“With an E.P. set to release in August, Nava Hotel is reminding Nashville that the future of rock is still alive and hopeful”
I have only been in Nashville two weeks when I stumble across Nava Hotel while searching online for shows happening on a Wednesday night. As I sit in my apartment and listen to the previews that artists offer I find myself disappointed with my choices for that night. As luck would have it, when I almost gave up my search for something worth time to spend on, the final band I wearily bring myself to listen to is Nava Hotel. After wading through this sea of artists I listen to their first E.P. which is titled, simply enough, Nava Hotel. ‘Bingo!’ I think to myself. On this night they were playing with two singer-songwriters and a country/hip-hop/rock group of an interesting sound. I decide that Nava Hotel is what I am looking for on my first outing into the canopy of music that shades this city.
It is a beautifully warm Wednesday evening in Nashville so I decide to take my bike. The downward slope to downtown via 12th Avenue South provides me with a cooling breeze and easy ride. As I make my way to the Gulch I look up at the buildings that cradle the street. The sun is setting gently into a clear horizon as gigantic, rectangular shadows fall across the city streets. These new sights fill me with a curiosity about what a new city waiting for me has to offer while the songs from the band I am on my way to interview are playing through my head. This musical escape thankfully erases the realization that my ride home will basically be completely uphill after those rectangles disappear into the darkness.
A short ride later I find the street I am looking for, Porter, and I lock my bike up in the alley and text myself the combination. Though the outside temperature is mild I still look forward to cooling down inside the venue. To my dismay I quickly find out how much warmer 12th and Porter is than the wide world outside. Next, I find out what a cool venue this is. The bar area has a low overhead ceiling that floats just high enough above the bar’s surface. The standing area where the crowd forms is empty except for the ghosts from shows past that can still be seen dancing, swaying, and feeding their energy to whoever is on stage feeding energy to them. I then find myself inspired by a stage of courteous size. I also find myself to be early. A beer finds my hand.
My night begins by being the awkward stranger in the back corner of this place. This, I am sure, is a subconscious move that puts me near the exit in case a quick escape from half-step-off singers becomes necessary. I sip my way through an acoustic guitar/violin duo that plays to an almost empty venue–the pains of being the first act. As the crowd grows the next group takes the stage which is previewed by the hustle and bustle of the setting up and breaking down of equipment. The next band begins and I sip through that interesting set as the heat of this place grips my face and squeezes the sweat from my forehead. I sip through that, too.
The band I am here for takes the stage and begins their own ceremony of setting up their equipment. Since I have time I step outside for fresh air before I pull out my tiny red notebook to scribble down nuances and happenings in that pizza oven. The normal cacophony of a band sound checking breaks my gaze of wonder of how beautiful a sun can set over a city. These “check’s”, repetitive bass drum hits, random guitar riffs, and bass guitar bursts are muffled by the brick-walls. The highs sneak out through the open door and repeat themselves down 12th Avenue.
There is a moment of silence that is noticeably the break a band takes before they dip into their library of songs and deal them out to the crowd. This crowd receiving these songs has grown to a modest size. The band pulls back and releases their arrows of frequencies that they have aimed at the crowd. Within the first thirty seconds of their first song I know these guys have it. This quartet has the wardrobe of four guys that are up on stage playing music because they legitimately enjoy the music they are playing. There are no hired guns. They play together like they communicate strictly through their respective instrument. The presence on stage speaks of what they have accomplished as a whole instead of showcasing songs that sound like artists before. The lights change from green to red to orange and back to green. It is as if the lights are stirring up the energy in the venue. While the lights enjoy themselves I take turns focusing in on each individual member and notice that each is feeling what they are playing in their own way. The lead guitarist is playing subtle, catchy melodies while the bass drives the song forward. The drummer makes sure your head bobs back and forth while an organic voice is telling you how the song feels. It is surely a sound that all in Nashville can relate to.
This Wednesday night crowd seems to favor these locals and for good reason. Sweat drips, hair flies around, guitars fling and particles of dust, lint and other material dance through the lights that shine on stage. They move through their well-constructed, well-rounded set and begin the process opposite of that they did only thirty-five minutes before.
