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Ava Luna (Julian Fader second from right); Photo Credit: Richard Perez
As a resident of Brooklyn for a handful of years now, I’ve both discovered Ava Luna and taken them for granted. At first, I stumbled upon them opening for Deerhoof at Market Hotel, wowing the crowd with their ingenuity and groovy synthesis of genres. Later, they performed a free show taking place underneath the Manhattan Bridge, which I happily attended. Last year, they were announced as the opener for Cornelius at Irving Plaza well after I had purchased my ticket, and what a pleasant surprise that was. Several months later, they would play Music Hall of Williamsburg as their Brooklyn stop on the tour for latest record Moon 2. I chatted with drummer Julian Fader mere weeks beforehand and learned, much to my naïveté, that the future of the group once threatened to reach a terminus during the span of my fandom. And to think that I had begun to rely on their appearances the way one chances (not as fortunately) upon “showtime” while riding the MTA…
What follows is the unabridged conversation between Fader and myself.
Ryan Gabos: I have a funny history with you because before I really got into your band specifically, I kept seeing you open up for bands I was seeing live like Deerhoof and Cornelius.
Julian Fader: Oh, yeah. That was a dream. We did D.C. and New York with [Cornelius]. That was, like, the greatest. I’m a huge fan. Everyone in the band… we don’t fight a lot but we also don’t—all five people—agree on something very often, but everyone loves Cornelius. I was in Japan last year with a friend of mine, just visiting on vacation, and Cornelius happened to be playing. We went and saw Cornelius in Tokyo which was amazing and then right after that, they announced the New York show and I jokingly said to our booking agent, “Turn your keys, get us on the Cornelius show,” and he did his due diligence. He wrote to their management in booking and I kind of forgot I even said anything and then he’s like, “Hey, guess what. Do you wanna do D.C. and Pittsburgh with them too?” We were like, “Yeah, amazing.” Then the Pittsburgh one ended up not happening. The Pittsburgh one, they played it. If you remember [from the New York show], we had to set up entirely in front of them. So I guess the stage in Pittsburgh, they were worried there wasn’t gonna be enough room to fit an entire band in front of their big setup, so we ended up not doing that one, but we did do D.C. and it was really cool. It’s a bucket list [item]! It’s very rare you have the moment where you’re like, “Yes. We did it.” But that was one where it was inexplicably like, we did good. We hung out with them—they’re extremely cool. We got pictures. Keigo [Oyamada] came up to me, he was like, “I love Ava Luna,” I was like, “This is so bizarre…”
RG: That’s crazy that the opportunity came up just by you mentioning this off the cuff to your booking agent.
JF: Yup. I talk to our booking agent more than everyone else, I just texted him like, “Cornelius show, [laughs] go for it,” and to his eternal credit, he did it.
RG: On Moon 2, there’s not a heavy reliance on guitars. When I saw you debut the songs underneath the Manhattan Bridge, I began to realize that the way to tell a new song was about to be played was when Carlos [Hernandez] and Becca [Kauffman] would move to the synthesizers. What was the thinking behind that shift?
