By David Cotner
Some bands find their voice through someone else’s songs. Others need their own voice to shine. Case in point: The NaVaNaX, a quartet of surf-punk musicians named for a noxious type of sea slug. In the past 18 months, the band has evolved to become something more than its members thought it could. The self-titled debut album, found at better skate shops and music stores in the greater metropolitan Ventura area, is a testament to that drive, that zeal to become greater than the sum of four parts. The NaVaNaX — guitarist Jerry Figureida, drummer Mike Starr, guitarist Scott Ross and singing bassist Shayne Mihalka — currently finds itself under public scrutiny after a rigorous show schedule. So how do they feel about the cover-heavy atmosphere relentlessly ruling the roost at the moment? “We made a commitment to go ahead and write our own songs and not do any covers, think about something new and figure out what kind of sound we were going to have,” Mihalka reflects. The process was a labor-intensive one. “We started off with about 10 songs,” he explains, “and then through the year, I wound up writing another 10 songs. Through looking at what people liked and didn’t like, we started pulling songs and adding songs, continually updating our set.“
What was the impetus for The NaVaNaX to write original material instead of just doing covers? “I don’t know, I think, really, what it came down to was that we just wanted to try something different,” Mihalka admits. Stretching the limits of creativity was another issue. “I wanted to try something outside of what people were doing, maybe not fall back on covers. To put a sound out — maybe it’s been heard before, maybe it hasn’t — but we didn’t know when we started where we were going with it. Maybe it was just that we couldn’t agree on what covers to play,” he laughs. “We just never really felt the need to.” And what does his writing process involve? “I really like writing songs. As the bass player, I wind up coming up with a bass line, or the main riff for a lot of the songs. I’ll piece it together, make a demo for the band. The rest of the band has been so rad at accepting [my] songs,” he enthuses. “I mean, I take a song to these guys, no one tells me, ‘It’s awful.’ I can tell from the way they react, their body language, whether they like playing the song. A guy has a way of letting you know if he doesn’t want to do the song.” Audiences tend to do the same thing.
Writing one’s own songs is not without its peculiar set of challenges. “We like creating something that’s uniquely us,” Mihalka says. “And folks agree with that and like what we’re doing, but it’s a much harder road to go, in terms of getting people to connect with us.” How does that connection take place, then? “We try to keep the tempo up, keep people interested. We’ve met a lot of really cool people interested in what we’re doing. When we played Bombay earlier in June, one of our fans made us a NaVaNaX CD release cake. That was rad! So we had cake.”
The NaVaNax will perform at the Surf Rodeo on Saturday, July 11 at 12:30 p.m.