While I wait for the band to finish their break-down I head to the bar through a maze of folks to get myself some water. I make my way to the first member I see chatting with friends who happens to be guitarist Chris Hellmann. He lets me know that they have to finish loading things into their vehicles and then we will talk. Good thing I got that water. I wait, sweat, and then escape to just outside this place. Met by plumes of cigarette smoke and music muffled from the venue across the street I come across guitarist/vocalist Charlie Abbott. I introduce myself and we begin our brief conversation. He tells me how they are just a few guys that like to play some rock-n-roll. I encourage them to keep doing it. He also answers my question of where the name “Nava Hotel” comes from, “I don’t really know. I think it came from a play on words of the word ‘Navaho” he explains as he takes a drag from his cigarette. I don’t delve any deeper.
Nightfall has put the heat of the afternoon in its back pocket as Chris joins us outside. We exchange phone numbers after we decide that getting together at a later time would be a better idea. With that being said I head back into the venue, sweat as the heat of its interior slaps me in the face, pay my tab, and leave before the last act comes on. I am happy to see my bike where I left it as well as my bike-lock code stored safely in my inbox. My legs remind me that they will be burning their way uphill soon.
Fast-forward two and a half weeks as I drive down Woodmont Boulevard on a sheepishly lit summer afternoon. It is the beginning of July and my arm is hanging out of the driver’s side window like a dog putting his face in the breeze. Using my hand as a rudder I steer my arm side-to-side and up and down with the beat of the song coming from my car stereo. This particular song is coming from the untitled, un-mastered copy of Nava Hotel’s most recently recorded E.P. and meets the wind coming in through my open window. As my arm protrudes from the window, dancing to the sounds of this freshly recorded group of songs, I notice more beauty that Nashville offers. Dips and rises paint this road which is covered in hills that cast shadows on the lower lying landscapes at this time of the day. Seeing the curves of the landscape and how the architecture is built into the slopes and hills leave me feeling inspired to capture a band that is set to be on many radars very soon.
I pull onto the road that leads me to the driveway I will be parking in. The neighbor’s mailbox is decorated with two round red, white and blue helium balloons to show their early support of the upcoming celebration of the Independence of our country. The moment I hear the rubber tires crush the leaves that lie defeated on the driveway is the moment I hear that familiar sound of live music. This song I have heard before. The song, “I’ll Never Know”, is off of their first E.P. and sounds just as well done as it does on the album. Once I am parked I look down at my phone and see a text from Chris that reads “Come around back”.
As I round the corner, walking with a slight dance step to the music being played, I am greeted by a fuzzy golden retriever who is wearing a friendly smile. The sounds from a familiar song are still swooping through the mild summer evening. Behind a parked car I notice friends grilling in the backyard.
“I’m here for them”, I say to the guy manning the grill as I point towards the house.
“Go on in”, he says to me in a friendly, unhesitant tone.
Just through the backdoor is a room with guitars hanging from the wall. Some are adorning strings while others are naked to the tension those strings bring. Bevels, sandpaper, and a small vice decorate what appears to be the main workshop table. I later find out that bassist, Chris Plank, is a guitar technician with his own shop called Planksound. Every guitar in the band’s arsenal has been set-up by him.
I slip through the kitchen as the smell of colitas puts her finger in my nostril and pulls me by it into the hallway. The door to the practice room is open and drummer, Sean Bennett, and his drum set are the only things in my line of vision. We look at each other and smile as an earlier situation has just been verified. The song ends and he looks at me as we both say, almost in unison, “I fucking knew it!”
What we know is that earlier that day we crossed paths at Alegria Mexican Restaurant and Tequila Bar where Sean bartends. He and I had only briefly met at the show so this chance meeting in me and my friend’s third option of a spot for lunch was interesting. I knew he looked like someone I recognized and it hit me only after my friend and I had left after a delicious lunch. At probably the same moment in time when I said “I bet that is the drummer from the band I’m going to interview later tonight” Sean was telling his boss that “I bet I’ll see that guy in a few hours”.
