Interview with Navaro
FolkWords talks to Steve Austin and Pete White – two thirds of Navaro (Beth was busy moving house). We asked about the band, their creative drive, their views on music and of course their latest album ‘Home Is Where Your Heartlands’.
FW: How did Navaro come into being?
SA: Before we met Beth she was already signed to Halo Records, a small north London independent label for a country album. She was due a follow up, and then we met and became immediate friends. Beth asked us to come to a rehearsal with her. Once the label boss heard our music and the three-part harmonies he offered to fund an album, and that was the beginning of Navaro and the result was ‘Under Diamond Skies’.
FW: Is there a force or ‘glue’ that holds the band together?
PW: It’s the personalities. It’s also friendship and the music. It’s a connection that comes from taking pleasure in the same music. It was finding an immediate point of contact between the three of us. Beth’s an incredibly warm person and good at being the ‘front’ of the band. Steve has methodical, ordered edge; I’m more creative and much less disciplined but the amalgam of the three personalities and our musical approach that makes Navaro work.
FW: What is the creative engine that drives Navaro?
PW: Steve’s the anchor if you will. He’s the more disciplined methodical one. I’m easily bored and always working on the next song and writing different bits and pieces. Steve often says: ‘Hang on, wait a minute, before you charge off on another idea let’s not forget the song you just wrote.’
SA: It’s wonderful that Pete’s so creatively prolific. His songs are great but he does tend to move on quickly and forget that he’s written a great song we should cherish, work on and develop. Beth writes songs too and she has an incredible voice. The engine that really drives the band is the interaction we share.
FW: Did you have a goal in mind when you recorded Heartlands?
SA: We had a number of goals – none of which we stuck to! The original idea was to record those songs that people consistently ask if they’re going to be on the next album. When we went to the studio we had it in mind to record two or three live favourites - then ended up doing ten in one day. Fortunately, we received some financial assistance from a friend and that enabled us to spend time adding more songs and other musicians to create this long 21-track album.
We questioned ourselves - was it too long, was there too much on it? In the end we decided there are no rules so we just did what we wanted. The final goal was to record the essence of Navaro. We love each song. Each one can stand alone or with others. And having three different singers gives the album considerable variety.
FW: So is the preference studio or live recording?
PW: Recording is such a peculiar process for me. It changes so much about the music. It’s hard to explain. The easiest explanation is this: imagine standing on a beer mat. Put a beer mat on the floor and balance on it and that’s easy. But if you put the same mat on top of a high post it becomes much harder and demands more concentration. When you’re in a studio and that little red light comes on, for me everything changes. You are less spontaneous. When you start to think too much about it something fades. In the environment that we recorded Heartlands I almost forgot we were recording.
SA: Recording environments matter. The feeling of the place, the ambiance is important. I hate to use the word organic but that’s what it is. I think we all tune in to buildings and environments. To get the best the vibe must be positive. That’s why we recorded Heartlands the way we did.
FW: Was there a concept to Heartlands?
PW: It’s not a concept album as such but the drive was to get away from the process of breaking each song down into separate elements to record an album. Personally, I find the traditional ‘studio album’ approach difficult because once you’ve go through all the dissection and remodelling a song just doesn’t have the same edge as a live track. What you hear on Heartlands is what we laid down – with only minor tweaks.
SA: The concept was to create the essence of the live act – we wanted the album to have an all-embracing quality. The idea of the statement ‘Home is Where Your Heartlands’ is not necessarily a reference to one specific place. It’s a feeling when you find that you belong in a certain place or time. It’s where you happen to be at one time. It’s something you share with other people. It’s the energy and the warmth that we all feel. That’s why it was easier to achieve that feeling playing together in one room.
FW: You state that Heartlands grew out of Under Diamond Skies – but the two albums seem some distance apart and the first seems more clinical.
SA: Some of that is because we recorded Heartlands in one take and live. Also the ‘Heartlands time’ is a better place for the band. During the Under Diamond Skies time the lives of individuals in the band were going through unsettling times. There was a lot of helping each other out. It was a group effort. However, there was a far more clinical approach to Under Diamond Skies. It was a touch more objective. The songs were taken apart and dissected. Since then we have come a long way as friends and as a band. You’re right - this is reflected in Heartlands – there is more presence and cohesion.
FW: Is the album a high point or a milestone?
SA: It’s a big step up from Under Diamond Skies. After the first album we spent a long time touring and gigging. Heartlands sounds a lot more established and in every sense and reflects a more harmonious act. We are more together in Heartlands.
