Interview: Pink navel – The alternative

Job : by the editor

Devin Bailey, the mind behind narrative rap project Pink Navel recognizes the importance of leaving imperfections in the final mix. The Massachusetts-based artist got his start in New England punk and emo circles playing in bands like Handwriting (which they described to me as William Bonney rip-off music), Baja Blasters (a emo band Taco Bell) and rapping in Running Laps. Soon after, they joined Ruby Yacht in 2018. I was happy to reunite with Bailey and chat about their latest album. EPIC alongside what it’s like to trust a one-take process, manipulate Tik Tok audio clips, and the zeal for spontaneous performance that is Pink Navel.

The physicality of writing on paper is an evaporating practice for several reasons. These days, the act exists as a preventative, perhaps as a way to disillusion creativity – or lack thereof. Keeping a notebook is an exercise in autovoyeurism and a dive into the immeasurable of ourselves. That’s why I guess people keep journal entries in the pages because they support more privacy than a computer. And for some, pen and paper remain more ritual than practical. After all, it takes flawless consistency to use all the pages in a notebook.

“There’s so much spiritual meaning in rap music with a pen and a pad,” Bailey told me. For them and for many others, it is a way of interacting with the world. Ideas float around, linger a little longer, and it’s harder to erase. You have the option to restore a remnant of a scribbled note. Of course, all of this is possible with a computer. But I can’t imagine most people recovering hundreds of versions of google doc unless they intend to search for something they lost.

It makes sense to Bailey. All songwriters aim for intent. But their path in the world seems fluid, like skateboard bearings that engage neatly in the wheels. A song serves its purpose. Bailey starts with a beat then loops the sounds with a few different pieces of gear. They also spend a lot of time on the lyrics; rewrite, revise and polish. And they never wrote a song that could fit anywhere.

More importantly, Bailey strives for a cinematic experience through word, sound and touch; marking senses connected to each thoughtful interruption that nurtures a living ecosystem in a song. “A lot of it is very performative for me,” they told me. “I used to have RUSH’s ‘Limelight’ on my sampler and would end my sets playing that,” Bailey recalled. “I had this skit where I was getting everyone off my show. The crowd was The Breakfast Club, making everyone walk out like they were at the end of this movie.

“The main theme I try to conjure up was spontaneity,” Bailey continued. They made beats on their live Twitch channel and also recorded the album in one take, emphasizing listening to an album in order. Additionally, dialog samples are a powerful tool. They are monumental in both hip-hop and DIY music, especially in the emo circles Bailey became familiar with in their youth. For the last album giraffe track, they interviewed their mom. For EPIC, Bailey plugged a phone into a sampler, browsed the likes of Tik Tok, recorded the audio, and cut it up. The album opener “XJ-9” begins with a clip about someone rapping about getting a vaccine. In two other songs, “DANNY PHANTOM” turns into “NUNCHUCKS AT BUC-EES” with someone ordering lemonade mixed with iced tea at Dunkin’. Bailey praises the samples that are at the forefront of people’s consciousness right now, like the Tik Tok doomscrolling for your pages and the DIY cafe base station. And as a queer, lo-fi pop rapper navigating beyond the roots of New England emo circles, they find a way to make it work.

I saw Bailey’s set a few months ago when they stopped in Queens for a tour. It was the first time we had met and they were wonderfully charismatic, unsurprisingly. Under a dimly lit purple light, Bailey started and an entire room shrunk. I like to think of their music as a flower arrangement; there are long stems and longer stems, flowers that grow like morning stretches, and flowers that hug each other to sleep. But collectively, a song comes together beautifully, stands on its own without ever being the same as another bouquet. Bailey is undeniably unabashedly themselves and I didn’t even have to see them live to know that. A breeze from the backyard kept creeping in every time someone came in and out. But when Bailey started, I seemed to forget that I was cold at the start.

Jane Lai | @soldtogod3000

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