JF: There was a lot of stuff that went into that. The short version of the long story is just that basically, after the touring for our last album Infinite House, we were a little burnt—not badly—we had a really long tour and our van broke down, we had classic stuff happen to us. Everyone turned 30. We took a while where we didn’t break up or anything but people did other stuff. We played through that time, but Carlos moved away for a while. He moved to South Carolina and when he left, he was like, “I’m moving here forever, I’m not coming back,” but he did in fact come back like eight months later. He left January 1st, 2016 or whatever and came back in July or August or something. So we got together and we were like, “Let’s go away,” and we didn’t say we were gonna make an album or anything. We had access to this house in Vermont for free, it was like a friend of a friend’s parent’s friend’s vacation house; it was off-season, no one was in it. And that’s always how we do it, we go away and record like that. We bring our stuff, record ourselves, live in a house. Partially, it was a trip to see if—maybe we would play and we’d be like, “Oh, we’ve moved on.” It was the kind of thing where when [Carlos] left, we were like, “We’re moving on with our lives. We’re not breaking up, but everyone’s doing other stuff.” We would talk and stuff, but we had nothing planned and Carlos lived fifteen hours away. So we went [to Vermont] and we had all this recording gear and we just set up and played and ate food and took hikes and hung out. It was an adult vacation with instruments and it was good. [laughs] We came up with a bunch of stuff and I think that Manhattan Bridge show was—so we had another session, like, five months later, we went away again to another house that was free to us and I think that [Manhattan Bridge] show was in the middle of that, I’m not sure—I remember those songs, they didn’t have a lot of guitar A) because Carlos sort of removed… I guess my point I’m trying to get at here: before, it was very much like everyone had their voice in the band but Carlos was the director and the arranger; it was sort of his thing that we all were given total freedom in and it was definitely like a full collaboration, but at the end of the day, he sang lead a lot and he played guitar, and that’s pretty standard, I guess. He came back and was like, “If we do this, I wanna rebuild it. I started playing with people just to do my songs, I didn’t wanna be a frontperson. I don’t wanna do that anymore.” Part of that was just that he changed up what he was playing. So when we were recording, we didn’t set up anymore like we used to where we were just around in a circle playing live, it was very much like anyone can play anything. I’m the drummer; I play a lot of keyboards on this. Becca played bass on the first song. Anything goes. We brought the guitars, we just didn’t use them that much. There was the sense that we wanted to do something a little different, and it’s probably pretty classic to switch from guitars to keyboards to change it up [laughs], but I don’t know. The thing that we gravitated towards, whether via Carlos’s implied directive or otherwise, was a lot of keyboards. We had gotten some new keyboards and were playing with stuff like that and we never really got around to adding a bunch of guitar. Becca used to not play anything in the band and then she picked up guitar to play in Ava Luna which is insane because she’s so good, and then she decided now she wants to just do keys. She was over guitar at the same time as Carlos. It was a natural evolution. Then we started playing, like that Bridge show, we definitely hadn’t figured out all the arrangements yet, so we pretty much just had drums and bass on some songs at that point. They have a little bit more in them now, but still, not a lot of guitar. Which is nice. It makes it a lot easier to fit in—because I love guitars, it takes up a lot of space though. So it’s nice playing with less guitar, I think, for now.
RG: The distinction between a Becca, Carlos, or Felicia [Douglass] song is palpable. In that way, you’re a lot like Fleetwood Mac: you’re the same band, but each vocalist has their own impression and you all adapt accordingly.
JF: We don’t always agree [musically], but that’s a good kind of disagreement, I think. Everyone’s got a strong voice, it’s crazy. On this album, probably everyone felt —I guess I can’t speak for them—but my vision of it is that it felt even stronger to express that because the way that the band was rebuilt, at least in our minds, it’s like rebuilding it from scratch. We were like, “What could an Ava Luna song be like? What does it mean when we get together? Why are we getting together and doing this?” It’s… existential. [laughs] A lot of thinking. Becca has some songs where she definitely outlined it herself, like the one at the end of the album “On Its Side the Fallen Fire,” she went into the bathroom with her laptop and made that demo and we just built off the demo, basically, and turned it into our thing. But that sounds nothing like—and I’m the last person that should ever decide—but that sounds to me nothing like we ever did before. It was a pretty different process. Everyone just felt a little more bold, which is good for us because in my perception of the way we work is that we don’t have ego problems as much as we have an anti-ego problem sometimes where it’s like… Carlos backed down and we were like, “Okay, who’s gonna step up?” It was really fun going and recording; there were times where we were sitting there going, “What now? What now? Who’s gonna step up?” I think everybody stepped up in different ways and filled roles that they hadn’t before. It’s like jumping out of a plane; it’s a real plunge you take. It’s funny, because in retrospect, now having lived it, I’m like, “Yeah, we got through it no problem,” but it was really scary at the time. Like, “What if this doesn’t work?!”
RG: Does having such a wealth of personalities make recording easier?
