Stop-On-A-Dime Accuracy, High Energy Abandon: The Intricate Chaos Of Navi

by | Sep 19, 2013 | MUSIC

It’s Saturday night, and through the vacant silence of the warehouses and glowing street lamps of Scott’s Addition comes one of the deepest, most gut-rattling sounds ever heard from an electric guitar. Its immensity is primordial, almost unnaturally low, churning against the smashing of cymbals and throbbing drums that blare through a practice space no bigger than some people’s walk-in closets. It is the sound of the instrumental duo known as Navi, a rare amalgamation of stop-on-a-dime accuracy and high energy abandon that seems way too large and powerful to come from only two human beings.

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It’s Saturday night, and through the vacant silence of the warehouses and glowing street lamps of Scott’s Addition comes one of the deepest, most gut-rattling sounds ever heard from an electric guitar. Its immensity is primordial, almost unnaturally low, churning against the smashing of cymbals and throbbing drums that blare through a practice space no bigger than some people’s walk-in closets. It is the sound of the instrumental duo known as Navi, a rare amalgamation of stop-on-a-dime accuracy and high energy abandon that seems way too large and powerful to come from only two human beings.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE NEW ISSUE OF RVA MAGAZINE!

The room is stacked to the walls with musical equipment and half-working gear. Drummer Kyle Flanagan adjusts a cracked and scorched-black ride cymbal with jagged sharp edges; the damaged instrument creates a dull metallic deadness when played. Meanwhile, guitarist Jon Hawkins stands in the corner deftly setting the flashing lights and analog knobs of his myriad of effects pedals, which he calls in and out of their music like a conductor leading a mutant symphony of distorted choral voices. Navi is a band that thrives on innovation and exploration, turning improvisational jams into tight-working songs that hit with precision and free form fluidity, blurring the lines between abject noise and prog-like instrumental acrobatics. “It was our attempt at a punk band, but we’ve both always played technical music,” says Flanagan when asked about the roots of the duo’s highly affected and energetic sound. Hawkins adds, “With Navi, it’s about trying to explore simplicity, to be honest. I always thought this was the simplest thing I’ve ever done, and then people started calling it math rock.”

It’s clear in conversation and from their music that Navi is a band that enjoys great musical and personal chemistry between the two members, who find common ground in spite of their disparate upbringings and early musical experiences in far flung corners of the state. Jon Hawkins grew up in the sprawling suburbs and strip malls of Northern Virginia, where he cut his musical teeth in a small circle of creative kids that has yielded some notable regional musicians such as Dope Body’s John Jones, Heavy Midgets singer/guitarist John Graham, and Leland Jackson, better known as the Zen alchemist of the beat scene, Ahnnu. “When you’re in an area where there’s not many people who are on the same wavelength as you are, you’re able to find each other and link up,” Hawkins explains. “There’s only a few of you who know this one band that you feel like most people should know about, and those people stand out. And with Kyle and I, it’s kind of the same thing.” For Flanagan, growing up in what he describes as the “big nothing town” of Gloucester, VA led him from playing music casually on his brother’s drum set to an obsession sparked by his discovery, as a reggae-loving adolescent, of acts like Bad Brains and Mars Volta. Both musicians soon found themselves looking for more opportunities to play music outside of their hometowns. Though they arrived years apart, both found the community they were looking for in Richmond.

Hawkins spent much of the last five years making his mark as one of the city’s most interesting guitar players, both in the instrumental quartet Field Day and the short-lived experimental trio ROYGBIV. Over the course of his musical evolution, Hawkins has whittled down the size of each new band he’s formed, stripping away instruments and parts while maintaining a fundamental sound and technique that stands out distinctly as his own. When asked whether his musical path towards minimalism was intentional, Hawkins responds, “With Navi, I just figured out a formula that would work with a two-piece, that would fill out a lot of sound. I thought it could be a lot more raw. Once we started playing together, I just thought there was no reason to add another person.”

After meeting through a mutual friend and getting together for informal jam sessions, Hawkins and Flanagan soon hit it off. “We could vibe on jazz, heavy math shit we grew up on, bands like Hawkwind, garage and rock and roll, stuff that Jon turned me on to,” Flanagan says of the duo’s fast-developing musical camaraderie. In fact, Flanagan calls his musical partnership with Hawkins “the reason I moved to Richmond.” “I moved here to start Navi,” he says. “I didn’t know that, that’s tight.” says Hawkins, amused. “I think I told you, but I think we were kind of wasted,” Flanagan replies, and they both erupt in laughter.

Less than two years after their formation, Navi has become one of the best bands in the city. The band has honed their deeply impactful live performances for the maximum amount of engagement between themselves and the audience. “Our goal is fun. That’s why we play on the floor. I have a ball when people are falling all over the drum set and going crazy and just losing it,” says Flanagan. “I just want to make it impossible for people to go to our shows and not vibe out,” adds Hawkins. “I’m not sure if we always are able to do that, but we’re trying to get there as much as possible.”

Like many bands in the recent generations of emerging Richmond artists, Navi has emerged from the DIY community, relying on free-form creative spaces as venues for the creation of their music. As with most things, the two band members are of one mind on the subject. “Every year, there’s a recycling of new spaces that pop up, and it’s exciting to be there and see that happen,” Hawkins says of the galleries and house shows that have provided Navi with some of their earliest opportunities to perform. “It really bums me out how much energy and money is put into stopping kids from doing that,” Flanagan says. “I mean, this isn’t the worst city in the world, but people get shot and hurt here, and I’ve seen twenty cop cars outside of a house show.” But beyond the long arm of the law, the members of Navi see something positive building amongst their city and their peers in Richmond’s experimental rock community. “I feel honored to have a bunch of different friends playing a bunch of different music, who are doing things that are good,” Hawkins says. “Hopefully more people will start to understand the unifying element that’s hard to place, but is there amongst all these different sounds.” “Everyone who comes out to shows comes out to almost every show. It’s like a really tight family,” Flanagan adds.

Thus far, Navi have only produced a couple of short-run EPs, but in the next year, they plan to release a prolific amount of music, including an upcoming release they recorded in Brooklyn with members of New York act Noxious Foxes, a planned split with fellow Richmond band Dumbwaiter, and a cassette with Richmond act New Turks. They also have a week-long Northeastern tour scheduled for the end of summer.

As the evening draws to a close and the duo’s alien squall gives way to the sounds of police sirens and fireworks echoing through the alleys of the city, Jon Hawkins distills Navi’s sound into one simple philosophy. “I’m curious about finding new sounds that I haven’t heard before, and how to make them. That’s what we’re trying to do,” he says. “You should make music that you would want to hear. Otherwise, what’s the point in doing it?”

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Marilyn Drew Necci

Marilyn Drew Necci

GayRVA editor-in-chief, RVA Magazine editor for print and web. Anxiety expert, proud trans woman, happily married.




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