Interview: Pink Navel
Posted: by The Editor
Devin Bailey, the mind behind narrative rap project Pink Navel acknowledges the importance of leaving imperfections in the final mix. The Massachusetts-based artist started in New England DIY punk and emo circles playing in bands like Handwriting (which they described to me as William Bonney rip-off music), Baja Blasters (a Taco Bell emo band), and rapping in Running Laps. Soon after, they joined Ruby Yacht in 2018. I was happy to catch up with Bailey and chat about their most recent album EPIC alongside what it’s like to trust in a one-take process, manipulating Tik Tok audio clips, and the zealousness of spontaneous performance that is Pink Navel.
The physicality of writing on paper is an evaporating practice for a few reasons. Nowadays, the act exists as preemptive, perhaps as a way to disillusion creativity — or lack thereof. Keeping a notebook is an exercise in self-voyeurism and a plunge into the immeasurable parts of ourselves. This is why, I suppose, people maintain diary entries in pages because they corroborate greater privacy than a computer. And for some, pen and paper remain ritualistic over convenience. After all, it takes unadulterated consistency to use up all pages of a notebook.
“There’s so much spiritual significance in rap music with pen and pad,” Bailey told me. For them and many others, it’s a way to interact with the world. Ideas swim, linger for a bit longer and it’s harder to erase. You have an option to restore a vestige of a scribbled-out remark. Of course, this is all possible with a computer. But I can’t imagine most people recover hundreds of versions of google doc unless they intend to look for something they’ve lost.
This makes sense for Bailey. All songwriters aim for intention. But their way into the world seems seamless, like skateboard bearings clicking cleanly into wheels. A song serves its purpose. Bailey starts with a beat then loops sounds with a few different pieces of gear. They also spend quite some time on lyrics; rewriting, revising, and polishing. And they’ve never written a song that could fit anywhere.
Most importantly, Bailey strives for a cinematic experience through word and sound and touch; tagging senses bridged with each thoughtful interruption that nourishes an ecosystem living within a song. “A lot of it is very performative for me,” they told me. “I used to have “Limelight” by RUSH on my sampler and I would end my sets by playing that,” Bailey recalled. “I had this skit where I made everyone going outside part of my show. The crowd was The Breakfast Club, getting everyone outside like they’re at the end of that movie.”
“The main theme I try to evoke was spontaneity,” Bailey continued. They made beats on their Twitch channel when live and also recorded the album in one take, underscoring listening to an album in order. Further, dialogue samples are a powerful tool. They’re monumental in both hip-hop and DIY music, particularly in the emo circles Bailey familiarized themselves within their youth. For the last album Giraffe Track, they interviewed their mom. For EPIC, Bailey plugged a phone into a sampler, went through Tik Tok likes, recorded the audio, and chopped it up. The album’s opener “XJ-9” starts with a clip about someone rapping about getting a vaccine. In another two songs, ”DANNY PHANTOM ” segues into “NUNCHUCKS AT BUC-EES” with someone ordering lemonade mixed with iced tea at Dunkin.’ Bailey lauds samples that are on the forefront of people’s consciousness right now like doomscrolling Tik Tok for you pages and the DIY’s coffee staple station. And as a queer, lo-fi bedroom pop rapper navigating past roots in New England emo circles, they find a way to make it work.
I caught Bailey’s set a few months ago when they stopped by Queens on a tour. It was the first time we met and they were wonderfully charismatic, to no one’s surprise. Under a dim-lit purple light, Bailey began and an entire room shrunk. I like to think of their music as a floral arrangement; there are long stems and longer stems, flowers that sprout like morning stretching, and flowers that hug into themselves to sleep. But collectively, a song is beautifully fulfilled, standing on its own without ever being the same as another bouquet. Bailey is undeniably themselves without hesitation and I didn’t even need to see them live to know this. A breeze from the backyard kept slipping in whenever someone came in and out. But when Bailey began, I seemed to forget I was cold to begin with.
Jane Lai | @soldtogod3000
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