|WIN WIN’S CRUCIAL GEAR
Active since the late aughts, indie collective Ava Luna precipitated NYC’s soul revival of the 2010s. From that hub of DIY creativity that is Bushwick’s Silent Barn, the band’s fourth LP, Infinite House, continues their homage to variety and experimentation. Atonal guitars undulate behind doo-wop harmonies to form an audio puzzle so mesmerizingly inconceivable that it borders on the sublime. With five uncompromisingly forward-thinking albums and a Deli cover of under their belts, Ava Luna has become an absolute pillar of the Brooklyn underground. The band’s drummer Julian Fader recently sat down to answer a few questions.
What was your initial motivation to form a rock band, when you initially started playing?
I started drumming when I was a kid because drums were loud. And fun. Playing music is a release–it’s pretty important for kids to have that. We run a music school out of our studio for these kids from Brownsville and East New York and we get to see them have that joy of playing music. It’s amazing and very important.
What comes first: music or lyrics?
For Ava Luna, definitely music.
What’s been inspiring you guys music lately?
We tour a fair amount and we’ll often stumble upon music that inspires us. A few tours ago, we discovered Marvin Pontiac’s album and we were so taken with it that we did our best to rip off on one of the songs on Infinite House.
Is inspiration some kind of random blessing, or is it possible to set it in motion?
It’s not random but you can’t control it either. It’s in your peripheral vision but you can’t see it head on.
- BEING IN A BAND
What’s the songwriting/arranging process in the band? To what extent is each band member’s role defined?
It depends on the song. For our most recent album, we decamped to a house in Mississippi for a few weeks. We set uour recording gear and essentially just waited for moments to occur. We’d keep the “tape” rolling all the time, then grab moments that we liked and flesh them out into fuller arrangements. We have three lead vocalists–any of them can hear a moment and decide to start writing over it.
Are bands ever true democracies? What about yours?
I don’t think it’s possible to have a good band that doesn’t answer to one single person. It’s all about the balance — Carlos definitely has final cut of Ava Luna‘s music but we all give him that power because we trust him. On the flip side, he rarely vetoes any idea that someone else has, if they’re truly passionate about that idea.
Obviously not, I don’t think it’s possible to have a good band that doesn’t answer to one single person. It’s all about the balance — Carlos definitely has final cut of Ava Luna‘s music but we all give him that power because we trust him. On the flip side, he rarely vetoes any idea that someone else has, if they’re truly passionate about that idea. We’ve been playing together for a really long time and there’s a significant build-up of trust at this point.
How do you guys deal with the inevitable conflict of egos?
We don’t really have those clashes too much, it’s pretty funny. Our issue tends to be lack of ego and self confidence.
- MUSICAL TOYS AND RECORDING
Are there any instruments, pieces of equipment or musical toys that lately made you rediscover the playful side of creating?
I don’t think I’ve ever lost that feeling of discovery, to be completely honest! I feel lucky to be able to say that. Who knows how I’ll feel in ten years.
Has a piece of gear alone ever inspired a song? If so which?
Our song “Black Dog” was written around the sound of cell phone interference broadcasting through a guitar amp. It was particularly eerie sounding that day.
Some of you live inside and run Silent Barn, which has its own recording studio (Gravesend). How much of your latest album was recorded there?
About half of the basic tracks and many of the overdubs/vocals were recorded at Gravesend.
What did you record at the Gooden Family House studio in Benton, MS?
Steve Polyester, Coat of Shellac, Infinite House, Black Dog, and Victoria were all recorded in Mississippi.
This is the first time you work with Dave Fridmann (producer of The Flaming Lips), how did this affect the band’s sound on the record?
Recording can be emotionally challenging when you’re in the thick of it. Things go wrong, people get frustrated. Always remember to step away from the studio for a few minutes! Take a walk. Then come back and listen to what you’ve been working on.
Dave did such an amazing job with the mix. He took the tracks we’d recorded and imparted a certain quality to them–he took them our of the realm of the physical, in a strange way. There’s an otherworldliness to his mixes, I love it so much. He was very skilled at being able to take the sounds that were already there and stretch them to further extremes. Also, he was just a pleasure to work with personally.What are the pieces of equipment that you find particularly inspiring when recording at your Silent Barn studio?
We love to run drums (and sometimes guitars and vocals) through an old Heil HM88 mixer. It really blows sounds out in an incredibly pleasing way. It’s all over everything we record, Ava Luna or otherwise.
What one piece of hardware/software would you most like to add to your recording setup?
I’d love a really nice ribbon mic, perhaps a Royer R121.Do you/your guitarist use rack effects or guitar pedals to forge your own guitar sound?
It’s not exactly a retro point of pride or anything but we use very few pedals in our band. I think Carlos has one pedal — it’s built by our friend Jared who runs a pedal company called L0/Rez. The pedal is called the Cement Lunch and it’s actually named after an old Ava Luna song! The sound is also based on Carlos’ guitar sound, so it’s pretty meta. He loves it though, it adds a really pleasing, slight overdrive. Nothing extreme, although some of the other Lo Rez pedals are a little more heavy handed! Ethan has a Tech 21 Sansamp preamp Bass pedal that he loves. Becca has one of those EHX Freeze pedals that’s essential to a couple of tunes.Do you have a particular recording style that you aim for?
Make it sound good in the room, you can’t fail if it sounds good on the way in.
Is there a person outside the band that’s been important in perfecting your recorded and/or live sound?
Our former band member Nathan Tompkins has been and continues to be a bit of a spiritual guide. He’s like an in-house producer. He hears everything we work on before it’s done.
- RECORDING/PRODUCING OTHER ARTISTS
You also produce and record other artists, what are the challenges of that job?
I’ve learned that recording other artists for a living is 70% psychology and 25% troubleshooting. Keep people happy without pandering. Make sure everything’s working correctly. If a session is too easy, it might not sound good. There’s a hump you always have to get over — don’t fret. Take deep breaths, don’t forget to save. I think the last 5% of the job is just hitting save.What are your most cherished pieces of recording gear?
What are the most common mistakes you see emerging bands do in the songwriting, recording and performing departments?
Well I think it’s often a healthy mistake to make but so many bands are on such a tight/nonexistent budget and book one day and want to record 10 songs — I think people should always try to work on less songs at a time so that they can really devote enough time to each tune. We’re always down to attempt to scale impossible heights when it comes to getting huge projects done, but it’s really important to have enough time!
What’s the single piece of advice you would give to a young musician looking to start a band with the hopes to make it become his or her full time job?
Expect nothing and do it because you have to. We don’t make significant money from our band so I can’t advise people on that. Have many skills. Carlos and I have managed to leverage our skills into running this studio. We barely scrape by, I’ll be perfectly honest. But we do scrape by and it’s an incredibly rewarding existence.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspects of the recording process? On the flipside, what aspects are the most rewarding?
Recording can be emotionally challenging when you’re in the thick of it. Things go wrong, people get frustrated. Always remember to step away from the studio for a few minutes! Take a walk. Then come back and listen to what you’ve been working on. The most rewarding thing is to listen to your tunes, when they are finished, at loud volume.