Meet Novena Carmel: KCRW’S New ‘Morning Becomes Eclectic’ Co-Host, Former Talent Buyer & Sly Stone’s Daughter

Novena Carmel
(Larry Hirshowitz for KCRW)

Novena Carmel, a longtime Angeleno, club booker and musicians, just began as co-host of KCRW’s flagship morning music program Morning Becomes Eclectic.

For many Angelenos, radio is not just a casual listening experience, but a way of daily life, one that helps make the endless car times and now the homebound tedium far more bearable. KCRW, one of L.A.’s two NPR stations, is a treasure trove of talk, news and especially quality music programming. When Jason Bentley, host of the station’s flagship morning program “Morning Becomes Eclectic,” stepped down in 2019 after a decade it was unclear who would fill the void. Anne Litt, the station’s beloved Program Director of Music stepped in and ably got us through the past year. Then, finally, on Feb. 2, for the first time in the show’s history, two co-hosts hit the air: lauded longtime KCRW DJ Anthony Valadez and Novena Carmel, a relatively new DJ on the late shift. Their excellent music selecting, smart, witty banter and deep knowledge of the L.A. music scene and far beyond made them the perfect choices. And when Pollstar found that Carmel booked several L.A. venues including Temple Bar, Zanzibar, The Virgil and Townhouse & The Del Monte Speakeasy, played in the bands Wallpaper and BabyStone, and is the daughter of music demigod Sly Stone of Sly and The Family Stone to boot, we made a beeline. Here, this vivacious and brilliant artist discusses how booking clubs and being a musician and now a radio DJ inform each other, and, if perhaps, it’s all in her DNA.

Pollstar: Congratulations on the new gig, how was your first week on air?

NOVENA CARMEL: It was so exciting, so fun.  Exciting and fun are the words.

You came out of the gate guns blazing this week with early “Morning Becomes Eclectic” DJ Tom Schnabel, a Wattstax set for Black History Month and you celebrated The Clash. Is this the modus operandi going forward?
We want to keep it interesting and fun for folks. There’s not a particular structure. We are always inspired by music and the story behind it, so it naturally happens. Even Wattstax, I was like, “Oh, I’ll play this song because it’s Black History Month.” And then last minute I was like, “Yo, there’s so much great music from this festival, and it’s Los Angeles.” So it just inspired us to do a bigger piece and it came together naturally.

I was blown away listening to old school “MBE” DJ Tom Schnabel, who said Bob Marley came into the studio for his first show! Was that for real?
Tom has stories for days and his stories have magic to them. There was that and then Miles Davis doing laps at his gym. That’s crazy.

Swimming with Miles. So are people coming out of the woodwork congratulating you?
Yeah, they really are, I can’t lie. The response has been amazing. Folks just seem like they’re really, really excited. I’ve heard from a number of people who are newly listening. The excitement further fuels our excitement.

Is this the first time KCRW has had people of color as DJs on Morning Becomes Eclectic?  
As the actual host. Other DJs have filled in as guest host, but yes, it’s the first time as the actual full-time host.

Novena Carmel
(Photo by FilmMagic/FilmMagic)

The Booker Getting Booked: Novena Carmel and Ricky Reed of Wallpaper perform at Outside Lands at Golden Gate Park on Aug. 10, 2012 in San Francisco.

About time. Tell me about your history booking venues?
I was working on “The Boondocks”during the second season as the assistant to the creator producer of the show, Aaron McGruder, and it was really fun but it was television and animation, which wasn’t my main interest. I had a friend named Dexter Story who was the booker at Temple Bar and around 2008 I reached out to see if I could get extra work cocktail waitressing on the weekends. He said, “Well, actually, I’m looking for an assistant.” Immediately my whole perception changed of what was possible. I interviewed with him and the owners and became the assistant. Temple Bar was legendary, a thriving venue on the West Side in Santa Monica where they lived their slogan, “Diversity Through Music,” and brought in a range of global artists and local artists. When Temple Bar closed, the owners still had other venues, which at the time were Zanzibar, Townhouse with The Del Monte Speakeasy and Little Temple. So Dexter continued on to other things and I took over the position of buyer along with my buddy Carlos Niño, who’s also a big fixture in the L.A. music community. I’ve been doing that, up until now in different forms. Little Temple became The Virgil about seven years ago, and I was a part of totally re-imagining what the entertainment would look like there. It’s been pretty amazing.

