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Ava Luna
"retro" refreshed
by: Bill Dvorak - March 9, 2012


“I still consider it a funny experiment,” Carlos Hernandez tells The Deli of the formation of his breakthrough avant-pop band, Ava Luna. “When we were first putting this band together, I had a wrist injury and couldn’t play guitar...but couldn’t figure out what to use instead to fill that space.  As a kid, I grew up on soul music, and those sounds are really comforting to after mulling for months, one evening (while hanging out at a Parts & Labor show) I suddenly got the idea to try adding a trio of vocalists.  It turned out to be really fun and easy to practice (we can do it at anyone’s apartment), so we stuck with it.” While this admission may be a bit surprising for those who thought Ava Luna was formed with the purpose of mirroring the funk rhythms and call-and-response of classic soul and R&B in a modern synth-pop context, it’s apparent that the band sees itself more as an amalgamation of a large number of influences, and the “neo-soul” tag sometimes ascribed to it was just a jumping-off point for the sound. In fact, when asked about the actual neo-soul revival championed by such groups as Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, and Daptone Records, Carlos explains, “I like it, but I could never personally get into revivalism, nor do I consider our band to really be neo-soul or soul anything.  Everyone’s got their influences, but as a listener, I’ve always been way more interested in new sounds.”

For those who haven’t been keeping your eye on the blogs and have thus not had a chance to check out Ava Luna’s tunes or enthralling live performances, the band definitely captures that soul and R&B element – mainly through the soaring three-part harmonies delivered by the girl-group trio of Felicia Douglass, Becca Kaufman and Anna Sian – yet mixes that up with a hard-hitting (and at times) surprisingly dissonant dose of electronic post-punk, 80’s funk and something akin to James Chance’s spastic jazz/no-wave. Hernandez plays synth alongside Nathan Tompkins, and Ethan Bassford (bass) and Julian Fader (drums) deliver an adroit rhythm section that grounds the songs.

While developing and rehearsing such a dynamic sound may seem daunting, Carlos observes that his bandmates are among the best musicians he knows. “Anna, Becca and Felicia are pros - I’m serious,” he states. “They’ll destroy pretty much any harmony, even the most outrageous dissonance.”  According to Carlos, the band is mostly comprised of old friends – he, Nathan and Julian have been playing music together since college, and Anna, Felicia and Ethan attended high school together in New York.  “The name ‘Ava Luna’ has been around forever,” Carlos says.  “People have come and gone, but the group we currently have is the most stable and longest running.  Everyone in the band right now is just amazing.”

Influences in the group are far-ranging. Carlos drops Bauhaus and Roy Ayers, and observes, “There’s a lot of people in the band.  We’re all over the place.  Some of us are really into 60’s electronic and downtown avant-garde stuff, some are into more no wave-y early 80’s stuff – of course, there’s a shared love of 70’s and 90’s vocal R&B – and others spend time digging for dropped post-Nirvana major label bands.  Of course, there’s also the obvious – Al Green, The Supremes, The Soul Stirrers and Prince.”

Further elaborating on the band’s penchant for synths over guitar and the music’s relative minimalism, Carlos explains, “I used to play guitar in the band long ago, but when I injured my wrist, I went and bought the cheapest synth in Guitar Center, and we went from there – learning about synths as we went.  For over a year, we didn’t have any other instruments – just drums and the one synth, plus the vocal harmonies.  I actually just started playing guitar in the band again about three months ago.  I’m taking it slow – still learning.  We’ll see how it goes.”

Despite the group’s musicality and friendship, Carlos notes that writing such progressive and powerful songs like “Clips,” off 2010’s Services EP, or “(Do Me No Wrong) While I Am Gone” from 2009’s 3rd Avenue Island – requires patience and dedication.  “The songwriting takes forever.  There needs to be a lot of balancing,” he concedes.  “Usually I’ll bring in ideas, and we’ll knead them as a group.  Seeing what’s possible, and how we can color it in better.  We also talk a lot.  Everyone’s personalities and backgrounds play a huge role in the ideas that guide the songwriting.”

The aforementioned albums, by the way, were recorded by the band in a fairly uncommon recording space – the basement of the Trinity Korean Methodist Church near Coney Island, owned by the parents of a former band member.  The records were initially released on Cooling Pie, the label run by Julian Fader, who admits, “to be honest, I don’t think I’m cut out for running a real life legit record label, but Cooling Pie just feels like something I have to do.  I’ve got plans to publish a book that my friend Ian has been writing in India, so really the ‘record label’ is whatever we want it to be.”  He also explains that he “sold” Ava Luna to Infinite Best Recordings for “a single can of beer.” Currently, the group’s Services EP is available through Infinite Best, along with records by local luminaries and soon-to-be tourmates Twin Sister.

Ava Luna has been building buzz in New York and elsewhere for a while now, especially after their recent fall tour with Toro Y Moi, and it looks like they’re going to continue their ascent.  According to Carlos, a new album (this time recorded at the home of influential Ladybug Transistor singer and Elephant 6 member Gary Olson) is in the works.  And when not working on new music with the band or touring, the members find time for other musical projects. Describing these side-projects, Carlos notes, “Casiorossi is a band that Ethan is in – the densest, harshest guitars and the most incredible songwriting they kick ass.  Then there’s Quilty, Julian’s other band, which I’m very sad to say recently broke up.  My second favorite show that I’ve ever seen in my life was a Quilty show.  I also play drums in Sweet Tooth, which is really noisy and abrasive and awesome.  Felicia is an amazing songwriter in her own right (Anna sings harmonies with her sometimes).  Becca’s solo songs rule (at least the ones I’ve heard), and her freestyle raps are hilarious.  And Nathan has full recordings that he refuses to show the rest of us.”  And as for other current bands they appreciate?  “We definitely have to shout out Celestial Shore – amazing music and awesome dudes,” he says.  “White Suns, who floor me every time, and Night Manager – Julian and I are recording their album, and I’m psyched for that.”

As for future plans?  As to be expected, they’re forward-thinking: “I want to do a collaboration with loud objects,” Carlos exclaims.  “They can run chainsaws while we try to sing.  Also my new dream in life is to play a show with ESG.  They’ve got contact info on their Myspace!  I think it’s an AOL email address.”

Untitled Document

“We definitely have to shout out Celestial Shore – amazing music and awesome dudes,” he says.  “White Suns, who floor me every time, and Night Manager – Julian and I are recording their album, and I’m psyched for that.”

Ava Luna
""Ice Level""

what it is

Dissonant doo-wop and post-punk with infectious three-part harmonies.