Wednesday, February 19, 2014

An interview with Ronnie Navarro from A Province of Thay

Ronnie Navarro is a dude I spent a lot of time with during what now seems like a completely different chapter of my life….the time when I was maybe 19-22 and just went to shows all over the place every single weekend. He was always the biggest personality in the room, the guy everybody gravitated towards and who kept us all laughing.

Time moved on, I got married and started a family, he moved out West to Seattle and we sort of lost tabs on each other. A few years back we crossed paths via Facebook (surprise, surprise) and to my great pleasure he was still involved in music, at that time playing in the crushing Breag Naofa and now playing in the mesmerizing A Province of Thay.

This interview was sort of like reconnecting with an old friend, asking a bunch of things I always wondered about, but never did for whatever reason.

Anyway, A Province of Thay digitally released an amazing record called “The Grieving” last year which you should definitely check out. And oh yeah, as far as I can tell, Ronnie is still the biggest personality in whatever room he happens to be in, haha.  

So you grew up in a really small town in the Southern part of Michigan. What was it like growing up there and how did you eventually fall into punk and hardcore?

Growing up in a small town was awful. I moved there when I was in fifth grade. I felt alienated right off the bat. It was all white kids, and no one knew who Public Enemy was. And I’m no parent, but I’m sure the last thing you want on your hands is a bored kid, especially boys.

As far as how I got into punk and hardcore, it’s hard to say. It was like a music evolution. When I was in grade school I was glued to MTV, so I listened to a lot of new wave and pop. Anyone who knows me, knows I have an obsession with The Go Go's.

Underground music was probably something I got into around the 7th grade. Somehow a friend stumbled upon a Minor Threat tape, and I was totally appalled. I know! I hate Minor Threat! But I did love that straightedge philosophy. (Editor’s Note: Whaaaaaaaaaaa?!?!?!?!)

But I finally dove into punk and hardcore through the back door. I loved Rage Against the Machine in high school, so I got into Inside out, I loved Quicksand, so I discovered Gorilla Biscuits. I loved Orange 9mm so I would eventually read that Chaka was in a band called Burn.

I loved going to shows, in high school it was tough to find rides out to Detroit for hardcore shows, but for some reason my folks didn’t mind taking me to bigger metal shows? Weird…but when I moved to Saginaw when I was hmm…19 or 20 I met one of my closest friends I will ever meet….Josh Call.

He got me into more local shows, we would road trip to shows in Grand Rapids, Flint, Kalamazoo, Detroit, where ever we could.

We went to a lot of the same shows and hung out with a lot of the same people during that time, although I always felt like you were always more a part of things and were closer to people than I was since I had college going on and wasn’t quite as active. That said, I remember that time period fondly, saw a lot of great shows and always felt like everybody was really positive and generally in it for the right reasons. I'm curious if that's your memory/perception of it and how you remember that time?

I remember the innocence of that time. I remember the passion that kids had; the energy. We weren't lazy with music, so we felt an almost entitlement to the scene we discovered. There were no digital downloads, no online streaming. It was mail order, it was bands throwing demo tapes at you. Hardcore was still tangible.

I think that’s the main thing I remember.

Once you had dug underground, who were the bands that impacted you the most deeply at the time, and who are the bands that have stuck with you into adulthood?

There are still bands from Michigan that hold weight with me today. Kid Brother Collective from Flint was my favorite. Of course no one from Michigan can dispute Earthmover. And I pull a lot of musical influence from Small Brown Bike. As far as other bands that still move me, you know me, I'm a 90’s emo kid. Mineral, boy sets fire, Elliott, Texas is the Reason, The Casket Lottery, I still can't get enough of that.

Michigan had a lot of awesome show spaces back then and it never seemed like there were a shortage of shows. What were your favorite spots to see bands and what were some of your most memorable shows from that era?

So many cool venues. I really liked seeing shows at Pharaohs back in the day before it shut down. And for a while they were doing great shows at Mr. Muggs in Ypsilanti. Saginaw had the Olde Jamestown Hall which I made so many long lasting friends like Josh and my friend Stephanie Gunther, many others as well. One show that comes to mind was a show at the Magic Stick in Detroit. We went and saw Cold as Life and someone set off some mace during their set. I had never been maced before. I will never forget that feeling…couldn't breathe, eyes watering. Everyone was trying to leave at once but we were just trying to carry my brother in his wheel chair down the stairs. It was an eventful night.

