Navi is a name that’s always turned heads in Richmond. But it had been almost a year since that name graced a show flyer or event page, and it was starting to appear as though guitarist Jon Hawkins and drummer Kyle Flanagan had actually called it quits.
After splitting up in 2015, Navi announced one final show supporting Dumb Waiter’s album release show for Cancel Christmas almost exactly a year ago today on April 29th, 2016.
It was an unlikely reunion based on the acrimonious circumstances of their breakup. But the duo immediately returned to old form, and the packed Hardywood crowd erupted.
For the uninitiated, a Navi set is like a tornado of energy. They comfortably reside at the nexus of hardcore, noise and math rock, atop a mountain of riffs and fills. Their songs are taut and groovy, fast and heavy as hell.
Sometimes Jon’s guitar sounds like a guitar, and sometimes it doesn’t at all. Sometimes you worry that Kyle will keep playing faster and faster until his arms fly off his body. Sometimes the crowd is so drunk on their performance (and also probably just drunk) that they verge on consuming the band and throwing down the walls in a frenzy of sweat and spilled beer.
But none of that really seems like an adequate description.
So after accidentally destroying the hard drive that contained all of the project files for the video of their Hardywood reunion, captured by members of Dust Up and Good Day RVA with audio recorded and mixed by Kevin Willoughby, I have conceded defeat and released an in-process cut so that some document lives on from that special performance.
Now, one year after that show, Navi has announced they are once again reuniting – this time for a house show with Night Idea and Yoink on June 10th.
But the real questions still remain – will this reunion stick? And if so, what else do they have planned?
To find out more, I spoke with Jon and Kyle just before the launch of Dust Up in late April 2017. Below are a brief history of the one and only Navi and answers to some of those questions.
How did you guys first meet and start jamming? Do you remember your first gig?
Kyle Flanagan: I met Jon when I was in high school living in Gloucester, Va. I had one friend, Joe Crawford, that I played music with everyday. Same setup – drums, guitar and a bunch of pedals. Joe had moved to Richmond to attend VCU and got a job at Metro Sound. While Joe was working, Jon came in one day wearing a Tera Melos t-shirt. Joe and I were ripping off that band during our jams at the time, so they struck a conversation that led to them meeting up to fuck with guitars and pedals. Eventually Joe invited me up to hang out and jam with the two of them. So I loaded up my car, skipped school and drove straight to Jon’s house when he lived in one of those loft things next to the Lombardy Kroger.
Jon Hawkins: Yeah, I believe it was the spring of 2011. Joe worked at Metro Sound at the temporary Carytown location. He told me about a drummer friend back home that also shared a lot of the same influences. Kyle and I met and started playing every time he came to town. Once he eventually moved here, we just went at it. We were both unemployed at the time and made the best of it.
Kyle: Jon and I clicked instantly, personally and in terms of music taste, because we both like pretty much everything. We did this a few more times eventually leading to me moving here, kicking out Joe (sorry bud) and starting Navi. Our first show was at the first spot I moved into here, the Henry Street Gallery, with some other bands. I think it was Halloween.
Jon: To my memory it was at a house venue named The Catacombs. We had maybe two songs, but I believe we improvised live mostly. We played there often so I’m not sure the lineup since they seem to blur together. It could’ve been with Midair, Brother Wolf and Houdan the Mystic. But I really don’t remember.
In Navi, compared to other groups you’ve both played in, you have a very particular set of stylized, synthy guitar tones and breakneck punk/hardcore rhythms mixed with noise and other distinct influences. What was the progression of developing the sound that became Navi?
Jon: I spend a lot of time researching musical equipment. When we started I was buying more experimental pedals to try and see if I could get some fun timbres that wouldn’t get tired after one or two songs. I really wanted to play synth but couldn’t afford one, so I just tried to make my guitar sound like one since it was possible.
Kyle: We just click really well. I don’t think its ever taken longer than 30 minutes to get an initial layout of a song done. Also they’re never really finished so we’ll change little things here and there as we play them more. I always just wanted to sound like Lightning Bolt.
Jon: The bass amp addition wasn’t a thing until our second or third show I believe. I was watching someone at the gig and it occurred to me I could fill out the sound more if I used a bass amp in addition to my guitar amp. I think I just asked a band to borrow their amp for the gig and liked how it sounded and continued to use one after. I think it helped a lot.
Could you tell us a little bit about the set that we recorded at Hardywood? Did you think at that point that you guys would ever play together again?
Kyle: We did it for the big bucks! And no, I didn’t really think we would play again. Jon was really pissed when I called things off. I don’t blame him at all. We didn’t speak for like a year until that came together.
Jon: That show was fun. We were both in a good mood and excited. I didn’t really think anyone would still care since it had been about a year I think since the last gig. These days good bands are easier to come by it seems. During that show, I didn’t think we were going to play ever again. We changed our minds on that later and were open to trying things sometime in the future. The Silent Film Revival at Gallery 5 was definitely something we’ve both wanted to do, so that was a great excuse to play again that Halloween.
You’ve both played in bands in Richmond for while now, and your interests in instruments and styles has obviously changed a lot over that time. What still speaks to you about Navi that makes you want to revisit those songs?
Jon: I like the energy of the band. Kyle and I can write very fast. The first six songs we made were written in about 2 months and the excitement of presenting them made us play with a lot of energy. I didn’t notice the amount of energy the band had until the early house shows started becoming intense. People started letting loose which was the goal we set for the band. I was going to a lot of hardcore and punk shows and enjoyed seeing the crowds go off and tried to capture that energy.
Kyle: And we aren’t revisiting those songs, we’re writing all new material for this next gig. Jon has a big fancy modular synth now, and I have a lot more thrift store shit I enjoy mangling. Its all gonna be in the mix. Might play a couple old ones if the price is right LOL.
Jon, I remember talking a while ago while I was working on the Hardywood video, and you mentioned wanting to play at least one final house show. What is it about house shows that specifically speaks to Navi’s live show?
Jon: If you asked most bands, the house shows are where it’s at for exciting gigs. No regulations, odd shaped rooms, and maximizing the bodies in a three bedroom row house, while hoping the cops don’t shut it down. It’s always unpredictable. People let loose more for some reason. Not sure if it’s the booze or if it’s the setting, but something about them allows people to make the experience memorable. I still don’t understand why people will pay for a show and stare at the performer, but go crazy for the same performer at the free house show.
Kyle: I book a lot of punk and noise shows and stuff, mostly at two different houses. So this one is a little out of my comfort zone in terms of the bands and stuff. But Yoink are old friends, and I wanted to set them up a good show.
And now the big kicker questions – are you planning on playing more gigs? Any interest in releasing physical copies of the old tunes or recording the new material?
Jon: I’d like to think we will be playing more gigs since we are writing new music, but I don’t know. I’m very interested in releasing physical copies of our music. We only had one official physical release the whole time we were playing, which was a split tape with New Turks so it would be a release more than a re-release. That was only our first EP on that. We made some DIY discography tapes and cds with paint marker all over them when we toured with New Turks. Maybe if we record the new stuff we might try and shop around for a label to help.
Kyle: Yeah, we’re gonna play some more gigs if it seems fun. Not trying to play a lot though. We have been talking to the big dawg Tim Falen (Trrrash Records) about releasing a compilation tape of all of our past recordings and will probably be hitting up The Ward sometime this summer to record the new stuff.
Navi performs with Yoink and Night Idea on June 10th. The cover is $5. For more information, ask a punk.