Earlier this year, she released her first EP, “Loved By,” almost all of which was written and recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic. On the project, Nova Rose delves deep into themes of isolation, self-love, self-medicating, and substance abuse.
“Each track for me is like a moment in time where a specific event or a group of events that I’ve gone through as a person,” she told HangTime. “A lot of my songs hint at someone who’s a bit more anxious or a bit more insecure or unsure of themselves. I think the themes in my music really speak to our generation [because] there’s a lot of anxiety in our generation and there’s a lot of insecurity in our generation.”
Despite these struggles with mental health, for Nova, creating music is healing. “I always say that writing sessions are like therapy sessions. We go into them and it’s kinda like, spill your heart out, no judgement, say whatever you want.”
As part of our Women in Music & Mental Health series, we spoke to Nova about authenticity, anxiety, the pressure to create, and talking openly about our feelings—even if that still feels taboo.
HangTime: To start, I just wanted to ask about some of your responses to the screening questions that we sent you. Thank you so much for answering those, by the way.
Nova Rose: Yeah, no worries!
HT: So, we asked about how other people’s art has helped in your healing process and you said that it’s given you comfort in knowing you’re not alone, and I was just wondering if there are any artists in particular whose work has made you feel this way and what it was about those works that had this effect on you?
NR: Yeah, there’s definitely been a lot of artists that have inspired me over the years in that realm of, like, feeling better, not feeling alone. I would say Lady Gaga for me was a huge role model. I absolutely love her, I love her music. She’s very authentic in the way she writes and expresses herself and I was super drawn to that as an artist. And that’s kind of why I love her music, I think it’s super authentic, super emotional. She really just speaks her truth and I love that about her in particular.
HT: Amazing. Do you feel like authenticity is something that you find yourself drawn to in the artists that you find comfort in more than anything else?
NR: Yeah, I really like when I sense that authenticity from an artist, whether it be through them posting on social media and just feeling like I’m connected to them or through their music and their lyrics. Authenticity for me is like a huge thing and a huge factor in why I like certain artists.
NR: Yeah, for sure.
HT: Do you find that it’s a priority when you’re creating and you’re writing music and making music? Do you find that you are always trying to keep that in mind with how the music is gonna come across to other people, if they’re going to sense that same authenticity from you?
NR: Yeah, of course. I think in sessions, it’s really easy to sometimes forget about that and I always try to either write it on a piece of paper or somewhere on my laptop, like, “stay authentic to yourself.” So yeah, I always keep that in mind when I’m writing new music or working with new people. I think it’s really important because I think people appreciate that, too, in music.
HT: For sure, yeah. So I’ve been asking all the other artists in the series about this notion of relatability when it comes to writing music, especially when you’re writing about struggles with mental health, and how obviously it’s great when someone can connect with the music that you make but I was wondering, do you find that when you’re writing music, your main priority is to be relatable and to try to have people connect with your music? Or do you find that you write for yourself and then if it does happen to connect with someone, that’s great, but it’s not the first thing that you’re thinking of?
NR: That’s a really good question. I think I usually write for myself ‘cause writing for me is very therapeutic and I write about how I feel or what I’ve gone through so I always start obviously writing by myself and then if that relates to someone, like, great, you know? I would never force something [just] so I could be relatable. So I definitely write for myself first.
HT: So you released your debut EP, “Loved By,” in June, so congratulations on that! Very exciting.
NR: Thank you!
HT: In the press that you sent for the EP you noted that, “we are in a society where speaking about our feelings is still taboo, yet each of us expresses ourselves and puts our love out into the world differently,” and you also said music is not your only way of putting your love into the world but it’s your greatest tool of expression, which I thought was a really beautiful sentiment.
NR: Thank you.
HT: I was wondering why, for you, music has become your greatest tool? What is it about creating music that makes it easier for you to express your feelings despite this taboo that you mention? What makes it easier to, as you say, “put love out into the world through music,” rather than anything else?
NR: I think throughout the years and growing up with music always super almost omnipresent in my household, it became very—like music was a comfort, very comforting—and the way my family just expresses ourselves is always like, “oh, check out this song,” or like, “do you know this song?” And that was our way of being together and nurturing our relationships with another. So for me, music just became that. It just became something very comforting, how I express myself. So that’s just how I think I see music: it connects people on a different level than just even a conversation.
