Sylvia Rose Novak Shines on New Track 'Arkansas': Exclusive

Sylvia Rose Novak
Wade Allen

Sylvia Rose Novak

Sylvia Rose Novak's new album is called Bad Luck. But the Alabama singer-songwriter-bassist is actually celebrating some "great luck that I got to make the album I wanted instead of just settling for something."

The 10-track set, whose pensive "Arkansas" is premiering below, certainly fits the adage of "if at first you don't succeed..."

Novak recorded an initial version of the album, then titled Luckiest Alive, last year in her basement. But when she got the master recording back from the engineer, Novak was dismayed at what she heard. "I called him and said, 'This is terrible!' and he said, 'That’s the best I can do with what you gave me. I'm sorry'," Novak recalls. "They sounded like basement tapes. It just felt really wrong. So I scrapped it completely."

Novak's next move was to approach Brad Lyons about redoing the project at his Boutwell Studios in Homewood, Ala., where she took a three-piece band, five new songs and an entirely different attitude about what the album should sound like.
"This time I was like, 'OK, no acoustic instruments, nothing on this album that you don't plug into an amp except for drums,'" recalls Novak, who wrote all of the songs herself except for Bad Luck's title track, a collaboration with guitarist Kelen Rylee.

The flavor of Bad Luck remains largely country, but the sound is raw and full and the tempos are mostly upbeat. "I've always loved rock bands and rock music," says Novak, who's steeped in jazz and also plays fiddle and pedal steel. "My own stuff for awhile was kind of light and fully and folky and the Americana thing. But it never felt authentic and I could never get my feet under me in that scene. This time I decided I'm gonna do whatever I want to and make the record I want to listen to and not what other people want to listen to."

The spacious and delicate "Arkansas" -- the only song that doesn't include bass -- stands apart from the rest of Bad Luck, however. "That song was always going to be on this record even though it's a little bit softer," Novak says. "Arkansas" “was always going to have pedal steel; I was adamant about that." The song had been receiving a good reception live, but capturing it in the studio wasn't easy, Novak says.

"There was always something lacking about it, for me," she recalls. "I made my poor drummer probably play 20 different things on that song, coaching him what to leave out, what to put in. I got really nit-picky about the percussion. Finally we landed on something really unusual, and that ended up being perfect."

Bad Luck, Novak's fourth album, comes out May 8, though like everyone else she's unable to hit the road to promote it because of the pandemic. Rather than lament her fate, however, she's looking at the situation as "a cool opportunity" to start working on a next album.

"We can definitely put focus on a new batch of songs -- that feels safe and accessible," Novak says. "I'm one of those people who dumps a song out in 10 minutes, and if I hate it we'll never do anything with it and if I like it we'll keep it and build on it. I've probably got five or six now that I like enough to point towards another album. If I can have 10 to 12 songs by later this year that's probably a good jumping-off point for my fifth album."

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