I got the chance to sit down with four out of the five members of AYVAH, an energetic and down-to-earth Twin Cities-based band. AYVAH’s music is simultaneously funky, jazzy, soulful, rhythmic, and completely original. Read on to hear how these five talented, young musicians found each other, learned how to cultivate their own, unique sound, and became true friends in the process.
How did you come up with the name AYVAH?
Ava: I wanted to start a band when I was at college and one of my friends was like, “If you keep the band your name you should spell it AYVAH.” I like it, and it’s a little more dynamic on paper, too.
Joey: Yes, and it’s phonetic.
A: It’s cool… It’s like the symbolism of the name being my name but longer, because that way it looks like an actual band name.
Wake Magazine: And there are five letters for each of the band members.
A: What? Wow!!! That’s amazing. I never really thought about that but you’re so right!
How did you guys find each other and establish your group?
Sam: So, I met this guy Mike who went to St. Thomas and he was a producer who was making his own beats. And he was like, “Hey, there’s this really dope singer that goes to St. Thomas!” [referencing Ava]
A: Yeah. At first, we did a couple shows just the three of us.
S: Basically, Ava and I met DeCarlo, our former bassist, who knew Joey from high school. That’s how it started.
A: And, Andy, who is our new guitar player, and Sam have been best friends for a long long time. From there, it was like one phone call to Ethan and then “cha-ching.” And now we all sleep in the same bed every night. [laughing]
How would you describe the genre of music you create?
A: I say neo-soul with influence from jazz, hip-hop, R&B, indie.
J: Like alternative R&B maybe…
S: It’s always a hard question.
S: I think really simply put it’s neo-soul rock with a little bit of indie. We have songs that tailor more towards one style than others.
A: Like… Neo-soul rap?
S: Hell yeah!
A: That’s tight!
Ethan: I think that the concept of genre was more prevalent in the record label industry. And, we’re in a new type of industry with younger people. Everyone listens to everything now.
S: The Internet kind of leveled the playing field.
A: Yeah. We don’t limit ourselves to one genre. We take influence from everything.
E: What’s really important are not the genres that we play, but the genres that we are influenced by.
What is your favorite venue to play at and why?
J: The Entry is always great.
E: They inhabit punk-rock chic professionalism.
A: Personally, I’ve really enjoyed playing at more gallery-based places.
E: Yeah, and The Cedar Cultural Center is really cool.
A: We played at like Gamut Gallery and in a reformed gallery in Le Méridien Chambers Hotel downtown.
E: Madison Square Garden was pretty cool.
S: Yeah, it was all right.
What musicians inspire you?
A: Lauryn Hill, Paramore, Hiatus Kaiyote.
S: Hell yeah! For me, mostly Simon Marvin. I’m a big fan of his key arrangements.
J: Tom Waits. And in terms of genre bending, he does a great job at that.
A: Alabama Shakes.
E: Beatles, Beach Boys, DeAngelo, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye.
J: Donny Hathaway.
Do you ever get into silly fights with your band mates? About what?
A: Being in a band is like being in a tiny family. It’s like being with my brothers all the time.
S: Most of them happen because we care.
J: We all really like each other.
E: They’re never really that dramatic. They’re not what you’d see in a Metallica documentary. Like, we don’t need to call up a therapist or anything.
S: I feel like a lot of people can’t call their band mates their friends. They don’t have that kind of relationship with their people.
A: Yep. I’ve cried in front of everybody in this band. Like really sad tears. I’ve extra cried to Sam.
Who would your dream collaboration be with?
J: It would be really cool to get in with an awesome producer.
S: Quincy Jones!!!
E: Quincy Jones made Michael.
J: Pharrell Williams.
A: Hmm… I’d like to play music for like a short film someday. I don’t know I feel like that’d be kind of fun. Like us and Tabah doing some background music would be so cool. (P.S. we love Tabah.)
What is your favorite experience so far that you’ve had with the band?
A: Getting four best friends.
J: I’m only in it for the money, so…
S: Playing in the finals of the local Star Tribune show. It felt special.
E: I would say my very first rehearsal with the band.
S: That was awesome.
What does your music writing process look like? Does one person mainly write the songs, or is it collaboration?
S: It’s a bit of a hodgepodge. We have certain songs that people bring ideas in for and we fill the gaps.
