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Taylor Hawkins and Dave Navarro on the Secret History of Their ‘Yacht Goth’ Supergroup

“I kind of imagine our live show being somewhere between Rush and the Faces,” says Taylor Hawkins. “I want there to be a looseness, a party vibe”

Dave Navarro, Taylor Hawkins, and Chris Chaney formed a new band in their free time

Ross Halfin*

When Taylor Hawkins, Dave Navarro, and Jane’s Addiction bassist Chris Chaney started jamming together at Hawkins’ L.A. home studio in early 2020, they had little ambition beyond killing time during the pandemic. “After a couple of songs, we realized we had a sound,” says Navarro. “We just kept going, and before we knew it, we had a body of work. And then a light bulb went off and we realized we had an actual band and were going to make a record.”

The debut LP from NHC (named, obviously, for Navarro, Hawkins, and Chaney) isn’t slated to come until sometime early in 2022, but they’ve already shared four songs with fans and previewed a few more during a brief set at the Ohana festival in September — and on Nov. 23 they’re playing their first proper gig, at the Troubadour in L.A. Their sound isn’t a radical departure from the Foos or Jane’s Addiction, but there are also clear homages to Seventies bands like Steely Dan and Pink Floyd, not to mention Rush, the Police, and other power trios they worshipped in their youth.

“We had a joke when we made this record,” says Hawkins. “We called it Yacht Goth.”

“We love the Gerry Raffertys and we love the Steely Dans,” adds Navarro. “But we added in a little touch of the goth and a touch of the heaviness.”

“There’s always a little Rush,” adds Hawkins. “That’s just to make sure the chicks love us.”

The roots of NHC go all the way back to Hawkins’ teenage years in Orange County, when he obsessively listened to Nothing’s Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual. “I dreamed about being out with Jane’s Addiction and everyone else on Melrose wearing floppy hats,” he says. “The L.A. music scene was ending, in a way, but Jane’s Addiction were still a beacon of light.”

Jane’s split in 1991, and Navarro began taking side gigs, which included playing guitar on Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” alongside Flea and Benmont Tench from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. That song launched Morissette’s career and helped Jagged Little Pill become one of the biggest albums of the Nineties, but taking the studio band on the road to support it was obviously an impossibility.

When Hawkins heard she was looking for a drummer, he jumped at the opportunity. “The second I heard ‘You Oughta Know,’ I was like, ‘I’m in that band! We’ll see you at the MTV Awards!’” he says. “I just knew.”

Chris Chaney had a very different experience. As Hawkins remembers it, Morissette asked Chaney to audition by accident. “When he walked in she was like, ‘That’s not the right guy,’” he says. “‘I meant to call someone else.’ He didn’t know any of the music. He thought he was too good for Alanis.”

“I picked up the cassette at the management, back in the cassette days,” says Chaney, “and pulled up to the audition after playing them once. I faked my way through the audition.”

Even though Chaney barely knew the songs and Morissette hadn’t even meant to invite him, his talent was so apparent that she gave him the job. The next thing they knew, Hawkins and Chaney were on a nearly two-year tour where they played to oceans of screaming fans every single night. “I basically took all the Alanis songs and turned them into Jane’s Addiction songs,” says Hawkins. “We actually used to play ‘Been Caught Stealing’ at soundcheck all the time. All of her songs were built around drum loops, so they all had this funky groove vibe to it. I just applied Jane’s Addiction grooves.”

Chaney wasn’t familiar with Jane’s when the tour began, so Hawkins gave him Ritual de lo Habitual and Nothing’s Shocking and told him to learn them note-for-note. It was an education that became extremely useful in 2002, when Jane’s Addiction began work on their long-awaited third LP, Strays, and they stole Chaney away from Morissette. Chaney stuck around for the Strays tour, and he was brought back into the fold in 2011, after a brief reunion with original Jane’s bassist Eric Avery flamed out. (Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan also signed on for a few months around this time before realizing he didn’t quite belong in Jane’s.)

In the meantime, Hawkins kept busy with the Foos, and whenever they were off cycle, he’d work on a series of under-the-radar solo albums and side projects. “I tried to work with every member of Jane’s Addiction,” he says. “[Jane’s drummer] Steven Perkins played on a Birds of Satan song. Perry [Farrell] and I have recorded songs, and I’ve even done shit with Eric Avery that hasn’t come out. I have just been mining the time of each member of Jane’s Addiction.”

Hawkins says he first met Navarro when Morissette and the Red Hot Chili Peppers both played the MTV Video Music Awards in 1995. But the guitarist doesn’t remember that, and pins their first encounter to a Foo Fighters show in Australia several years later. “A lot of time has gone by,” says Navarro. “A lot of drugs have gone by, and an awful lot of brain cells.”

