Formed following the completion of its self-titled, debut album, the Syracuse, NY-based Golden Novak Band features guitarist/singer/songwriters Brian Golden and Jess Novak (the latter also on fiddle), and keyboardist, Mark Nanni. Released in August 2014, The Golden Novak Band finds the core trio of Golden, Novak, and Nanni seamlessly blending a number of musical styles including blue-eyed soul, Americana, blues, and rock.
All Access Magazine publisher Debra Stocker recently interviewed the group, who are currently on tour (BG – Brian Golden; JS – Jess Novak; MN – Mark Nanni).
AAM: How did the Golden Novak Band come together?
BG: Jess and I first met and performed the summer of 2013 with the Syracuse-based Master Thieves, which I had been a member of since 2008. That fall Jess was kind enough to include me on her debut solo album, Bad Habit, and she joined Master Thieves around that time. In the months leading up to the recording of The Golden Novak Band (in June), we were playing more and more shows as a duo; planning and booking tours of Vermont and the East coast (to Florida and back north); and we both felt it was time to move on and try something different. We booked studio time with our good friend Jeff Moleski at Moletrax East in Syracuse and brought in friends Nick Andrews and Randy Heuer (drums and percussion, respectively), and bassist Paul Puzzollo, to fill out the sound.
JN: I was (still am) a music journalist in Syracuse, NY. I got to meet a ton of musicians by writing about the music scene and eventually sat in with a few bands including one that Golden was in. We first shared the stage in July 2013 when I sat in on a few songs and I instantly knew that I wanted to play with him. His energy was so infectious and I immediately connected with him among a stage full of musicians. I was working on my solo album at the time and had him come in to record on it. We started playing together more and more often and eventually started bringing other players into the fold. When we started booking a southern tour (we started booking in the spring of 2014 and went on tour for a month, September-October 2014), we decided we needed a CD to represent where we were musically. The Golden Novak Band was born when we went in to record in June 2014 and it’s my favorite formation to play with.
AAM: Musicians aren’t usually crazy about categorizing the style (genre) of their music, but it does help gain new fans that might be curious about your band’s sound. That in mind, what’s the music of Golden Novak Band like?
BG: It’s hard to categorize the band because it’s such a blend of styles … blues, rock, Americana, blue-eyed soul, funk, jam … it’s all incorporated in some way and I think the album is a good representation of that. We all have our individual – and shared – influences, and all of that comes into play as well, I think.
JN: I typically tell people blues/rock, but I really love our blend of genres. When you listen to the album, probably one of the most striking things about it is the range of styles we touch – blues, rock, alternative, funk, singer-songwriter. We write and play songs that range in style from James Brown to Adele to Bruce Springsteen, but that’s what naturally comes to us. However, I will say that at the base of it all is a ton of soul in absolutely everything we play, no matter the genre. We play soul music. The feeling, the depth of the songs, the fact that we really mean what we play transcends genre.
I think another huge part of our sound comes from our backgrounds. Golden is a blues machine and I’m a classically trained violinist. We’re also both singers by default who have really grown into our voices. It’s amazing to watch it all come together and form its own thing, and that’s only perpetuated when we bring the rest of the band in.
AAM: So many topics, so little time. What topics were swimming at the top of your thoughts when you wrote the songs that appear on the new album?
BG: So many … love, loss, friendship; dreams, memories, hopes and fears … There’s simply a lot of emotion that went into the writing and recording of this album. I’m always commenting that I love the way the album “breathes,” and I like to think we really made these songs come alive in the studio. That’s all about heart and soul and emotion; you can’t have real music without those things. Most every song I write comes from the same space inside, whether the song happens to be happy, sad, whatever. As for “Let It Shine” and “Chasing,” those tunes tell a story. It’s very personal and yet I love to hear people relating those songs to their own lives, how the music takes them to a different place or time. That’s what music is for, really.
