“I’m a very open book”, says rising New Zealand electro sensation Navvy. “There are not many questions I won’t answer”.
The starlet harnesses this heart-on-her-sleeve mentality to pen beautifully open and rousing slices of pop perfection.
It’s none more so exemplified on her recent single Pieces; an emphatic dance floor-filler that lays out the complex emotions of a painful break up and the journey of how a broken heart is pieced together again.
“I went in to write this sad, ballady song about how I would never be OK again and as we wrote I realised that I sort of already was”, she told Daily Star Online. “So it turned into like a dance song like ‘woohoo it’s ok to be happy!’”.
She teamed up with Starsmith, who’s worked with pop titans Jessie Ware, Jess Glynne and Dermot Kennedy, to apply his production skills to the track – “he was just so amazing to watch” Navvy says.
So good is Pieces that it was picked up by a staggering 23 new music Friday playlists and has enjoyed airtime on BBC Radio 1.
It marks an incredible 12 months for Navvy. In January she released the No Hard Feelings EP, the follow-up effort to 2019’s The Breakup EP, and she made her debut live performance on these shores at the Queen of Hoxton last November.
But her trajectory could have been different.
She trained in classical music in school and, aged 12, was told she may never sing again after undergoing surgery on vocal chord nodules.
And having spent years in vocal rehab, she used her recuperation period to work on her first EP, leading her onto the promising path she is on today.
Daily Star Online caught up with Navvy from her home in New Zealand to talk about Pieces, her songwriting techniques, her success so far, and what the future has in store.
Hi Navvy, how have the past few months treated you?
“It’s been a lot. We’re very lucky here in New Zealand. We’re out of lockdown now and we can do what we want, apart from travel. I’ve just been out for dinner with my best friends.
“Lockdown was alright. My life didn’t change that much. I sit around and write songs anyway. I was at home with my parents, which was kind of nice. I did a lot of baking with my mum. My dad and I watched The Chase every night at 6pm. That was my one routine!
“It’s nice to be out of it and to see my friends again and write music in person, rather than on Zoom.”
Did you use the time to write material?
“I did a bit of writing. For creatives, they found it the most inspirational thing ever. Or I end up looking at my four walls, struggling to get any inspiration. I was kind of more of that end of the spectrum but I did a bit of writing and I had a few Zoom sessions.
“I’m definitely more productive when my social meter has been filled and hanging out with my friends. I feel like it makes writing easy.”
You’ve just released your huge new single Pieces. What’s it about?
“My heart was so broken and broken into so many pieces, it wasn’t just a split down the middle. It was smashed and spread out everywhere.
“I was talking about how I thought I’d never be able to put them back together. There were so many it would take me years. The more we talked the more we realised that maybe I had already put it back together. I went in to write this sad, ballady song about how I would never be OK again and as we wrote I realised that I sort of already was. So it turned into like a dance song like ‘woohoo it’s ok to be happy!’.
“I was kind of punishing myself a little bit for feeling good about my life again. Through writing my song I thought actually, maybe it’s a good song.”
How do you get into the mindset of writing something so personal?
“I think I’m really lucky because I only ever really write with fantastically warm and beautiful people. That day was with one of my best friends, Rory Adams, and a producer called Starsmith. My first ever session overseas with a stranger. But it was also beautiful and makes it very easy when the room is welcoming.
“I’m a very open book. There are not many questions I won’t answer. I’m not afraid of my emotion.
“For that session we talked for three hours and wrote the song in an hour. It was so quick. The song is exactly like it was on the day. Getting in the headspace, I just want the room to be fun. Even if I’m writing a sad, ballady song you have to enjoy it.
“My job is inherently unserious and I take it very seriously. My job is to write songs and there’s nothing more fun than that. You have to make sure you’re not taking it too scholarly.”
Do you think songwriting helps with emotions?
