NOVI, born Carolyne Neuman, has been destined to make her mark in the entertainment industry since her days of musical theater in her hometown of Ashland, Oregon. After moving to Los Angeles with hopes of beginning a career in sketch comedy, NOVI found her way into the music industry with help from fellow musician Lee Miles. Her choice to throw herself into music was a wise one not only for the talented songstress, but for fans of true musical talent as well. Her eclectic mix of quirky pop, electronic ballads, and rock is nothing short of amazing and is a breath of fresh air in an often stale industry that is plagued with cookie cutter acts. This beautiful songstress is poised to make a huge splash and deserves your complete attention. Steve Johnson of Icon vs Icon recently sat down with NOVI to discuss the genesis of her career, her influences, her debut EP ‘Now I’m Here’, and when you can get your hands on her new material.
First off, I want to give our readers a little background on you. How did music first come into your life?
It kind of was always a part of my life. I grew up doing musical theater in Ashland, Oregon, which is where I’m from. I was really into comedy and acting at first, but then I got into the musical theater part of it. I loved performing. When I moved down here initially I was going to try to get into the sketch comedy world. At that time I met Lee Miles who produced my last EP, but he also does everything for me. He’s kind of like my right hand man. Once I met him I played on this old demo. He was like, “Gosh! I think we can do something with this!” For some reason, just being with him, we have a magical quality about what we were doing together. He inspired me. I inspired him. We started writing and I was like, “Wow! This is something I can really do! It’s so fun!” It just started from there.
Was it the love of performing that drove you to make music your career or was there something else?
I’ve always loved being up on stage and entertaining. That’s always been my passion. I never really expected it to be in the music world, but I feel like I can do that. All of the songs that I write come from me, so when I’m performing them I feel like part of them. Especially now because I’m doing some more funky upbeat stuff. That makes the live show so much fun because I liked to get people riled up and I like to get in people’s faces. There so much creation involved in that. I just realized that I’m creating music, so I can write anything I want and put any message I want out there and it can be received by the mass public. It’s cool that you can do that. Whatever I’m feeling or whatever I want to put out there.
Who would you cite as your greatest influences?
That’s a good question. Imogen Heap. It was so cool that she did all of her own production and everything. Her music was always very lively, earthy, and had so many different components. I like how she stacks the harmonies to create that sort of electronic sound. She influenced me a lot. I go on iTunes and see what’s happening on there. Whatever hits me. Sometimes I listen to Eastern influenced music and I love the way that feels. Tribal drums. I don’t know. There’s so many different qualities about different artists that I like. Florence and the Machine right now is probably my fave! I love her! It really depends. There’s not one particular person that changed my world or something like that.
Tell us a bit about the genesis of your stage name NOVI.
Well what happened was… My name is Carolyne Neuman. I kind of wanted something that was just a little funkier or a little poppy. We were like, “Novis would be really cool, meaning new.” Then I was like, “NOVI is kind of short and cuter!” So we went for that. We never really knew if it was going to stick or not or if we wanted to keep it. Now I feel like its sort of become the project. It’s sort of our band name and also sort of my artist name. It stuck pretty well. People call me NOVI and other people call me Carolyne. So, it works!
Your debut EP ‘Now I’m Here’ was released in October of last year. For those who might not have had the chance to check it out, how would you best describe it?
It was my first ever EP. It is an eclectic mix of genres. I have some really quirky pop on there. Then I have a couple of electronic ballads. There’s also a couple of rock tunes. I was really trying to figure out what my sound was and I wasn’t really on a particular path with that. We were just creating music. By the end of that I had enough songs to put out an EP and I thought, “Hey! Let’s just stick them all on here and see what happens!” It’s very random. The live show is kind of random too. Now I’m learning so much and I feel like for the first time I sort of have a vision on what I want. I also want to make it a little more cohesive because I think it’s hard for people to… They like all the songs separately. I’m kind of finding my path a little bit more.
How was the EP received by the general public and critics?
It seemed to be received very well. I didn’t have a lot of marketing behind it. I’m not with a label or anything, so we just threw it out there into the universe. All of the reviews and stuff were great, but it never really picked up in any big way. I’m still hoping that some of the tracks from that EP will kind of rise again because there’s some really good stuff on there. I feel like it deserves to see a little bit more and I think it will.
Tell us a little about your typical songwriting process.
It really depends. For the most part my favorite place to write is up in my bedroom. I have a small studio up there. Mostly I’ll just get the idea for a hook. For this last single ‘The Ad’ I was just singing “pick me up by my bootstrap, pick me up by my bootstrap.” I liked that concept and then I just sort of started building from there. I use GarageBand. I’ll just start singing something and then I build from there. With this particular song, ‘The Ad’, it was Easter and my producer was at this Easter party. I was sitting at home writing it and then I sent it to him when I was finished and he put it on the loudspeaker at the party and played it for everyone. I went over there a little bit later and everyone was like, “Oh my god! I love that song! It’s so awesome!” They’re jamming out to it and its literally a GarageBand demo. Of course we went and produced it fully. A lot of time Lee will come up with an idea also. He just starts rolling with it. He has programs and he just starts making these beats. He inspires me. I inspire him. So it normally comes from my bedroom or when we’re putting our heads together trying to come up with something.
I was actually going to ask you about your producer Lee Miles. Do plan on continuing to work with him in the future?
Oh yes! He will always be in my life! He the most creative guy I’ve ever met in the music world. That’s no joke. His musical know-how and his ability is unreal. He plays every instrument and he can just come up with ten part harmonies in his head. He’s also my best friend. We will be partners forever. We will always be creating music together and separate and everything.
