Alumna nominated for Syracuse Area Music award

On her first day at Syracuse University, Jess Novak asked her professor what the music scene was like in Syracuse.

He told her it was terrible, she remembered.

Four years later, Novak has become a part of that same scene and has recently been nominated for a Syracuse Area Music Award under the Best Pop category.

Novak, who received a graduate degree in music journalism at SU under the Goldring Arts Journalism program in 2010, had always thought she would be writing about musicians in Syracuse, not becoming one of them.

“I like writing and doing my own thing, and (music)’s just taken over my life,” she said. “I would play once a month or twice a month with a band, and now it’s like 10 times a week.”

Her first major exposure as a performer in the Syracuse music scene was at the Salt City Waltz in late November in 2013. She performed as a fiddler on the song “Evangeline” with Kim Monroe, Chris Eves and Jason Barady.

After that, multiple musicians asked her to perform with their groups, making music a much bigger presence in her life.

She was working as the music editor for the Syracuse New Times and a DJ on 105.9 The Rebel, a music station in Syracuse, when one day she decided to quit all her obligations and take a cross-country trip. After she returned to Syracuse from Seattle, she realized she wanted to focus more on herself as a musician.

“When I came back I had this refreshed idea I could do whatever I wanted to do, so I just let it happen,” Novak said. “Somehow, it all worked. I separated myself from that life so I could allow myself to do both.”

Chris Baker, a Post-Standard music and entertainment reporter, interned at the Syracuse New Times when Novak was still music editor. The two met while working together, and Baker said he’s seen her play multiple times at many venues, including Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, Shifty’s and the Elbow Room Tavern, a bar where Novak also bartends.

One of Baker’s favorite performances by Novak is “Cups (When I’m Gone),” an a cappella cover of Anna Kendrick’s song from “Pitch Perfect.”

“It started off as just something she would do because she was bartending,” Baker said. “One day we were all there for an open mic, and she got on. She set up a guitar case, put a microphone on the case and started singing it. It was really cool. Wherever there’s a red solo cup she’ll do that song.”

Novak said her music is mostly compared to Amy Winehouse and Tracy Chapman, playing a bluesy genre of Americana-folk.

Novak is nominated under the Best Pop category for her first CD, “Bad Habit,” which was released on Dec. 19, 2013.

“She’s talented as a songwriter and I think they appreciate that in the SAMMYs. Musicianship comes into it a lot, and her album was really well done,” Baker said. “She’s in good company, it was one of the better albums to come out of Syracuse in the last year. She’s worked her a** off in the last year for it. I’m glad — she deserves it.”

Novak said she felt the SAMMY Awards were really important to the local music scene, and believes the awards help promote the community.

Said Novak: “Everybody wins at the SAMMY Awards. If you have the balls to make a record, you’ve already won.”


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