HT: So not even just your music, like any music that you love, that’s a way for you to connect with people, to show people new music or even just to listen to music together?
HT: That’s beautiful!
NR: I think it’s great, like even concerts, I’ve met so many really cool people at concerts, being in the audience. And some of my best friends, I met at a Lady Gaga concert. It’s just crazy that music connects people like that. I find it really cool.
HT: You also said in the same press release that “these tracks were written within the wider context of the mental health crisis that we’re living through” and I was wondering if you could elaborate a little bit more on that statement and how the tracks relate to this crisis.
NR: Yeah, so each track for me is like a moment in time where a specific event or a group of events that I’ve gone through as a person or heard other people talk to me about—like sometimes my songs aren’t only about me—so a lot of my songs talk about, I don’t wanna say “anxiety” to generalize it but I would say a lot of my songs hint at someone who’s a bit more anxious or a bit more insecure or unsure of themselves. I think the themes in my music really speak to our generation of like—there’s a lot of anxiety in our generation and there’s a lot of insecurity in our generation. And it’s something that I find is still taboo, personally, to talk about with some people, they’re not as comfortable talking about how they feel. So, that’s how I kind of see that.
HT: Absolutely. Kind of on that note actually, I wanted to ask about the single and title track, ’Loved By,’ because you said that there is a bit of a deeper meaning behind it and that for you, being an anxious person like you were saying, that you forget that there are so many people who love you for who you are so the song was like a reminder to yourself but also to everyone else of, you said, “our inherent worth.” And I was wondering what it was like to collaborate with Josh Sahunta, who co-wrote the track, on a song like this that’s so vulnerable and so personal.
NR: So my collaboration with Josh, singing-wise, that was my first ever, quote-on-quote, “duet/collab.” I’ve written obviously with other people but this was the first time I was writing with someone who was also singing on the track. So it was a super interesting process and we didn’t think at first that he was going to sing on the track. I was actually just supposed to sing alone and then I just felt like, “it would be cool if you sang. I think it would, you know, make the song fun and people would like that.” I’ve never shown that side of me, doing a duet. And as for the theme behind the song, I think at first it started a bit more superficial in terms of: you meet someone at a party, you go home with them and fall in love, but it’s that weekend love type thing. And then when we really thought about the lyrics, I was like, “people could relate to that story but I think it’s also a nice reminder to know that you’re not alone, especially during COVID, in the pandemic, like you’re not alone.” I feel like a lot of people felt alone during COVID so it became a reminder to listeners and me and Josh that we’re not alone in the world, there’s people that love us. And if not, we love our listeners. So you’re loved by us, if you feel like you have no one else.
HT: That’s so sweet.
NR: That was kind of where it came to at the end of the session.
HT: Yeah, that’s so lovely.
NR: Thank you!
HT: Of course! There’s another song on the EP called ‘Need Me’ where the lyrics are: “I don’t need anyone/I just need me/Dancing with myself in the mirror/Wipe those tears so I can see her,” and I was wondering if you see this song as sort of thematically connected to ‘Loved By’ with the self-love message.
NR: Yeah, one hundred percent. I wrote ‘Need Me’ before ‘Loved By’. I wrote ‘Need Me’ when I was feeling a bit anxious and really just down and not myself. And I was kinda trying to find things to make me feel better whether that be hanging out with friends more or going to a party or really anything. And then I wanted to write a song ‘cause I had realized in that moment that I should be comfortable enough being alone with myself and at the time I wasn’t. So I wanted to write this song as a reminder that it’s okay to be alone, it’s okay to love yourself and have fun with yourself. Even if it’s scary sometimes, if you have negative thoughts going around, you have this song to remind you of that. At that point, that’s where I was mentally so I just wanted to write about it.
HT: Totally. Another [song] that was a standout for me was ‘Walls’. It deals with pretty heavy themes, substance abuse and self-medicating seem to be pretty present themes in the song. I was wondering if you could speak a little bit to that and what that song means to you personally and what it was inspired by.
NR: Yeah, ‘Walls’ for me was a song about, first of all, being trapped at home during the pandemic—I wrote it in the midst of the pandemic—but also feeling trapped within yourself. I’ve gone through that, and I feel like when people go through that, they wanna self-medicate and find whatever cure will make them feel better, whether that be a substance or binge-watching Netflix, really anything self-medicating. So I wanted to just write about how I felt trapped in that moment. I did write that song with Josh as well and it was a hard song to write. Usually, I would say, when I write with Josh it’s super quick and easy but this one took two or three sessions to finish just ‘cause we wanted it to really make sense. Like, ‘Walls’ is a very—if someone just read the title I feel like they wouldn’t get it but when you listen to it you realize it’s a bit more than just about a wall. You know?
