NOVEMBER FALL 2021 EDITION
Interview by Isaac Davis, JR, MA, MBA
Answers by Jess Novak
One of the most robust vocals I have had the pleasure to listen to in a long time comes from Jess Novak of the Jess Novak Band. She blends a perfect mixture of pop, soul, and rock to create a sound that will delight music lovers everywhere. I spoke to the talented singer/songwriter about her music and her great background. Novak reveals some fun and interesting facts about her and her music in this delightful online interview. Here is what was formulated for our fantastic encounter.
Isaac: What’s your background? What got you into making music?
JN: I’m the youngest child of four from rural New Jersey. My mom’s name is Melodie, so music is something valued in my family. I started violin when I was seven, but I always felt the desire to create my own music, and I knew it at an early age. I became shy as a teenager, so poetry, music, and performance were ways to express myself.
Isaac: How long has music been a part of your life?
JN: It always has been. But when I started violin and my older brother, Jon, started playing bass, it became central to my life. He exposed me to all of the music I still love most, even now (Jimi Hendrix, Jaco Pastorius, Cream, Kool & the Gang, Led Zeppelin, etc.).
Isaac: If it wasn’t for music, where would you be now?
JN: If I weren’t playing music, I would absolutely be on another side of it. I’ve worked as a booking agent, for the School of Rock, as a radio DJ, and as a music editor/journalist, so it really has and would stay central to my life even if I wasn’t physically performing. That said – I would not be the confident person I am today without it. I remember realizing that I didn’t fully feel like myself until I played with a band and created my own music. I felt lost and like I didn’t know who I was. Short answer – I’d be lost without it.
Isaac: How did you come to realize that music was the way forward for you?
JN: I quit all three of my jobs on the same day in 2012. I was burned out and felt like I wasn’t moving toward anything I really wanted. I hopped on a train and took off across the country on a trip that completely changed my life. During that trip, I realized people everywhere were doing exactly what they wanted to do – no matter how crazy it seemed. Then I realized I could, too. After that trip, I started playing music more seriously and really going for it. That’s when I knew it was the way forward for me because everything else happened naturally. My music career just kept building and growing – with effort, but it wasn’t forced or uncomfortable. It felt like I was finally where I was supposed to be.
Isaac: If you had to sacrifice one skill, which would you least like to let go, and why?
JN: That’s a crazy tricky question! I feel like I’m always trying to gain skills, so the thought of letting one go is complex. I guess my multi-tasking skills because sometimes it’s more annoying than helpful.
Isaac: Who are your biggest influences in music right now? What does their music mean to you as an artist?
JN: I’m a creature of habit. My biggest influences tend to stick with me (Gwen Stefani, No Doubt, Nikka Costa, Led Zeppelin, etc.), but lately, I’ve been loving the attitude and ferocity of Lizzo. Her lyrics and fearlessness inspire me. I like that she keeps turning all of the gender roles around. “You coulda had a bad bitch, non-committal / help you with your career, just a little,” might be one of my favorite lines. That’s the kind of shit men have been saying for years – they don’t want commitment, they can help the woman along – but she flips it right around. I think that is the most badass thing in the world, and I find it so motivating. THAT is female empowerment. It’s a redefinition of what women are and can be, and I am all about that.
Isaac: How would you describe your style of music?
JN: I always say pop, rock, soul, love, but we definitely have a heavy hand in the blues. I get compared to Susan Tedeschi a lot, which is a great compliment, and I think it speaks to the emotion of our songs. Soul and blues are all about expression, so I love hearing that.
Isaac: In what way do you aim to make a difference?
JN: It’s funny that when you start making music, you just want to make it. A lot of your songs are like diary entries, very private and specific to your life. But as you grow up, as a person and a songwriter, your message tends to shift to something bigger. You don’t just want to talk about yourself anymore; at least that’s what I’ve found. I know now that I want my message to be clear: that you can do anything you set your mind to. Ten years ago, I could not have DREAMED of being a professional musician. But I put aside my fears, worked incredibly hard, and made it here – now releasing my tenth album. It doesn’t matter what level I’m on as far as fame or money; what matters is I created my own success.
I do something I love every day and have a lot to show for it. I want people to take that message away and internalize it. That thought of being your best, happiest self-ties in with the whole idea behind my song “Counting on Love” and “people are better than they seem.” If you’re a satisfied person, you’re going to be a more positive addition to society. It all goes together. THAT is an idea that really can change the world. If we all took more responsibility for ourselves, not just to be decent people, but to be happy, fulfilled people – the world would, without a doubt, be a better place.
Isaac: Who’s your fashion icon, and why?
JN: Gwen Stefani. She is such a trendsetter, and I love that it’s not fake or something that happened once she was famous. If you look back on her before No Doubt hit, she was just as daring then as she is now. And she’s constantly changing. I admire people who choose to shed their skin and try something new. I’m really just a big fan of bravery, and she is a prime example of that.
Isaac: What’s the most trouble you’ve ever gotten into growing up?
