Gay singer/songwriter Joshua Novak brings musical mastery to Underground Music Showcase
July 24, 2012 | 12:00 am
(Updated: February 25, 2013 | 3:17 pm)
By Greg Toland
Joshua Novak’s music is like a buffet of time and desire. Taking on ’90s college rock guitar with a ’70s glamrock swagger and harmony, Novak’s songs deliver an infectious sonic aesthetic, while lyrically confessing the roller coaster of heartache. Novak will perform at 9 p.m., July 20 at Moe’s Original Bar B Que, 530 Broadway, as part of The Denver Post’s Underground Music Showcase and is releasing a new album later this year.
We sat down with Novak to discuss being gay in the indie scene and his insistence he is not a folk singer.
Your songs have a clarity and directness – I imagine you must have been at this a long time to get to this level.
I’ve been singing since I was a kid: I wrote my first song at eight. And I feel I’ve taken for granted that I’ve always known what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t realize this until a couple of years ago when a bunch of my friends were graduated from college, but they weren’t using their degrees. There was this sense that they didn’t know what they wanted to do. And for me, I’ve always known since I was a kid.
I imagine that can be isolating. Finding your passion in life is part of what your 20s is all about: you skipped all that years earlier.
Absolutely. And since I knew what I wanted, I never moved, I’ve never had wanderlust, I’ve never gone and searched the world to find what I wanted, because I knew, and I wanted stay in one place and cultivate my music.
What were you listening to as a kid?
I was obsessed with “Thriller” back then, and Tears for Fears, The Beatles, Elton John. Pop stuff like that. I always wanted to have my own album, and when I made recordings I wanted to make them official, so I would write liner notes and make pictures and even hand-draw the little copyright symbol.
I don’t think that’s legally binding.
No. [Laughs] <!–nextpage–>
You said you never wanted to leave Denver — yet for many young, ambitious musicians, they’ll typically leave their hometown for L.A., New York or Nashville. What kept you here?
When I was younger people always urged me to check out places like that. But I also had an equal number of people who had gone to those places and were either not successful, or came back and said “why did I leave? I could have done all that here!” And I was getting recognition here; that was what I wanted and it was already happening.
Do you feel that the Denver music scene is cohesive enough to support what you want to do?
Yes – for now. I don’t think that places like L.A. or New York actually have “music scenes.” They have good exposure – if you can get it – but they don’t have a scene. When those guys from The Photo Atlas came out to one of my shows and they were like “oh, this is so great! In L.A. there’s no scene.” There’s either the big stadiums or there’s Denny’s. There’s no Blue Bird or Hi-Dive, or people playing in each other’s bands. There’s the really big places or there’s nothing – you either do that or you don’t play.
It seems like in L.A. bands often get sold in a package. Do you feel that some times gay musicians will be packaged and sold with their sexuality at the foreground instead of their music?
I remember reading an interview with several “gay bands” playing the True Colors festival at Red Rocks – and I remember thinking: there’s nothing other than the fact that they were gay that is supposed to make me want to listen to them. It was like, lets get in this little market with Cindy Lauper and a big tour and play Red Rocks. When it’s too focused on those types of things it’s not about the music. You should like it because it’s good, or hate it because it’s bad.
Or like when people will support local bands just because it’s local.
Yeah. Or all kinds of stigmas. Like this one guy who came up to me and asked me about my music, and he said “oh, I’m not really into the singer-songwriter thing.” He assumed that’s what I did because I’m billed as just Joshua Novak. He thought I sat on a barstool like James Taylor. There’s sexuality stigmas and songwriter stigmas. People don’t think they’re doing it, but they do; all this stuff that has come before carries over in their heads. I feel like I’ve fought that for a while, and people are just coming around to the fact that I don’t play folk music.
Or just because you’re gay you have to be like the Scissor Sisters.
Exactly. And I’ve worked a long time in Denver to establish who I am and what I do, and I don’t want to give that up right away and start over again. <!–nextpage–>
It feels like this generation has a broader view of what it means culturally to be gay. It doesn’t have to be feather boas and disco music – it can be domesticated and integrated into society.
Yeah. I feel like there was a time when there was a “gay kit” you were handed, and you were told what to like. But now kids are growing up feeling comfortable with who they are, and families are more supportive; whereas before people were on the fringes of society – and they overcompensated by liking the worst mainstream stuff. Now a lot of the younger generation can get in to the indie stuff.
Your kickstarter campaign for the new album was quite successful: how is recording coming along?
I’m almost finished. Probably just a day or two more to go. My last album, Dead Letters, took almost five years to finish; I was paying for it in chunks, and lost certain band members. And I still love it, but there was no momentum to it: when it arrived it was barely breathing. But now I had the funding and could keep the momentum going; and it feels really fun and fresh to me.
It seems that having kickstarter really changed things for you. Many bands seem to view it either as a DIY community medium, or a cheap way to beg for money.
On the surface that was always something I was concerned about. But in the end people are not only buying a personal reward for themselves, but they’re also investors. It’s so cool to me: not only the money, but having those conversations with people who support me. People were reposting it on Facebook, and it was taking on its own promotion; everybody I knew, knew about it, or had seen it. It makes you feel reinforced.
Online at http://joshuanovakmusic.com