Were you able to bring diversity to Santa Monica through bookings, which isn’t the most diverse place?
Definitely the bookings added to that. There is diversity to an extent, but a lot of the artists realized that there wasn’t a lot of venues on the west side. And the venues that I was a part of had enough of a reputation that people knew the music was going to be good, and it was going to be a fun time, so we had that opportunity. I want to add that the Townhouse is in Venice, which was still doing shows up until the pandemic and the Del Monte.

I love that spot. How do you approach booking? Do you work with agents, artists directly or managers?
There’s a little bit of everything, managers, agents and artists directly. Luckily, most of the things came to us and a lot of what we do is connected to people we know or know indirectly. The Los Angeles music community, as far as musicians go, is strong. And for myself, living here since 2000, and Carlos living here his whole life, and Louie and Netty [Ryan] running their venues since 1999, a lot of folks came to us knowing we had something special. Also, our integrity and respect with dealing with artists really stood out.

Were most of the artists, LA-based or did you go outside to international, national waters?
Oh, definitely international, national. If we got a tip of something that someone was in town, we might reach out to them or they would reach out to us. Yeah, all of the above. A lot of up and coming LA acts, Kamasi Washington has been playing with us for years. And  Thundercat, I met Thundercat at Temple Bar backstage when he was a bassist for other artists.

Novena Carmel and Anthony

The Co-Hosts With The Mostest: Anthony Valadez and Novena Carmel who began hosting L.A.’s KCRW Morning Becomes Eclectic Show on Feb. 2, 2021.

What’s amazing about LA is the fact that it’s omnivorous musically——really the morning, the evening and the afternoon becomes eclectic. Even though it is so massive an area and divided into neighborhoods, musically there’s a ton of gathering points.
I would say so. I mean, it’s hard for me to say compared to other places because I haven’t really experienced it a lot for myself. I would say New York probably would be comparable. Definitely the more you get into what your interests are, the smaller the community gets. So once you start knowing that you’re part of the music community, then everybody is connected in a certain way. And the culture is so rich here. There’s a little bit of everything and it’s so rich and also has such a long history, especially when you think about places like Leimert Park or even the Sunset Strip, It’s all over LA. And also it’s exciting to see a lot of, like Inland Empire artists doing their thing. And that is something I’m keeping my eye on, too.

And you’re  a musician.
In one way or another ever since I was young, I’ve been playing the piano and I’ve been dabbling and making music a little bit on my own. But it was funny, I actually did my first show with my band at Temple Bar when I was working there. So we booked me.

So me booked me…
Well, I was the assistant. So it was like, “Hey, Dexter, what do you think about this? “My first show, I had like 150 people come out, which was amazing at the time. And it felt more comfortable, too, like I was at home. So it kind of happened at the same time. While I was booking, I was also going on tour. So I’d be on a tour bus, opening up my computer, and booking acts in Santa Monica.

You were in Wallpaper  and Baby Stone, what were your other groups?
Baby Stone was the one I did my first show with and that was myself and my friend Itai Shapira doing soul funk. And then, Wallpaper was the project of Ricky Reed, he just had his debut album as Ricky Reed come out. And then obviously, he produced and developed Lizzo, and worked with Leon Bridges, a ton of people. But at that time, he was doing Wallpaper. It’s kind of funny there’s a little bit of a parallel where Wallpaper was awesome and it existed in one sense, but then he had a vision for doing something different and new with it and asked if I would join in on that. Which is sort of like what Morning Becomes Eclectic is now, too. It already existed and it’s awesome. And then, I get to be added to it and take it to another place. So I toured a bunch with Wallpaper. I also did this electropop project called Zoo Wax with a couple of French musicians. And there’s an artist named Spencer Ludwig, I was touring with him recently.

Wallpaper Novena Carmel
Michael Buckner/Getty

Wallpaper with Novena Carmel (left) and Ricky Reed (right) perform at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival on April 13, 2012 in Indio, Calif.

Did you play Coachella?
I did. I played Coachella, I think, a total of three times. So, the first time that I ever did it was with Wallpaper. And that was a fun one, where we were on Friday at noon. So it was one of the very first acts. And we were like, “Oh, my God, is there going to be anybody here to see us?”

