40 Years Later, Aldo Nova Still Out To Prove He’s No One Hit Wonder (INTERVIEW)

Imagine a teenage girl in a room filled with posters pinned to her walls, calling the local radio station on request night and asking them to play a song called “Ball & Chain” by a new singer named Aldo Nova. Fast-forward to 2022 and that former teenager is talking to that now seasoned artist about that long-ago song. Funny how life works out sometimes.

Aldo Nova came seemingly out of nowhere back in 1982, when his debut album began selling like hot cakes and the single “Fantasy” was on every radio station. He toured with rockers like Sammy Hagar and released two more albums before the 1990’s rolled around. He worked with Jon Bon Jovi on the Young Guns II soundtrack, wrote some hit songs for Celine Dion and Blue Oyster Cult and won a Grammy. But then he sort of fell off the music world’s radar.

Nova acknowledges that he knows the music business people don’t really know who he is or think he’s grown haggard over time, his vocals and guitar playing not what they used to be. But he has a surprise for them and it’s a rock opera called The Life & Times Of Eddie Gage. Released in a “preview” version of ten songs on April 1st, Nova has been steadily building this story of a young rocker getting eaten alive by the music industry before finally persevering through all the crap he was put through. It is Nova’s pearl in the oyster.

Born and raised in Canada, Nova has been wanting to create this musical opus for years, forged out of his own experiences after bursting onto the scene. “The record was done from pure inspiration,” Nova said recently. “I was truly channeling some place away from myself. It was like something above connected to me and gave me these songs.” Those songs include a rocking “Free Your Mind,” a devilishly atmospheric “King Of Deceit” and the beautiful instrumental “Les Anges.” 

But that’s not all. Nova is also releasing Aldo Nova 2.0 Reloaded on April 19th. Reclaiming some of his hit songs, giving them a breath of fresh air, he amps up the guitars in the once synth-happy “Fantasy” and “Ball & Chain” which has the added texture of a soul with pain and heartache in his past instead of it being a fresh open wound. 

I spoke with Nova recently about his music, his heritage, his future and a few of his rocker heroes.

Aldo, you’re still based around Montreal. What do you love about that city?

What’s not to love about Montreal! First of all, I have a little house that’s in the country. It’s quiet and I can sit in my studio and never get any complaints from the neighbors. I’ve lived in the city but that was way before I got married and had kids. As soon as I started having kids, I moved out where it was a little safer. But Montreal has great architecture, old architecture, it’s got art, it’s got jazz festivals. I was born here, raised here. I went to live in many different places but this is my home so I came back all the time.

What was it like as an Italian family in a French-dominated country?

We came from a tiny little village south of Rome where we have our own dialect. Before internet and before satellite and before TV became straight across the board, every little region of Italy had it’s own particular dialect. So if you went to one region, you spoke a certain type of Italian and if you went to Sicily, one couldn’t understand the other. So now with everything being nationalized, they’ve sort of adopted one type of Italian. It’s not like it used to be. But our parents brought that lingo with them, they brought those dialects with them. So you have to be very careful if you go to Italy and you speak your dialect, people won’t understand you, you know (laughs). But I do speak French perfectly and I do speak Italian perfectly. That’s one of the pluses of living here was the fact that I was speaking three languages when I was four years old. I spoke Italian at home and I went to English school where all my friends were French. 

You’ve been working on this rock opera for many years. When was the moment you knew you were finally finished?

The record started in 2008 when I started writing my first eight songs. Then I wrote some more. With this album, I didn’t push it. I didn’t go, well, I’m going to go to a piano when I have to write a song today and follow this particular storyline or this character. I didn’t push it. I wrote eight songs in 2008 and then I waited till 2011 when I wrote two more; then I waited till 2013, when I wrote three more; then I waited till 2015 when I wrote one or two; then in 2019 I had a big burst of creativity and all the way up to November 10th, 2021, I penned my last song. It was just a matter of finding the right songs, which I thought I’d finished but I just had this feeling that it wasn’t done. Then when I finally found the last song, which was an accidental find, I put it on and that was the end, the finale song. Then I said, well, I want to put a song, sort of an opus, to really give it a finale that is majestic, so I wrote this last song, an instrumental called “Les Anges.” And that’s when I said, now it’s ready.

I’m only putting out the ten songs, a glimpse. The whole rock opera is twenty-five songs and it’s two hours and five minutes long. It’s hard to really get somebody to sit there for two hours and five minutes. The album can be absorbed three songs at a time and you get it, because each song has it’s own story, each song has it’s own character, so you can take one song at a time, you can take it three songs at a time or you could listen to the whole thing. But I felt after having guys listen to it and go, well, that’s a lot of concentration, I decided to put out a ten song preview EP. I chose ten songs that were all different styles and it made you understand that it was a rock opera. This forty piece orchestra with my voice is very, how do you say it, very classical. Then you have “Hey Ladi Dadi,” which is as heavy as Metallica and has a sense of character – the character is a very aggressive evil type of character. Everything is in the lyrics. If you read the lyrics, you understand the character.

