Ava Earl’s Second Album Journey: Part 1
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
Ava Earl is a Girdwood singer/songwriter who recorded her first album three years ago and has played venues throughout the area, including Forest Fair and Salmonstock. She just recorded a new album due at the end of May.
The Gazette interviewed Ava, her mother Shannon Earl, professional advisor Julia Issac, and guitar player Andy Mullen to learn about the album, the process behind it and Ava’s musical growth as an artist. Part 2 will be published April 12.
“I feel like she’s some kind of strange, reincarnated soul because the stuff she writes a about and the way she works out chord progressions and melodies without having any real training just baffles me. I don’t know how she comes up with that stuff.”
– Andy Mullen about Ava Earl
When you’re paying for a project, you get to call the shots. At 14, Ava Earl funded recording sessions in Portland, Ore. for her second album. Because she had a creative concept of what she wanted for her original songs, it was important to surround her with people to support her musically. In the studio, Ava made all of the final decisions.
“It’s my music,” Ava said, “and I have a distinct vision of how I want it to sound. They were all very respectful of that, so they tried to work the best that they can around my vision and make the music exactly how I want it to be, or as close as possible. It’s just wonderful.”
Shannon explained how the project came together a year ago with Julia, who brought 53-year old Andy to the project. With a nearly 40-year age difference, Ava and Andy enjoy making music together. Tracks were recorded in Anchorage for additional music to be layered, but the results did not sound like Ava.
A decision was made to record again in another location. With a team and an idea in place, the project needed money.
“I had a kickstarter campaign and raised over $5,000 dollars,” Ava said. “The Forest Fair Committee also donated. They gave me a scholarship. I hope to be able to make some money off the album as well. Hopefully I sell enough albums to break even.”
Finding herself as a musician, Ava wanted an album that captured her sound and a moment in time showing who she is. After writing a dozen songs, she wanted to move forward rather than return to the past.
The plan was to go to Portland and add a bass player and a drummer in the studio. Once there, Ava began feeling a lot of pressure and stress with the expectation of working alongside unfamiliar musicians. What was supposed to be a fun experience was not. Then she found her solution. She wanted to play with just Andy on the album.
“There was tremendous support for her to do it the way she wanted, to take a new path,” Shannon said.
“I was a little bit stressed-out when I got there,” Ava said. “I hadn’t met Hawkins [Wright] the engineer. It was nerve wracking compared to my other experience. I’ve never done it all in a week before. In the end, I think it went very well. It was very productive.”
Julia said the decision to use Hawkins was pivotal to the project. Sometimes a sound engineer can push a recording style, have a vision for something and know better. Hawkins knew his role was to support Ava to let her realize her vision.
“Hawkins was extremely open to whatever Ava wanted,” Julia said. “She wanted it to be recorded the way that she heard it, not the way he heard it. I found that to be an incredibly positive thing. He was fantastic. It was really relaxed. We didn’t feel pressured. I feel like all of the creative challenges were met with respect for Ava and her music without disrespect for her level of experience or age and with absolute confidence and compassion by Hawkins.”
Hawkins brought a different perspective into the studio. He had heard Ava’s songs but he wasn’t familiar with them, and he had never seen her play. Ava expressed appreciation for Hawkins’ contributions and what she learned from him.
“He did all of the mechanical stuff that I have no clue about,” Ava said. “He explained it all to me. It went way over my head. He provided lots of helpful insight on some of the songs and harmonies. He could see beyond. He has a very broad sight that not everyone else had. My mom, Julia, Andy and I have been hearing these songs for a while. He could tell us things we hadn’t noticed before.”
The album was partly recorded with analog equipment for a richer sound, which Ava really appreciated. An aesthetic choice was made to record the album live with minimal editing, and Ava made the artistic decision to leave some minor mistakes in the final mix.
“What I was going for on this album was something that portrayed how I feel right now,” Ava said. “When you cut it up and mix it around, it’s you, the perfect version of you in some other universe. I am here right now, and I’m imperfect. My songs will have their own imperfections. You can connect to it more when it’s not exactly perfect.”
“She had an idea of what she wanted,” Julia said, “and she didn’t veer from it. She didn’t let us old people let her veer from it. There were several things that, as a professional having gone through this before, I would have changed. There was one note in a song that’s a little bit flat. I noticed. Ava was like, ‘No. That’s what it sounded like when I was doing it. That’s what I want. I want it to be organic. I want it to be a snapshot of who I am at 14 years old.’”
Shannon observed how Ava is learning what she wants as an artist while growing musically and personally. Ava is three years removed from her first recorded album at age 11 using songs written when she was 9. Shannon stated that the positive studio experience has brought out a noticeable change in her daughter.
“I feel like she grew up a lot that week,” Shannon said. “The whole thing changed her in a good way. Recording was not something she loved doing, yet she walked away from that experience in Portland just wishing to stay. She loved it so much. It was good for her to be on her own, hanging out with people who love what she loves to do.
“It all came together so well,” she said.