The thing about driving, is no one tells you how awesome it is,” discloses lead vocalist Matthew Tillwick as he looks directly into the camera, the entry point into Navy Gangs’ self shot video for last year’s single “Mondays”, a compilation of tour footage mined from extensive time on the road. For a band whose music takes shape via a permeable unease, they have also confronted it head on, putting themselves on the map by sheer force of will: booking shows with a completely DIY ethos, relying on friends of friends of friends to carve out their own space and community. “A continuous broil of anxious defiance” (Stereogum), their new material runs like a patchwork quilt steeped in the simplicity and specificity of these recalled experiences that are both hazy and important.
Matthew Tillwick and guitarist Noah Kohll hailed from Omaha, Nebraska before landing in Brooklyn, New York, where they formed Navy Gangs with Wilson Keithline on bass, and Eric Carey on drums. This year, the four-piece are set to release their debut full-length, ‘Poach’, on Modern Sky USA. Mixed and mastered by Delicate Steve, an early champion of the band, the band’s first offering exists in the in-between spaces and places that make up your life.
“Don’t you wanna know / what it feels like inside / it’s just a diorama,” sings Tillwick whose vocals The Fader has said “ooze right into your soul.” As ‘Poach’ progresses, you begin to thread together pieces of a sketched out landscape. Sometimes the best way to cope with reality is to construct a world outside of it, make sure you have places to escape to, people to escape with. Making music with good friends, finding a comfortable circle within everyday chaos. Slowing things down, having a beer after a show, getting out of your head and out of town. A nervous energy balancing by the tightening of grooves. Things unravel and come together. The familiarity of a guitar and fuzzed out refrains taking you back, then propelling you forward. The way the band plays together suggests an in-sync, unspoken language replete with insider jokes.
If there is one underlining quality that defines Navy Gangs, it is their unabashed unpretentiousness. A band built on dark basements and DIY spaces, mixed with sun struck open air and motel pools, an offering of four friends’ collective identity as they see it, no brash introduction required. The reality and unreality of living in 2018. Recognizing that worrying if the grocery store is still open and if you are a good person are concerns that can coexist simultaneously, then going outside anyway.
On the new record, Navy Gangs deal with these contradictions and make peace. Happiness, Kohll says, is the most overrated virtue, and with the fourteen tracks on the band’s new record, you begin to understand that their perspective is perhaps just making the best of it. “Someday you’ll die / and that’s alright” Tillwick sings midway through the album on “Carrot Tops”, and the practically joyous, definitely infectious instrumentals that swirl around the vocals suggest against all odds the band has managed to capture, as well as embrace, a beauty within all this darkness.
When it comes down to it, Navy Gang’s brand of indie rock reads as classic pop music, evoking that comfort and occasional exhilaration that comes with discovering someone else feels how you feel, the late night shows and parties where it’s not time to go home yet, the next morning waking up, keeping the shades closed, adjusting to the blinding light. “You’ve really made yourself at home” Matthew intones on “Housekeeping,” the closing track on the record. “I really love what you’ve done with the place.”