You do the voices differently in the songs

Yeah, I enjoyed doing that, because I get into their skin. Like “King Of Deceit,” I become the character therefore I sing from the first person rather than sounding like somebody else, somebody imitating somebody. The character is very sleazy, very tempting, very much a liar and a thief. I’m dying to get the video out for that because it’s very dramatic and it’s full makeup and full costume and it’s just me and it’s really something else. I’m dying to put that out! [the video has since been released]

Which part of this record did you fret over the most? 

None of it (laughs) That’s the beauty of doing things by inspiration is that when I get inspired I get the whole thing as a block. I get like, okay, this is what it’s supposed to sound like, it’s going to have this sound. I spend most of the time learning what I hear in my head, how to pick that out. So for me, I’ve already heard the finished product before so it’s just a matter of getting it there. I build my songs layers at a time so by the time I get to the end, it’s done. Like I said, they were all written from inspiration so it’s not difficult. I didn’t have to fight the song.

You touch every part of your records. How far back did you realize you wanted to be that kind of artist? Not just a guitar player, not just a singer, but have your hand in everything.

As far back as my first album. On my first album, the first track, “Fantasy,” that’s me playing everything, everything but the drums. We took the demos and got them remixed in New York and that was my album. So I’ve always done everything. That’s actually a blessing, when you can actually hear something in your head and then after five hours of working on it, you can hear it coming out of the speakers. I’m blessed in that way, you know. I don’t have to call an engineer or have to waste my time. It’s like a song that would normally take other people like three months to get all that together, I just do it myself. I have that capability. Then I have other guys play the drums and the bass and things like that, the things I’m not really good at, and then it just comes together.

In terms of the lyrics, what to you is the most poignant line or lyric within these ten songs you’re giving us?

It depends on the character. Like “Hey Ladi Dadi,” it’s someone who wants world power. Every character has a different punchline. Like “Hey Ladi Dadi,” it’s the record company executive and in my mind his name is Andy Christos and the line for him was, “I’ll pretend to be the new messiah but instead I’m just the Prince of Liars; I’ll promise everything your heart desires, tell all your friends and let’em get in line.” That will give you the basic idea of who he is. 

People think it’s autobiographical; in physicality, it is because I got signed, got screwed, went down, came back up and now I’m at a place, at the end of the opera, where I came back up and I’m driving to rebuild my career. But the opera is based on religion, on theology; it’s based on much older characters and each character has a name that has to be deciphered. The “Hey Ladi Dadi” character, his name is Andy Christos, but we replaced the D with a T and then you have his name. Christos is Christ in Greek. That’s the character. If you read the lyrics then you go, wow, that IS the character. That’s based on like Revelations. Although I see it as a record company executive, I took it one step further and went okay, that’s what they are to me. Everything is like that. The “King Of Deceit” is named M. F. Stophalis and he’s the evil King of Deceit. If you say that fast, you get who he is. Everyone has a different name. “The Bitch In Black” is named after a Hindu goddess. You have to decipher the lyrics. Each song has it’s own character and each song has it’s own punchline. I couldn’t give you one punchline that defines the album.

You’ve got people thinking, not just listening

Exactly but I find that people don’t use their imagination anymore. They want everything given to them; they want an image, they want to see the picture, everything flashing; they want everything given to them right away, right now. With my Eddie Gage album, what I want to do is, first of all, the physical album itself is incredible looking, but what I do is I give you a brief synopsis of story, character and situation; even if it’s like four or five lines, you get it. Then I want people to take the lyric sheet and I want you to put the song on and read the lyrics with it and with that you’ll develop your own image. Like Andy Christos looks like this to me but will look like somebody else to another guy. I want people to create their own image in their head. In other words, it’s like one big adult video game except you have to use your mind.

There is a beautiful piano in “Say A Little Prayer.” Is that original to the song how you wrote it?

Yeah. My kids give me a lot of inspiration. I love rap music and I like old school rap and one day my son played me a song called “Ghetto Gospel” and that’s Tupac and this was something that was current and I like the sound of all these chords that were like a simple melody, and I went home and I wrote the song completely the way it was. I had written a full-blown production of it. Then when it came time to doing the album, I stripped it down. At the beginning, it’s just me and the piano and I did it in one take, the vocal, and then I bring in the band. I’m literally rapping on the beginning of the song. It’s like a mini Tupac Shakur. I’m a mini everything (laughs).