FW: Would you say that you play in a particular genre – folk, country, acoustic?
SA: I’m wary of genres. It’s not the way I think. Of course, you could say that some songs are rooted in country or folk, some have Scottish influence. The guitarist who taught me was Scottish so there could be some influence there. There are so many filters and elements in the Navaro mix it’s impossible to concrete that into one place. In my view we play acoustic music whatever influences or elements involved.
FW: Is the current Navaro sound exactly where you want to be or is it a stop on a journey to somewhere else?
PW: There are thousands of ideas in my head. The music I write for Navaro fits our format. There are certain songs that lend themselves to specific situations and work with the band. It’s how they happen. I never believe in being too calculated. There are some elements of my songs that remain constant. Although I sometimes I write in a country theme, I don’t perform the songs in a parody of American accent – I sing in my own voice. If you don’t you sound like you’re doing an impression. There’s always an urge to move forward.
SA: The sound that is Navaro is something that develops out of our interaction. There’s no way that can ever remain static. It is as fluid or solid as the personalities involved.
FW: Your songs have some intense lyrics – do they arrive as a word, a phrase or complete?
SA: For me, developing a lyric is like going to sneeze. You know it’s going to happen. You can’t stop it. You may as well get the handkerchief out – or in my case writing paper - and go with it. When that frame of mind arrives I can write three or four songs in a week. It’s a concentrated thing. I have to do it that way. If I leave a thought because I’m busy and hope to come back to it later it’s pointless - the feeling’s gone.
PW: Sometimes the song comes in a rush and I write it straight down. Sometimes I get a single thought for a song. Then it’s like channelling. I play around with the first thought and then another turns up. The thoughts tumble around together. Eventually the song arrives. It’s like a tumbling stone - you begin with a boulder and end up with a shiny, polished stone.
FW: Do you intentionally concentrate on the lyric?
SA: Choosing the right words and creating the poetry of lyrics are part of the way I see the world. So poetic, lyrical thoughts are something I concentrate on. For me it’s the creation of a beautiful thing. That’s my attitude with my songs.
FW: Most people measure success on a material level - or are there other measures?
SA: Naturally, we are trying to get the album featured in reviews and on radio. But if the music has an all-embracing quality, the package looks beautiful and sounds beautiful then for me it works. Of course, people have to listen to the album to hear that beauty. That’s what we’re trying to do with our promotion but it’s not ‘hard sell’ it’s more ‘shared embrace’. I think one could easily become disheartened if you measured purely monetary success. You ask yourself: ‘Why do certain people get recognition and I don’t?’ Thankfully, I’ve reached a place where I’ve removed those pollutants from my head.
FW: Is the Internet good for music?
PW: The Internet does allow an awful lot of people to put out average or poor material – either covers or their own music. The issue that really annoys me is when someone covers a well-known song, absolutely mutilates it and everyone only remembers the bad cover. On the positive side, the Internet allows people to hear good music. It also enables focused web sites like FolkWords to tell people what’s out there and make them aware of good material. Despite the constant communication around us, it’s never been harder to get anywhere in the music world. Then again, the Internet means it’s never been so easy to promote yourself.
FW: Do you find music is something you can’t stop is it perhaps an addiction?
SA: It’s not an addiction it’s a fundamental part of who we are. As far as Navaro is concerned it’s something that binds us together. We all share a secret language. We speak the same version of that language. It’s the core of who we are.
PW: For me music is far more than addiction. When the music is good you feel good. When I write a song there’s no better feeling. When I feel like that the rest of life becomes good too. Perhaps life doesn’t change at all but your perception changes. Whatever it is, it’s a good feeling. That’s why I don’t see it as an addiction – to my eyes it’s more of a medication. Song writing is in many ways a healing process. It’s not something you gorge yourself on but it’s something that makes you feel better.
SA: There is of course the compulsion to get it right but for me that’s part and parcel of working on a song to present a beautiful finished product to other people.
FW: So what’s the next step?
SA: You can only see so far ahead. We didn’t really plan to have a fully realised album with the songs on Heartlands – it just happened. Now we’re getting ready for live performances. Pete and I both have projects in our heads. I have a feeling that there are elements coming together at the right time - there are ‘planets lining up’ if you will. I have other acoustic ideas that I want to develop.
PW: Heartlands is not a full stop - it’s a point on a journey. We have not even scratched the surface of the cache of songs that Steve and I have between us. You never know what we could do if we decide to plunder our back catalogue and then develop that. On the other hand, there are dozens of new directions we could take.
SA: Whatever comes along it’s going to be fun.