ava-wolfe

Ava Wolfe makes music for sure, but she’s also making art while doing so. Listening to her new album, Casablanca, makes this especially clear. The LA based multi-talent uses the album to experiment with the shadows of pop, an area she admitted to having formerly been afraid in our recent talk with her.

Where some artists may attempt to aim for convention to break though, Ava Wolfe isn’t afraid to take risks – whether they be in production dalliances that shift beats at a moment’s notice, interplay French into her lyrics, or a video for “xkss” that is perfectly noir. She channels inspiration from well outside the realms of music, and it makes her work that much more enticing.

Casablanca left us with a good bit of questions, and Ava Wolfe was able to answer them. Thorough and incredibly inciteful, check out what Ava Wolfe had to say about inspiration, creation, and the new album.

When it comes to your music, you seem okay with moving through some darkness and grey areas. What’s the process like navigating those types of settings?

I used to be afraid of it, to be honest with you. I’ve been songwriting and performing for a long time, and a lot of my work before this album was good – good structure, catchy hooks. I was a student of songwriting and pop culture, but it wasn’t as honest as it is now.

Casablanca is the most honest I’ve ever been with myself and with my fans. But venturing into those territories of my mind and my emotion wasn’t an easy feat. I’m a better artist for it though, and hopefully I’ve made something that can speak to people in a real way because of it.

However, it’s also clear there’s a sensuality to several of your tracks, sometimes latent, sometimes quite present. How do you find the balance between these worlds? Or do you think there’s a lot more overlap between the dimness and human desire than people let on?

Sensuality is something I really enjoy playing with. Music is such a unique medium or art form in that it can be really primitive – it effects your body more than your mind sometimes. You can listen to a song, and it can be about one thing, but a chord or a note or the way the singer sighs at the end of a phrase can totally change you.

It’s really corporeal, and that’s one of my favorite things about writing and playing.  And I think, if you’re living right, desire is apparent in every area of your life. In every moment, even the ones that seem dim or mundane. You have to light that fire for yourself.

Related to that, there’s some quality noir pop coming out of LA right now. It seems to play against the stereotype of Hollywood glitz a glamour that some people like to hold onto. Is there something about the place that helps this sound to thrive?

LA is a strange place. I’ve spent a lot of time there, and what I love most about it is its nostalgia and rich history of Hollywood. That always inspires me to no end. Every time I go back for business I always wind up taking a detour to some Old Hollywood haunt and spending all my time there. But it’s very apocalyptic as well.

It’s like… the punctum Roland Barthes talks about in Camera Lucida. He talks about how there’s this tiny part of every photograph that is what moves or effects the viewer of the picture. The photo is just a reminder that the moment captured, and anyone in it is already dead. LA is like that – it hits you where it hurts. It’s like the ghost of Hollywood’s past that reminds you that all the history, and all those people and all those big, monumental moments that happened there are fleeting – like life itself.

There’s a dark underbelly there that’s kind of rooted in loneliness. It’s so unlike New York – I could be alone in that city all day and never feel lonely. But LA makes me feel lonely.

You’ve discussed how film has influenced you. Are there specific moments in film that you can point to as a creative catalyst, or does it tend to come from the bodies of works from directors and performers?

My cinephilia plays such a monumental role in the way I write lyrics and music. Charlton Heston once said of Frank Sinatra, “Every song he sings is like a four minute movie,” and I’ve always tried to keep that in mind when composing.

As for specific moments, A Streetcar Named Desire comes to mind. I love Marlon Brando and Tennessee Williams. Creative catalysts occur constantly though – even in moments of contemporary cinema. But, for the most part, I have to say it’s usually figures of the past that influence me. People who’ve become synonymous with a kind of archetype that everyone nowadays tries to emulate but somehow can’t. Clark Gable. Marilyn Monroe. Ava Gardner. Hedy Lamarr. Steve McQueen. I could go on forever.

Are there any cinematic experiences that have influenced you that you’re still working on or would like to somehow incorporate into your music?

One of the most incredible things about Casablanca is that my producer and sole collaborator on the project completely understood my love of film, and we ultimately got to incorporate little bits and pieces of movies that have influenced me over the course of my life into the actual songs. That was a true highlight during the creative process.

