Challenging Expectations With Singer Songwriter Tara Novak – Episode 31

Songwriter and composer Tara Novak performs with her husband Ciaran Nagle in their contemporary Irish folk band Ishna and is known internationally for her captivating violin and fiddle playing. She has spent many years touring with large shows (Aladdin, Riverdance, the Three Irish Tenors), but can mostly be found now onstage sharing her own or other musician’s original music in intimate settings. As an arranger and recording artist, she has collaborated across many genres.

Songwriter and composer Tara Novak performs with her husband Ciaran Nagle in their contemporary Irish folk band Ishna and is known internationally for her captivating violin and fiddle playing. She has spent many years touring with large shows (Aladdin, Riverdance, the Three Irish Tenors), but can mostly be found now onstage sharing her own or other musician’s original music in intimate settings. As an arranger and recording artist, she has collaborated across many genres. Her work carries both herself and her listener on an inward journey, searching for authenticity and kindness.Tara’s debut album of original songs, “Layers of Identity”, was just released in Oct 2022. You can read about her songs, listen to the album, and learn more about Tara on her website:

Connect with Tara


Instagram: taranovakmusic/

Facebook: taranovakmusic



Apple Music: tara-novak/407203659



0:00  Welcome to the Resonate Podcast. I’m Aideen and my guest today is Tara Novak. And I would like to tell you a little bit about Tara before I introduce you to her, and songwriter and composer Tara Novak performs with her husband Ciaran Nagel in here and I should say I should start that again. I always say Ciaran

0:23  No, it is Ciaran!

0:25  Oh yes. In that case I can keep going. So she performs with her husband, Ciaran Nagel in their contemporary Irish folk band Isha, and is known internationally for captivating violin and fiddle playing. As an arranger and recording artist, she’s collaborated across many genres. And most recently, her debut album of original songs, layers of identity was just released in October 2022. You can read about her songs, listen to her album and learn more about her on her website. And all of the details, of course will be in the show notes. Welcome, Tara.

1:05  Aideen, nice to be here.

1:07  It’s great to see you. Well, I can see you, the guests can’t see you right now. But I’m great. I’m grateful. So Tara and I know each other for a long time we met through music through jazz music, specifically. But you’ve had a performing career with music, which has been phenomenal. And in the last couple of years, you’ve been working more arranging and composing your own music. So tell us a little bit about that journey.

1:36  Wow. So it was a long journey. I’ve, I’ve always written my whole life since I was a kid. But I feel like all of us get kind of swept away in where life takes us. So life, your career suddenly starts taking you in one direction. And, and that’s where you go you I started playing violin gigs and performances and touring. So that’s where that went. And all my time dedicated to writing. And really exploring my own creativity sort of disappeared without me even noticing it. And about maybe five, seven years ago, I guess it was when I was turning 35. I said to myself, that I wanted to actively start making a change, to focus more time on my creative projects. I just saw so many people who are musicians’ full time, who spend their whole lives playing other people’s music, but maybe they got into it, because they played their own. And then you end up at the end of your career looking back and what have you said that you wanted to say for yourself? Or have you said anything? So I figured this is my chance to really start into that process?

3:05  That’s amazing.

3:07  Yeah, a long journey. It’s still not done.

3:10  No way. Hopefully, it’ll never be done.

3:13  Never Done. Never done. Yeah.

3:15  Yeah. Well, Mike and I were having a conversation about this about, you know, musicians who are also artists or musicians who are mainly almost, you know, says session musicians, they, their artistry is in their use of their instrument, but it isn’t necessarily in composing something original, or in creating something original on their own. And we were just debating that whole concept, because it isn’t essential for everyone to have a unique, unique kind of offering to the world. Not everybody wants to be in that spotlight. Or maybe has the inspiration to go and do that. But there is something about inspiration actually, when you go into that creative part of your brain. And you know, since you were little this has been happening. What do you think is inspiring all of this musical related? Creativity?