The song ‘All the Way’ was featured on ‘One Tree Hill’ and ‘Blackbirds’ has been successful. What are your feelings on those achievements?
It’s amazing! After ‘All the Way’ was on ‘One Tree Hill’ I was inundated with the most beautiful messages and emails and comments about how that song really got people through hard times. I was like, “Wow!” I had no idea the impact you could really have on people’s lives through music. That was a beautiful thing and so much fun. ‘Blackbirds’ is just completely different, on the total other spectrum of all that. I think part of my purpose is to bring levity into people’s lives. Things can get so serious. I don’t really believe in that. I want to put out stuff that is honest, but makes people laugh and makes light of things. I feel like ‘Blackbirds’ is just a gem of a track. It’s kind of a novelty song, but I want to keep pushing that out there because it’s so catchy. I have people come up to me all the time singing pedal me back. It’s one of those you can’t get out of your head, which I love. I think there’s a lot of success to be had that hasn’t yet, but I’m so thankful and proud of the things that have occurred.
You shot a video for ‘Blackbirds’. What was that experience like for you and would you do it again?
Oh absolutely. I actually went out to Florida and shot one of the videos. I have two ‘Blackbirds’ videos. They were kind of dueling. The first one was sort of really making light of the song and was kind of fun. It was very literal. We had bicycles and we were pedaling back and forth. After the video was done I was like, “I don’t know if that is exactly what I wanted to depict in the song!” So then, for no money at all, we went and found this guy on Craigslist. We reshot the video in a day and sort of made it a little more about the concept of the song, which was wanting to be back in my hometown and then when I was there wishing I was back in L.A. It was kind of a more realistic thing. That one didn’t go over so well either, but it was kind of fun to have two very polar opposite videos for it. I love shooting videos though. I think that’s the most fun thing ever! I could do one every day!
It seems like you had a really good time on the version with the bikes!
Oh yeah! We really did! So many people showed up. We were in this small town in Florida and everyone wanted to be a part of the project. It was so cool. We had all of these people there. People were sitting out on their lawns watching us and wanting to be a part of it. It was so wonderful!
You mentioned new material. Are you continuing to work on that? If so, when can people look forward to getting their hands on it?
Yeah! Absolutely! I’m definitely going to be releasing an EP sometime in 2013. I have three or four more tracks that are ready to go. I’m going to write a little bit more. They are all super sassy, upbeat, sort of in your face. That’s kind of the path I’m on right now. Kind of like ‘The Ad’, but a little bit more funky and out there. It will be a very fun EP.
What do you consider the defining moment of your career so far?
Oh! Good question! You know… There isn’t one particular moment! I guess… Let’s see…
No pressure! [laughs]
Honestly I don’t know if that moment has happened yet. I feel like I have a long way to go! [laughs]
That’s actually a pretty good answer. It’s a good change of pace from what I’m used to hearing.
Yeah! Right! There hasn’t been that particular thing. I know it will come. I know it will happen. Hopefully it’s good! [laughs]
I hope so for your sake! [laughs] You have been playing some live shows in the L.A. area. What has that experience been like for you?
To be honest it’s been a struggle for me. I get stage fright. I get really nervous. I feel so much pressure. For some reason when I get up there all of the inhibitions go away. They come in a little bit, but I do feel at home up on stage. All of the stress involved beforehand is so worth it in the end. It’s been great. We have just sort of thrown the show together. My biggest goal is that people go and they have a good time and they feel that they are a part of the music and they have fun. When I go see live music I want to go have fun and I want to feel like I’m being influenced in one way or another. Whether it’s getting emotional, elated, or what not. I try to bring all of those aspects into the show. By the end of the show I want people to be throwing their hands in the air and singing along with me. It’s a work in progress. I’m by no means a professional up there yet! I’m really still working on sounding like the record. It’s just me and Lee and I have a few guys in my band. We go to rehearsal and just try to work it out to see what we think people want to hear. I’m trying to evolve and I want to bring some people in to help me get the set so tight because it’s all over the place. I’m a big improv person. I’ll just start talking about something random. Sometimes the band is like, “Oh my god! This girl just needs to shut up!” They will just start playing the next song. I get a kick out of being up there. I like to talk to people.
Any plans to expand your live shows beyond the Los Angeles area?
Absolutely! It’s my dream to do a national tour. At this point we are not quite ready for that. We’ve never been outside of L.A. I have a lot of people in the Portland, Oregon area. I think we will probably do a little bit of a west coast tour initially and then expand from there as things pick up.
What do you hope people come away with after listening to your music?
All of our songs are very different. I just want to speak my truth in whatever I put out there. I feel like when you do that, the song makes sense to you or you understand it. We all have these universal truths and they all make sense to everyone. I want people to understand the music and take it for what it is, whether it makes them feel happy or excited or what not. With this new stuff coming out i want to uplift people. I want to get people smiling.
Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to get involved in the entertainment industry?
Keep at it. Just keep working every day. It so much like a game of who is going to stay in the longest and really keep pushing. It doesn’t happen overnight and you just have to know that you’re in it for the long haul if you want to make something happen for real.
Is there anything else you want to let your fans or the general public know before you go?
I’d like to say check out Boomphones. We just did an ad for them. They are this awesome headphone brand that’s new. They are just a super cool product and I want to blast them! I also want to thank Amanda Charney over at The Musebox for hooking me up with you guys!
Thanks for taking so much time out of your day to speak with me NOVI! We wish you all the best!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.