Shara Nova says her upcoming My Brightest Diamond album, A Million And One, is all about the body — and dancing. And there are plenty of bodies in the video for its first single, “It’s Me on the Dance Floor,” premiering exclusively below.
“I’m still learning how to have a really deep relationship to dance music and connect to my own body in a different way,” Nova tells Billboard. “So the beginning impetus for the record was, okay, I want to keep exploring the concept of the body, through movement — that’s the voice and the drums and how they intertwine and interrelate.” The combination of a strict religious upbringing in Ypsilanti, Mich., and subsequent classical training also complicated Nova’s relationship to dance music.
“It’s about me establishing a relationship to myself as a dancer — not as a sinful thing that would lead to sexual deviancy, so you dare not move your hips,” she explains. “And then also being a female singer, if I was singing and dancing I would be minimized for my brain and couldn’t be taken seriously as a composers and songwriter. So for many, many years I stopped dancing. I stopped feeling like I could put movement in music and still be taken seriously. Now I’m at a point where I don’t need to be worried how people are perceiving me. I can’t NOT move.
“So in (the video) it’s kind of a ritual through the dance where you come to a place of freedom — if that freedom means being silly and doing a stupid dance at the end of that ridiculous keyboard solo. The point is the freedom to be silly and be playful.”
On the 10-track A Million And One, which comes out Nov. 23, Nova also drew inspiration from her Detroit-area upbringing. The songs feature homages, sometimes oblique, to the likes of the White Stripes (“Rising Star) and Patti Smith on the rock side, the R&B and jazz flavors of Anita Baker (“Another Chance”) and Stevie Wonder, and Carl Craig’s techno (“Supernova”). “It’s just looking at people that meant a lot to me,” says Nova, who also took a more stripped-down approach than on the previous four My Brightest Diamond releases.
“The key for me was that we tried to have no more than four things happening at once,” says Nova, who worked with producer the Twilite Tone (Common, Kanye West, Gorillaz), recording in New York, Chicago, Detroit (where she now resides with her eight-year-old son) and Berlin. “All my past work has been very orchestral with bells and whistles and marching bands and strings or whatever. This time I wanted to focus on the songwriting and force a kind of minimalism. That was a big learning curve.”
Nova will be celebrating those lessons with starting with a run of dates in Europe starting Nov. 21 before returning to North America for shows during December and February. Also on her docket, meanwhile, is a production for 10 choirs and another 10 dance groups — “an opera for a city” — that will take place Aug. 3 in Cincinnati, and she recently received a Knight Foundation Grant for a choir piece about “friendship and race” that will be staged in Detroit.
“I’ve always been the kid who was singing in choir and doing Bach and Debussy and Samuel Barber, and then after school turning on the radio and listening to Whitney Houston and LL Cool J and 2Pac,” Nova says. “I think my records before were me trying to find the ‘unified theory’ for Shara Nova, but right now I’m in a phase where I don’t need to try and bring everything together. I’m more interested in finding different ways and different things to do than in making them all work together.”