JN: I had a tough period where I was very lost and very dark. It got me into a lot of trouble within my personal relationships because I was so busy trying to make everyone happy that I was making no one happy. I was betraying myself and others, and that came through in everything I was doing. It was a long process of recovery to get out of that. I know that’s not a typical example of “getting into trouble,” but it’s a real one.
Isaac: Where is your career heading? What’s the vision?
JN: My career is heading towards stability. Again, as you get older, your goals shift. When I was younger, I wanted to tour the world, be everywhere and maybe even be famous. That is very low on my goal list now. I’d rather have a very comfortable life at home where I can share my music with the world without necessarily being gone 200 days a year. I want to focus on alternative revenue sources (sync licensing, movies), and I even wrote a book this year. When you’re young, you want to be everywhere. Now, I’m happy with my life and want to shape my career to support that. That means fewer shows but better, more manicured performances.
Isaac: I love your response, and your accomplishments are remarkable. Thank you for sharing with our readers.
Isaac: How do you put words to paper? What’s your creative process like for you?
JN: It’s my favorite thing to do. For me, it’s all about opening up and letting it happen as if I’m a radio receiving a signal. Usually, I find inspiration in a word or phrase and then feel this incredible need to express it through a song. The rest just falls into place like puzzle pieces. I find chords and a melody that matches the mood; the other words come together as I realize the story I need to tell, and then I get to bring it to the band and let them amplify all of that. I get to create one thing and then watch it grow unbelievably as everyone lends their talents. It’s really the most beautiful thing.
Isaac: When it comes to performing, what’s your style?
JN: Genuine. I cannot stand performers who are fake or canned. I don’t understand its point, and no matter how good the music is, I’ll want to leave. I would rather a band fall off the rails than play every note ideally but without personality or emotion because that, to me, is art. I love crowd interaction, smiling, laughing, even messing up because it’s when you take those big risks – that the magic happens. If nothing else, I’m a genuine performer.
Isaac: If you could perform anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
JN: On a beach. One of my favorite things I do is called “Sunrise Live.” I play from the Jersey Shore when I’m there every summer. I watch the sunrise, play songs, and go live, and I cannot think of many things better than that.
Isaac: What’s your favorite project so far, and why?
JN: This answer is always in line with whatever I’m doing at the moment. “A Thousand Lives” is doubtlessly my favorite band project because it really shows off the band’s ability to collaborate. EVERYONE who played or sang on this album changed it amazingly. It’s that synergy that comes through, and I feed off of that. However, I also love the electronic solo project I’m doing now because it’s so different. I’ve never done an electronic album before, so the idea that I can sit in a room with my producer and we can literally create any sound we want is really overwhelming. It’s been so much fun to experiment with that.
Isaac: How do you see your sound evolving in the next couple of years?
JN: I’ve been taking vocal lessons for the past year and seeing drastic improvement, so I plan to keep pushing myself vocally. I want that to become more and more of a hallmark of my sound. I also see the band melding more as we move forward together. I already feel it with every show – less hesitation, more comfort. That only comes with experience. I also see more electronic projects just because it’s so fun to really push the boundaries of what I have and can do. I love that experimentation.
Isaac: Who are your biggest musical influences? Would you say you’re at all like them?
JN: There are so many, but Gwen Stefani, Nikka Costa, and Jimi Hendrix shaped me completely. Gwen and Nikka’s soul-bearing lyrics, power, and straightforward style have always amazed me. And I’ve always loved Hendrix for the way he changed music. You can’t deny those riffs. They’re gold. I try to internalize what they’ve all taught me, but it’s a tall order. I definitely hear Gwen and Nikka in my lyrics, and I emulate Gwen when I do push-ups on stage, so I am like them in some ways.
Isaac: When driving, is there a specific track that has you blasting the stereo with the windows down?
JN: Honestly, I love audiobooks, so if you catch me in the car, I’m probably blasting a Stephen King book, ha! However, some past musical favorites have included: “Stand Back” Tedeschi Trucks version from the Gregg Allman tribute show. “Woman” by Kesha. “Cover Me Up” by Jason Isbell. “End it on This” and “Tragic Kingdom” by No Doubt. “Therefore I Am” by Billie Eilish. There are so many. I’m the kind of person who will listen to a song over and over and over and over again.
Isaac: Which artists do you think you would harmonize best with your style?
JN: Susan Tedeschi. We just go to the same places with our voices.
Isaac: If you could collaborate with any artist, who would it be and why?
JN: Gwen Stefani because she is my hero.
Isaac: If you had to switch bodies with another artist, who would it be and why?
JN: I’d love to be Gwen for a day, but I like being myself. I’ve got everything I could have ever dreamed of – a great band, I get to perform with the man I love, and I get to come home to my guy and my dogs every day. That’s happiness.
Isaac: Shameless plug time; promote yourself….
JN: I like to bring people positivity and empowerment through music. If you want that – give some songs a listen.
Band’s Official Website: https://www.jessrocknovak.com/
Isaac: Final thoughts…
JN: I’m so grateful to be here answering questions like this. Thanks to everyone who has supported me over the years, through purchases, by coming to shows, listening to music, watching on Twitch. All of it. I sincerely hope you love “A Thousand Lives” because that record means everything to me. Thank you.