“Big time. For me it was like therapy. Actual therapy is great with professionals but it’s kind of like a journal. I can look back at those songs and think ‘whoa I don’t remember feeling like that’. Now it’s in a time capsule of those emotions. I find it very cathartic to write about my deepest emotions, especially with other people.”
You mentioned working with Starsmith. What did he bring to the table in terms of Pieces’ production? It is a huge pop song.
“We had been talking for ages. We got lunch, came back, and he got out his keyboard and played the opening bass. I was like ‘that’s so cool’. The production was all him. He was just so amazing to watch. We just went crazy.
“There’s a synth solo at the end that we all think is funny but really cool. He brought a lot to the room. Most of the time we were taking the mick out of each other! Until we got to work time then all of a sudden it poured out of all of us. Everyone was really important in that room.”
It’s been picked up by 23 new music Friday playlists – that must be an amazing feeling…
“I’m so pleased. We wrote the song almost exactly a year ago. We’ve been sitting on it for so long and just loving it with our whole hearts. It’s always a gamble when you release – you just don’t know.
“It’s been so awesome to have other people like it too. BBC Radio 1 has played it, which is insane for this girl who’s sitting in her bedroom in New Zealand! It’s so bizarre. It’s such a weird life but also the best.”
Earlier this year you released your EP No Hard Feelings, what was its writing process like and are you pleased with the reaction?
“I’m very fanatic with my EPs at the moment. My first EP was the Break Up EP. Every song was about the actual break up.
“No Hard Feelings was the next era. But this didn’t really fit there. This final one is a jumble. It was about moving on. This was where it felt like it fit in the narrative. These three EPs are a trilogy that talk about 2019 and what that was. I’ll have another EP out in the next two months. That’s what Pieces will be attached to.”
What can expect from the EP? Will it be a similar sound to Pieces?
“Not at all! There’s lots of different tracks. The songs are very different to pieces but it also makes sense when they’re all together. I know that everyone always says they’re really proud of their work and it’s true but I’m so, so proud of this next one. I think it’s my best work yet. I can’t wait for it to come out – I’m so excited.”
Are you building towards an album?
“I think one day. The idea of a debut album is terrifying but EPs I could do forever.
“I like to release things a lot. I have an EP come out maybe every four or fiveish months. I really like that. This is my full time job and I don’t know how people release two singles a year. What do you do with the rest of your time?
“As a fan of music I want nothing more than more music from the people that I love. I don’t know about an album yet – that’s the dream. I’m a big fan of album artists like Taylor Swift and the Beach Boys and Sufjan Stevens. I think that albums are such a special thing that we’re so lucky to get. I don’t know if we’re quite there yet. One day, for sure, I would love to do an album.”
You have a huge work ethic with a DIY approach to your output, is this how you’ve always been?
“I think so, you have to be in New Zealand. There’s not any other option. Here you have to be an artist and a songwriter, or a songwriter and a producer. No one is really one thing. I actually think that’s a really good thing for us. We have to figure out how to do lots of things.
“My first few releases were me and my best friend writing songs after work. We’d start writing until 7pm and write until the early morning. I figured no one is going to hear it if I don’t do anything with it. These songs could sit on my Dropbox forever, but where’s the fun in that? We started putting stuff out for fun.
“Pretty quickly people who seemed to like it heard it and I got the coolest management ever and now it’s like a full time thing, which is wild.
“Work ethic is important to a lot of New Zealanders. My family are all about hard work. I’ve been very lucky to be surrounded by that. There’s not excuses for not working hard here.”
What’s the scene like in New Zealand?
“It’s pretty similar to England. It’s just small. It wasn’t until I started working in England that I realised it was small as well.
“I think here everyone knows each other, especially in music. It’s not just a cliche, it’s totally the truth. I love that. That’s the most beautiful thing about it.
“We all do really different stuff and there’s room for everyone. Everyone’s really supportive of each other. We’re really lucky here. I think the scene here is so great. I feel really blessed to be a part of that. Everyone’s rooting for each other. We want everyone to do well and I think we realise that’s possible.”
