Let me start off by mentioning that it was very difficult to think of how to properly introduce Heather Nova and her music to anyone who may be unfamiliar with her. Since the early 90’s, she has been an artist that I have listened closely to and I’m still astonished that over a decade later, she remains relatively unknown in America.
Nova was born Heather Allison Frith on July 6, 1967 in Bermuda – a place decidedly not known for its rockstars, and her life since has been about as idyllic as her birthplace. During much of her childhood, Nova sailed the ocean with her family on their 40-foot yacht which sailed the Caribbean and was educated by her parents. Needless to say, with no television, much of her time was spent listening to her parents’ record collection.
In her late teens, Nova enrolled to study art at the Rhode Island School of Design, where she created several short films and would compose the musical scores for them using her talent for guitar playing, slowly realizing that music had been a stronger passion of hers than she first realized.
After graduating in 1989, Nova took to her newfound ambition of songwriting and comprised a demo tape of original songs and naively walked into the New York offices of Columbia Records where she simply asked for a recording contract. Predictably, she was turned away, but remained undeterred.
After a move to London to continue her search for a record contract, Nova was eventually discovered by Abbo, a producer for Big Cat Records. With his assistance, they released Nova’s first EP under her original name (which would later be re-issued as the These Walls EP under her stage name).
The next few years saw Nova remaining in England, performing around the London circuit and eventually, the release of her full-length debut album, Glow Stars in 1993. With its release, and through solid touring, Nova began building a strong fan base and soon recorded her first live album, Blow later that same year.
In 1994, Nova was signed to Sony Music and saw the release of Nova’s major-label debut, Oyster later that year in the U.K (it was later released in America the following year featuring different cover). Promotion and heavy touring made Oyster and its first single, ‘Walk This World,’ a moderate commerical success and also became the first taste of Nova’s music for many in the United States.
All of the music that Nova was creating during the early 90’s led up to the beautiful sounds found on ‘Oyster.’ Beautiful, sexy, dark, somber, and bittersweet tones were infused to create a truly breathtaking album. The mesmerizing ‘Island,’ whose siren-like intro is simply unforgettable, is a song which Nova would often dedicate to the memory of Nicole Brown-Simpson and other battered women and victims of domestic violence. The eerie ‘Blue Black’ and epic-sounding ‘Sugar’ also allude to violence and victimhood, but are arranged so beautifully, that it’s difficult to not be taken by the sheer power of the music.
Nature is also of major importance to Nova, and a listener will find that most of her catalogue is built upon an obvious influence of spending the bulk of her life near the ocean.
While touring extensively to promote Oyster during much of 1995 and 1996, Live from the Milky Way, a live EP recorded while Nova was touring through Amsterdam, was released to the joy of many fans. Like Blow, this recording captures Nova where she truly shines, in front of an audience. Though a small release, Milky Way is raw and intense.
Despite a record label re-shuffle, Nova’s appropriately titled Siren was released in June of 1998 and remained true to the beautiful voice and gorgeous melodies that she was becoming known for. Yet this time, there was a subtle change in direction; Siren seemed a bit more polished and less raw, but also slightly more experimental. While songs like ‘I’m Alive’ fit more of the themes found in Oyster, other tracks like ‘What A Feeling,’ ‘Not Only Human’ and ‘Ruby Red’ serve as some of the most refreshing songs Nova has ever written.
Most of the songs on Siren are also considerably more upbeat and accessible than Nova’s previous work. The albums three major singles – ‘London Rain (Nothing Heals Me Like You Do)’, ‘Heart And Shoulder,’ and ‘I’m The Girl’ – found themselves on heavy rotation and on an array of compilations throughout America and Europe.
While in-between albums, a recording of her 1998 performance in Cologne, Germany was later released as Nova’s third live album entitled Wonderlust.
If Siren hinted at a change in direction, South, Nova’s contribution in 2002, was the bold statement. Recorded in Nova’s native Bermuda, South is Nova’s most comfortable and perhaps ‘happiest’ album, full of lighter themes and a more relaxed style. Standouts include the exquisite ‘Help Me Be Good To You,’ ‘Waste The Day’ and the album’s two singles, ‘I’m No Angel’ and ‘Virus Of The Mind.’
Like Oyster, South was also re-released in America with different artwork and the pop-infused ‘Welcome,’ a song Nova co-wrote with Dido and Danny Campbell.
Storm found Nova returning to a back-to-basics format, creating an album stripped down to a guitar and Nova’s sweetly delicate voice. However some listeners may feel this is her weakest album, despite the fact that the songs are well constructed and performed flawlessly. The biggest problem here is that as a whole, the songs don’t quite compare to some of Nova’s more moving tracks on other albums. Still, Storm proves that Nova can be as hypnotizing with an acousitc guitar as she can with a full band.
Nova’s latest, Redbird, was released earlier this year and marks her sixth studio album. Backed again by a full band, the songs on Redbird are predominantly sunny and warm, featuring little to be found of her haunting earlier work. ‘Welcome’ (previously heard on the US version of South) resurfaces on this album along with such notable tracks as the lilting ‘Motherland,’ ‘Overturned,’ and the title song.
Currently, Redbird is available only in Europe or online as an import.
After performing for over a decade, Heather Nova and her music are constantly evolving, each album bringing something a bit different to any ear willing to take the opportunity to listen. With the overabundance of disposable music out there, one can rest assured that the passion in Nova’s songs is genuine.
Nova continues to reside in Bermuda, with her producer/husband, Felix Tod and their young son, Sebastian.