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An Intoxicating Siren with the Oyster

Simply put by one fan, “When taken live, I compare Heather’s voice and music to a drug putting you in an altered state of mind.”

Remember Mishka, the dreadlocked master of island and oceanic chill who left us thirsting for more with just 10 tracks on his self-titled CD Mishka? His serene, psychologically mature, emotionally blunt, and sensual sister, Heather Nova (b. 1968), flows with melodic and raw talent in her own right. As Felix Tod exclaimed to Heather Nova.Org during her making of Siren, “She keeps writing new songs! There’s an album all recorded, but Heather keeps adding tracks!” That she would have added more to her latest album, the 14-tracked, guitar-driven, earth-imagery laden Siren CD. Tracks 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10, and 13 are my personal favorites. Oyster, however, beholds the true pearl of her musical portfolio: “Truth and Bone.” Oyster, released in 1995, does show the dark side of this easy-going person and strong-willed artist who sings to express emotional reality. The rest of the album has heartfelt grit and in that manner is less transporting than is Siren. Felix, her longtime producer, reflects how “her music… was not [always] as dark as it became during Oyster, although she had already lived through the experiences that would inspire many songs on that album.” Even Heather’s so-called “dark” music, however, flows with ephemeral breath.

Once upon a time known as Heather Frith, Heather Nova’s passion for music and songwriting has continued to back her powerful songs for the last decade. Felix shares what the early days were like: “I met Heather first in 1990. I was a singer in a band, and Heather was coming to my concerts…. She came to London with just a guitar and a canvas bag from the boat. She was living in a huge flat owned by some Bermudian bank, but there was no furniture. One evening we found a roll of cable outside, and that soon became her table, and some crates from Chinatown soon became chairs.”

“Heather played me some of her songs…. the music was folky, inspired by Joni Mitchell and Joan Armatrading, but there seemed to be someone `real’ singing the lyrics, and Heather’s voice was clear. I was intrigued and offered to try and help her record some of the songs on my 8 track… I was living on Welfare at the time, in a house with an alcoholic stripper and an African girl and her beautiful baby, and they were kind enough to let me record in the front room. Heather came to my house to record and played a new song, `Truth and Bone,’ that amazed me. It was exactly as you hear it now in acoustic versions… I was stunned. Her voice has always been great, but I loved the simplicity of that song… I was also very afraid that such a nice person was going to get eaten alive by the music business in London! We talked a lot about Mazzy Star and the Cowboy Junkies, and did some recordings that made the tape her manager to be, Abbo, heard a few weeks later. As we made the tape, I began to get to realize how much more talented Heather was than me!! I just really thought she had something to say.”

“It was never clear that Heather was going to get a record deal or be well known… it seemed like there would never be a place for emotion and for real people in music. The clubbers always had the best parties though… and here was the quietly magical Heather, who was a fan of our band, suddenly becoming a great songwriter!!! It was shocking…it’s not often in life you get to see a talent growing wings.”

Siren, her CD released in 1998, has a Dido-esque sound yet without Dido’s haunted quality. Of the Siren tracks, Dawson’s Creek has featured “London Rain;” “Heart and Shoulder” has debuted on Felicity and in Julia Robert’s Knotting Hill.
This gorgeous woman with a phenomenal voice and an expressively poignant dark side, has recently collaborated with Moby in a piece of musical creativity titled “Straight to Hell.” If emotion has a dimension, Heather Nova embodies it: “I feel there’s this language of emotion that rarely gets spoken. It’s almost as if as you grow up you learn to lie better and better, to be less real. Song writing is a relief for me, because I get to be completely real.”

May 14, 2001
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