4:15  I think it’s everything. It’s it could be a walk outside, it could be a conversation with a friend. It could be something you see in the news. It could be a chance happening that you I passed a homeless girl on a bridge and I wrote a song about it. It’s like it can be I don’t think there’s any limit on what can inspire your creativity it comes from, I think it comes from everywhere. Yeah,

4:46  that’s interesting. And when you were younger when you were studying your main instrument is in violin and fiddle. Were you given the tools to write music at that point, because I know some musicians really when they’re earning pieces and they’re doing grades, they’re kind of given a very specific piece to learn. And then many adults come out of that process having just learned, like, whatever a number of pieces that they don’t, they couldn’t really write a song with the skills that they learned, like, what, what was different for you?

5:19  I think there were quite a few things different for me. So my parents are both full time musicians. And my father specifically is a composer, and a jazz guitarist. So I grew up, always watching him compose, and practicing the components of copy of composition. So he was always exploring chord changes, he was always exploring, reading books on orchestration, I remember being very young, and sitting on my parents bed and flipping through this book on orchestration, and probably not knowing anything about what that was. But it’s still a vivid memory. And then, I don’t know, I just have always written we have these tape cassettes of me at like, age three and four, singing songs and sitting at the piano and making things up and et cetera. So I don’t know, it’s always been there. But then into formal studies, you’re right. And I think that’s part of the reason it took me so long to come back into it is that the focus does go especially for classical musicians to here’s the set of skills to practice, here’s how to perfect this technique. Here’s how to learn and memorize this piece of music, but not necessarily, here’s how to create your own. Yeah, I did go back to school, to Berklee College of Music in Boston, and my degree, there was an orchestration and arranging. So although that doesn’t really apply to the songwriting that I’ve been doing recently, so helpful for working for other clients and arranging things for my band, but not necessarily for my own personal creative process. Hmm.

7:12  That’s so interesting. I just, I have so many more questions, but I want to see where I could take thread. So I want to make it interesting for all the non-musicians as well. And so we’re talking about kind of inspiration and finding that the authentic voice and to me, that comes back to this idea that I had when I set up my podcast, and I called it the resonate podcast, because I liked the idea that you know, that we were all that each person had this something that they were going to find within themselves that, you know, was supportive and data and would bring out something unique in you. So what does the word resonate mean for you?

7:57  Well, funny, you should ask because I pulled it up on my dictionary here. And I find it really interesting. So it is a second definition that I have here is one that I really love. It’s to respond as if by resonance, so as in to resonate to music. And I think that we all in our lives resonate at the frequency of things around us, I think, and I think that we all respond to the frequencies that are around us, it could be the low rumble of something passing, it could be a low home in your house. I think all of these frequencies affect how we feel how we think, everything, and then that takes you into live music performance, which for me is so much about resonance and how the audience resonates with you both on like responding to your actual music, but then just on an energy level, how do you all feel in this room together? So yes, big answer, but

9:08  I like that. I like that definition. It’s very expensive, and it is really, it’s really about that vibration and that frequency, but I love that idea of that you were responding to that. But also there’s what’s inside us as well. Absolutely, that we’re responding to so correcting. Yeah, like there’s there you had these external circumstances that that were made it easy for you to develop your musical skills, which is awesome. Or where was the time where you had to go hey, inside myself, I’m feeling this. So therefore, I need to maybe get out of this environment or I need to find something to resonate with.

9:54  How metaphysical out there do you want to get

9:58  I love the metaphysics go as woo woo as you’d like.

10:02  So I was just reading in a book yesterday, this amazing book called women who run with the wolves. And I was just reading this passage where she, the author differentiates between the soul and the spirit, and how the soul is this being creation energy, however you want to define this, that is beyond us and bigger than us. And the spirit is what ties the soul into our current physical body. And I thought this was an amazing definition. And it really ties for me into the concept of Muse and energy, and all of these different things. And the responsibility we have to this physical body and this physical existence that we have. So I’m sort of wondering from your question, but

10:58  but the you have to make sure that we understand this, the answer is coming.