JN: That depends on the song! But I definitely take a page from songwriters like Gwen Stefani who really wear their heart on their sleeve. I don’t hide anything (which is even more apparent on my solo album, Bad Habit). That said, a song like “Rat A Tat” is about being totally infatuated with someone and excited by something as simple as holding their hand or kissing for the first time. “The Phone” was inspired by a single text from someone that said, “I thought to call, but we don’t need the phones,” because we felt so connected. “Hands On” is just a dirty funk tune talking about the excitement of a new relationship and inspired again by a phrase from the same person (“I know we’re playing this game of cat and mouse…”). And “Good Enough” is just a bitter break-up song very directly aimed at a guy I wasn’t “good enough” for. Every song for me is about an actual situation that transpired recently and it’s funny to see how some of those situations have played out.
AAM: You’re on tour now, how’s that going?
BG: The tour has been an amazing experience. It’s a time-warp for the senses, really
AAM: What’s the music scene like in Syracuse, New York, where you’re from?
BG: I grew up in nearby Norwich, NY, and moved to Syracuse a little more than a year ago, but over the years playing there I’ve come to appreciate the sense of community shared by Syracuse musicians. There are some truly inspired players in ‘Cuse and a number of venues where I absolutely love to perform … Dinosaur BBQ, Shifty’s, Empire Brewing, the Bull and Bear Pub … the list goes on and on. I guess I just felt humbled by the warm welcome when I finally made the choice to move to ‘Cuse. That feeling is priceless.
JN: Well, to be fair, I’m from New Jersey and I’ll never pretend I’m not proud of that. I went to Syracuse for graduate school at Newhouse (Syracuse University) and loved it so much I stayed. This matters especially because I fell in love particularly with the music scene. There is such pride among the players in Syracuse and SO many truly exceptional musicians (like Mark Nanni, keys, who we were lucky enough to snag!). I’ve never seen so much talent so concentrated and so naturally. It’s not Denver or Nashville where players flock to be part of the scene. Syracuse is just naturally full of great players. We’re spoiled. That said, the scene is really rich for a city the size of Syracuse. I wish there were more places to play and more types of venues, but all of that is changing as more entertainment is available for free and from home. I’m definitely a firm believer in the power of live entertainment though. That will never die. There is nothing like being physically moved by great music.
MN: I was born and raised in Syracuse, and I was aware from a very young age the presence of great musicians here. But it wasn’t until I became old enough to begin visiting other places that I realized the disproportionate number of them concentrated here as compared to other cities. This realization continues today. I have been playing music for a living for 20 years with Syracuse as my home base, and I continue to discover musicians here who blow my mind whom I’d as yet never even heard of. It seems impossible, but I assure you it’s true. And then one has to consider the wave after wave of youngsters coming up behind us with such rich talent. It never ends.
AAM: If you weren’t musicians, what other profession do you think you’d be?
BG: After 24 years I don’t think I have a choice! I still enjoy writing, as I was a reporter and then managing editor for my hometown paper. I spent 15 years selling and installing carpet with my father, a job I loved (and still love when I get a chance to kick some carpet for friends or family), although it’s tough on the body. I guess I’d probably be doing something music related regardless. Probably a radio deejay or something.
JN: I’m actually still a freelance journalist and I’m primarily a music journalist (writing about musicians, reviewing CDs, previewing shows, etc.). I’ve written for publications spanning Relix, Beyond Race Magazine, The Huffington Post, International Musician, Making Music Magazine, The Syracuse New Times, CNY Woman Magazine and more. I also do some PR work for a company called the Haydenfilms Institute, which I firmly believe in. I’m a words person. I like to write whether it’s song lyrics or a feature story.
AAM: Where do you predict the band will be, say, five years from now?
BG: I’d like to see us writing and recording, touring and performing full time with my dream version of the band, adding a permanent drummer and bassist to the core trio of myself, Jess and (Mark) Nanni. I’d love to see us add some horns someday, maybe a percussionist. As long as we’re playing I’m pretty content, but I’d obviously love to see us succeed in a big way. It’s amazing to me how far we’ve come in a year. In five years? The sky is the limit, I guess.
JN: My goal is to make music full-time so I can really put all of my focus into it. That said, being a musician is hard in 2014, because it’s usually not the focus. You have to book, promote, advertise, etc. – on top of doing other jobs (for me, journalism). I hope in five years from now, we’ll be touring with a full band and be able to focus completely on being musicians, honing our craft and getting better with each and every show. My dream has always been to change the world. I have no intention of shying away from that goal and I think it’s so possible through the universal language that is music.