NOVENA: Being Playful with Music

Interview with Novena

UK progressive metal six-piece Novena first emerged with the release of an EP titled ‘Secondary Genesis‘ in 2016. Featuring members of Haken, Slice the Cake, SlugdgeNo Sin Evades His Gaze and Bleeding Oath, the group signed with Frontiers Records in October last year and announced the release of their full-length debut ‘Eleventh Hour,’ which has been in the works for a few years.

Guitarist and keyboardist Harrison White spoke for Prog Sphere about the album, the creative process, and more.

Describe the origins of Eleventh Hour.

Harrison White: Some of the initial ideas for Eleventh Hour were written very soon after Secondary Genesis, and almost formed a natural sequel. However, putting together the band and getting SG recorded took a long time, and naturally the songwriting and direction changed over time. Once a few initial ideas were sketched, and we had an idea of the general sound it might have, we started writing stories around a central theme, and then the music developed over several years. It felt like a very natural process, but one which required a lot of patience!

Tell me about the creative process behind the recording, and the ideas that inform the album.

Our process usually starts with me writing out initial stories for the songs. These could be fairly fleshed out, or just a mind map, or even just a motivating image. Then, I’ll develop some initial sketches of songs; these could be anything from a single motif or vocal line, to a nearly finished song. I’ll send the ideas out to the band who will provide feedback, add sections, send me other riffs and melodies they think might compliment what we have, and I’ll use that as fuel to further develop the songs. That process kind of goes back and forth an indefinite number of times until we have something that feels finished. The lyrics will sort of develop concurrently alongside the music – with significant contributions from Ross [Jennings - vocals] and Gareth [Mason - vocals] in particular. Then, once the demos are done, we’ll take the ideas into a room and try to play them, and that will usually throw up several things we hadn’t considered or noticed. I then do a final redraft of the demos to reflect what we changed in the rehearsal room, and that’s what we take into the studio. Still, in the studio – lots of things changed even further. That’s more or less how the process unfolded for Secondary Genesis and Eleventh Hour, but we’ll see how it works going forward!

A lot of Eleventh Hour’s output has very intricate arrangements and dynamic rhythm shifts. Does infusing songs with that level of enhancement come naturally to you?

I love being playful with music, and just exploring interesting ideas with it. I try to avoid writing overly complex passages for the sake of it, but at the same time it’s a largely unavoidable part of the aesthetic of prog music. To me, the story and the song working together are the most important aspects of the music, and therefore everything is there to serve them. If there’s a weird musical tangent (eg: “Corazon”) or some absurd polyrhythmic nonsense (eg: “Prison Walls”), it’s usually because I thought they’d be appropriate tools to convey a particular story element. Whether it ‘comes naturally’ is a slightly different question – I think it’s the product of the six of us all listening to, and loving, a wide range of music, and trying to imbue our songs with our own musical identity, which naturally is a product of our musical environments.

Novena - Eleventh Hour

What was the most liberating thing about unleashing the album?

I think we were all overwhelmed with the fact that it very suddenly felt real. Where everyone in the band is also busy with other musical projects (Haken, STC, Slugdge, etc…), it’s not like Novena is everyone’s only musical outlet, so everyone has had that experience of working on other bands. Because of that, we had to find time in between others schedules to get all this work done, which is part of why the album took quite a long time to finish! So, the whole process kind of unfolds so quickly but so slowly at the same time, and you never really get time to stop and take it all in. All of the sudden, your CD is on the shelves in HMV, and it all becomes real! It’s been wonderful to see peoples’ reactions to the album. Some of those songs are deeply personal to us, and the warm reception has made it all the more special.

What types of change do you feel this music can initiate?

ii-V-I. Our music isn’t particularly political. I don’t’ see it as being a call to action, or anything like that, and what change it could inspire wasn’t really part of my thinking in writing it. That being said, these are stories about an experience we all share in at some point – death – and the feelings we all have regarding them. A number of the stories come from personal experience, and writing them has been a great source of comfort in difficult times. If someone were to find anything like that in our music, that would feel rather special.

Do you tend to follow any pre-defined patterns when composing a piece?

Story – > Sketch -> Demo -> Development -> Rehearse -> Refine -> Record

It looks something like that! But, naturally, it changes somewhat every time. Every song is unique and should be treated as such!

What non-musical entities and ideas have an impact on your music?

Friendship, love, anger, hatred, parenthood, isolation, togetherness, contentedness, desperation, depression, joy, loss, guilt, remorse, regret, power, powerlessness, drug usage, drug addiction, drug abstinence, religiosity, humanism, letting go, holding on, forgiveness.

What advice or philosophy might you impart to other musicians, be it in forms of creativity, technical stuff, the business side of it, or anything else?

Never underestimate the power of daydreaming.

Eleventh Hour is out now and is available from Frontiers Records here. Follow Novena on Facebook and Instagram.

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