11:02  The answer is coming. So the, the creative inspiration, the resonance within us, I think we all have, I think we all have this on something about something in life. And I think if we really listen to what that is, I think everyone has something that sets them on fire that makes them excited, that makes them resonate, if you want to use that word again. And for me, it is creating words and music and finding how new ways to say things that didn’t exist before. And it’s really exciting for me and challenging for me. cathartic, but I mean, that could be cooking dinner, or taking your dog for a walk, it doesn’t have to be creating music, it can be whatever it is that your soul feels like it needs to express in this existence that you have.

12:17  Yes, that’s that was so out there. But there’s something it’s something real about it too, because it’s like, okay, who am I in this moment? Am I the person everyone sees? Do? Is there something within me that has a push to do something? So I said, you know, for instance, my mother in law said you should join this choir and I’m like, oh, acquire, because in my mind, I associate choirs with this very restrictive way of singing and you know, pronouncing the words really carefully. And then I was like, Hey, okay, um, let me think about this, because it’s a way to do this, or do you know, to connect with my community, to be singing in a different way will teach me something new. And I just decided to follow that thread. And I’ve been to two rehearsals, and the first rehearsal, I was like, oh, no, I don’t like any of this music. And the second rehearsal, I was like, Oh, I like this bar, part of this piece of music. And I started to enjoy it a little more. But it’s like, you know, we get roadblocks. So like, the weather has been a huge roadblock here. The weather was so bad on Monday night, my husband was like, don’t go to choir. No, like, it’s dangerous, right? Yeah, I was like, No, I’m going to go. So there’s, there’s, it was like, I feel like this, this understanding of, we have to find a way to hear our own inner wisdom that isn’t always wise to do certain things. But there’s sometimes a pull to do something. And we can debate it in our minds. But in the end, I had to ask myself, I was kind of asking for some external kind of, you know, should I do this? And kind of feel it in my body? Yes or no. And I was kind of getting very neutral. And then I then I kind of said to myself, well, from a musical perspective, and from, you know, nourishing my musical side, is it a yes or no? And it was a yes. Right. So that was enough then for me to say, right, if there were if the roads are very bad, I can always come back, but I’m going to make my effort. Or I’m for you. That was when you were around that 35 age bracket where you decided I’m not going to just play other people’s music anymore.

14:28  Correct. I had this moment when I went. I want to make sure while I’m still young enough, I mean, you can do it at any age, but I wanted to have the time to build a body of work. And, and in order to do that, you need time. And even within that I knew from learning the violin and singing and everything else that it was going to take me longer than I expected to do this. So it, it was about getting started. And about like, choosing to listen to that, even though it didn’t financially make sense. It didn’t. It was distracting from my other career it it. It was really about just choosing to listen to that and step into that space.

15:22  And is this album layers of identity, your first full album?

15:27  My first of all original songs of my own music. Fantastic. Yes. So there’s lots of other stuff out there that I’ve performed on for other people, or I have an Irish EP. And I have an EP with my Irish band, and I have other things with my husband. But this is all original. All my songs. I’m singing on all of them. So it totally unrelated to these other things.

15:56  But completely related to you, Tara.

15:59  Correct? Yeah, yes, exactly.

16:03  It’s amazing. I’ve been listening to some of the songs and I’m fascinated. I mean, I know you to be an absolutely superb musician is superb songwriter, and arranger. But I was interested to see how different each song is that you know, sometimes when you listen to an album, you find that the music kind of feels very, very connected or in some way. And when I listened to your songs, I realized, though, that these are all cool. These are some of them quite different. And then I was asking myself, well, is that why it’s called layers of identity? Like, is there something to this? And I’m so curious to ask you about the title of the album and what you’ve been doing and why this why this is why it came up this way.