And it’s 120 degrees.
Yeah, exactly. But it was actually pretty packed and it was crazy and we felt really good about it. I remember that. And then we returned, I want to say the next year, as guest performers with Paul Oakenfold.

That’s bizarre.
Yeah. Ricky Reed of Wallpaper did a song with him, and I think we all performed it together. But years before that, I performed when my dad [Sly Stone] was scheduled at Coachella.

What? We’ll get back to that, but he played Coachella?
He did. But it was so weird. I can’t lie. He was scheduled, he played– it was just a strange thing, where everything was late and then they changed the stages. It wasn’t my favorite Coachella memory.

So how did being an artist and touring inform your booking talent for venues?
If you’ve been an artist, you understand booking so much better. Sometimes people are just focused on dollars and they don’t care. But for me, it’s important to respect people. I respect someone who is putting themselves out there. Even if I don’t like what they’re doing, just the fact that they have the guts to do it. I can appreciate it. What leads to success is the reputation you have with artists. A lot of times I was able to get shows maybe for less money because people knew what our effect was compared to another venue that they didn’t’ feel they had a personal connection with.

Novena Carmel
(VISUAL THOUGHT/Courtesy Novena Carmel)

Novena Carmel: “A big group photo of the Sly Stone tribute show I co-produced and performed in at Grand Performances. Some of the more familiar faces in the photo are: Joi, Bilal, Jimetta Rose, Molly Miller, Nelson George, Wyldeflower, Jack Davey, Dexter Story, Lonnie Marshall.

What bookings are you most proud of?
Terrace Martin. Obviously, a fixture in the thriving and developing L.A. music scene. He was doing a series of shows with us that were like Terrace Martin Presents and he would have all these surprise guests. There were a number of them, but with really cool people. I don’t want to mix them up. From what I recall, on this one night it was him, Robert Glasper, Derrick Hodge, Chris Dave on drums, and then guest performances by like Goapele and Lalah Hathaway. Don Cheadle and Wayne Brady opened up and just talked and rapped. Then, after hours and hours into performances, it’s like 1:30 a.m. or something and we have a curfew to close by like 1:45, and Dave Chappelle shows up on the stage. In a room for 150 people. It was just the most exciting thing.

Wow. And you mentioned Kamasi and Thundercat coming to the Temple Bar.
Yeah, definitely. They were there at that time, along with so many others. John Legend. Bruno Mars had some of his first shows at Temple Bar when I was working there.

Are you kidding?
And also another one, Anderson .Paak, used to perform.

I love him.
Oh, yeah. I was looking at Anderson all the time. Except at the time he was called Breezy Lovejoy.

[laughter] Are you kidding? He’s such a talent.
And he was the kindest, sweetest, hungriest dude. Sometimes when you’re building out a show, you want to have a  “Headlining act.” And then there’s one or two other acts that are complimentary to add to it. And I remember Breezy was like, if you ever asked him, like, “Do you want to come join this show?” he was down. There’d be times when there was a lot of people in the room, but even if there was 10 people, he played like it was a full house and was just happy and thankful every time. Yeah, really talented, and a hard worker too.

How have your booking experiences informed your DJing?
As a booker, I think about what I like as an audience person. And that’s what I do with a live performance at a venue. On KCRW, it’s a little different because you don’t see the people in front of you, so the feedback comes later. But it is curating an experience for the audience. And it’s curating one that is fulfilling for yourself and basically leaves them wanting to come back for more. My analogy is it’s a great restaurant, but every day the menu’s different. But it’s OK because you know the food is going to be bomb.

How are you putting a three-hour-a-day show together?
We’ve created a loose structure just to start, but it may change. For the first weeks, we did sort of 20 minutes each. Which makes it a little easier just to have some kind of structure. But then it may be something like one of us could interject and be like, “Ooh, the song you’re playing, really reminds me of this. Can I play it right now?” or something, which could happen. We get together every day, at least an hour before and  map out how the day’s going to go. Along with the music we’re playing, whatever sort of special presentations we have, playing the David Lynch weather report, today’s top tunes.  There’s a lot of communication with each other during the show, too. A lot of it is improv. We’ll be like, okay, this is about to come up, I’m going to ask you what you think about this and then you’ll say this. Luckily, because we’re creative and we’ve worked together a lot, that’s been happening.

