Novo Amor Talks ‘Collapse List’, Neurodivergence, And Self-Discovery

“I recognised myself narrating my own collapse list with things I need to change about my life...”

In the realm of modern indie music, Novo Amor stands out by turning intellectual ideas into ethereal soundscapes. Behind the moniker is Ali John Meredith-Lacey, a Welsh artist and master of many mediums: a multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, sound designer, and producer. Today he releases ‘Same Day, Same Face’, the lead track from his upcoming album ‘Collapse List’, set for release on April 5th. Lacey describes his latest collection of dreamy melodies and vulnerable lyrics “a catalogue of personal growth.” 

Drawing inspiration from Season One of S-Town, a crime podcast from Serial and This American Life, Novo Amor’s latest music mirrors the protagonist’s “collapse list.” Reflecting on pivotal life changes – a relocation from the city to the Welsh countryside, the dissolution of a seven-year relationship, and the discovery of neurodivergent traits – Lacey compiles his “most mature album yet.” While his 2022 album ‘Antarctican Dream Machine’ echoed a message urging society to protect the Arctic, ‘Collapse List’ adopts a more introspective stance. His tracks are charged with a sense of self-possession, accepting the things he can’t change, and taking action for the things he can. 

Below, Lacey tells us about his creative process, collaborations and his evolving feelings about making music, from his countryside home outside of Cardiff.

What inspired your latest EP, ‘Collapse List’, and the songs within it?

Ali: The end of quite a long relationship, moving location, moving house, moving studio, building a studio, and trying to build a space to be creative in and work in took nine months out of my life. Every time I’d sit down and make something, it felt like an elephant in the room. So I just settled into enjoying not making music until the studio was finished. Then I felt that fire again of ‘I want to release some music, I want to make something.’ It all started to turn into songs naturally.

How did this differ from your previous albums? 

Ali: This is the first album I made in a new studio I built. It’s my most confident production-wise, but I don’t think it strays too far from Novo Amor’s sonic values. All the music has been produced and mixed by myself and my friend, Ed Tullett, who’s the only other writer, and he’s co-written a lot of older stuff with me. It’s coming from the same brains. It sounds more mature. It’s the best thing I’ve done, but not the best thing I’ll ever do.

There was a sense of hope that I felt in this album. But I was curious from your end if there were any overarching themes you focused on when making your songs?

Ali: Some of my old music leaned on this self pitying vibe. I don’t really want to do that. There’s still a bit of sad boy music in here. But it’s a bit more uplifting, a bit more upbeat. I’m not purposely trying to shove emotions in there that I want people to feel. I moved to this new location and a relationship of seven years ended as I was in the middle of making the album. That’s what spurred these lyrics to happen. It’s me realizing a lot of these things need to change in my life. Basically trying to action them. There’s a lyric in one of the songs that says “My legs won’t go where my head wants” but the point I’m trying to make [in the record] is that they finally did. 

There’s an athlete mentality or mantra, “mood follows action.” And it feels similar to what you’re saying how you weren’t happy, but took actionable steps to start feeling better. 

Ali: You can’t sit and wallow in things sometimes. I recognize people close to me getting older, going through mental difficulties and not really being able to help themselves and not a lot of people around them to help them. It’s turning their brains to mush by not actually doing anything to try and move on with their life. It causes depression really. Things need to be done from time to time. 

Can you tell us about the collaborative process behind ‘Collapse List’?

Ali: These songs were just ideas I started in 2020. There’s a song called ‘Years On’. I didn’t know what to do with it for a couple of years. I tried to write melodies, tried to make choruses, nothing was happening. I don’t really see myself as a singer/songwriter. I don’t really like singing if I’m honest. So I sent it to Ed to come up with a melody idea for the verse. It spurred me to build a chorus. I sent it to my friend David Grub, a violinist, to cover it in strings. Then I produced it up. 

Knowing that I get the audio back and I can do whatever I want with it, I’m able to follow my own path. It’s about people adding ingredients to the pot and me dictating how much of that ingredient goes in. I’ve never actually been to a real studio and done recording sessions. It feels intimidating to me to be in a room with a bunch of people who do that for a living. I have my own space. I make music in my own time and outsource little bits when I want.

How did you learn how to produce your own music?

Ali: I just got into it when I was 12 or 13. I was just a kid copying his big brother. Creating sound became my main focus and obsession. I left my town to do a college course in music tech and then did a university course for music tech. I did five years of studying and then just kept recording and recording and producing things. I luckily slipped into something people liked and never looked back. Learning how to produce my own music is the best thing I ever did for my music career, or my life. I wouldn’t have been able to do what I do with a studio. I don’t reckon it just wouldn’t have suited me. I’m going to feel particular and anxious. 

What inspired the title for your album? 

Ali: This podcast series, ‘S-Town’. It’s about this guy in this small town in Alabama who’s sure there’s been a murder in this town. He reaches out to this journalist and he’s like, “Hey, I need you to investigate this murder. I’m adamant my town is covering this up, no one’s doing anything.” He’s a nihilistic doma on the fringes of society. He sees himself as intellectual, bigger than the space that he’s at, but he’s never escaped. The series ends up being more about this guy, his quirky intricacies, than the murder case. How strange this guy is, how smart he actually is. He sends these emails to the journalist regularly about things that need to change in the world, or there’s going to be a massive collapse; socially, economically, environmentally. He has ideas about how to fix it and would send the journalist these “collapse lists.” And while making the album, I listened to ‘S-Town’. I recognised myself narrating my own collapse list with these things I need to change about my life. This move, the end of this relationship and learning about myself and potential neurodivergent issues. All these things I need to focus on. That’s what the writing became about, it felt like a really appropriate name.