16:48  Who knows? That’s a lot aiding. Um, wow. Yes, that is part of why it’s called layers of identity. Hi, I saw on the title of the album, it was important to me that that album had its own title. And it wasn’t a title of any of the songs on the album. I didn’t want there to be a title track. Okay. Which may? Why? Because I wanted it to be like the, like the name of a book, right? Where you have this story with all the chapters or all everything that’s contained. But it has its own title. It is its own thing. I wanted it to be like the umbrella over everything. Okay. So, and I felt that this title, so that meant I had to name the album after all the songs were done, which was a little stressful, because all the songs are done, and I need to send it to production. And I need to get artwork done and designed, and I go, Oh, no, what is the name of this thing now that I’ve created? So there were many discussions, and lots and lots and lots of ideas jotted on the backs of pieces of paper or spoken into my phone. This is what stuck, because I felt like it summed up exactly what you were saying all these different pieces. Each song is like its own little story. It’s like its own exploration of a part of the world, I see a part of how I interpret the world. And I hope that it can be that for people who listen to it as well.

18:33  Yeah. Oh, completely. It’s so diverse. And so I think it’s so interesting to listen to it, you know, this, it’s engaging in some way. But tell me what does it have influenced you in terms of the styles that you’ve used? Or the way that you sing even?

18:53  So the styles? Where do I start with that? So that was a tough one for me when I started writing the album. Because I’ve been classically trained both as a singer and as a violinist, and then have been playing Irish music for so long. I, I had to really stop and think about what do I want this to sound like? What do I want my creation to sound like? And that was its own exploration process that probably lasted like two or three years. And what I came to eventually was that while I love Irish music, and I play it all the time, I’m not from Ireland, and it’s not in my roots. And so I didn’t want it to be Irish. And while I have played classical music forever, I that’s just something I’ve learned. And I wanted it to feel more authentic to be so then that brought me down this process of, well, what music do I listen to if I put on the radio, if I put on a Spotify playlist if I if I choose something to listen to what do I listen to? So then I started pulling out all these artists that I love. Sarah McLaughlin, Carole King, James Taylor, pink, like it this wide variety, and Suzanne, Vega, all of these things that I started pulling from and going like, oh, well, these are the artists I love. So let’s start there. Yeah, and, and it and then to go backwards a little. I quit playing music for two years when I was 21 to 23. I quit school, I quit music, I bartended. And I just tried to figure out where I wanted to go next in my career. And when I started again, when I was 23, I made a vow to myself that I wanted to play music that would make people dance that would make people sing, that people liked that they could sing along to. And that was part of my motivation, my choice to choose to go back to being a musician. And this was really kind of stepping back into that. So like, Okay, I’ve had this time of setting up my career of playing other stuff of getting lots of experience. Now, how do I how can I be true to this intention?

21:34  So I love that I love that your intention is so listener centric.

21:42  Well, but it’s so important the listener, you can make music, if no one listens to it. It’s like if a tree falls in the forest, like, if no one, if no one listens to your music, does it even exist? I’m not even sure if it does. So it’s so important. And especially with writing songs with lyrics, I really feel like you want people to listen and feel engaged and want to engage with you, and have thought processes about that or maybe help someone with their day, maybe they feel better. Or maybe it is a release or however it can be. But for me, that’s a big part of the whole reason you have words in a song rather than an instrumental. So

22:40  yeah, it kind of takes you on an imagined imaginative journey. And I really feel you have a way with words that your writing in general is absolutely mind blowing. I’m waiting for the book that goes with the album, you know. So my favorite song that I came across was a place called purpose.