Are you doing digital or vinyl?
In the studio we have lots of options. We have vinyl, CDJs, you could just plug in your laptop. Because it’s COVID, Anthony and I are in two separate rooms divided by a glass wall so we can still see each other. My room is what used to be where you would interview guests and I brought a DJ controller in there and play from that.

I saw on the KCRW website Anthony said, “She’s my best friend.” Are you guys really best friends?
Yeah. Yeah. Definitely. It’s not a lie. I mean, I’ve known Anthony for 10 years. Met him also officially at Temple Bar when I was working there, and he was a DJ. And we’ve always had immediate connection and just a fun time hanging out and creating together. We did a podcast together in the past. We created a pilot of a daily show for this Korean app and the app just didn’t work out. It was funny when the Morning Becomes Eclectic host position opened up, we both were like, “It would be so cool if we co-hosted it.” But we didn’t think that would actually happen.

How did it happen?
So when they first said that they were going to be looking for a new host, I had only been there for a handful of months. And before that I hadn’t been on radio at all. I was just getting my bearings being a late-night weekly host. And I didn’t even think that I should really apply at first; but a couple of people encouraged me to. And then I was like, “Well, even if I don’t get it, it’ll be cool just to see what happens and to let them know how much I love the station anyways,” right? Everybody had to do the same process, whether they were in the studio or outside of it, which was making a demo, submitting a resume with a cover letter, the whole shebang
Novena Carmel, Sly Stone and George Clinton
(Ani Yapundzhyan/Courtesy Novena Carmel)

Novena Carmel (right), her father Sly Stone (right) with George Clinton from a show performed in downtown Los Angeles

With Anthony Valadez or separately?
No, it was all separately because they were never saying like, “Oh, we’re also considering co-host.” Never, ever, ever, ever. The only thing was in interviews, both he and I said that it would be cool to have cohosts, which I thought even if it wasn’t me, it would be cool to have cohosts. It’s fun. It brings a different energy. I was just thinking that it felt like a good idea. So we all did three interviews. And then the music director, Anne Litt…

Who was the hosting the show?
Yes. So after the third interview, they said, “Okay, we’re going to think about it and let everybody know after Thanksgiving.” So then, right before Thanksgiving, the Monday before or the Tuesday before, Anne emailed me and was like, “Oh, I need to ask you about your ideas for something really quick. Can you hop on the phone?” And I’m like, “Yeah, sure.” So I’m at the grocery store thinking it’s this really casual phone call she wants to have. And then she texted me.

Wait, you were at Trader Joe’s?
I was at Sprouts.

Even better.
I was at Sprouts. And she said to me, “Can you hop on Zoom? I want to show you something really fast.” And I’m like, “Zoom? I’m at the grocery store.” (laughter) And I was like, “Am I even going to be able to see it on my phone?” And I told her, and she said, “It’s okay. Just hop on your phone.” So I leave my cart in the store because I didn’t want to be that person, especially during COVID that was like on a Zoom call in the middle of the grocery store blocking the aisle or whatever. So I left my cart and I hopped in my car and then I opened up Zoom and it’s the president of the station, Jennifer Ferro, and Paul (Bennun) and they’re all there and I’m like, “Wow, this is like a really big idea and Anne must have to have me on this call.” [laughter] And she goes, “I just wanted to  kind of surprise you and offer you the co-host position of Morning Becomes Eclectic.” And that was the first time that I knew there would be a co-host was when they offered me the co-host position,

What was your reaction?
It was just  like, What is this a dream? What are you saying to me? Who’s the co-host?

Did you go back into Sprouts and throw your cart on the ground?
It was incredibly hard to focus on continuing my grocery trip. I was just like at that point, just kind of throwing stuff in and, like, screaming inside. And they also were like, “You can’t tell anybody because it’s still a secret. We haven’t even told anybody else.” So I’m like, “I get it.” And then I remember thinking at that point, on top of everything and all the excitement, I was out of a job,  a full-time job. So I was really trying to be even more thoughtful than usual about how I’m spending my money. And I rolled my cart by all these sweet potato pies and I was like, “I’m going to get a pie.”

