June 13th, 2012
Ava Luna - Water Duct
Ava Luna are no strangers to experimentation. Smashing punk and soul together, they arrived at Miner St with a wild mix of ingredients and one small problem—an unfinished song.
When we asked Shaking Through Alum Twin Sister to curate an Episode, they hailed their most recent tour mates and friends, Ava Luna, citing confidence in their ability to perform under pressure. This makes sense of course, historically the band has a “no overdubs” policy which would make recording a song in a day a simple matter. But they were eager to push the boundaries of what was possible in a session...and boy did they.
The 6-piece band came to Miner Street at the end of a rainy week in May with only a chorus and a couple chords in mind, leaving the rest up to their own creative instincts. This was a gutsy move and—we’ll be honest—had us reaching for the Tums. But “Water Duct” proved to be a departure from their previous songs in the best possible way. As their Curators will confirm, the band’s real prowess lies in their ability to write layers of sounds that transcend the space of a studio.
If the band feels like a wild science experiment, well, it is. It’s not only an amalgam of styles, shapes and textures, it was also an experiment in how to create a sustainable project. “It came down to money in the end,” says lead singer Carlos Hernandez. “I was thinking ‘How can you make a band that’s sustainable given that you’ll never have money, you know? And I decided that it was simple: you create a whole music process by which you can always record on your own.”
For Ava Luna, the past few years have been a testament to their dogged pursuit of that process. Formed by Hernandez, Ava Luna is comprised of long-time friends Ethan Bassford (bass) , Julian Fader (drums), Felicia Douglass (vocals, synth), NathanTompkins (synth), and Becca Kauffman (vocals, guitar), who all met in New York City. Pulling from years of music theory, training, and personal history, each bandmate contributes their own personal style. “There's not many bands that you can push a lot of music into tiny sections” says Dev Gupta from Twin Sister. “I think Ava Luna’s songs are really structurally complex. In terms of lots of parts and of changes from moving one feeling to another, those tiny moments are amazing.” Hernandez formed the band years ago with the intention of making music that he could produce at his own pace and integrate with his own style. Eventually, the band grew and evolved, but the band’s progression never strayed from the initial principle. “The idea would be there would be no studio stuff at all; almost like a punk band, just these raw elements, and this energy with a lot of space to write and perform music”, says Hernandez, who also happens to be the son of a well-known soul DJ in New York. With that influence, Ava Luna has carved out a niche of soul-punk in New York City and beyond.
Ava Luna have always been the kind of band that depended on their live show as a platform for their albums—most recently, 2012's Ice Level. So coming into Miner Street to record Shaking Through was an opportunity, but it was also pushed the band to envision their process new and different ways. Hernandez, for the amount of experience he’s had as a musician, has always greeted studios reluctantly. With the endless options and potential feedback that Miner Street offered, it can be as overwhelming as it is exciting.
The song not being done didn't help either. But with the help of Producer/Engineer Jon
Low, the band leaped at the chance to create something they couldn’t necessarily re-create live. “Some people get hung up on the ideas of right and wrong especially when it comes to music.” notes Hernandez. “But I'm more interested in experimenting with the whole idea of not using overdubs was an experiment, and so is this… we had one day to make a song, and the result was based on those restrictions.”
As Hernandez points out, “I feel very passionate about being open to new things: when you decide on something, then you do it all the way. What's the point of experimenting if you don't do it all the way?”
In the end, “Water Duct” is a highlight for Ava Luna, not only creatively, but also as a group who in the past has declined the resources Shaking Through offers. As Twin Sister puts it: “The thing that Shaking Through does for bands is like trying on clothes, you get to live this dream for a day. You get to take these lessons back to your normal process and really focus your craft. It's a great opportunity."
And as we learned throughout the session, opportunity is not something that Ava Luna passes up. While still harnessing their soul/R&B finesse, they used the two-day session to their advantage, bringing to the table aspects of writing and recording that should be admired by any emerging band. Their approach to creating music that can be made and re-created without the nuances of a studio album has proved to be recognized by the music community, including their biggest fans, Twin Sister. “I really think my favorite part about Ava Luna is the combined energy that comes out of a group of people interacting with each other.” The energy can be felt all the way through “Water Duct”, a song which solidifies Ava Luna’s past and present influences.