“My name is Demi Nova,” she says with a grin before rattling off a few of her aliases, “aka Thick Thigh Thelma, Big Leg Bertha, Black Thighs Matter, Your Daddy’s BFF.”
The quip unleashes a laugh from the crowd of a couple dozen Bay area musicians, promoters and scene observers gathered at Paris Recording Studio near Adamo Drive in Tampa. They’re at a listening party for Nova’s debut full-length, The Infinite, and the Tampa soul singer — standing confidently with voluminous curls and gigantic glasses eclipsed only by an even bigger smile — is introducing herself. Despite appearances at the Black Heritage Festival, Rock the Park and even singing backup for Jinx at Gasparilla Music Festival, intimate details about Nova are scarce.
But not for long.
“I’m a little quirky, a little weird, a little cool, a little shy. My heart is big, and sometimes I get hurt for it, but at the end of the day it comes back tenfold,” she adds.
In her childhood, Nova — born in Nashville and raised in Atlanta — was shy, but still managed to dance with Tina Turner and Travis Tritt before Super Bowl XXXIV. She once performed for Coretta Scott King. The Tennessee State alum also has a doctorate from the Mercer College of Pharmacy and used to step for Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. Performing is in her DNA, and songwriting has always intrigued Demi Nova.
“It has always been my place of freedom. I need to perform. It's my therapy and my safe zone. The one place where I can release it all and not care,” Nova — who has also tracked hooks for Atlanta’s Trillville clique — wrote to CL after the release party. “When you create your own story, your own narrative, it's yours. It's your truth. It's your emotion to display. I've always loved the feeling of that.”
Nova lets all of that instinct and intuition unravel on The Infinite, where seven tracks spread out in between skits that sample the “Mad As Hell” speech in Network and actress Eartha Kitt’s perfect response to an inquiry about love and compromising things for a man. The interludes are powerful insights into the motivation behind songs like “The Way It Hurts” and “The Way It Feels,” but Nova leaves juicy details about heartache and romance out. Gossip seekers will actually be disappointed by Infinite’s lack of specific antagonists, but listeners wanting to get lifted by a positive message focused on the big picture will leave the nearly 30-minute effort on repeat. There’s no time for drama and games on The Infinite.
“I need to perform. It’s my therapy and my safe zone.”
“I don't have to describe every detail for the picture to be painted. That way, it allows the listener to draw their own conclusions,” Nova said. That’s if they don’t get lost in the groove along the way.
Tampa producer J. Walt mixed and mastered the effort, and Nova’s band Blaq Pocket delivers athletic bass, percussion, synth and horns that border on vertiginous. The almost-cosmic sonics serve Infinite’s self-realizing, empowering messages particularly well on album highlights “Juice” and “Inner G,” the latter of which Nova wrote after being laid off a pharmacy job.
“It made me realize that you are expendable until you have and can create a purpose, craft, revenue for yourself,” Nova — who has battled depression in the past — said of the experience that bore a song about taking yourself out of a bad situation. “You have to take time to fill your own cup back up. Loving yourself, living your truth, accepting past transgressions of ourselves and others. A place of acceptance. And to be in that space to be able to create is very necessary.”
Nova, whose parents implored her and her three siblings to excel at school in addition to exploring their artistic impulses, wants to take that wisdom, and her live experience, on tour to Europe, where web analytics suggest her biggest fans are (Tampa emcee Dynasty also enjoys success overseas, and has toured the continent several times). She says coming of age in Atlanta allowed the speed and melting-pot nature of the city’s culture to infiltrate her person; the region’s success stories became part of her mental vision board.
“I’ve always loved to create, but I also love being analytical and solving calculations in my head,” she said. “Doing both helps to create my balance. The best of both worlds. Right brain, left brain. My corpus callosum is lit.”
Nova will bridge every part of her personality together at an LP release show on April 14, which also doubles as her birthday party. It’s kind of a culmination of all the growth she’s experienced creating the album and a beginning for the next phase of her creative life. The woman who used to be shy and a little scared, shaking with mic in hand, is largely no more. She hopes listeners and the community at large come along for the ride.
“I’ve learned that people are going to be talking about you whether you do good or bad, so just do your best,” Nova said. "I've learned to step outside of fear and even myself. I am a vessel and the music that comes out of me is not just for me — it’s for everybody else.”
Demi Nova w/Nico Sweet/Trumaine Burrell/Jai Price/DJ Qeys