HT: Mhm, yeah, of course.
NR: *Laughs* Yeah, so that’s why we wanted the lyrics to speak volumes.
HT: Yeah, you wanted to communicate it properly, right right right.
NR: Right, exactly.
HT: So we’ve sort of touched on this a little bit, but I’m really interested in [knowing], how does writing about your experiences give you more clarity on them? Do you feel like you learn and gain understanding about your experiences and then start writing or do you feel like writing about your experiences helps you to understand what you’re going through and confront what’s going on?
NR: Yeah, I think it’d be the latter, like writing about it makes me understand what I’m feeling and then kind of confront it.
NR: I always say that writing sessions are like therapy sessions. We go into them and it’s kinda like, spill your heart out, no judgement, say whatever you want. And that’s what I love about working with other artists and producers, it’s like everyone’s so open to that and there’s never any judgement. It’s so nice, you know? It’s like what is said in the studio stays in the studio and everyone knows that. So yeah, I think I express how I feel when I get to the session and then I just write about it, and that helps me kind of get clarity on, “maybe I’m feeling this way for this reason” and then it helps me get through it, for sure.
HT: Yeah. So the series is primarily focused on how creating music can be really beneficial to your mental health as an artist and how the process of creating can help artists heal, but I’m super interested also in the flip side of that. I’ve been asking everyone in the series if creating has ever had a negative effect on your mental health in any way, whether it be the result of feeling pressure from external sources or from yourself to create on a certain timeline or at a certain pace, or even in a certain way that doesn’t feel right or natural to you. Do you ever feel that way, that it has a negative effect on you?
NR: For sure, I feel like it’s really easy to get caught up in wanting to, let’s say, write a song everyday or do x amount of sessions per week. I went through this in the beginning of the pandemic where I was just doing a session everyday and it was super fun while I was doing it but once I stopped a bit and took a step back I realized I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to do that. I realized it’s okay to wanna not do a session. I feel like sometimes as musicians, we’re like “well write or die!” You’re either all in or out, so I think it’s important to ground ourselves as musicians and artists and realize that we can have a balance. We don’t have to do music everyday. And I don’t think that means we don’t like music or are not meant for the industry. So there’s definitely that pressure there.
HT: For sure. ‘Cause I’ve heard some of the artists that I’ve been talking to, they’ll say very similar things that you’ve said in that sometimes putting that pressure on yourself can make—like you were saying, writing is almost like a therapy session and putting that pressure on yourself and forcing yourself to do it everyday, do a session everyday, turns that into work—I mean, to a certain extent, it is work, it is a job—
NR: It is. Yeah, exactly.
HT: But it takes away from that therapeutic element. It takes away from how it is supposed to be a positive thing.
NR: Yeah, and I think as artists, we’ve glamorized overworking and “the hustle.”
NR: And in 2021, it’s not cool to say you are burnt out because you chose to write five songs in a day. You know what I mean?
NR: It’s not “in” anymore to only do “the hustle.” It needs to be a balance for your mental health, one hundred percent.
HT: I realized I didn’t ask about one of the other responses you gave to the screening questions but when we asked about a moment where creating has helped you overcome something, you mentioned that throughout COVID, you felt that music helped you a lot because “feeling alone and not being able to do as much, music was always there,” and I’m wondering how it was different to create during the pandemic when you had more time and when things were so crazy in the outside world. How different was that than during normal times?
NR: It was super different because I found myself, like I said before, writing a lot more and doing a lot more sessions and working with a bunch of different people. I feel like before the pandemic, virtual sessions weren’t really a thing.
NR: At all. Like, maybe sometimes, but not really. People were super opposed to it. I remember I would message people in LA, “let’s just do virtual,” like I’m not coming to LA for a few months. And they’d be like, “sorry I don’t do that.” But now, with the pandemic, it’s not really like we had a choice. So I definitely worked with so many different people during the pandemic. People were just so willing to jump on a Zoom call and write which was really cool and it turned out well. I wrote the whole album during—well, not the whole but most of it during the pandemic. So it worked out really well, in the end.