Wow, living.
Yeah. Really living.

So when you say you were out of a job, is that because you weren’t booking clubs anymore .
Yeah. So just lucky for me. In 2020, I’m a DJ, I’m a club booker. Both of my gigs are things that don’t work in pandemic times. I mean a bunch of my DJ gigs were canceled and then obviously the clubs had to shut down.

Timing is everything. So when it all comes back in spring, summer or fall are you going to inch your way back into booking or DJing outside of the radio station or touring or what do you see for yourself?
Mainly I’m really focused on making MBE awesome, to be honest. And then once restrictions are lifted a bit, that’ll give us even more possibilities with MBE for having artists or with the station in general, having events, festivals, who knows? But I imagine I may work with some of the artists that I worked with, or even the venues if they’re still open. And, of course, yes, doing the right DJ gig for myself and everything. But my main baby right now for a minute is MBE for sure.

if you were to go back to booking, do you think you would have an even more informed perspective?
Everything is constantly feeding each other. I’m now in a different way finding out about new artists at an increased pace. The more you immerse yourself in something, the more you are able to feel what the trends are and what is going to make sense for the city and the culture at the moment.

Novena Carmel and Sly Stone
(Couresty Novena Carmel)

Family Affair: Sly Stone and Novena Carmel

So, how’s your dad?
He’s great. He’s good.

Thank god, he’s a treasure. What’s it like having Sly Stone as a father and inspiring your music palette?
I mean, it’s amazing. It’s a hard question to answer because I don’t have a comparison. He’s just my dad and that’s just what I’m used to. I think he is such an amazing artist. I would feel that way even if I wasn’t related to him, but it’s hard for me to know for sure. But I’ll say to my boyfriend, “I could listen to Sly Stone every day. It’s not just because he’s my dad, right? He’s really dope, right?” He’s like, “I would listen to him every day.”  And then when I think, “Oh, yeah, this is your father, like your….this is going to be a lot. Fine, I’ll say it…Like you lived in his balls. You lived in this person’s balls and he’s a genius and he made this music right? That’s crazy. And then I’m like, I guess that’s in me, too, in some way, like this genius, which is just crazy but it also adds to my empowerment on my journey because it’s to just kind of allows things to unfold as they do and know the power of my being in the world.

That’s beautiful
The crazy thing is that my dad started out as a radio DJ.

What?! Really?!
In San Francisco? It was called KSOL. And it’s so weird because when I first started as a musician, I was like, “Oh, you know, it’s crazy. My dad was a musician. So am I. What does that mean?” And then when I became a DJ, I wasn’t thinking about him at all in that way, and then somehow I naturally became a radio DJ, which makes sense because I love playing music, but also entertaining people. It’s like, you just can’t get away from it, Novena.

Have you played Sly songs on your show?
Of course, I played one on my first show when I was first on KCRW in the late-night hours. I put out an EP of Baby Stone a few years ago,  he created this intro to my album that was sort of like a radio announcer. It was a thing he literally used to do on the radio that he got from this other OG guy named– I forget what his name was and he would go, “There you go you cats and kitties around the world, what I’m on about…” He used to do that on his show and then he did that to intro my album so  I played that to intro myself on my very first show from 3:00 to 6:00 AM on a Saturday night. So cool. And then for the first show on MBE, I played the song, “Remember Who You Are.”

That’s deep.
Yeah. It’s a great song. And it’s from an album called, “Back on the Right Track,” which is not one of his most popular albums. But there’s a number of songs on there where each title is very much like that. There’s another one called “The Same Thing.” It’s like “The same thing that makes you laugh, might make you cry. The same food you eat to live, could make you die. Someone else’s medicine, could be a poison to you.” It’s a great album.  “Who You Are” is a message for everybody, especially, nowadays.

Has he heard you on Morning Becomes Eclectic?
I don’t think he has. I don’t really know. He’s not like the kind of person where if you’re hanging out with him, he’s not like super on the phone or on the internet.

But he knows about you on MBE?
He knows  I’m doing this show that people love. But again he doesn’t like to listen to the radio. He’s like, “Oh, that’s great. I love this for you.” That’s what he says.

Well congratulations, first and foremost, this is so great for L.A.
Yeah, we’re really excited.