However it happened, they became close friends over the years. In late 2019, Hawkins and Navarro agreed to take part in an Alice In Chains tribute concert at Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture, where they played “Man In The Box” with Chaney on bass and Slipknot’s Corey Taylor on lead vocals. Once the pandemic cleared their 2020 calendars of all Jane’s and Foos activity, that same group (minus Corey Taylor) began congregating at Hawkins’ house to jam.

Hawkins had a few demos to use as starting points, but the songs changed dramatically once they began fleshing them out in the studio. “What we ended up with sounds nothing like those demos,” says Navarro. “We made musical choices and decisions that changed the framework of what was brought in. We like to call the demos ‘seeds’ of an idea.”

The process is very different than what Hawkins is used to working with Dave Grohl in the Foo Fighters. “Foo Fighters is very much Dave’s band,” he says. “A lot of times, when we make a Foo Fighters record, Dave has demos that are pretty close to what he wants to hear. We just go in and fill in the blanks. Sometimes things happen jam-wise, but a lot of times, he has a pretty clear idea of what he wants.”

“NHC was the first time any of us have been in a situation writing-wise where we just throw the ball,” he continues. “It’s like playing catch, literally. A writing session or recording session for us is all three of is playing playing baseball in a backyard.”

“The Devil You Know” began as a bass line by Chaney. “I came up with a guitar idea, so Taylor picked up his iPhone and voice memo’d it,” says Navarro. “He got the voice memo of the idea so we wouldn’t forget it, so the next time we came back we’d have some sort of starting point. It came together in 15 minutes. I feel like it wrote itself.”

“Lazy Eyes” was created in just a couple of days. “Me and Dave had a crazy explosion and came up with this almost Beatle-y kind of song,” says Hawkins. “There’s a ‘Penny Lane’ kind of groove. And then we came up with the middle section, which turns into this psychedelic calypso… It’s almost like a Frank Zappa kind of arrangement.”

Hawkins wrote most of the lyrics and sings most of the songs. “We’re hearing Taylor sing in a range we’re not used to hearing,” says Navarro. “We’re used to his rock voice, which is phenomenal, but when he does his lower crooning, for lack of a better word, more Goth-esque elements come out of it. It really penetrates.”

For Navarro, the sessions were a wonderful chance to experiment with his guitar parts. “More than any record I’ve ever done, my David Gilmour influence really shows up on this record,” he says. “There’s this inward reflection in David’s playing that I really identify with. It’s a melancholy yearning that has always touched me, ever since I was a kid, and I really am grateful that I had a chance to explore that in this band.”

There’s no exact timeline for the release of the record, but they plan on rolling out a couple of songs a month early into next year. Some of them were heard at the Ohana Festival on Oct. 2, when NHC played six originals in addition to Queen’s “Keep Yourself Alive” and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “My Friends.” They were joined that night by Foo Fighters guitarist Pat Smear, but he’s already told them he’s a “soft no” for the eventual NHC tour.

Also onstage at the Ohana festival were Foo Fighters background singers Barbara Gruska and Samantha Sidley. Gruska doubles as a drummer, which allowed Hawkins to step away from the kit and front NHC, David Lee Roth-style, for part of the night. They plan on sticking with that same formula for the Troubadour show and any upcoming tour, though they haven’t quite figured out who will replace Pat Smear on rhythm guitar next year.

“I kind of imagine our live show being somewhere between Rush and the Faces,” says Hawkins. “I want there to be a looseness, a party vibe. My attitude is, ‘If you’re here, get up on the stage and play with us.’ Let’s just say America is there. We have no problem getting them up there and plying ‘Ventura Highway.’ America, if you’re around, join the gang.”

Any touring activity in 2022 and beyond will be built around the schedules for Jane’s Addiction and the Foo Fighters. “We don’t have any false intention of thinking that we could reach a Foo Fighters or Jane’s height,” says Hawkins. “But I personally am a firm believer, and Dave Grohl told me this once, that anything we do outside Foo Fighters, doesn’t do anything but add strength to our band. The same thing goes for Jane’s Addiction.”

“We’ve already been through the ego phase in our careers,” adds Navarro. “The scrapping-it-through-the-trenches phase, the interpersonal-disagreement phase, with our own bands. That’s a necessary part of growing up in this life. We’ve already done that. Now in this ensemble, there’s none of that. None of us bring baggage. It’s really magical.”

The only thing they can’t agree on is whether or not NHC is a supergroup. “Taylor embraces that term, but it makes me cringe,” says Navarro. “The term ‘supergroup’ implies that this is the little thing these guys are doing while they’re not doing their other, real thing. I don’t feel that way about this. It’s not a supergroup. It’s another group.”

A couple minutes later, Navarro thinks again. “I want to take that back,” he says. “I hope when people see us, they walk out and go, ‘That was super. That was a super time.’ And so I do embrace being called a ‘supergroup.’ You’ve corrected me. We’re a supergroup.”

From Rolling Stone US