22:57  Oh, that’s how nice, I tell

23:00  me a little bit about that song. Um,

23:03  okay, so that song, that song started kind of in the heart of the pandemic. So it was January 2021. And I was writing a blog about the concept of time. And which took me down this crazy rabbit hole of how time is completely human constructed. And it used to be based on a natural thing it used to be based on. Like Revolution of, I’m going to screw all this up. So delete that anyways, time used to be based on nature. And it no longer is we have now completely removed minutes and seconds from nature. And so it is completely a human construct. And that got me thinking back to like, Okay, well, what about pre all of this? And within that, then the origin of clocks. They were used in early days of ship of like, exploration, navigation. Yeah, they were a navigation tool. So you would use a combination of your clock that you had with the stars, to figure out where you were going. And I just loved this image of you have all you have are the stars and this like very rudimentary clock, and to figure out your destination. And that started me into this whole writing of basically a short story about this girl who was on a ship and she’s the captain of the ship, and she has this clock and there’s a storm and she’s trying to find this place. So I called the place purpose, because aren’t we all looking for our purpose? So, so it became this sort of like epic 1970-ish. Folk ballad journey? And yeah, sort of.

25:07  Well, that’s, it’s amazing. I think some of the there’s a cut, there’s an almost a dance track on there impossible things is quite it stands out. Yeah. And why do you think that that’s going to be appealing to the listeners who to see here listen to the whole album or, you know, I was wondering, like, for me that was like, Oh, why is that there? So tell me, why did you put it there?

25:32  Okay, um, each song I really tried to be just with the energy of the lyrics and where the melody went, I really tried to be open to wherever the song wanted to go arrangement wise. Okay, it wasn’t about creating a cohesive album, it was about creating songs that each stood on their own. And, and I worked with a really great producer and a really great co-arranger, so I would send him a lot of the information. And he does all the groove stuff, he does all the, like drum stuff, and fills out all of what I would do. And, and he came back with some of these ideas, and it pushed me pretty far, to be honest, out of my comfort zone. And then I went, well, if it’s not uncomfortable, then why bother doing it? So? Well,

26:36  you did say your intention from age 23 was to help people dance to your music. So yeah, it’s probably in there.

26:44  But I also think that it captures the energy of that song, which is all about imagination, and creativity, and having the courage to look at the world and create what we want to see. So I wanted it to be joyful and fun and dance like, so.

27:04  I love that. I really love what you’ve done with this, Tara.

27:08  Thank you. Yeah,

27:10  I mean, that deep down, I’m because I’ve seen you in concert, doing your more upbeat rocker kind of, you know, pieces that you’ve, I love that and hope that there’s an album of that kind of music coming soon. But um, this is it’s true to you as well, it’s a different expression. And I think it’s, it’s, it’s beautiful that you’re taking this opportunity to explore what it is going to become. Because I think a lot of us try too hard to define. And to put you know, to make things fit into what other people’s cookie cutter concept might be. What you’ve done is you’ve kind of taken the opportunity to really allow yourself to explore the genres and explore the worlds that you were creating. And I think that your next album, might take some of this with it and might need not take everything with it. But that’s exactly the thing.

28:09  Exactly. I mean, if you think of some of your favorite artists, and you listen to their own musical journeys through albums, you can hear that progression often. And I feel like current artists often aren’t given that space to do that, especially if you have a record contract, because you have you produce a hit. And then you’re expected to duplicate that.

28:45  Yeah, for a similar audience as well. So you’re kind of exactly you’re not expanding or you’re not, you know, kind of challenging that audience in a new way.

28:56  Exactly. And, and but I think the creative exploration is as important for the artist as it is for the audience. Because it reveals things to everyone about themselves. And, and who knows where it goes next. And that’s, I love that.

29:14  Might I say this all the time where nothing is certain anything is possible.

29:18  Absolutely. That’s beautiful, Aideen. Yeah,

29:21  I think for me, I would have been always looking for that, you know, what’s the right thing and what’s the right direction? And instead in the last, I suppose six or seven years, I’ve been more interested in what is next in terms of the right step. Yep. Yeah. And that has actually led me somewhere. There are steps I haven’t taken that I probably should have because of some fears or different things, but you know, I’m okay with that. I’m okay with not being always stepping into the unknown, like sometimes I’ll retreat a little, but its okay. It’s okay to be ourselves. And I think your story is very inspirational to anyone that you’re, you know that you’ve really trusted yourself. You really ask yourself some of those questions at a young age, what is it? I want? What is it I connect with? How do I want to interact with the world? What do I want to offer the world and to have the bravery then to, to say at a certain point that the career you had wasn’t fulfilling everything that you needed? And that you had to come back to? Figuring that, you know, what, what do I want to offer to the world again, at a later point, and I think this idea of coming back to it at a later point is important, because a lot of people don’t think they have that choice to do that exploration later. They think that oh, well, you know, I should have done that when my 20s, now it’s too late. I have a mortgage and data. So do you have anything you’d like to say to anyone who’s at a point like that?