Oh man, that must have been completely bonkers! With respect to Marc, I never asked back in the day because I didn't want to come off as insensitive or anything, but I was always curious how he wound up in a chair, if it was a condition from birth or if there had been an accident along the way at some point. Despite his physical limitations, I always would get pumped when I saw Marc at a show (playing or performing); it was great both to see him refusing to let it limit him as well as to see the people around him (you and many other friends) all pitching in to make sure he was respected and could participate. My oldest is cognitively impaired, and something my wife and I always talk about is how our other sons will process his disability and how we need to talk about it with them. What was it like for you having an older brother (he was older right?) with a disability; how do you feel like it changed your perspective and/or gave you unique insights?

My brother was an amazing drummer. When he was in grade school he was being asked by the high school to play in their band when they went down to play the Rose Bowl. He played drums for one of my bands I was in. It was a silly Morning Again rip off band, haha. But one night on the way home from a show, the driver in the car he was riding in fell asleep at the wheel, the SUV flipped several times and my brothers’ neck was broke. After that he was an incomplete quad . It took a year or two to adjust but we eventually started a new band and kept creating music. I will always have a deep connection with him, or anyone I create music with. It's intimate in many ways people will never understand.

Actually I am the oldest....but most people who met us for the first time thought the same. But I learned fast what it meant to really take care of someone. In many ways it was my brother, and some ways I developed a protective fatherly instinct with him. It made me and my mother fight a lot about our opinions on his future...looking back I wish I would have asked him what he wanted to do with his future. It was hard for him to think he could have his own life and independence. I also learned that people have a finite amount of emotion for people...I spent a lot of mine on my brother. I loved him a lot and will miss him. When I think back it's mixed with regrets and fond memories.

So you moved out to Seattle eventually after doing cosmetology school, and broke into that field. How nervous were you to head out there and kinda hit the re-set button on life, and what ultimately prompted you to take that plunge in the first place?

So nervous, I had already graduated cosmetology school in Michigan, but man I knew like 3 people in Seattle. The city was beautiful though and I was just hooked instantly. Eventually my best friend Heather would follow me out from Detroit and life was amazing with her here.

Man that's so crazy. How long did it take you to feel like you had found your niche and to feel like it was home so to speak?

When I started working for the salon I am at now, it finally felt like home. I've been here at this place for over 6 years. It's been a humbling experience all in all, but everyone should fuck up their lives a little before you get complacent

The Ronnie I knew when we were young was a Christian kid and while we went to hardcore shows of all stripes, most of our friends were believers as well. I know that over the years you've gravitated towards atheism and are one of the more humorous and sarcastic people I know when it comes to poking fun at the faith. How much (if any) of your transition to atheism was related to your brother's passing, and how much of it was already going on/had went on prior to that experience?

Well when I was younger, I guess it was common place to believe in a higher power. So before I was able to think for myself I really did have to take things on faith. I think I phased out of Christianity when I realized that I couldn't buy the idea of “unconditional love” with conditions. It was a very elementary concept complicated by organized religion. So it was a soul-searching time for a few years. In the end I was an Atheist, but I lost faith in any sort of god long before my brother passed away.

Musically speaking, were there any other projects you were involved in once you got to Seattle before you started up with Breag Naofa?

When I first moved here I joined Timm when he formed Wait in Vain. That was a fun project but it was something I felt was Timm's baby. On the side I was doing a hardcore band called Fading Fast just for fun. But that also faded fast, lol . After that I took a break for a few years.

Talk about your time with Breag. How did you get to know those guys, what was that experience like, and what ultimately lead to your departure from the band?

Breag was awesome. Roger moved up to Seattle and actually took my place in Wait in Vain. He was playing in Sinking Ships as well at that time. When those bands broke up he had approached me about Breag. It was nice because he had most of the material written for that first album. I was instantly into it.

Yeah I would imagine going from Wait in Vain to Breag was a pretty big shift stylistically. Was it a big adjustment as a musician to shift gears like that or did it feel pretty natural?

