Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Nova Local - 1967 - Nova 1

Nova Local
Nova 1

01. $5 a Ticket 2:55
02. If You Only Had the Time 2:20
03. Yascha Knew Deli Intimately 0:35
04. A Visit From It, the King 1:15
05. Tobacco Road 6:35
06. Hitch Hike 2:50
07. Morning Dew 5:33
08. Forgotten Man 2:19
09. Dear Jimi 0:45
10. And I Remember 2:13
11. John Knight's Body 2:12

Randy Winburn (vocals, guitar)
Phil Lambeth (guitar)
Joe Mendyk (guitar)
Jim Opton (bass)
Cam Schinhan (keyboards)
Bill Levasseur (drums)

The Nova Local was a band created in 1964 by five students attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The story of the Nova Local is one that upon first hearing seems far-fetched, but in the realm of cult music, comes off perfectly normal.

The Nova Local cut their performing chops playing for fraternity parties around the campus of UNC and local clubs around town. When bassist Jim Opton's fraternity sponsored a charity event - booking Chad and Jeremy, a popular English folk duo to perform at the university - Opton needed a band to open the show. Opton figured he would get his band, The Nova Local, to perform based on their reputation around campus and because they were "cheap."

The only part of the deal that brought Chad and Jeremy to UNC was for Rob Heller, who worked at William Morris Agency which worked for Chad and Jeremy, was to come and listen to the Nova Local play.

Heller signed the band right after the concert and they were put in contact with producer Elliott Mazur. According to an interview from Oldish Psych and Prog Blog, bassist Jim Opton said, "We got a recording contract with Decca, I don't know how, but Rob put that deal together with Elliott, and the next thing you know, we are in the studio with all kinds of famous people that had us in awe for the first 35 seconds or so."

In December of 1966, the band was invited to New York to record their first album primarily based off their performances around the Chapel Hill area. Very few bands in the history of music have been signed to a record contract after one performance, especially after a performance at a college show.

"I do know that somebody thought were kind of special," said Opton, "because the studio was absolutely closed to visitors while we were there and we were not allowed to take home raw tape to play for anyone."

The album, Nova 1, was released in April of '67 to almost nonexistent fanfare, but, overtime, like any great cult artifact, has gained in popularity considerably since than.

It's sad, really, that the album was not recognized when it was first issued because the music contained within is actually pretty good. The album is a prime example of the burgeoning psychedelic music that would dominate rock music in the latter half of decade. But don't be fooled by misconceptions of the acid-rock scene or by the trippy, drug-induced, cartoony cover.

The sound still hangs on to that raw element many college bands possessed, but after I listened to the record for the first time, I was stunned by the maturity of how the band sounded. There is a confidence and originality in arrangements of certain songs. Take a listen to their cover version of "Tobacco Road," a song about growing up in North Carolina.

The arrangement is brave when you compare it to the original version sung by The Nashville Teens, or even the popular bluesy British band The Animals' hit single, and the Nova's version is far superior than the Jefferson Airplane's studio recorded version, a extremely popular psychedelic band in 1967.

Nova 1 is one of the first albums to feature a predominate fuzz bass on songs, a technique made popular with The Beatles. The album contains some fantastic guitar tones, especially on the opening track "$5 a Ticket," where the sibilant guitar chords add a grungy feel, lending to the garage band sound.

But just like any great thing, it too shall come to pass, and after the album was released, The Nova Local disbanded and disappeared into obscurity forever. It's a shame that such a promising band with a fairy-tale story didn't fair well in the music business, but then again, maybe they're better for it. Maybe they would have recorded another album, another failure, and then become just another has-been band. Instead, we're left with a golden nugget of an album, one that creeps from the shadows every so often and receives the recognition it deserves.

1 comment: