Jack Novak is one of the few leading ladies of the Strip’s EDM culture. But did you know that the Chicago-bred DJ, music producer, former model and Drai’s regular—full name Jacqueline Novak—is self-taught? Her new single, “If It Kills Me,” dropped in August, and features singer/songwriter Blackbear (a.k.a. Mat Musto, who also co-wrote Justin Bieber’s hit, “Boyfriend”)—a project that came together with a little help from the Internet and a beer run.
Which came first for you, production or performing?
I love being on the guitar and flute. I was always very into music, [since I was] really young, but I wasn’t on a computer producing music. I was just a musical person. When I started to take an interest in DJing, I talked to a couple of friends who were doing it professionally on a larger scale and they all said to me, “If you want to do this the right way, you need to get a [digital audio workstation] program, and you need to produce your own tracks, so that when you’re out playing live, you can play your own music.” It was a big hurdle, learning a whole new way of making music, but it was always innate to me.
Transitioning from modeling to DJing, did you take a class or work with a mentor to learn those skills?
I never went to a class, I never had a mentor. To be honest with you, I went to Guitar Center. I bought Ableton off the shelf. I sat there on the couch, and I just started to look through the manual, and then I went on Ableton’s YouTube and I started looking at tutorials on how to do the most basic stuff.
YouTube videos helped you kick off a new career?
It was a combo of using tools found on the Internet, and then experimenting. Just sitting down and failing a bunch of times, and trying a bunch of different things; you just keep learning. Then when you [work] with other people, too, you pick up things. Bring those things to the table, and you can find some pretty awesome inspiration.
What’s the story behind your new single, “If It Kills Me”?
The track itself is really beautiful. It’s got live guitar and piano. As far as dance tracks go, I think it’s got a little bit more of an organic sound. I was working on the track, and I really loved the instrumental. Then as soon as I finished the instrumental, I knew right away that I wanted a really special topline [vocal] on it. There was an artist that I had found through [social media] maybe three years before, Blackbear. I thought, “Damn, he’s an amazing songwriter.” I loved his voice. I also loved the writing that he did for other people, and I’d always wanted to work with him.
So you guys got in touch?
I showed him [the “If It Kills Me” instrumental], and he said, “Let me see if I can write to it.” I came to the studio, and I gave him the track. I ran out to get, like, a six-pack of beer, and when I came back he had written an entire song, and recorded the demo. Literally in 20 minutes. I remember I came back, and he and the engineer were freaking out.
What about the music video to accompany it?
We finished the song, and then about nine or 10 months ago, I saw a video on YouTube for the song called “Simple Needs” by TheStand4rd. I remember grabbing my friend, asking, “Who directed this video? I have to work with them.” I did some research. [Alex Howard] is 19 years old—crazy gifted, crazy talented. I hit him up on Instagram and said, “Hey, I want to create some art with you, I want to work with you somehow.” That kid and me talked on the phone for nine months about ideas and working together, getting to know each other and sharing music.
How did the final product come together?
I ended up flying out with Blackbear to Minnesota, which is where [Howard] is from, and we shot the music video.
Now that the track and video are done, what do you think about them?
It’s a really dope track. It’s a real song. It’s the type of song that, if you stripped it down, and you played nothing but guitar, or nothing but piano, and just sang acapella over it, it’s still a real song. That’s my favorite kind of music.