Switching from Wait in Vain to Breag felt great. I definitely have more of a knack for writing music that Breag does than what Wait in Vain was doing, so it definitely fell into place a lot smoother.

That whole band was just a bunch of jokers. It was more play than work and I loved it. But when we worked, holy shit we worked. But like all things, when you get excited about how good something can be, it can send people in different directions. Initially I think that’s what happened just before I left.

Tre, Brian, and I were having differences on where we saw the band going, and I felt bad because Roger was in the middle of that. In the end we are all good and I decided to leave the group. Brian and Tre left shortly after, but Roger quickly had members filling those roles, and Breag is better than it has ever been. I’m proud of them.

Your new project, A Province of Thay, seems to take some of the expansive, atmospheric elements of Breag and push them even further, pretty much abandoning anything remotely hardcore for something more ethereal. What was the inspiration for Thay and how did you guys (and gals) come together?

Thay was conceived at gaming nights with most of the members that are in the line up now. Tyler has been hanging with me ever since he was seeing me play in Breag. He actually helped Breag out a lot by sharing a practice space with us. So he and I decided to do a side project and the whole point of it was to embrace all the ideas we had.

Dylan, Tyler and I were the founding members, and Bobby from Breag was actually helping us write our first songs.

Later we got Gianni in the band because she and I work together. I remembered she played bass, so I was like "Hey, wanna be in a band? We wanna sound like Braveyoung!" We had her at Braveyoung.

Heather was the last to join us. She actually answered an ad on Craigslist…and we all fell in love with her personality. In fact, we told her she was in the band before we even heard her play. Plus she and I and Gianni all have the same eye glass prescription…so we can’t ignore that coincidence.

In the end we have 5 people with very broad and different tastes in music and we just throw everything from doom, to 90’s emo into the creative pool and came up with who we are today.

What was the writing and recording process like for "The Grieving"? It seems like a pretty ambitious first effort...everything from the super long songs to the fact that you guys recorded at an actual legit studio, etc. It seems like a lot of bands take 4-5 years before they get to that point, haha.

I think in a way, we have all learned that you get what you pay for. Plus, being in our careers now, compared to the shitty jobs we had when we were younger, we can afford more legit studios. We recorded our album with Derek who also recorded the Breag LP. He is a real patient man, and we needed that because we were so nervous about the short time we had to put everything together. Heather really wanted to learn the songs and keep the recording dates we had already booked just before she joined the band. In the end we were pretty stoked on how it turned out, it’s nothing I’m gonna be embarrassed about 10 years down the road.

Yeah, most definitely not, it sounds grand. So now that the first record is under your belt, what's next on the writing front? How would you expect the next batch of Thay songs to compare to the first batch?

We are writing 3 more songs at the moment in hopes of recording this Spring. They have a little more influence from bands like Lightbearer, but we still keep it dialed back enough to not let our sound escape us. Hopefully we will be putting out all the songs from the first EP and these 3 new songs together on a double LP, but we are just rolling with the punches really.

I know you guys have a little West Coast jaunt planned, what are the deets on that and what else do you guys have lined up for 2014?

The only detail I know of for sure is that we are gonna hit the road with our friends in Lo'There Do I See My Brother. But we are still working on the dates, and exact cities.

On the bandcamp you guys state that lyrically the record is about "the desperation of human nature". I was hoping you could elaborate on that a what sense(s) would you say we are desperate, what are we desperate for?

Well here is where the plot thickens as they say. Our lyrics are based on a story I have created. So the lyrics are totally based on fictional characters, although some of the scenes are taken from personal experience, like “Legacy In The Trees”.

But the story focuses around two people who lose someone close to them. One deals with the grief by harboring regret and guilt. He only wants to forget, but finds he can’t. The other deals with the grief through physical lust, and convinces herself she is in love.

I think everyone one of us can relate to that on some level; the delusion of life. We pretend it’s a certain way, and we sweep everything under the rug in some way, hoping it will just go away. But all these things catch up to us.


  1. Love you guys and miss you by tremendous amounts.

  2. i love you too josh call! when we getting all the boys together for that mexico thing? that still a plan? or do you and i just need to go on a backpacking adventure?