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A Chat With: NAWAS

It's pretty rare for a band without even an EP to their name to get placed onto major festival lineups like Hangout Fest and Firefly. But that's exactly what the Nashville based NAWAS have done this summer, in between working on their debut EP for Harvest Records. Composed of singer Jake Nawas, guitarist Ben McDaniel, and drummer Joey Gonzales, the trio have been turning heads with their addictive, unique tones and cross-genre sound that blends indie pop with R&B. We recently chatted with frontman and namesake of the band Jake Nawas to discuss their recent show at Firefly, their upcoming EP, and his unique vocal style, among other topics. Tune in now and get to know NAWAS!

Photo Courtesy of NAWAS

Photo Courtesy of NAWAS

ANCHR Magazine: Let's start off by hearing a little bit about what first inspired you to get into singing and making your own music. Was it a certain band that inspired you, or maybe someone in your family?

Jake Nawas: I was in college and I was having trouble finding direction, but I was always paying a lot more attention to music than anything else. Then myself and my guitarist Ben eventually got around to making music. We just got around to getting the laptop out and figuring out how to smash out something. When that started that was was like that click moment of this is what I want to do, and I hope I have the ability to do it.

AM: Oh wow, so you only started music in college?

JN: Yeah, we basically started making music in college. We played a little bit in high school, and we had fun with it, but we weren’t focused on it. We loved it, but we weren’t quite where we were when we turned this page and decided to do this for a living...or to make a go of it at least.

AM: You’re originally from Louisiana and now you’re based in Nashville. How do you think that move has influenced your writing and your music career in general then?

JN: What Nashville offered us as far as...the impact that it had on our sound, we’ve had a very individual experience here. We found our way, and this is not what I consider the right way or wrong way, but we’ve found a couple people who really got into what we were trying to do, and wanted to go there with us. Which was kind of a different sound and different things that aren’t just different from Nashville; our sound was developed to be different from anywhere. But the biggest thing Nashville gave us was this sense of community. This sense of people rooting for you and sometimes you need that. You don’t always need it. It’s unhealthy to focus on that, but sometimes you need that community and that tight-knit group. You know people are in here trying to get through the food chain too, but no one’s stepping on each other’s heads here for the most part. It’s a lot of fun to make music here.

AM: Cool, that’s a really good outlook to have with that community vibe. Speaking of standing out though, your voice is super unique. When did you kind of tap into that? Was it when you started writing or have you always known that you had that special quality to your voice?

JN: I think I trained it to be weird. I figured, you gotta pop! My pop is weird so I just embrace it and go in those weird nooks and crannies of my voice where it’s not so comfortable for the ears, but it’s fun and it’s interesting. So I don’t think that by any means it was like this-- I didn’t really have this moment where it was like oh my god. It just sort of slowly developed, you know? It wasn’t really just one moment. It also took time, and it’s taking time for me to get stronger. I want my voice to get stronger over the years because I’m late into this and I’m not classically trained. I do aspire to continue to find things with the voice that I don’t have right now in my arsenal or that I recognize that I want, but I haven’t quite gotten to that point.

AM: Very cool. So I know you’re working on the debut EP for Harvest Records. How’s that process going and what can you tell me about the songs that are going to be on there?

JN: It is quite a process. It’s a process of patience, which I’m not very good at. It’s always paying off, though. I’m learning at the end after I’ve bitched and moaned about it, things come together in a way that I envisioned without cutting corners. So it’s good. We’re taking time writing and we’re putting it together. I always want to try to have more ready than we need. So we are putting an EP together, but we’re putting more than that together. We have a lot of songs, and there will be ways to release that in this day and age. With streaming, you can put a little out here and a little out there. We’re writing a record and we’ll release it whichever way puts us in the best position. It’s been a lot of fun, and we’ve done some things in LA too. Which have been great. We’ve worked with Tim Anderson...John Hill...a couple different people who have really been great for seeing what we’re trying to do and saying add this, take away this, see how that works…

AM: How was the process of working with Tim Anderson in his studio?