Yeah, that’s fascinating to hear how you saw ‘S-Town’ as a lens to look at your own life. If you’re comfortable sharing, how has exploring neurodivergence related to you? 

Ali: It’s a fairly new thing for me. I’ve got a lot of friends who have told me in the past, “Oh, you’re very blunt and it’s autistic seeming.” It’s a word people throw around a lot. I’m not fazed by anything in life that much. I don’t feel super high. I don’t ever really feel super low. I’m in the middle quite a lot, which would be quite surprising for people who hear my music and think it’s very emotionally deep. It’s not like music doesn’t mean anything. It does, but I took myself to get an autism assessment over the last couple of months with a psychiatrist to work out, ‘Hey, what is going on in my life? Do I have ADHD? Do I have social anxiety disorders? Do I just have sensory issues with sounds?’ It’s prompted me to learn more about myself as I turn 30 and look towards where my life is going to go and what I want for myself. To really find peace and happiness.

How has your own personal growth influenced the direction of this project?

Ali: I find myself bored of writing on guitar or the piano. I get into old habits and I end up regurgitating the same stuff I have. It’s how I used to write 10 years ago when I was listening to more folky music. So a couple of songs and productions on this record were recycled parts from my last album. I have the piano track of ‘Keep Me’ from the last album. But I dragged that into a sampler, automatically cut it into sections, then mapped it on the keyboard. The keyboard turned it into notes and chords. You let the machine talk for you. That’s how I create melodies for a lot of new stuff. I don’t know what chords I’m playing, I don’t know where I should be going, but it sounds good, so I’m going to use it. It kept my brain active and kept me more interested and motivated. 

It sounds sort of like it was a subconscious way of producing. Do you have a favorite song on this album or one you feel the most drawn to?

Ali: ‘Years On’ is maybe my favorite one melodically. It’s a grower. I didn’t expect people just to be like, “Wow, I love this.” It’s just capturing this quite nice aesthetic and different production vibe I’ve been chasing. Then there’s the one I recorded in Chile in a hotel room called ‘Hotel / Easy Feeling’, which lyrically is my favourite. That one just means a lot to me for reasons I can’t really tell.

How do you feel about the release of your music, now that ‘Collapse List’ is out?

Ali: It’s honestly the most underwhelming feeling I’ve had from releasing music before. I think that just comes with getting older, not being as excited about this stuff and doing it for a long time. I’m stoked for people to hear the album. I’m just noticing the cycle that happens as an artist where you make something, you work on all the marketing and promo, then it gets released, you tour and then you make something and you go around this cycle. And well, I’m back here again. I want some sort of change in my life again. I don’t know what that would be because this whole record is about change and moving. 

What’s next now that your music’s out? Do you have a planned tour? How are you planning on sharing your music? 

Ali: I feel like promoting music is kind of embarrassing, to be honest, as well as playing live. If you’re a singer in a band, there’s probably something wrong with you. If you’re going to stand up in front of people and be like, “Hey everyone, I’ve gathered you here so I can sing at you.” It feels like maybe you’re a bit egotistical. I’m painting with a very broad stroke there. I guess I feel awkward being on stage. Awkward being like, “Hey guys, do you want to listen to this music I made?” But, I’m going on tour.

Well, as someone who listens to your music, I would say yes, they would.

Ali: I’m going on tour in April in the UK and Europe, then again in September and October around North America. Beyond next year, I don’t know. I like the idea of not having looming tours all the time. I’m leaving this week to go to Asia for the current set I’ve been playing, which is for the last two albums. It’s been looming over me for so long. A lot of mental capacity goes into knowing I have to go on tour, knowing I have to rehearse. I can’t move on with my life until that’s done. The last year has been a lot.

Yeah, there’s got to be some downtime in between. That being said, what do you like about performing and going on tour?

Ali: I like to know that I’ve done it when it’s all over. I’m like, ‘that was a hell of an achievement.’ I’m so glad that I managed to push myself to go and do that all touring and play for thousands of people. I can really see the reaction that my music has. I get DMs that mostly don’t get read from people who resonate with the music, how it heals them and helps them get through things. It means a hell of a lot to me, but I can’t respond to everyone. 

It’s hard enough to stay in touch with friends and family.

Ali: Exactly. So it is being able to look into the whites of their eyes and see the emotional reaction that they’re having to the music. It reminds me how important it’s to some people and partly why I do it. Sometimes it feels more real if I’m going out and doing it in front of people. Touring’s a good opportunity for me to hang out with my friends and enjoy being around people, because I live on my own in the middle of the countryside. I like soaking up other cultures and trying food. I always try to get to a city or two I’ve never been in so I can tick it off. I have a Google Maps with all the spots I’ve ever played. It’s nice just to put one new star on there and be like, “Okay, I’ve played there now.” It’s dumb, but maybe it’s something I can look back on and be like, “Wow, that was a cool time in my life. I got to go and do all that.” 

‘Collapse List’ is out on April 5th – pre-save it online.

Words: Sheridan Wilbur // @sheridan_wilbur
Photography: Cristina Suciu // @cristinasuciu

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