Nova :: Midnight, Midnight and the beauty & frustration of Winnipeg

by Darcy Penner

Of the many ways one usually expects a band to form (from the ashes of previous bands, high school friends jamming with beer stolen from their parents, the side-project that was only supposed to be about fun, etc.), Nova’s inception has a unique flare to it: a release for workaholics bonded by their love of, and commitment to, Winnipeg. That, and two-thirds of the band didn’t really play their instruments.

“We all think about in the future leaving this town on bad days,” explains vocalist and guitarist Greg Macpherson, “but most of the time… we’re committed to trying with all of our hearts to make Winnipeg a better place.  And so that’s how we sort of found commonality.”

In 2008, Jackie Hogue wasn’t in a band, and was not a drummer.  However, when Macpherson’s solo tour schedule slowed down, he called her up to play some music based on a belief in Hogue’s instinct for the instrument. After playing some tunes Macpherson had written but didn’t have the proper outlet to perform, they decided keyboards would fill the songs out best. “Jackie knew I played the piano and they asked me to join,” explains keyboardist Molly McCracken. “As Jackie and I were somewhat new to our instruments we grew slowly, learning together.”

Macpherson chuckles when he thinks back to asking McCracken to join Nova. “She laughed, ‘Well yeah I guess so. I don’t have a keyboard,’” he recalls. “But I had one, and so she came and she started playing.” Obviously things went well, as the three piece releases its debut full-length, Midnight Midnight, on October 9th.

The initial intention for the project was simple enough. “There were no thoughts of playing shows or recording. It was more just, ‘Let’s get together, we’ll work on some songs, and learn to play,’” says Macpherson. But the insatiable drive and energy of Nova’s members led the band to far greater lengths.

“We all really like playing music together, and it was a natural progression,” explains McCracken. Commenting on both his band mates’ and his own energy level, Macpherson says, “Molly is very similar [to me] – lots of energy, ready to go. Jackie’s incredibly smart and organized, so things get done and they are just really focused and organized. They show up to practice with beer and cookies!”

Finding time to finish a full length is a difficult thing to do, especially when your band is comprised of exceptionally busy individuals, all of whom hold what students refer to as “important, real jobs,” and are involved in various other community initiatives.

Hogue is the executive director of the West Central Women’s Resource Centre. Macpherson is the executive director of the West Broadway Development Corporation. McCracken is the former executive director of the West Broadway Development Corporation, and is currently an analyst for Manitoba Health. Within the bunch you will also find a record label, articles for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, nominations for food security initiatives, and membership within the Harvest Moon Festival organizing committee (for starters – we’ve only got so much print space).

Midnight Midnight was recorded over two years at various locations, including Mid-Ocean School of Media Arts and Prairie Recording, where Macpherson’s label-mate Cam Loeppky mixed the album (Disintegration Records).  “He’s really exceptional,” boasts Macpherson. “He’s at a place in his life where I’ve recorded and done stuff with a dozen different engineers now and he’s the best by a long shot. He’s really world class.”

The album will be released by Disintegration Records on October 9th, with a release show at Ace Art Inc. on October 19th. Venue choice was important and specific, explains Macpherson; “I think that rock n’ roll is better suited to… dirty, run down places where the ceiling might fall down. I really appreciate music that doesn’t have all the angles covered… I like rock n’ roll when you don’t know the possibilities – [it] could go right off the rail at any time. Venues lend a lot to that experience. We wanted to try a place a little smaller—we have control over it and it’s an art space.”

Nova says that the themes of the record reflect the group’s commitment to Winnipeg, and explore the balance of both beautiful and deeply difficult experiences that consume their lives and work. “Life is hard for lots of people in our city and living here you can’t help but see the struggles people face everyday to get by,” says McCracken. “We all want good things for our friends, family and community but it can be so hard to realize these. The music is a place to put these feelings and that energy.”

Macpherson sees this as a bonding point for the group; “The thing that sort of got us all together is a sense of justice. Kind of working on our community. We’re really invested here in Winnipeg, and have been for a long time. We’re committed with all our hearts to make Winnipeg a better place.”

“Winnipeg has this crazy juxtaposition of frustration and ugliness,” continues Macpherson, “but it is a beautiful ugliness. It’s a very special place, because of these, you know, failures. The foundation it’s built on is so shitty in some ways, like genocide, and colonization, racism, classism, conflict. That’s our foundation. And so I think that speaks a lot through the music everyone makes in this city, somehow.”

We at Stylus have had the album for a few weeks now, and can attest to its quality. Its anthemic choruses are interlaced with catchy keyboard hooks, all resting on top of driving, straight-ahead drums and the haunting guitar work Macpherson delivers so well.

When asked what drives them to commit what precious free time they have to the project, the band members almost describe it as a need. “Playing together makes us sane and sometimes a little insane! It helps us channel our energy into something that’s ours, is healing and we have a great time in the process,” explains McCracken.

“I love being busy, and I have no problem making time for anything,” says Macpherson, as the question reminds him to flip over his phone to check the time. “I’ll squeeze in a half hour right now, even though I have a board meeting in an hour. Actually, I do gotta go.”

Be sure to check out Nova’s CD Release show on October 19th at Ace Art, 290 McDermot. Doors are at 9 PM and music at 10 PM for $10. Keep your eyes peeled for copies of Midnight Midnight in local music stores.

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