When did you get into music?
“I did music all my life but not pop music. I trained classically for 10 years. When I went to uni I thought I’d try pop music. I started that in 2014 and did that for three years. After uni we started releasing our stuff and that’s how we first got into the scene. About 18 months ago I got management and that’s been really helpful and the connections they’ve had have taken me to places like London.
“I think now when that feels like a life time ago and an impossibility, it’s crazy to think that was my life. I split my time pretty equally between New Zealand and London and now I can’t even imagine going on a plane ever again!”
Have you taken elements of what you were trained in classically to pop?
“Accidentally I do. I’m never really thinking about it. In the vocals especially, Pieces is actually a very difficult song vocally. In the back of my mind I was using things I learned in classical music.
“The storytelling in opera is actually really cool. It’s kind of like country music. I think my songs are storytelling songs. They’re detail orientated. All of that probably comes from my days in classical music but I don’t do it on purpose. I think it’s ingrained on me forever now.”
Is that what you listened to growing up?
“Yeah – I always loved Taylor Swift my whole life but she was only the pop artist I made time for. All other pop music I thought was the biggest waste of time.
“Then I started to write pop songs and I thought this was so hard! To be able to write a song that a million people can listen to and enjoy is not an easy thing to do. I thought it was very easy before I did it. I listened to classical music and musical theatre.”
You had to have surgery after developing vocal cord nodules, sparking fears you’d never sing again. How scary was that experience?
“I was very young. I was 12. You can have surgery but especially back then I don’t think it was as good as it was now. It was a huge risk and I didn’t know what I’d sound like after and if I would sing anyway.
“They said it was doubtful I would have a career in music because you’re going to continue to lose your voice. I had to work really hard. I hard to go to rehab and therapy and do all of that for a long time.
“As a kid that was really disappointing. I wanted to be hanging out with my friends. I’m glad I did it now because it’s given me some really useful tools to use, like vocal stamina.”
Has it given you an appreciation and a newfound perspective that you’ve been through that?
“I think so. I remember that time very clearly. Even now when I lose my voice I think ‘is it going to ever come back?’. I definitely think it’s given me an appreciation of any kind of vocal health and personal health. I spent a lot of time a the hospital because that’s where my therapy was. I think about that time in my life a lot and even now it feels like a dream, but sometimes it feels very real.”
Your songs are personal in nature. Are you influenced by anyone?
“Songwriting-wise I’m very amazed at what Gillian Michaels can do. I think she’s so phenomenal at writing. She has the style I aspire to. She’s very detail orientated. You feel like you’re there when you listen. I think that inspires me a lot to write more like that.
“JP Sacks is also phenomenal. Vocally and melodically, Lennon Stella is a huge inspiration. She’s so great at her job. I’m constantly impressed.
“I really just love top 40 music, so unashamedly. I love anything that’s loved by all. I’m fascinated by the way that someone can write something that people can universally relate to or just like singing. Happy by Pharrell Williams – I probably wouldn’t have thought it was going to take over the world like it did but it just makes people something. I think that is the dream. That’s the goal, just to make people feel kind of emotion when they listen to what you do. Adele’s a huge one, Lewis Capaldi. I think I’m super inspired by a lot of people. I just love music!”
What are your hopes looking ahead for the year?
“It’s difficult because I don’t know what’s going to happen world-wise. I would like to be in London by the end of the year. Who knows if that’s possible?
“I’m definitely going to release another EP in the next few months. I would like to release another one to be honest, at the end of the year. I just love releasing music.
“I am really enjoying live streams at the moment. I enjoy doing them even if it’s three people watching. That’s three people taking time out of their day to watch me on their phone, which is super cool. I just think I see a lot more of that in my future.
“I will be writing a lot. Luckily we can write on Zoom with people from anywhere. Doing most of what I used to do with no shows I suppose, unfortunately.”