On “Follow The Road,” you sing, “I don’t even have the courage to say a word.” You put a lot of emotion in that line. Do you remember that particular line coming to you or if it was just something that blended in with the song?

In “Hey Ladi Dadi,” Eddie gets signed; in “Free Your Mind,” he becomes almost an overnight sensation and is live onstage; song three, he has his childhood sweetheart and she finds out that he has been unfaithful, which is “Follow The Road,” and she leaves him and then he goes to his hotel room and writes this song. So writing from the point of view of Eddie, he can’t express how sad he is and he can’t express what he’ll do, how far he’ll go to get her back, so he’ll just “follow the road that leads me to you.” He doesn’t have the courage to say the words to say he’s sorry; basically, I think he doesn’t know what to say at that point.

You have another record coming out called Reloaded. What brought that about? 

Yeah, that record started during covid. When Covid hit and everybody was in lockdown, I noticed that everybody was doing little covid specials while they were at home. So one day me and my wife, we said, okay, we’re going to do something so I played a basic track for a song called “Paradise,” which is off my Subject album, and she put on a cheap camera, cause that’s all I had around the house, and she turned it on and I played. I had a lot of emotion and it’s a great song. When the song came out, I got a lot of reaction to it and the basic reaction to it was like, “Oh my God, he’s still alive! He’s not dead! I thought this guy was dead a long time ago!” The comments just kept going and then people went, “Wow! He looks great! He plays great!” I started doing more and more, and the more I did, the more popular it became. Like my “Fantasy” is almost at 400,000 views, which is a lot for a guy in a basement with a guitar and a backing track (laughs). So those tracks became the Reloaded album. People were going, “Wow, this is better than the original version!” I had worked at the basic tracks to make them sound better than the original while keeping the essence of the original. If you listen to “Fantasy 2.0,” it’s the same song but it just drives. All of them do that.

I also want people to know that the Reloaded album is a three CD set. One CD is all the songs, CD number two are songs without the lead vocal, the fans can sing to it, and CD three is all the songs with no lead guitar. So it’s kind of like you can have fun with the album. There’s a lyric sheet. You can do karaoke with the album (laughs). Nobody has ever done that.

What is the origin of “Ball & Chain”?

Well, I’m a storyteller so songs like “Ball & Chain” and “It’s Too Late,” “Foolin’ Yourself,” all have a basically recurring theme. The guy is hurt and expressing his pain, which a lot of people can relate to and that song was like everybody’s theme song. It’s a thing that happens at one time or another to anybody and everybody and I think that’s why it was so popular. But all the songs, I was going out with this girl and she cheated on me or she did this and that. It’s always the same thing, “Foolin’ Yourself,” it’s “I saw you walk down the street with somebody new,” and it’s too late; “Ball & Chain” was what I felt when I found out she was cheating; “Fantasy” was more about one of my first trips to New York. It’s all stuff I lived.

When you first started learning to play guitar, what was the hardest thing for you to get the hang of?

The beauty of learning guitar the way I learned, it was vinyl records where you’d put the needle down and let it go for a note, then try to play the note, figure that out, then let it go and put it back and figure out two notes. I really learned my instrument, really learned my craft. When I learned to play guitar, it gave me a chance to develop my vocabulary and to develop my own unique style. I didn’t have to follow anybody else. Of course at the beginning you play Hendrix songs. But I just started to create my own stuff. 

Now you got to YouTube and kids, if they want to play “Don’t Stop Believin’,” they’ll play “Don’t Stop Believin’” but they never go beyond that. These kids nowadays can write a song from just pressing a button and they write a song. Back in the day when I was learning, there was people I could idolize, whether it was Hendrix, David Bowie, Queen, Led Zeppelin; all these people really marked my life and marked other people and gave you the aspiration to want to be like them, to reach higher, to be better. Nowadays, who is there? Rather than try to achieve greatness, these people are trying to achieve less than mediocrity and they’re satisfied with that. New music nowadays is not music. I don’t know what it is but the people get like 900 million views. 

There’s some good artists, like Billie Eilish is good, she’s a real artist; Adele is phenomenal but Adele is more closer to the old style rather than newer ones. Billie Eilish can really sing songs and she writes her own songs and she feels what she sings. But back then, we had Led Zeppelin, Queen, David Bowie; you had ROCK STARS. There are no rock stars anymore. Even the hottest guitar players now, they’re not rock stars, they’re good technicians, but there’s nobody that stands out.

Who was the first real rock star you ever met?

I met Brian May at the Brit Awards but that was years and years later. Jeff Beck, I played with Jeff Beck when we were doing the Young Guns album. He was the first real hero that I met. After that, I worked with a bunch of them – Jon Bon Jovi, if he could be considered a rock star but to me he’s not a rock star; to me, he’s just a kid I met by the coffee machine (laughs). 

