There is a stretch of road that runs through the Adirondack national park, just a few miles of houses and barns and truck stops and trees, that makes up Woodgate, New York. But just off from this road is a rough track that leads down to a lake, and a beach, and a cluster of old buildings. “And that’s where I spent my summer,” says Ali Lacey, better known as Novo Amor. “On a really deep lake with a dock surrounded by tall evergreens.”
That summer was five years ago now. But for Lacey, it remains a pivotal moment in his life and his music. Employed as a music teacher at a summer camp, he spent his days holding classes among the pews of an old chapel. “It was otherworldly,” he says, and the details are still keen in his mind: the bats that found their way into the chapel lanterns at night and in the daytime cast strange silhouettes against the walls; the scent of fresh pine; the unexpected greenness of that land. “It’s a really serene place,” he says. “It’s so far from anything that at nighttime you could lie on the grass and look up and see so many stars you didn’t know existed.”
It was that summer that a lot of things changed for Lacey. He put away his interest in rock and heavy metal and film scores and began listening to what he describes now as “Music with a lot more emotional depth than the music I was listening to before.” He fell in love with a girl, and suddenly he found that “as predictable as it sounds, a lot of songs started meaning a lot more to me, lyrically.” And he realised too that the relationship he began by the lake in Woodgate was in some ways as much about a place as it was about a person. “Going there, and then coming back from it is something that has played on my mind for five years,” he says. “How that place changed me. It did feel like a turning point in my life.”
When he returned from America, it was to a period of uncertainty. With no job and no plan, and his relationship now over, he moved back in with his family in Wales, back to his old bedroom, taking a job in an ice cream parlour and spending his free time writing songs. “I felt I was going through a massive state of change in my life,” he says. “I’d finished university and didn’t know what I wanted to do other than make music. So it was kind of a lack of direction that led me to writing songs. The name Novo Amor means ‘new love’, and it’s really cheesy in hindsight, but it reflects exactly why I started the project - because I was lost and I needed to find a new love, and I just put it all into making music.”
Lacey had been playing music since his teens, and had studied music technology at university with the intention of writing film soundtracks, but the idea of being a songwriter was new to him. “All the music I’d made before was orchestral scores,” he explains. “I’d never really written a song with lyrics just on the guitar before.”
His early efforts he dismisses as painfully emo, but in 2013 he volunteered to write the score for a friend’s feature film. “I did it as a favour,” he says, “just because I want to be involved.” For the climactic scene of the film he wrote a song he called ‘From Gold’, conjured unexpectedly late one night when he returned from his shift at the ice cream parlour. “What I liked about it was that the whole song was one crescendo,” he explains. “It’s a building piece, but it had delicate subtleties on the guitar and vocals which bring a bit more of an emotional element to it. Though it’s just four chords repeated over again for three and a half minutes, it’s the simplest thing, and simplicity is key sometimes.”
‘From Gold’ seemed to unlock something in Lacey, and he began writing a collection of songs he would release as the ‘Woodgate EP’ the following year — songs inspired by his time by the lake in upstate New York, that were tender and honest and lovestruck.