Ava Luna has always been a tough band to describe. They draw from styles as disparate as soul and post-punk, but repurpose them seamlessly as a completely novel sound. Even within their records, they manage to transition between drastically different energy levels (often abruptly) without ever losing focus or becoming disjointed. Their new album, Infinite House, is perhaps the strongest example of those qualities yet.
We recently had a chance to talk with Ava Luna’s drummer, Julian Fader, about the band’s often-transient membership, the trust that’s necessary for collaborative songwriting, and the pros and cons of not having much of a life outside of the group.
ThrdCoast: Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? How did you get started in music?
Julian Fader: I grew up near Boston. I've been playing drums since I was really little – I went to college for music engineering and met Carlos through a friend of a friend. We started playing in a band together, this was probably around 2005.
TC: How did it that become the group that it is today?
JF: That 2005 band that we had was called Ava but at some point, we amended a "Luna" to that and put out an album and broke up. Carlos re-formed Ava Luna with a different group of folks and I eventually rejoined in late 2010, right after Ethan joined. There was a rotating cast of folks in the band for a few years but we settled into our current lineup around 2012. I think Felicia's the longest continuously tenured member besides Carlos. We need one of those band member Wikipedia charts, for sure.
TC: You guys seem to draw from a pretty eclectic range of influences. I've always enjoyed that you describe your music as "nervous soul," because it really captures the essence of those erratic tonal shifts. Where does that sound come from?
JF: How could you not be nervous living in this world? Anxiety is everywhere, and I have no interest in whitewashing it from this music. Nervous is just a word that people latch onto in order to describe the indescribable. I think "focused and neurotic" is a better descriptor, but it just doesn't have that same ring to it.
TC: Whether it's arranging, providing backing vocals, or recording other people at Gravesend Recordings, you guys have a hand in a lot of other acts. Do those collaborations give you ideas for things you want to do with Ava Luna?
JF: Definitely. I won't speak for Carlos but at least for me, running the studio has been the most gratifying job imaginable. We get to have bands and musicians and artists come into our space and we meld ourselves with them for a few days. Sometimes after a string of sessions is over, I find myself feeling like it's the end of a short tour with whatever group is finishing up. It can get emotional! In terms of the effect on Ava Luna, it's tangible. I can think of a few spots on our new album where Carlos directly tried to rip off – and I use that as a very positive term – folks who we worked with, because they inspired him.
TC: What’s the group dynamic during the songwriting process? I’m especially curious since different people write different songs.
JF: At this point, everybody's got a freedom which can probably only be earned through trust and familiarity and a lot of time playing together. Carlos is definitely our fearless editor and he has the final word, but in my mind, we allow him to have that final word because we know he knows what he's doing.
TC: Having your own recording studio seems like a huge advantage for a band. How does Gravesend affect the writing process? Do you utilize the studio in early stages of writing?
JF: For Infinite House, we did the initial album sessions in a friend’s family home in Mississippi and then came home to finish the album. Recently, we've been setting up the mics at Gravesend and jamming for hours. We've got a few cool new little parts of those jams that may one day turn into songs, or may just languish forever. Who knows. We rehearse at Gravesend, which is great. We used to have seven band members packed into a tiny, sweaty rehearsal space. Nowadays, there are five of us and we've got a lot more space at Gravesend. It seems like life is improving, incrementally!
TC: Are you guys super picky about where you record? How about gear?
JF: Picking the space correctly is extremely important but agonizing over picking the gear is near pointless to me. I mostly care about the feelings we're collectively having as we record. I want it to feel right.
TC: Do you think with Infinite House you reached a new level as a group? It definitely feels like your strongest album, and there’s a bit of swagger to including those accents like snippets of conversation and sounds of doors closing.
JF: Dave Fridmann really helped lend that hyper-realistic quality to the album, and I'll always be so happy that he was excited to work with us on it. He's incredible, I learned a lot from working with him. That door closing thing was always in the song but he panned it across the stereo field, which was the coolest little trick. I don't know if we've "reached a new level," but I do feel that it's our strongest album!
TC: What's life like for you guys outside of Ava Luna?
JF: There's not really an "outside of Ava Luna" for me, for better or worse. In my life, it pretty seamlessly fits into the recording studio, working at Silent Barn, going to shows. I don't know if that's healthy but that's how it is. We don't make money from this band and perhaps because of that, it's actually easier to integrate into my everyday mindset.
TC: Is there anything new we can expect from Ava Luna in the coming months? Tour dates, outside collaborations, that kind of thing?
JF: We're playing two release shows for Infinite House, April 17th at Baby's All Right and April 18th at Silent Barn. Both shows are incredible and are going to rule, I think. Then we're leaving for a really long tour on April 25th. We won't get home until June 7th! I just put out a little solo album on Bandcamp under the name Um Are. Felicia is readying a solo album for an August release, or so I've heard. Becca is working on a TV show of her own creation right now, and she also puts out an Audio Cassette Magazine called Master Cactus. Ethan is constantly in search of the finest smoked meat in the city. He's also apprenticing with a luthier right now, so I'm going to get him to set up all of our guitars! Carlos has been working on tracks with his brother Antonio who's a prolific beat-maker. He goes by the name Yung Gutted. Carlos is being secretive about it so I'm not sure what's up with that.