What about Sammy Hagar? Didn’t you open for Sammy?

I love Sammy Hagar! If there was anybody that I would like to open for if I went on tour, it would be Sammy. We had a blast in 1982 when I opened for him. People that came to see that bill really got their money’s worth and they got to get some good old rock & roll. It was a good time. Cheap Trick was another good time. Cheap Trick were heroes; Sammy, he was a hero; Blue Oyster Cult were like my heroes. I guess I did meet a lot of guys. I met them when I opened for them. But one guy that I’d really like to play with again is Sammy Hagar. I think that would make a great bill.

What is a song from your catalog that took the longest to get right in the studio?

I can’t remember (laughs). They all came fairly easy. A lot of people have to get the right guys and get the right feel. I just get the right feel and get a drummer. I mean, I would say it’s about 50% inspiration, 50% perspiration. It’s just enjoyable for me the more harder I have to work, the better it is. Now I’m sixty-five and I feel like a kid and I know that the road going up is not going to be easy. It’s a challenge but I enjoy work. 

I saw a picture on your Facebook of you with Jon Bon Jovi, Kenny Aronoff, Benmont Tench, Waddy Wachtel and Little Richard. What’s going on in that picture?

We were doing Young Guns, which was basically an all-star lineup. I had done all the demos of everything and the “Blaze Of Glory” track was an exact duplicate of my demo. But Jon was doing a song and he wanted to have Little Richard. That was sort of Jon’s saying, I’m going to get everybody I’ve really liked in my life to play on my album (laughs). So Little Richard was there and what surprised me the most about Little Richard was he was used to playing in one key, I think he played in C, and the song we were doing together was in B Flat, so I had to sort of show him the B-Flat. But Little Richard is just Little Richard. The thing that surprised me the most was he’s got a big head (laughs). He’s got a huge head and a huge face and he looked the same as he did back then. He doesn’t age.

What is your connection to the blues?

My guitar playing in essence is blues-based and all those guitar players that I looked up to – Jimmy Page and all those guys – everything was taken from the blues. Everything goes back to Muddy Waters. That’s the root. My playing is so based on feel and very simple choice of the right note at the right place at the right time. You’ll never hear me do a hammer on, you’ll never hear me do something like what I call diarrhea of the fretboard, where you just play as many notes in the shortest amount of time as possible. You hear my playing, especially Reloaded, it’s all feel, the right note at the right place at the right time. It doesn’t have to be flashy. It just works. You’ll never hear me do a hammer on like Eddie Van Halen, even though he was my hero. I developed my own style. Everybody from back then that I idolized was playing blues so I started off with that.

Are you going to get to go out on tour this year?

This year, not. I’ve avoided going on tour for years and years. When I was off, I got offered many times to do these classic rock shows and these classic rock revivals with bands and that’s all they do. They go back and forth and back and forth every year and all they play is their old songs. I consider myself to be a current artist that has new stuff to offer and Eddie Gage is the proof of that. So I didn’t want to do a classic rock tour. I’d like to do a small headlining tour or open up for someone bigger, like Sammy. 

If I went to a booker now, he would literally not take me because he would say, “He’s got one hit, he’s a one-hit-wonder, he’s probably fat and has no hair and we don’t know what he sounds like.” That would be the preconception he would have and he’d book me in the classic rock shows. I’ve put out one single, which is “Free Your Mind,” with an elaborate video with the band and then I’m putting out “King Of Deceit.” I’ll put out one album April 1st and on April 19th the other. So I’ll be active on the scene and people will know what I look like and sound like. At that point, either a larger booking agency will approach me or I can approach a larger booking agency and say, “Here, this is what I did and this is what I’m doing currently.” They’ll see and put me in the right place. If I went to a booker now, I’d just get classified as the one-hit wonder.

Like I said, these people have no notion of what I look like, what I sound like, the one-hit-wonder till I prove them otherwise. It’s up to me now. I’m working to get that going and I think I’m going about it the right way with the right videos. I spent sixty grand doing three videos. Bands that are huge, they’re doing lyric videos or shooting them with iPhones. My videos are huge. So it’s all a step-by-step. I’ve been calculating, working out, getting my plan together, finishing the album, getting everything together, waiting for all my contracts to run out where I own everything. I did a record, 2.0, which wasn’t well-received and at a certain point I didn’t like. I just got to the point where I didn’t want people to, if I became famous again, popular, I didn’t want people to go back to that and say, Oh my God, he made a crap album. So owning everything, I just erased the album, scrapped it, took it off every digital platform, and stopped manufacturing it. You can’t find it anywhere. With Eddie Gage, everything on the record, I paid for out of my own pockets so I don’t owe anybody anything.

Portrait by James St Laurent

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