JN: It’s a nice spot, it makes me feel spoiled when I’m in LA and I get to work there. One of the coolest things about recording with Tim as a writer and as a person who likes to be on the ground level of my songs, is he’s done a lot of stuff that would give him the right to kind of impede...not impede, but to run shit, basically. He allows you to do your thing, and he kind of accents that in ways. The last song we released was done by Tim, Tim and this wonderful woman MoZella who wrote on the song. Whatever instinct I had, they allowed me to get out. Then we sharpened it. I’m 23 and I’m a baby in this, basically because of my experience, and I’m trying to soak in as much as I can. When people do that, it shows you like oh, these people at the high level, they’re not what you may think they are. They are just as open and as artistically inclined as anyone.

AM: Very cool. So then you just talked a little bit about working with Tim Anderson and MoZella, so you’ve collaborated a bit on the songwriting level. Is there anyone else you’d love to do a collaboration with, either singing on a song with them, songwriting again, or having them do the production?

JN: First off, my life goal is to write a Britney Spears song. I did just see that Clams Casino just put out an instrumental mixtape. So I was like, I better record some stuff over that and put it out there to see if he can hear it, cause I like Clams Casino a lot. He’s a really cool producer. A producer I just met not too long ago, he’s a great guy...Mikky Ekko. Mikky had no reason to meet me, I’m just some kid, and he really sat down and chopped it up with me for a long time. So I’m appreciative of the conversation we had and what he shared with me. He’s an artist who’s been through different situations and prevailed.

AM: So talking about playing some of these songs live then, I know you just played at Firefly, which is pretty cool considering this is all new to you and you’re still working on the debut EP and album. How was that to be able to play at such a major festival?

JN: It was great! I mean we played--we’ve been really lucky to meet some really genuine people and surround ourselves, as far as our team goes, with a lot of great people who have put us in situations that maybe….I don’t want to say we didn’t deserve to be there, because you can’t get there without earning the right. But it definitely was early in the process. We played ACL, we played Firefly, we played a bunch of shows at South By and Hangout. Those are just so incredible...the people are can’t imagine. We’ve played every type of gig now. We haven’t gone on tour, but we’ve played a bunch of shows. We’ve played smaller gigs in weird rooms, and you just can’t imagine at these festivals, even though it’s a big production, and it’s worth millions of dollars….you can’t imagine how open those people are to us. We’re so strange sometimes. To hear after someone who’s not in our world, and people are so open to it, and I’m really appreciative of that. We need that! I love those festivals. I can’t wait to bear down and get back to those. The workers are great at those too.

The biggest thing Nashville gave us was this sense of community. This sense of people rooting for you and sometimes you need that. You don’t always need it. It’s unhealthy to focus on that, but sometimes you need that community and that tight-knit group.
— NAWAS on working in Nashville

AM: So what else are you looking forward to for 2017? I know you said you’re writing a bunch more than the EP, but will their potentially be a tour?

JN: Yeah, well we signed early and we did all this, and it was kind of overwhelming. Now I’m seeing like there’s tons of things to look forward to. But really what I’m looking forward to is getting on a tour and some club rooms, and getting to play these [songs] and see what people say. I’m really excited for tour, whether it’s a….it does not have to be glamorous. We don’t have very high standards right now. We’re ready to get out there and play. We’re hungry. We’re hungry to hear what the people have to say. This is a tight knit group, the’s me, Ben, Joey. We write a lot together and we work with producers we’re really close with. It means a lot to us to bring people a product that we think is up to par. I can’t wait to get out there and see if it is up to par. I don’t have any breaking announcements about a tour, but it will be coming. I’m really excited to get out there and get our shot basically.

AM: For sure, let us know when you eventually come to Chicago!

Keep up with all the NAWAS updates on their Facebook page, and listen to their latest single, "Who Are You," below.