly believe that my musical education is what really grew my love for music and is what has kept me so engaged with music as a whole. I also feel like it really helps me create and produce more interesting arrangements than I would otherwise. “Man I Used to Be” is a polyrhythm! I never could have written that song in that way if I hadn’t spent years playing classical scores.

RAG: Who is in your headphones right now?

Paramore - the whole Brand New Eyes album, Coheed and Cambria - specifically the song “Feathers”, the podcast “Maintenance Phase” - a very raw but very smart podcast that deep-dives and debunks fad diets and the like. I am obsessed. And, uh, Ghost. I have been on a big Ghost kick lately.

RAG: What inspires you to write a song?

I’ve often made the joke that I’m just a passenger and the songs write themselves, which mostly feels pretty true. It can be anything from a phrase that slams itself to the front of my brain for no obvious reason to a prompt given to me by my best friend (Meredith, if you are reading this, I am currently out of ideas).

Lived experiences, news headlines, a slogan on a cereal box, a tv show, a bad haircut, the particular color of the sky at 4pm on an October Thursday - all of these are things that have plucked a song out of the ether and sloshed it around in my brain until I could straighten out the words enough to dump them onto paper.

RAG: I'm hearing some great styles on this song. Who are some of your biggest musical influences?

I take components of everything I love as my influences. From another singer’s phrasing and breath patterns to the overall *energy* of a song. I’d say that lately I’ve found myself pulling bits and pieces of inspiration from Jimmy Eat World, Paramore, Dashboard Confessional, Royal Blood, Fall Out Boy, Coheed and Cambria, and Foo Fighters (always).

RAG: What are you doing when you're NOT working on music?

I’m training for a half-marathon right now. I’ll run it in October. I’ve completed 7 half-marathons but the last one I ran was in 2013. So. We’ll see how this goes.

I also teach yoga and horseback riding lessons. I train horses, too. I’ve got my own little horse, Rowan, who’s all over my Instagram account. I used to be solidly an equine professional and compete in eventing and jumpers. Now I just ride for fun and have a handful of clients.

RAG: Would you say live performances are a big part of what you do?

They used to be a much bigger part of what we (as a bassist, I always play as a full band) do. We’re slowly but surely figuring out what makes sense and kind of just matching the live entertainment industry step-for-step. Everything we do is deeply calculated. It looks like next year will see us getting back to a near-normal number of live performances and little tours (fingers crossed).

RAG: This album feels like a big undertaking, is there any advice you'd give to other up and coming artists out there?

Self-edit. Not everything you write needs to be put to tape. It’s better to have a few stellar albums with a full band than a dozen mediocre albums of just you and an acoustic guitar. On that note, record in a studio with an engineer. Money can be an issue, I know, but you can find someone who will work with you at your price-point. I recorded my first two albums for nearly free because I have awesome friends who believe in me. Find your people.

I saved some money and recorded my third album at a slightly higher-end studio. Then my fourth and fifth at an even higher-end studio. The last two singles that we tracked were at the nicest studio I’ve ever worked in. It is a process but wait until you can do things as professionally as possible. Self-editing, realizing that not everything you have to say urgently needs to be heard, can help with that.

RAG: What can your fans expect from you in the near future?

More rock and roll, for sure. Hopefully a super ridiculous music video. More live shows! We’re talking about tracking my sixth album at some point next year, too, so you can probably expect that in 2024.

RAG: Before we go, what would you like to say to fans of the music?

Thank you, endlessly, thank you.

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