"I’ve been thinking about it recently," Navvy says down the line from Auckland. "Why do people write songs?" It's a good question, one the NZ-based popstar has been mulling over with her newfound spare time. "I’ve realized you write songs when words aren’t really enough anymore. The emotion has to be so strong that saying this stuff wouldn’t get it out enough, you need to sing it," she explains. "That’s the most dramatic High School Musical thing ever, but I think it’s really true."
Navvy's reasoning explains her debut set of EPs, a trilogy that traces a brutal case of heartbreak. It started when she was unceremoniously dumped by her long-term boyfriend, kicking off 2019 with a heady dose of despair. Instead of channeling it into watching vintage romcoms and checking to see if her ex had viewed her Instagram story, she made The Break Up EP - about exactly that. Next came No Hard Feelings, a collection of tracks about being almost over it; finding solace in family and being scared to be happy. "Part of my brain was like, 'You’re feeling better, so stop writing that you’re sad because you’re not really sad anymore."
Now she's closing off the story with The Final Pieces EP. And she's come out the other side swinging. Lead single Pieces showcases Navvy at her best - written and produced with London-based producer Starsmith and her longtime collaborator Wells*, it's all sparse production laced with husky falsetto, and a ripper of a chorus about having her pieces back together. "It’s kind of wrapping up the stories of what that year meant for me," she explains. "I don’t really have any interest in releasing an EP where none of the songs go together," she says of her choice to thread a narrative through the projects. "I wanted it to be a body of work."
2020 has thrown its own set of hurdles - normally Navvy does most of her songwriting, photoshoots and fun popstar things in London (New Zealand is for resetting) but hopping on a plane across the world isn't exactly on the radar right now. Still, she's finding a way through, taking some much-deserved downtime and jumping on international Zoom writing sessions with the likes of Norwegian producer Martin Sjølie (of Sigrid fame). We caught up with her to chat heartbreak, the Cats film, and celebrating release day at the casino.
Ones to Watch: So how does a Zoom writing session actually work?
Navvy: It’s super weird. Though one I did the other day was really fun - I had a producer in Norway and a songwriter in Sydney. Usually the whole thing about a session is the vibe of the room, so trying to create that online is difficult. We kind of hypothesized that in six months' time everyone’s going to start releasing songs with a disclaimer attached, like, 'Sorry! we wrote this on Zoom, it’s not great!' But I feel like the one we wrote is actually really cool, so we felt very happy with ourselves.
What’s your expert advice on getting over a breakup?
It’s annoying to hear, but really, time is everything. I remember when I was in the depths of my despair and mum was just like, you need to give it time, it will be ok. And I was like, you don’t know! You’ve never felt heartbreak like this!
It's annoying when mums are right.
Also, I can’t really hold grudges. And I think that that left more room in my heart and my brain to start feeling ok. If I was angry at him, it would’ve been harder. But I could be like, 'Oh, well he’s actually someone who I spent some of the best years of my life with, and I couldn’t let myself throw that away just because he didn’t want to be with me anymore.' Everyone gets to make their own decision and he just didn’t want to be with me. Thinking about it logically is a really difficult thing to do when your heart is involved, but I also think it’s the best thing to do.
That's very mature. I would probably be a petty bitch.
*laughs* I think both ways are appropriate. I can see how people are like that, but it’s just not me - he’s still one of my best friends. This has been my only relationship and my only break up, so who knows what the next one will be like. But I can’t imagine having someone in my life for so long and then never seeing them again, that just blows my mind.
Has music helped you process it?
100%. Especially songwriting with other people, because I’m telling my story to them and they’re being like, ‘Oh I’ve felt like that.' And then I get to release it and have people from literally all over the world messaging me on Instagram being like, 'Woah, that’s exactly how I feel'. Or, 'That song has gotten me through a breakup.'
Are you thinking about an album after this?
I don’t think I’m quite ready for an album yet… I love albums, they’re one of my favorite things, but I don’t want to just put 12 songs on a CD and call it an album. That’s not something that's interesting to me. An album to me is a really big commitment, and I don’t take it lightly. It takes more thinking than just putting things together. I really like EPs because they’re like mini albums, preparing me. But the dream is to do an album.
What are the albums you keep coming back to?
In lockdown I listened to a different album every day while I went for a walk. The ones that stuck with me from that were the Kacey Musgraves album, Conan Gray’s new album, any Taylor Swift album, obviously. One of my favorites is Sufjan Stevens' Carrie & Lowell, and The Beach Boys' album Pet Sounds is one of my favorite albums of all time.
But I can’t jump into an album halfway through, I really have to listen beginning to end. If I'm going on a 20-minute drive I listen to a podcast because I can’t start an album and not finish it, it panics me. But if I’m going on an hour drive, then I'm all about an album.
I read that you were second on your Spotify Wrapped which is amazing. Who was first?
Taylor Swift. I listened to Lover a lot. But yeah, I really do listen to my own music loads, which is funny. There’s something about going on to my artist page on Spotify and being like, woah, that’s me.
Does it still feel strange to see yourself there?
Yeah, it’s so weird. I just don’t understand how anyone gets used to it. Literally every time I hear my song on the radio it’s like, out of body. It's unbelievable to me that someone at a radio station thought my song was good enough to play. So many songs are released every day. And especially because it’s not my name - my name's not Navvy, it’s Phoebe. So, it will often take a second to realise they’re actually talking about me.
Do you tap into a different space when you're doing Navvy stuff?
Sometimes I like to think of it as Hannah Montana and Miley Stewart. I’ll be living my normal life, helping my friends move flats, and then that night I’ll do a session with a producer I’ve looked up to my whole life, and I’m like, 'How is this real? How am I doing both of these things?'
Besides Taylor Swift, who would you really love to work with?
I would love to work with Julia Michaels. I’m such a fan of what she does. She writes a lot with Justin Tranter who I'd also really like to write with. I’d love to write with Ross Golan, he wrote Dangerous Woman with Ariana Grande. He also wrote a musical and I love musicals. I would just love to sit down with him and have a chat.
What’s your favorite musical?
That’s a really loaded question.
I’m a musical fan so I say this with love and respect.
Cats is my favorite musical of all time.
Cats! What were thoughts on the film then?
I actually loved it, but I think because I’m such a Cats fan I was always going to love it. I think it’s the best music for a musical ever. Between my 15th and 16th birthdays, I watched at least a scene of the old Cats movie every day.
How are you going to celebrate when your EP's out?
My family and I will go to the casino in Auckland and we’ll all get $20 and try and win big. That’s how we celebrate in this house. I don’t really drink or party or go to the casino ever, but on release day my whole family goes. The first time we won a lot of money, so we’re like, 'It’s going to happen every time!' But it hasn’t happened since.
You actually won?
I think the first time collectively we won over a thousand dollars. It was insane. We were playing roulette.
That's a good omen.
I think so too. But we couldn’t go for the Pieces release because we were in lockdown. So, we’re going to really have to go hard for the EP.
Well I hope you win big, both at the casino and with the EP.
Anything else you want to add?
By the time the EP comes out I hope they've arrested Breonna Taylor’s murderers. If not, arrest Breonna Taylor’s murderers.