Known locally for his songs about the Kentish coastline, multi-instrumentalist Richard Navarro has a strong following in Canterbury and spent his 2017 touring throughout the UK. He was an obvious choice for a festival like Wise Words, fusing a wistful lyricism for the sea and the sands with playful combinations of jazz, swing, strings and indie folk. The Canterbury poet laureate, Lemn Sissay, described him as a ‘genius who has exalted words in a way that angels could hear them’.
But, in collaboration with his songwriting partner and bass player, Nicholas Thurston, Richard has a completely new sound in mind: R!CHES. It’s still Richard Navarro, but not as we’ve known him before – so I caught up with Richard and Nicholas to learn more.
At what point did you meet Nicholas and start collaborating?
Richard: We met in the park. That sounds weird, doesn’t it? He’d already heard about my music from a friend of his. He had just got a new double bass that he had inherited. We decided to jam – that was about six years ago.
He said ‘Oh, aren’t you Richard? I’ve heard your music’.
So I thought ‘Whoooaa okay, somebody knows me!’. It turned out, we had the same sorts of interests and liked the same sort of music.
Quite soon after we met we started playing together. I very quickly worked out that he has an amazing songwriting brain – he puts a very different slant on things. Particularly lyrically. Now we’ve developed a system where I’ll give an idea and he’ll give an idea and it’ll bounce around between us. We write a lot and some things stick around and some drop away. But if something really works, we come back to it.
Are there some songs where you think ‘okay, this is my song’ and some that feel more like Nicholas’?
Richard: There’s one or two where I couldn’t say whose is whose. But there’s some I have come with and some that Nicholas has come with. We write a lot while we’re travelling in the van. We have a ukulele that’s 70 years old – that’s nice because it limits you to a few chords, and we write as we go. You just look at the clock and suddenly four hours have gone.
Often, you’ll bring an idea of something that’s happened in the day that you’ll want to give voice to. A story that you’ve read or a song that’s impressed us.
Like ‘Yesterday’ (by the Beatles) – what is it that made it carry? It’s a weird song, and it doesn’t do the things that most songs do. It doesn’t really have a chorus – most songs have a chorus. It’s literally just a word long, isn’t it? Yesterday is a really interesting song – it has a weird melancholic feel to it. It’s not a happy song. And yet there’s something that’s timeless about it. And we want to write songs that are timeless. Make our imprint on immortality.
When you do anything creative you want to understand what makes the best things work.
The Beatles aside, who else would you consider as your influences?
Nicholas: A lot of stuff from 70s/80s – Duran Duran, really sort of epic, sweeping melodies – stuff that gets you into the moment, the zeitgeist.
Richard: Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell but some dance stuff as well, liked the Weeknd and Daft Punk and loads of different things. Fleetwood Mac as well. We were thinking ‘how did they create that amazing wall of vocal harmonies?’ And what’s the energy of that? And the very simple way that they tell stories through their songs. So yeah, lots of things. Jazz, as well.
Nicholas: It’s certainly quite eclectic – we’re multi-instrumentalists and do all kinds of performances and big scale collaborations. The last few years we’ve done all kinds of tours with all kinds of variations, and that’s part of the journey that we’re on. When you can feel that the audience is enjoying it, you want to keep doing that.
Would you say you’re foraying more into pop?
Nicholas: That’s kind of why we started R!CHES; we were last touring with the Firewatching tour, and it’s quite a broad spectrum of styles and influences. Some people would pinpoint things we had done and said ‘we’d really like a show like that’.
I’m really buzzing, as our song in L.A has been shortlisted for a show out there. We’ve got a radio play in Norway and Ireland and Australia so that’s really great.
Some people really got into our music in Russia and they have been using it as a basis for some textual analysis. The students have been using it in order to translate songs.
The really interesting thing and exciting thing about that is that this song has resonated with them. It’s become apparent that through the analysis of the song into Russian, there’s a lot of feelings and phrases that match ones in Russia – that there must be some kind of supralinguistics – something about language and translation that we all have in common from a long time ago. And this is the point of music, isn’t it? It’s a universal language but the ideas and the lyrics, yes, resonate with people in different ways as we tour around the country, but also, it’s a point of connection for people. And that’s where music is exciting for us.
Pop music is a way of doing that; it’s where we feel we want to express ourselves in the current moment; the radio is picking it up and you can have a wider reach and a wider audience. We’ve had some radio play with the music that we’ve been doing, but we’ve also said that there are things we could do that would make them really cut it on the radio as well.
Radio is such a great medium – we both love radio and we’ve angulated the project towards it.
What do you have coming up?
The first single is on the 13th April, the second on the 8th of June. We’re just waiting on the mixing of the third track.
The EP is more of a nebulous prospect at the moment – we’re just waiting on the mixing of the third track. We’re working with a fantastic producer in Canterbury – he’s worked all over the world and he’s a great intelligence.
‘Winner’ is the second track on the 8th June.
We’ve got one of the videos already produced and we’re planning the third one.
The gigs we’re doing in London and on radio help a lot. We’ve got a Radio Kent section next Saturday. So we’re going to play some of our tracks, and then people phone in and tell us about their day, we work for 10 minutes, and then perform a song for them live on air.
We enjoy the hustle side of it all. We know our music best. We know where we want it to go and where we want to play.
How has the local area influenced your music?
Nicholas: Let Go Light was very much about the mood of the place. What it’s like to live in a vibrant but small town.
Firewatching was all about the historical perspectives of the region and how those stories tie into the contemporary politics of the world.
What we’re doing with R!CHES is taking some of that stuff. R!CHES is about distilling things and sensations that we all feel and capturing it in a song. Capturing the moment. Pop songs are all about that – they’re not about telling involved stories. It’s a different audience as well; Richard Navarro is usually a seated audience whereas R!CHES is usually a standing audience. Lyrics are still important with R!CHES, it’s not just about the beat.
The essence of the music comes together very quickly, but the lyric writing is really a labour of love. I sometimes compare it to making a painting – you put all the layers of the painting on and you work it all out. You might have six or seven layers to the painting, but you only realise that it works when you step back.
Although with R!CHES, a lot of the songs sound more immediate, it requires a lot more work and a lot of graft. It’s very often the things that appear to be the simplest that are often the most work.
Nicholas: Quite often artists on the radio will say in interviews, ‘oh, my best song just came to me’. And that does happen sometimes, but it’s a bit disingenuous – actually creative processes aren’t really like that. You get a bit here and you get a bit there and yeah, you do have moments of inspiration but actually, the real craft of it takes a long time.
Richard: A lot of pop songs have at least two songwriters. Those songs are worked out and honed and chiselled into shape. Nudge the lyrics here, or add a bridge, give it shape. It’s fun, we make it sound a chore, but it’s a process.
Richard: Play the tracks – they’re already on Spotify. Share it around if you like it!
Nicholas: We love it when people get really into it. You want to be able to pop some songs out which make people happy and moving. It’s such great fun to be able to go out and perform, when people are enjoying it.