30:55  I think I think anything is possible, you just have to do like, anything is possible, you just have to take the first step. Yeah, and I don’t think there’s any timeline on life. I love to give the example of a violin student I had back in Dublin, who was in his 70s and had never played in had always wanted to play. And after his wife passed away, within a couple of weeks after his wife passed away, he reached out to Waltons and he said, I want to take lessons. So he became my student, and he wasn’t an amazing player, but he loved learning. And that was all that mattered. And, and I just thought that was the bravest thing to, to be able to be vulnerable and like to be able to be able to like be a novice again. And, and I take it I take inspiration from that from Tommy was his name, he was great.

32:02  That’s amazing. What would you like people to do in terms of your music? What would you like them to click on? Or? How would you like them to explore more about you?

32:14  All these big questions, Aideen? Um, well, I think that I think that engagement, both with me and with other people is the most important thing for music. So I think a lot of people now don’t even quite you and I were chatting about this earlier, don’t even know how to support musicians or their friends who are musicians or artists, because it’s all become this vague. Music just kind of exists out there. So I have my album for sale on my website. And but it’s also up for streaming anywhere, online. The thing I most love is when people listen to my stuff, and they send me an email, or they reply to something that I post online and say, Oh, I love this song. And then I’m able to engage with that. And, and for me, it’s really all about that connection. And that can be a connection with me, or that can be a connection for the listener with their friends, where they say, I just found this new song I love you’ve got to check it out. So it’s really about, I think it’s about that connection, whether that no matter what direction that is going.

33:39  Great. So I’m going to put all of the details in the show notes for today and your website, your Spotify link, and your SoundCloud link. And there are a number of ways that people can listen to the album and for and listen to what you do. And I think your blogs are amazing as well on your websites I love I love your how you write. So I’m going to encourage everyone to listen to that. And I hope that short story is in there. Is it the one with the girl it goes to find?

34:05  Not? It’s not, but maybe I’ll need to actually write it down.

34:09  Yes, please. That’s a really great story. I love it. And so we’re going to be wrapping things up is there anything else you’d like to say to the listeners before we wrap things up?

34:22  Um, so going back to your point about feeling trapped in this like expectation expectations of other people and feeling maybe caught in the world that you’ve created or et cetera. I wrote a song about that. It’s on my album. It is the song after tomorrow. And you can choose how you want to interpret the lyrics if they are somewhat poignant and painful, because it is about being in that trapped space about realizing that other People have expectations for you. But maybe it’s not who you want to be. And ultimately, not having the courage yet to take the step that you need to take to get to where you want to go. But knowing that you’re going to have the courage to do it. So I wrote the song, reflecting back on how trapped in these other things I felt previous to starting my album. And it was one of the more difficult songs for me to write because of that. But I think it’s something that everyone can relate to about this, this sensation. And I would just encourage everybody that no matter what it is, you’re dreaming, you can you can make the steps to get there.

35:51  So yes, I love that. I think that journey is the exciting thing.

35:56  It is. Absolutely, it’s all about the journey.

36:00  That’s a pleasure to have you on the show today, Tara. I’m so excited for your album and all the exciting things you’re doing. And we will be following you very closely. I encourage the listeners to check you out. And to all of you listening today. Thank you for listening, and we’ll we hope you tune in again to the resume podcast very soon. Bye. Bye

© 2023 Confidence in Singing | Privacy Policy | FAQs