40 years after “Fantasy,” the Canadian rock vet continues to go his own way
Canadian rocker Aldo Nova is best known for his high-energy 1982 hit “Fantasy,” but “I never wanted to be labeled as a classic rock guy,” he says, speaking to Rock & Roll Globe from his home outside of Montreal, Quebec.
“Even though I got offered tons of money to go out and do these classic rock revival shows, I refused to do all that,” he adds. “I always wanted to be known as a contemporary artist.”
This attitude is nothing new: Nova has always displayed an independent streak. After releasing three albums throughout the 1980s, he felt stifled by his record company’s demands, so he extricated himself from his contract, even though that process took years.
“Then I started to really take control of everything – [now] everything is self-funded. Nobody owns anything on my albums, or all future albums, except myself,” he says.
This also has given Nova the freedom to walk away from the music business entirely when he’s felt it’s been necessary.
“I retired in 1997 because I took on the role as a serious hands-on father,” he says. “My repertoire went from hard rock to ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ and ‘The Itsy Bitsy Spider.’ I took it seriously, and I’m happy I did.”
Through those years, though, “I kept writing and earning my living as a successful writer,” he says. “I’ve had so many number one hits with different artists ranging from Bon Jovi to Celine Dion all the way to Clay Aiken and Faith Hill. All different genres. I was happy because I wrote a classic with “Fantasy,” but I also wrote a classic for another artist in a completely other genre, which is [Celine Dion’s 2002 hit] “A New Day Has Come,” which is a huge song.”
VIDEO: Aldo Nova “Fantasy”
But by 2008, Nova was ready to focus solely on his own artistic career again: “I decided to completely stop everything with any other artist. It wasn’t a matter of any bitterness, it was just like, ‘I’ve had enough.’”
Wanting to do something completely different than anything he’d done before, Nova came up with the concept for a rock opera, The Life and Times of Eddie Gage, about a young rock and roll prodigy’s ups and downs. He continued writing songs whenever inspiration hit, sometimes going years in between compositions. In November 2021, he wrote the last song, bringing the final album to 25 songs.
For this project, Nova says, “I take all my past influences and I put them in here and I make it sound like music from the future. It doesn’t sound like anything that’s out there now. Certainly, it doesn’t sound like an artist that put out his [debut] record forty years ago.”
Eddie Gage is somewhat autobiographical, in that the protagonist realizes what his music has meant to his fans. “He sees that his music helped a lot of people during the hard times, and he also made people realize how much fun they had when they were young,” Nova says. “Then he’s completely reborn. And that’s pretty much like my case: I started young, I became famous almost right away, then went through a lot of hard times. So my experience became the template for what Eddie’s life is going to be.”
On April 1, Nova released a shortened 10-song version of the rock opera, wanting to see how this EP does before he sets a release date for the whole album. But, he adds, he’s feeling encouraged because “So far, everybody is going, ‘Wow, this is something else.’”
Nova also has another album coming soon, Aldo Nova 2.0 Reloaded, which is set for release on April 19. For this, Nova re-mixed several of his old songs, which he presents in three different versions: one with his full-band, one without the vocal track, and one without the lead guitar track. In doing this, his intention was to give fans the option to do their own sing/play alongs, karaoke-style – and maybe even use it to fuel their own music creativity: “If there’s maybe one guy out of a thousand that develops his own voice because he has those tracks, then mission accomplished for me.”
2.0 Reloaded came about when the COVID-19 pandemic began, and Nova decided to use the time in isolation to start doing livestreamed performances.
VIDEO: Aldo Nova 2.0 Reloaded
“Me and my wife set up a small camera downstairs in my studio and I taped myself playing ‘Paradise.’ Live vocals, live guitar, with a backing track that I had done.” When he released this online, “it got a really good response, and a lot of the response was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this guy is still alive!’”
He laughs at the memory, but adds that this response prompted him to do more of these shows. “When I did ‘Fantasy,’ that was almost at 400,000 views, which is good for a COVID special.”
Nova thinks people have remained interested in his work because of the high standards he’s always set for himself. “I have a certain bar that I set myself at: my music has to be excellent, my production has to be great. Everything’s got to be top shelf. The songs can’t be calculated in any way, shape or form,” he says.
Still, he admits that he’s mystified why “Fantasy,” in particular, has stood the test of time like it has. “To tell you honestly, I don’t know why it resonated so much with people,” he says.
It likely helps immensely that Nova has always demonstrated a knack for big, arena rock-ready riffs. “I’m the kind of guy who wears his influences on his sleeve: big fan of Queen, big fan of REO Speedwagon, big fan of Journey, big fan of Hendrix, big fan of everything,” he says, “so I took a little bit of everybody and put everything into one pot and came out with something unique sounding.”
He says he can’t remember a time when he didn’t want to become a musician, especially after he discovered The Beatles: “That was the turning point of everything.” Taking on the role of lead singer and guitarist, he started writing songs when he was fourteen years old, then formed a garage band with some friends.
After becoming popular on the Canadian rock club circuit, he released his debut album, Aldo Nova, in 1982, which went multiplatinum in multiple countries.
Now, more than 40 years later, Nova remains just as passionate about creating music.
“A lot of people, when they get to 65, they retire,” he says. “At 65, I’m ready to go. It’s a lot of work, determination, perspiration and just never letting go. From here, it’s where it starts. This is where it’s a new beginning. That’s why it’s not really a comeback, but a rebirth.”