A: It’s collaboration heavy in my opinion. Sometimes I’ll bring in a melody and they’ll build. Sometimes someone will be like jamming in rehearsal and someone will start screaming because it was amazing, and we’ll end up building a song off of that. Once the song is right, we can put it together in like an hour and a half or less. And then we go through and edit, but the bulk of the song—if it’s right—it comes together really quickly.
How often do you get together to rehearse? Is the band full time—do the band mates have other jobs or is all of your energy going towards AYVAH?
J: I wish all of my energy was going towards this project.
A: Yeah, I wish! We all have jobs and we rehearse once a week at City Sound. We always go to the same bar, Sporty’s, after rehearsals.
What directly inspires your music? … Art, people, events, memes?
A: Lyrically, the things that I write about are the way that other people are making me feel. It’s kind of an expressive thing for me. Usually when I write the lyrics for a song, I’ll do it all in one sitting. And it won’t make much sense to me right away, but then if I give it a week or so and revisit the lyrics again, it tells me exactly how I was feeling about something that I was kind of confused about.
J: Sometimes it’s good for expressing feelings you can’t verbalize.
What is your favorite thing about being an artist in Minneapolis / St. Paul?
S: It’s a really supportive community. It’s really tight-knit. In some way or another everyone knows everybody.
J: There’s a nice level of professionalism for the most part in the Cities. A lot of people have their poop in a pile. It’s like… they have their shit together. That’s a nice PG way of saying that.
What’s the craziest thing a fan has ever done at one of your shows?
A: There’s always something. I’ve had male fans in particular that… I’ve just had some creepy moments happen sometimes. I think it’s always funny when girls ask me like, “Who in your band is single?” It used to happen a lot, but it doesn’t happen as much anymore. [laughter]
E: Probably because I joined the band. [laughter]
S: At the beginning of our band, we used to do almost exclusively hip-hop shows, so for a long time we would consistently be the only ones to show up with actual instruments. The other musicians would be DJs. It was pretty interesting to see the reactions of people being like “What?”
A: No one’s really jumped on stage or passed out at a show!
E: Our fans and supporters are like the chillest people ever. I hope that continues.
A: Our fans are actually super respectful. That’s cool!
What creative direction is your band going in?
A: We were just kind of talking about this, weren’t we?
S: I think we’re heading in a really dope direction.
A: We are leaning into a rhythm while not putting parameters around our sound.
S: I feel like more and more, we’re just doing things that feel good. Just doing things a little more naturally, ya know?
J: We’re all team players. So that helps.
Looking back, has AYVAH morphed at all from when you first started out?
A: We’ve just grown. Like, we are on a really steady growth pattern and then Ethan joined the band and the line became exponential. It’s like we strapped on a rocket.
S: It’s not that we were getting stuck, but the energy was different. When that change needed to happen and it did happen, then we were all like, “OK let’s go!” I mean, you mentioned that first rehearsal, and I think that’s when it really clicked.
E: I felt awkward because I’d listened to their band before I joined. And I listened to their bass player and I really liked it, but I’m a totally different type of player. I kind of reinvented most of the bass parts. I let them know that I wasn’t really into trying to sound like someone else.
J: Some of the bass parts got totally turned on their head.
A: And when Ethan came in and did that, it opened up the threshold for us to open up our minds and really make something good.
S: It was similar when Andy joined in, too.
A: And, I didn’t even want a guitar player for the longest time. I guess I just had this stigma that all guitar players wanted to do was shred. And, just do whatever they wanted to do. We were really honing in on a really cool, relaxed vibe… I didn’t want a third party to just come in and be like Eeeeee [guitar noises]. But Andy came in and just threaded through our sound.
E: Andy is in the elite group of talented musicians that have really good taste and make good choices while playing.
A: Yeah, we have to like, convince him to solo.
Where do you see the band in five years? What does the future of AYVAH look like?
J: In five years it would be cool to play festivals!
S: Ultimately, the goal is to just keep doing stuff that we’re proud of.
A: I don’t really think we think in terms of 5 years or 10 years… We’re really oriented with writing and performing and living in the moment! The more we just keep doing things that we’re proud of, the more things will keep falling into place.
S: We’ve just been really true to our craft and doing our thing, and it has been working out.
A: We’ve been on bills for sold out shows and we don’t have any songs on the Internet.
S: We live in a good city for music and community building around music. I feel like the reason artists like Prince were successful in this city is because they created a culture around their music that people were attracted to and wanted to be involved in. And, if we can do that, then we’re winning! It’s the goal.