JF: I think so, yeah. I mean—if I may—we can just go. Everyone’s got ideas and everyone can do anything, it’s crazy, especially now. Carlos and I run a recording studio and we’ve done a lot of recording in the past with Becca. Felicia always makes her own music and she got really got at operating the computer, and Becca also got really good at Logic. So anyone can engineer now. Like, I didn’t need to walk in and engineer someone’s vocals; I would go away and then come back and stuff would be done and I’d be like, “Oh man, Becca just went in and tracked a bunch of vocals. Awesome. That makes me think I wanna add this and do that.” Anyone can do anything, it was pretty cool.
RG: It sounds like that dream of being in school and being assigned a group project and getting partnered up with people that actually do their share of the work.
JF: Yeah! You know, we’ll argue and whatnot, but—I really can only speak for myself—I put a ton of stuff down on this: guitar, keyboard… Some of it got axed by different people, and I think we’re pretty good at this point about not taking it personally. We’ll fight—I will argue over the dumbest stuff, like some clap or something. It never gets to the point of hurting anyone, as far as I—again, I can’t speak for anyone else. [laughs] But I think everyone’s respectful. When you’re in an environment like that, everyone feels free to express themselves and—in my opinion—be really good. [laughs] I’m bragging now.
RG: Can you go into detail about the crate of pagan goddess chanting tapes that Becca introduced during these sessions?
JF: Becca got these tapes—I believe in western Mass—they’re called “women’s tapes.” It’s these tapes of women doing these chants and prayers… I don’t know the background of them, Becca knows more about them, but we listened to it a ton. Becca brought this boom box to the first session we did at the house in Vermont. All the equipment was set up and the tape machine was set up downstairs in the basement and then we had this big living room that we hung out in and we would listen to them. Also, when we weren’t working, she was working on digitizing them, so we spent a lot of time sitting in the basement also listening to them during off hours. They definitely helped us form a sort of vibe, because Becca also—she did a lot of vibe setting—she made us… I say ‘made’ because I was reluctant at first but by the end I was obsessed—she made us listen to Enya a ton. We listened to so much Enya. Really at first, I just was like, “I don’t get it.” By the end, oh my god. I love Enya now. She’s amazing. She lives in a mansion by herself and makes that music and doesn’t play shows. She’s crazy. So yeah, there was the women’s tapes and Enya, which are funny, but I hear them [in the record]. [laughs] That was a very important job Becca doesn’t give herself enough credit for, giving us this shared thing that we could all focus on—and like or dislike—but we all fixated on that as we started this scary process, and that’s pretty cool.
RG: The tapes sound like a trope from a horror movie, like something you stumble upon to unleash hell somehow.
JF: Right. [laughs] They were decidedly not haunted tapes. They’re not scary… to me, at least. The background of them was interesting and I don’t know enough to tell the story, but they were cool. They’re kinda hippy-ish, western Mass, early ‘90s… I don’t know. It’s interesting.
RG: There are many projects all the members are involved with. I’m curious as to how Felicia’s recent addition to Dirty Projectors affects Ava Luna, since I assume that gig is a greater priority.
JF: Definitely. She got a dream job, basically. As far as I understand, Dirty Projectors had tryouts for putting together a new band for this new album [ Lamp Lit Prose ] and David [Longstreth] had a couple people try out. I didn’t know Felicia had tried out. We had this Serge Gainsbourg show a few months ago and she told us the night of that or the night before that. So the part of me that’s been friends with Felicia forever was like, “That’s the coolest thing ever.” Felicia works harder than anyone at music stuff and collaborates with all these people and is a prolific songwriter and just one of the most talented people I know and hardest working, too. She was working at a brunch place that sucked. I was like, “You quit your restaurant job and you’re gonna go on a bus tour and you’re gonna go to Japan, you’re gonna go to Europe, and that’s the best thing ever.” Then there was a part of me that was like, “Oh, man! We rebuilt our small band…” First reaction was happy, second reaction was like, “Oh, crap, this is a thing.” But she was like, “I’m not quitting, but it’s a job and I’m gonna take it.” She beat out everyone in Brooklyn and got this gig, it’s awesome. This is a while ago now, but we set a date [for the album release] in the summer. We ended up pushing it back because she basically went on tour from end of May until, like, recently. She didn’t up and leave or anything. She went on those tours, she knew she had September off, so we were like, “We’ll move our album release to September. If you’re comfortable with it, do you mind going on a very different kind of tour with us for two-and-a-half weeks during your month off?” She’s excited about it [laughs] as far as she’s told me. So yeah, definitely a shock to the system, and now at this point I love it. It worked out that the initial shock for me personally went away after a few weeks. Again, I thought we might have to break up, I thought the album wouldn’t come—it got scary again, there was a little period of time where I was like, “Maybe this isn’t gonna happen…” But it did, and it’s fine and it’s great. It really is. I think it’s ideal. In the end, it’s working out in a really great way, it just took a lot of scary turns to get here. [laughs]
RG: I remembered seeing the photo of the Dirty Projectors touring band when it was announced and before reading her name, I saw her and thought, “Isn’t that the keyboardist from Ava Luna? They have all these new songs that I assume are coming out soon, what’s gonna happen here?”
