Updated: Apr 22
Interview by Stephen Pennell.
The Novus were the last band I saw before lockdown #1 and they were on the crest of an indie-punk wave. Fresh from a triumphant hometown headliner and having shared a stage with their heroes The Blinders, the Stourbridge stunners were looking to the future with unbounded optimism. I got a lift to the Mothers Ruin in the tour van to witness them take Bristol by storm, and cadged a lift home in lead singer Connor Hill’s motor along with guitarist Tom Rhodes and sticksman Euan Woodman. It can be humbling being absolutely, positively, the least talented person in a car, but it was a lovely drive back, full of good vibes following the success of the show and singalongs to Peace on the aux. We all felt the band was on the verge of something big, but you know what happened next. Now they’re back, armed with a Gavin Monaghan-produced EP, a sold-out show at the legendary Hare and Hounds on the event horizon and a steely determination to get back on track. I caught up with Connor and bassist Tyla Challenger for an update on all things Novus.
The pandemic must have been frustrating given you were on fire just before?
Connor: It was really frustrating but we are in a better position than most after the last fourteen months. We were one of the few bands to complete a socially-distanced tour in 2020 which ended a week before Tier 4 was announced in November, and also had the great opportunity to record this EP, Thaleia Standing, just before the first lockdown began. We can’t wait to get this new material out there.
I just heard your new single, I Serve Not, and if anything signifies you're raring to go after lockdown, this is it. Tell me about the sentiment behind the lyrics.
Tyla: It was written around the time of the 2019 UK elections and is an ode to our dilapidated high streets, struggling small businesses and the idea of the working-class community withering away. The hook - "I serve not he who feeds me, but he who's sure I am fed" was very much a reflection of the idea that the potential leaders at the time, and especially now, may provide just about enough shelter and resources to tick boxes, but they don't really care if you're provided for or not. Food banks - run by people like us from council estates - are needed to do that job, but why? They shouldn’t need to exist in the sixth or seventh richest country in the world. The song screams that we have to look out for each other and come together because this is a very strange time. If we don’t then the age old ‘divide and conquer’ will do its job more than it already is. The longer the song has been waiting to come out, the more relevant it has unfortunately become.
What’s the significance of the EP title, Thaleia Standing? Tyla: t’s a bit of cryptic one but we’ll give it a bash to explain it the best we can. Thaleia is the Greek Muse of Comedy and it’s where the famous theatre mask that everyone knows gets its name. If you look closely, you will see the mask buried in the EP cover itself. The thought stems from the idea that a mask must be worn and embodied to even ‘stand’ by itself. This entire EP is a journey through and commentary on the fact that in our daily lives we wear a mask, even when sometimes it can be unhealthy. Be it a mask very similar to ourselves, or something so different you don’t even recognise. We often wear it to conform to what those around us expect from us. If you’re feeling down at a party or function, you’re likely going to put on a smile and pretend - sometimes that’s okay and even necessary. But on a more sincere level, we’re often made to feel like we can’t talk about our feelings, especially with the weight of toxic masculinity, and we really want to break that stigma. You don’t always have to wear a mask - you don’t always have to be okay and talking about it can only help. We touch on that heavily in the second single Castaway and we hope it’s something that can really resonate with people. It’s dangerous to wear any type of mask for too long, you can sometimes become the mask and it’s important to be your truest self. But we’re not here to say when it’s right or wrong; the mask stands alone on the cover and you can take from that what you will. What else lies in store on the EP? Connor: There are four other tracks which take you through an emotional journey of resentment, hate, depression, realisation, optimism and understanding. It has been carefully structured to take you through these emotions and you can really hear them in the tracks. It’s our first cohesive body of work and the first time that we have been so confident in a release. Somebody’s done a great job on the artwork - presumably you Tyla? Thank you, but I wasn’t working alone! Our good friend Max Auberon, who we met shooting the cover for the fashion mag ASBO, shot everything used in the artwork for this. He’s a wiz with a film camera and then as ever it’s myself on the graphics to make the covers. We’ve always previously gone for very graphic-heavy covers but we wanted the photo composition to be the real star in this one, really try to nail it before the photos were taken rather than try to fake it afterwards. Initially the idea was having a wedding-style shot with the whole bridal party in the shot, visibly having fun, while we would be looking like four grooms with little or no emotion on our faces - showing what’s under the mask we speak of. But the pandemic put a halt to that so we ended up sourcing about thirty mannequins from Essex to do the job of what would’ve been people. So that itself is a stamp in time. It was a big task and it wasn’t seeming to go right for a while but for us, being in a band is an art-form in itself and the visual side of that can be just as important as the music, so neither should be compromised. It’s why our bio says we’re “enamoured with every aspect of art”. We think each subtle detail is just as important as the next, so there’s little Easter eggs all over the shop as well. What did Gavin (Monaghan) bring to the table? Personally I’ve always picked up on his innate kindness and generosity of spirit. Connor: Gav is a force of nature. He isn’t just a producer to us, but a friend, and we connect with him on such a personal and spiritual basis. Whenever we take a track into the studio, Gav will really aid with making the track just sound bigger and better. He has a great ear and we love him dearly. The experience of recording this EP with him was a special one and will be with us for life. Tyla: He’s family to us at this point. Every time we enter the studio with him it’s nothing but a positive experience and he helps us out in so many ways aside from production. He’s truly one of a kind and we don’t have a bad word to say about him. Someone once told me that Dodgy didn’t think Good Enough was erm... good enough to be released as a single. The Novus have a similar blind spot regarding your fantastic debut single, Greyscale. Why don’t you play it live you absolute maniacs? Connor: It’s definitely got it’s place in The Novus story, but it’s just so far from what we are now and I think people will really hear that on the release of this EP. We can only describe it as just a change in maturity and we’ve honed our craft so much since. I mean, I think we wrote that one when we were 16/17 maybe? We’re 20 now and even though some songs on this EP are from us at 18 there’s a big difference. Euan wasn’t involved back then either; him and Gav very much make us what we are right now and I think they were missing from the formula back then. Greyscale is actually coming off streaming platforms now but if anyone wants it they can shoot us a message or email and we’ll send them the mp3 for nothing. *sends email* What’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said about you? Tyla: The nicest thing! That’s a tough one. So many people are very nice to us haha. Two come to mind though. Not so much nicest, but one that will always stick in our mind is Caffy St Luce from The Zine UK calling us “Black Sabbath’s art-raged grandchildren” - it’s perfect! And the other actually coming from you Ste, and is still a part of our bio to this day. Calling us “the most powerful thing to come out of Birmingham since the industrial steam engine” is a belter. *blushes* I was hoping you’d say that. Display photo credit - Phil Drury