New York’s AVAN LAVA describes themselves as the city’s “freshest Super-Pop act to come out since Madonna.” Some might be a little taken aback by such high self-praise—or the reintroduction of the term ‘fresh’—but one listen to the band’s music proves they’re not all talk.
Their songs pull in 90’s-era dance music and R+B influences while updating the sound with memorable pop hooks, sing-along-style choruses, and their own brand of what strikes this fan as sincere musical exuberance. Add to that live shows that feature confetti guns, choreographed dance sequences, and crowd-surfing in an inflatable boat and you’ve got something pretty special. One might even indeed say, something ‘fresh’.
We wrote the band up this past July when they first caught our ear, featuring their excellent song, “Feels Good”.
With a big show tonight opening up for seminal DJ/performer Shit Robot, we decided to take a little time out to speak with singer Tom ‘TC’ Hennes (center, thoughtful above) about the band’s influences, their near-legendary live shows, and how the band empowered him to more publicly declare his sexuality as a gay man in New York City.
Kindness of Ravens: First off, thanks for taking some time to talk with us. We’re really big fans of Flex Fantasy—such a great record. Was it as much fun to record as it is to listen to?
Tom ‘TC’ Hennes: It was a blast! And it was really unexpected. We went up to Vermont in the winter, totally unsure of what we wanted to make, and we just went crazy and wrote and recorded nonstop for a week. Most of the EP was created in that short time.
Oh, that totally makes it all the more impressive. And you all self-released that, right?
That’s excellent. Now, how did AVAN LAVA start? It sounds like most of you have been in the NYC electronic music scene for a while now—was it something that just evolved from a friendship or was it more calculated than that?
Le Chev and Ian had been touring with Fischerspooner for awhile and knew they wanted to collaborate. At that time, I was performing in an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet set to the music of Jeff Buckley. Ian saw it and hit me up. I came into the studio shortly after and started singing on some tracks. Ian ended up going on an international tour with Blue Man Group and Le Chev and I wrote the first EP, Vapors, in a haunted church basement.
Man. You’ve got all the makings of an epic New York tale there—old-school electronic cred, Blue Man Group, Shakespeare set to Buckley, haunted church basements…. Do you ever worry about the band’s sound coming off as derivative to some people? Dance music from the 80’s + 90’s seems like a clear influence on AVAN LAVA’s sound, but I could see it being tricky introducing enough…’new’ to make sure you’re not just doing something that was done before.
We definitely love all types of music and are inspired by many artists, but I believe our sound is authentic and hopefully refreshing to listeners. If you listen to both EPs, I think it’s clear that we’re always evolving. The full-length record is gonna blow some people’s minds. It’s really different for us.
Oh, that’s exciting—really can’t wait to hear it. We really love your video for “Sisters”. Where did that narrative come from?
Our good friends, Dan Gutt and Wes Auburn, approached us with a treatment for “Sisters”. We read it and knew immediately that they totally understood the song and that we had to make the video. It didn’t hurt that the video was set in Puerto Rico and we all got to live on the beach for a week.
Yeah, sign me up. Speaking of “Sisters”, we like to pull out a single line of lyrics and ask musicians to explain them to us. “With every hand we fold, a drifting fate, is it too late?”—can you break that down a little for us?
For me that lyric is talking about an old love that never feels over. And the longer you are without that person and the more romantic experiences you have with other people, the further you drift away from that person and that love. Eventually you can move on from anything. My soulmate in college completely disowned me because it was too complicated. I still miss her and feel like our story isn’t over. But I can now go a full 24 hours without thinking of her.
That’s lovely, about the lyrics I mean. You recently penned a really nice article for Huffington Post about how the band helped you come out. Can you expand on that? Was it just a matter of suddenly having this public point of expression through playing live shows and then having to come to terms more seriously with yourself as a gay man?
Thanks! Well I had already sort of formally come out, but the band made me feel really empowered as an entertainer and as a gay person so I wanted to proudly declare it. And then I wanted to make sure that it didn’t define the band, because it’s more than that.
Have you gotten much feedback from people on that article? I’m sure there are some people out there who see it as a responsibility to use your band or art or whatever to affect social change.
I received a lot of positive feedback. I think the biggest way to affect social change is by not letting sexuality define the music. I’m in a band that writes about experiences anyone can have.
That’s a great way to put it. Wait, so did you really have to come out to your parents three times?
Yes. Maybe more.
Oh, parents. So, being in the marketing/branding business, we’re always interested in band names—what does AVAN LAVA mean and what’s the story behind the name?
The band name means whatever you want it to mean. It’s so meaningless that you’re forced to create your own meaning. It almost feels like we were given the name, like born with it.
I like that. How would you describe AVAN LAVA’s live shows to someone who hasn’t attended them before?
It honestly feels like church. I’m not religious, but this shit feels holy. The show is an all inclusive experience rooted in love. We just want to be with you.
Hah. Well, for once, I can’t wait to go to church. What’s your favorite song to play live?
“It’s Never Over”—everyone knows the words and that beat never gets old. It never feels forced. People go nuts.
Excellent. Are you all excited about playing at the Echoplex with Shit Robot?
Hell Yea!!! We love Shit Robot. We’re obsessed with LA. Check Yo Ponytail is the best party and we know it’s gonna be good vibes. We’ve got plenty of surprises in store (plus NEW songs) for Los Angeles.
Well we’re excited to be there! You mentioned your full-length—are you recording that already then?
We’re 2/3 of the way done with the full length. We’ll be playing brand new songs from it at the LA show. I also have a track coming out this month with these Dutch producers KELJET. Oliver Nelson also did a remix of the song that sounds tight! Excited.
Oh, we’ll keep an eye out for that. Who are you listening to lately that you feel like is really inspiring you, creatively?
Disclosure. The production on their latest record is so sick. Also cannot stop listening to “Flatline” by Mutya Keisha Siobhan, produced by Dev Hynes. It’s a perfect pop tune!!
Oh, Dev Hynes—yeah, we saw him open up for Phoenix as Blood Orange. Great stuff. Best show you’ve ever attended yourself?
Radiohead. I saw them last year with my mom and had to carry her home. Worth it.
Hah. Favorite thing about NYC?
Because we all take trains or walk or bike everywhere, you always run into friends. Just yesterday I ran into three old friends. I feel like the community here is amazing, and eventually you end up hanging out with or collaborating with so many artists who are based here in NYC. I feel like that isn’t possible in most cities.
Ah, now you’ve got me missing NYC. To counter that, favorite thing about LA?
Angelenos, you can catch AVAN LAVA with Shit Robot, Larry Gus, and Goddollars tonight at Check Yo Ponytail at the Echoplex (as of writing, there are still some tickets left).
You can give this week’s featured song—”Sisters”—a listen below. Then listen to their song, “Feels Good”, and watch the above-mentioned video for “Sisters” in our July write-up. Keep an eye out for the band’s debut full-length in 2014. In the meantime, you can visit the band’s SoundCloud page to hear more and purchase their EPs Flex Fantasy + Vapors over at iTunes.