In and around Syracuse, Jess Novak has made quite a name for herself. She is one of the strongest voices in music Journalism with her work for the Syracuse New Times, but it’s her passion for performing music that is bringing the 28-year-old notoriety.
So many musicians and bands are often labeled as eclectic, but Novak, who is half of the Golden Novak Band, truly fits that billing, melding blues, rock and roll, pop and rhythm and blues with hints of improvisation to form something that you need to experience to understand.
“There’s a lot of great musicians in Central New York,” Novak said on April 28. “We try not to stick to just pop or blues; we play everything. And we’re weird! I sing boy songs; Golden plays his heart out. I just think we’re different.”
Novak plays her violin on many songs, and busts out her acoustic Alvarez on others, while taking the share of lead vocal duties. Brian Golden, the fleet-fingered fret master who has been playing guitar for 24 years, provides a bluesy sound with his instrument and gritty voice.
The pair will be joined by pianist Mark Nanni (of popular Syracuse blues outfit Los Blancos) and drummer Phil Leone this Saturday, May 9 – when the group comes to Crossgates Mall for a gig at the World of Beer. It’s a free show that begins at 7 p.m.
In late 2013, Novak released her first album, titled Bad Habit, and it consists of 11 original songs that feature her powerful voice, ability to craft emotive songs and her chops on the violin. Songs such as Haven’t Found You Yet and Bad Habit translate well to the live setting, where Golden tends to display his talent as a soloist.
Novak said the band has an IndieGoGo campaign out to help fund a new recording, tentatively titled Rodeo. You can help the group get to its $5,000 goal here.
Last August, the pair released their first album, titled The Golden Novak Duo. In support of the release, the pair packed up an SUV, and toured from Vermont to Florida, opening eyes and pleasing ears on an exhaustive tour. Because of this tenacious touring schedule, the band has been booked for a five-night New Year’s run at Margaritaville in Key West after auditioning for the Jimmy Buffet-owned string of clubs.
“We have been really well-received,” Novak said. “There were a lot of bands who didn’t get it, but they seemed to love us. It really has opened up a lot of doors for us and it feels good.”
The band has been playing World of Beer up and down the coast, and Novak said that has helped them grow and become more visible, but won’t pat herself on the back too much.
When asked if the combination of an attractive young singer with a powerful voice mixed with a seasoned guitarist makes the band an easy sell, Novak did not agree.
“No, I don’t think we’re just an easy sell,” she said. “I think people are still trying to figure us out.”
I met Novak when I first moved to Syracuse in 2011. She got me some assignments with the newspaper, and we started jamming together with a mutual friend. We used to play on my front porch for hours at a time, repeating “Friend of the Devil,” “Folsom Prison Blues” and even Phish’s “Waste” among other songs. What struck me the most about Novak was her enthusiasm to keep playing and honing her skills
What I recall from that time was seeing Novak develop a passion for making music that has grown into an obsession. She’s played in Syracuse group Master Thieves and Jess and the Beards in the last few years, and the evolution of her as a musician is easily visible. If you ever take advice from a music writer, take this: Get out and see Novak and Golden on Saturday, before they get really big and popular. Because that will happen.
The group’s dedication may just set the band ahead of others, as they are constantly announcing new shows or hosting open mics in Syracuse or jamming with other local musicians. It shows in Novak’s smile, and Golden’s soloing face.
“For Golden and I especially, we’re always going, meeting new people,” Novak said. “We’re always trying to promote new shows, and that’s a lot of the fun in this. Our live show if fun; it’s just different.
“There are a lot of great musicians around here, but not all of them travel like we do. In the near future, I would like to be opening for a huge act!”