Brooklyn band Ava Luna is poised to have a great year. Last month, they played one of the historical final shows at the late, great 285 Kent and last week they rubbed the stump at the Apollo for good luck. On March 4, the funkpop experimentalists will release their sophomore LP, Electric Balloon, which represents a band in flux. Since the release of their debut album, Ice Level, the group has gone from having seven members to a neat five and interband dynamics have changed accordingly.
Yesterday, we spoke with Julian Fader (drums) and Ethan Bassford (bass guitar) about the effects of all these big changes on Electric Balloon and what we can expect from the band in 2014.
You have the second show of your U.S. tour in Boston tonight, correct?
JF: We ended up not being able to get there because of snow and the fact that our van got stolen the other day.
EB: We have a great story.
JF: We sort of have it back now. The van was parked in Bushwick by where Carlos [Hernandez, lead vocals/guitar] lives. He parked it over there and went to look for it and it wasn’t there. And at that same moment he got a text from a friend of ours who was like, Oh, I saw your van. She had no idea it was stolen.
EB: She texted him earlier in the day before he knew it was gone. He was like, Oh, that’s weird.
JF: He’s like, Holy shit! So, he called the cops and he biked over there and in his rush to get over there he forgot his wallet and his phone was dead. He ended up opening the car with his keys and they had destroyed the steering column to hotwire it and I guess they left a bunch of tools in the van among other things. There was like ladies’ handbags, another car stereo and a bunch of tools. And he used their tools to hotwire the car and steal it back. The glass on the windows is smashed. We actually haven’t been able to get it back yet. It was a lot of repairs. So, Carlos stole our van back from thieves.
Once you do get on the road, you’ll be playing with Krill. How does Krill’s sound complement Ava Luna’s?
EB: It’s not an obvious sonic match, but I think philosophically it seems like it’s from a similar place.
JF: There’s an idiosyncratic element that is similar with both bands where it’s off-kilter. You hear Krill and no on sounds like them. They’re totally their own thing. I guess I can identify with that.
EB: The important thing is we’re really psyched about their music. I feel like that’s more important than an act.
JF: They’re people I want to drive throughout the country with.
Besides having your van stolen, what’s the most transformative thing that’s happened to you guys and the band since your last album?
JF: There’s been a few things. But the things that immediately leap to mind for me are that at the time of recording the last album we were seven people and we are now five and that’s a pretty big difference.
EB: There’s not really separate vocalists and instrumentalists anymore.
JF: Yeah, we used to rehearse vocal and instruments and then combine them and now it’s really just—
EB: One actual band.
EB: I think that the way that this most recent album was recorded and conceived is very different. Ice Level was very composed. For the current record, we actually just sequestered ourselves in a house upstate for two different two-week periods. We’d just be in the house writing and recording, leaving all our stuff set up. So, it was a lot more free form. It was more like culling than just writing.
JF: Like a capture the moment kind of thing. We basically were in the middle of nowhere. Anytime there was a moment where you felt some sort of inspiration, you could kind of just get it done right then, which was really cool. It’s kind of the opposite of New York.
EB: How do we get everyone in a room for two hours [in New York]?
JF: I can’t even go to the deli right now without getting my feet soaking wet.
When did you guys do the recording for Electric Balloon?
JF: It was November 2012, which is insane. After that we went in March for another two weeks. Then we drove down to Miami and mixed it in April with Felicia [Douglass’, keys/vocals] dad. He has a studio. We did a lot of driving around to get this one done. It’s funny because it feels very old to me at this point and we’re already working on another one. The one coming out now—not that I’m not happy with it or not psyched about it—it just feels so old compared to all this new stuff.
What inspired the LP’s name?
EB: Nathan [Tompkins, a former member] came up with that, right?
JF: Yeah. That’s the title track and it was definitely the most jammy. We had this kind of vamp going and Becca [Kauffman, vocals/guitar] was like, I have this one little vocal idea. Let me just record it. And she stepped up to the mic and basically did that entire song, the whole thing completely as it was. It was like, where did that come from? She was speaking this gibberish. She was just making up words. Nathan thought she was saying Shopping with electric balloon. Then everyone’s chanting it. We were briefly going to call the album Shopping With Electric Balloon and then we shortened it. So, it’s basically nonsense.
Are you guys bringing any new sounds to the album? Or is it more like same instruments, different arrangements?
EB: Well, there’s a second guitar now.
JF: There’s a lot of guitar interplay now. One big thing was that Nathan previously did these noisy keyboard parts and we don’t have as much of that anymore. We have lost that element. Felicia started taking over keys and she has a very different style. There’s less grating keyboard stuff.
EB: Some of Nathan’s shit was extremely nasty. We recently were trying to reconstruct some of the songs that had Nathan’s parts and it’s extremely difficult. I bought an octave pedal and it sort of does it but not really. Some of the stuff we used to do is no longer doable.
Are you guys dealing well with that?
JF: Yeah, we’re adjusting as it goes. We’ve had time to work it out. I feel that it’s the best now that it’s ever been in terms of instrumental interplay. Five is better than six, which is better than seven [and] when you have that many band members, every time you lose one it’s like cutting the number of people in half. Electric Balloon was the sound of us figuring that stuff out.
EB: And with everyone playing instruments, it just opens up a lot of arrangement possibilities. If there isn’t a vocal part in a particular place someone can play a guitar line or a keyboard line.
JF: It’s more integrated.
Ice Level seemed restless, but not chaotic. Energetic and bubbling over. Is Electric Balloon the same?
JF: Ice Level is a lot a reflection of Carlos’ personality and the way he works. He’s in charge of the band whether he denies it or not, which he will deny it. There’s kind of an iron fist mentality to Ice Level. It’s not like Captain Beefheart where he’s locking us in a room, but it was all on paper and super planned out. [Electric Balloon] was learning to let a little bit of chance into things, learning to let the initial idea stick and not mess with your instinct to some extent. It’s definitely less restless.
EB: The song structures are a little less baroque this time around. I remember when we were writing Ice Level I had pretty recently joined the band. I kept saying in rehearsals, Carlos can’t we have just one fucking song with a chorus that repeats? And he was like, No, no. That’s not what we’re about right now. I was like, Carlos, don’t worry. It’s still gonna be weird. Having a chorus doesn’t make it not weird.
JF: Yeah, my mom was complaining to me about Ice Level. She was like, Every time I listen to it and I think I maybe could dance to this, it changes right before I can do anything. She might have an easier time attempting to dance to songs from Electric Balloon.
EB: That would be a good video actually if we just had your mom dancing to a song. Your mom and my mom.
JF: That would be a good video!