Of course there’s a strong dose of realism to your work as well. Beauty exists across the spectrum from heartbreak to intense passion. Your writing seems to blur a line between “based on true events” and observational. It helps to create a sense of mystery for sure, but are there any tracks where you can say, “This comes from real life,” that you don’t mind diving into?

Each and every song comes from real life. I’ve been lucky enough to lead a pretty intense, emotional, passionate life so far. I’ve gotten to travel and see a lot of the world. Meet some incredible muses. It hasn’t been without its challenges though. Sometimes more than I thought I could withstand. But hopefully it’ll only get better from here. I certainly pull from film a lot, but it’s always rooted in my own emotional experience of a person, a place, a situation, a relationship.

One thing about the album is that defies the traditional structure that pop songs should fit into a frame of about three and a half minutes. Was this intentional, or did the song creations just unfold and allow for longer tracks to be written?

I’d been writing for other artists for a really long time, so I had studied songwriting structure and had always had a natural ear and knack for a hook. But writing for other artists made me realize that sometimes, the hit formula that we songwriters try to mimic in a session isn’t always the right way to go about it. At the end of the day, music and art aren’t about rules or formulas or regulations.

Some songs aren’t meant to be cut off at 3 minutes and 30 seconds. I really tried to free myself from the chains of doing what’s supposed to be done. Instead, I was just honest and open, and I let the songs tell me how long they wanted to be, or where they wanted to go. I wasn’t trying to write a radio hit – I just wanted to make art that could excite and entertain and push the envelope.

A few of the tracks see you speaking French. As someone from Montreal, the flow into the language is effortless. What was the artistic decision like to bring those elements into the lyrics? It’s definitely risky, but it also elevates the atmosphere of those tracks for sure.

Singing in French on “my man (mon homme)” just felt right because of who inspired the song and the plans we had for one another. It was fitting. It was also an homage to singers like Edith Piaf and Billie Holiday who I grew up listening to.

The song on my album is named after the infamous old torch song by the exact same name actually.  It was originally written as “Mon Homme” in 1916 by a handful of French writers, and it’s since been covered in English by so many jazz vocalists I’ve studied.

We noticed you use words like ‘composer’ and ‘author’ to describe those who worked on the tracks. We think it’s great because it shows a certain respect to the process that often gets overlooked. Is that more reflective of how you approach the music in general? Or does it happen to add a certain aesthetic to the overall package?

Those labels are just synonymous with writer, lyricist, producer, etc. When I write (for the most part), I compose lyrics around a particular chord structure, and then my producer Dusty took it from there, adding further instrumentals and composing a gorgeous, rich, lush piece. I was so proud to work with him, and so happy we found one another. It was a perfect storm.

Your music embodies creativity to the core. Have you branched out into other creative avenues (such as art, acting, performance art), or do you plan to stretch your creative roots more?

Thank you so much. I’m always working on other projects, whether it’s delving into acting or writing. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by a group of friends who are genuinely innovative and creative – they inspire me, and sometimes invite me in to be a part of their projects.

Before professionally embarking upon my music career, I had been accepted to USC in Screenwriting, so there’s certainly going to be a lot of my imagination running wild in the future, whether it’s for feature film or television screenplays. I’m constantly writing and composing manuscripts. I don’t sleep much. And as for performance art, I was a pretty rebellious little kid growing up.

I used to perform on the underground often, in cabaret shows or little festivals. That was always pretty rad – the opportunity to figure out who I was as an artist on the down low. But right now, I’m all about the music. It was always my first love.

Finally, with the album out now, what’s next? What keeps your creating? Where does Ava Wolfe go from here?

I’m compelled to work. It’s this never-ending drive within me that just propels me forward. I’m never satisfied. I’ve already somewhat finished writing my next album, and I’ll start production on that fairly soon. Another music video will certainly be part of the plan, too, for Casablanca.

I’m in the midst of deciding exactly what song I’d like to pursue next, what story I want to tell on camera. And as for where I’m going, exactly, I can’t say just yet. But like Bowie said, “I promise it won’t be boring.”

You can stream the full album below. Joey Smith