Denver musicians weigh in on Pride, being openly gay artists in 2012 and Freddie Mercury
Joshua Novak is a master-craftsman of vintage cool. Not vintage in a shag-carpet and Stones LP sort of way -- more of a Bends-style Britpop in a 120 minutes music video (with a dash of Marc Bolan glitter) sort of way. His album Dead Letters, has all the warmth and flow of a mid-'90s classic, while never sounding nostalgic or dated. Novak was reluctant to participate in a series profiling "gay musicians," primarily because he doesn't see himself as a "gay musician." He's happy to cop to his sexuality -- he's not shy or closeted -- but the idea of being pigeonholed into a novelty act, a born-this-way sympathy case with no identity outside of who he shares his bed with, left an unpleasant taste in Novak's mouth. So, naturally, that was one of the first things we wanted to discuss with him.
Westword: Do you ever feel like because of your sexuality, people expect you to play or be interested in a certain type of music?
Joshua Novak: Most definitely, especially years ago when I was starting out. I think I wasn't straight enough for some, and not gay enough for others. But now I think people don't even consider that when they listen to me. I'm just Josh. At least that's what I hope.
Some musicians are incidentally gay -- such as Michael Stipe or Tegan & Sara -- whereas others identify as a "gay musician" or a "gay band," where their sexuality is at the center of their craft, like Boy George or the Scissor Sisters. Is getting lumped into the latter category a concern of yours?
Yes, because I feel it's incredibly limiting, and often times I don't think those artists are taken seriously. I think some gay musicians see that as an "in," that it's this untapped market where they can show up and you've got this built-in support. It's lazy. I want to be successful or admired for the work that I do as a musician and not because I have job security in my sexuality.
How often -- if at all -- does your sexuality come up as a subject in your lyrics?
For a while now, I have strayed from writing too much in the first person. Writing songs, for me, is very much about creating characters and performing from their perspective. But there are obviously times when I am in love or heartbroken that I am me and singing to, or about, a man. But even then, I don't make a big deal about the gender of it. It's just a love song.
Do you feel that "gay music" -- e.g. Pride lineup -- is good for good for young gay people looking to find their own identity?
There is more to gay culture than the Village People and whoever they decide put on stage at Pride. Freddy Mercury, Michael Stipe and Elton John are good examples of how the gays have been amazing for music culture and history as a whole.
Have you ever been touring and performing in areas of the country where you didn't feel safe revealing your sexuality?
Sure. I unfortunately think about that stuff all the time. It's a bummer.
When you were a young musician, were there any "out" performers that you admired?
Rufus Wainwright has always been someone I have admired as a gay man and a musician. I grew up listening to tons of Elton John. I love Patrick Wolf. Stephin Merritt from the Magnetic Fields is a huge influence, as well as Jonsi [Birgisson] from Sigur Ros.
How do you think the music industry has changed in terms of gay musicians having a career while being out?
I think that gay musicians are able to have long careers now, without having to pretend they're straight to cash the checks. I think we've seen tons of artists that have transcended the stigmas of sexuality to have lots of crossover success.
How do you feel the Denver music scene compares to other cities in terms of gay acceptance?
I'm sure that plenty of other forward-thinking and well cultured cities are similar, but I think Denver is amazing. It has always been supportive -- not just in terms of being gay, but also as a working musician. I'm proud to be a native member of the Denver music scene.
Joshua Novak, 3 p.m., Saturday, June 23, Westword Music Showcase, Stoneys, 1111 Lincoln Street, Buy tickets to the Westword Music Showcase and get more information.