After the contents of that esoteric discussion are empty the room becomes full of HI’s, Hellos, What’s up’s, and How are you’s. These formalities happily guide me past the bass rig and through the middle of the practice space to the loveseat on the opposite end of the room. The couch is comfortable and as front row as you can get. Chris and Charlie’s amps decorate one side of the room while the drums and bass face parallel so the waves meet in the middle. The lighting in the room is a gentle orange/yellow thanks to the white Christmas lights sagging over the drum set while the sun is whispering its final light through the windows.
Charlie offers me a beer and I cannot turn down hospitality so I accept and he disappears into the kitchen. While he is away on a short expedition it leaves time for the band to crack jokes about people they once knew and places they had once been. Charlie reappears with two Blue Moons in tow and walks one over to me. Following him is the fuzzy golden retriever, Slash, which greeted me when I first arrived. Slash joins me on the couch. A few seconds after Charlie opens his beer the music begins again. They flow through songs that I recognize and songs I do not. Slash is lying beside me panting and unfazed by the music that shakes this room.
This quartet sounds like they have been together much longer than they have. Only six months into their musical relationship and they have built a sound that is concise and direct. They seem to think as a whole while retaining their individuality. Their songwriting process is fueled by this behavior. They jam their way through song ideas like a tribe carving its own path in the underbrush of some dense forest. They are so well rehearsed because each member was there for each song’s birth and growth. Which is not bad considering they were recently only playing with two guitarists and a drummer. Chris joined the band two months ago as bassist and joined Charlie as a roommate around that same time.
“I saw them at The End back in November and thought,” Chris pauses to gears up his reminiscent voice, “they needed a bass player.” Slash removes himself from the couch and walks over to Charlie.
“We had no ambition to find a bass player at all,” Charlie chimes in as he reaches down to give Slash a pat on the head, “If it were meant to be…”
Chris chimes in to finish the sentence while diddling around on his bass, “Then he’ll just show up in the room with us.” The guys share a laugh as the sun loses its grip on this hemisphere and awakens a new day on the opposite side of the earth. This exchange prompted them to fire up for one more round of songs they have completed and songs they are working on. An idea to speed up the tempo of one their slower songs is met by a positive outcome at the songs conclusion. More songs and song ideas follow as they work their way through any new material.
“Well, that’s it. Let’s try to remember that last song,” Charlie suggests as they begin shedding their guitars and removing themselves from behind their desks of instruments. The soft hum of amps on stand-by is the only sound as Sean exchanges the drums for Chris’ bass and Chris Hellmann stays on his trusty Strat. Charlie jumps to drums and Chris and Slash go outside. The post-band-practice-instrument-switch has entered the room. They play for a few moments and Sean hands the reigns of the bass over to me and I play a short number with the two guys left behind. “Little known fact…I’m the best drummer in the band”, Charlie boasts before he begins gracing the drums’ presence once more.
After a short jam session we head outside to a surprisingly brisk summer night. It is no longer a band practice. It is now a gathering of friends and I am in the middle of it. They all make me feel as if I have been here before and shower me with warm hospitality. We discuss the snakes that are native to this area. I also become informed of the decreasing lightning bug population due to the lights of the city. We sit around smoking cigarettes and drinking beer and laugh about which spider picked the best real-estate on the back porch. The best real-estate is the place that is far from human contact. If it is far from contact than it is allowed to stay.
Nashville wears Nava Hotel’s voice perfectly. They are four guys who enjoy what they play and play it damn well. These guys have a hint of true southern rock and their fresh hooks and relieving sound are what will catapult them to the forefront of Nashville’s ears and eyes real soon. After listening to these guys they caused me to break out albums such as: Foo Fighters’ “The Colour and Shape”, The Bronx’s “The Bronx I”, At The Drive-In’s “In/Casino/Out”, and Pavement’s “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain”. Take a deep breath and release a sigh of relief because Nava Hotel is here to remind you of what good rock is.
Listen to Nava Hotel here.
Photos by: Logan Buerlein
Words by: Josh Baker