JF: Yeah, we could’ve just played those couple shows and then broken up and never put them out and could’ve built a legend from there, but alas, it’ll be free on Spotify in a week. [laughs] But yeah, it can’t hurt. Dirty Projectors are awesome and it’s a sick gig for her. I’m happy. We actually have rehearsal tonight for the first time. Well, we rehearsed without Felicia last week twice and now we’re—when I’m off the phone, I’m gonna go over there and we’ll play for the first time in [laughs] six months or something.
RG: These songs have been around for a while now. Does Moon 2’s release make them feel new again? Is it reinvigorating to you?
JF: Yeah, it is now because we’re reorganizing. I have a sample pad now behind the drums which I didn’t have before. We’re in the process of optimizing it so it makes a little more sense and it’s easier to react to. It was sort of piecemeal before, we were adding songs as they got to the point that they were able to be tried, and now—I mean, we only have a week before tour, we’ve had two rehearsals and we’re rehearsing most nights before tour now, but we’re looking at it as a whole now, like, “Okay, here’s all the songs we’re gonna do.” We’re going through with a critical eye to everything and seeing what needs tuning up, which we never did, because before, even with [our last] Brooklyn Bazaar show, it would be one practice/two practice before the show and just go for it. Now it’s luxurious for us. A week is not much, but we have a week of rehearsal, we can look at it as a whole and individually tune up everything that needs tuning. We’re thinking about very, very basic lighting and stuff like that, when before it was like, “Oh man, we got a show in three days, we better practice the next two nights,” just a scramble. It’s always a scramble for us. But we have time. I think [the songs] feel a little new because I just reorganized in my mind. I don’t know how different they’ll sound. We haven’t really played them since the album’s been done and mastered, but we do have a slightly different perspective on it when they’re finished. Once that thing is solidified, it’s like anything we vary is from this solidified thing, just seeing what we should do. And I like that, it keeps it interesting. Interesting for everybody, I guess. We have one section of one song where—we don’t do this very often—it has unknown lengths, it can just go as long as we feel. We don’t do that that often but that kind of thing also keeps it interesting. We’re not a jammy band really, but we try it.
RG: I take it it’ll be a while to record a follow-up, what with all of the different projects going on.
JF: If I were to bet on it right now, I would say it will happen. Five months ago, it would’ve been “definitely not,” but there’s talk. There’s rumblings. I think I know what it sounds like, a little bit. There’s chatter. And everyone’s down. We’ll just keep going until, I don’t know, people have kids or something. [laughs] Nothing has stopped us from wanting to do it yet. If we don’t wanna do it, I’ll be happy, but if we wanna do it, I’ll be really happy. Seems like right now, everyone would—obviously we have no concrete plans, but people are definitely still creatively interested in the project. No matter how much other stuff—Becca’s got Jennifer Vanilla stuff and she’s going to the west coast for a month at the end of this year. Everyone’s quite busy. And we have our studio and we all play in other bands. But we were describing it as your family, kinda. I guess, family you like. [laughs] Not awkward Thanksgiving family. The people you come back to.
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