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 her new album, ava earl, 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. Here is the link to Part One: https://glaciercitygazette.net/ava-earls-second-album-journey-part-1
“I feel like she grew up a lot that week. The whole thing changed her a little bit in a good way.”
– Shannon Earl on her daughter Ava
Ava Earl and her family travelled to Portland, Ore. for a week to record her second album. Beside the adventure of being in a new city, the entire experience was an important step in Ava’s development as a singer/songwriter.
“It broadened my horizons. I have a bigger understanding of how most recording sessions go. It was efficient. Giving us a deadline and saying, ‘We’re leaving in a week. We have a plane to catch.’ You can’t put stuff off, and you’ve just got to get it done.”
Ava had a number of people on her team playing different roles to support her during the recording process. One of those people was the recording engineer Hawkins Wright.
“He did all of the mechanical stuff that I have no clue what I’m doing,” 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.”
Hawkins brought a different perspective to the project and a fresh set of ears. He had heard Ava’s songs but had never seen her play. He wasn’t familiar with the songs like Julia, Andy and Shannon were.
“He could see beyond,” Ava said. “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.”
Julia looked out for Ava in the studio to keep everybody focused on her vision for the album. Julia also knew when it was time for Ava to take a break or call it a day, which was appreciated.
“She was great moral support,” Ava said. “‘Ok Ava, you look kind of fried today, how about you just take the rest of the day. Hawkins can always do some mixing.’ It was nice to have someone.”
Andy brought extensive musical experience to the studio. He’s been playing guitar for 40 years, has a degree in classical guitar and went to North Texas for graduate school to study the instrument further. He is also drummer for the Denali Cooks during summers.
While working through songs, Andy discussed them with Ava and gave her advice, imparting musical lessons along the way. He was also able to observe and admire Ava’s skills and ideas.
“She’s a totally gifted girl,” Andy said. “I’m amazed at stuff she is able to write. She writes music at a level that’s incomprehensible to me coming from a 14-year old. I’m 53 and she’s 14. We’re a couple of generations apart. It’s not like we’re best friends hanging out and playing forever.”
Ava understood what Andy’s guitar brought to the album musically.
“His guitar parts can add lots,” Ava said. “I play rhythm guitar. When he plays, he adds some notes. He brings emotions to the songs. It develops into something greater than it was before. That’s very nice.”
Ava enjoyed the collaboration with Andy and his willingness to keep playing and trying new ideas until a song is completed.
“He’s a great guitarist. He’s taught me lots of musical theory as well. He’s able to play to my songs, and he can try something out. If I’m like, ‘That’s not really what I’m going for,’ he’ll try something else. We find what I want it to sound like. It works wonderfully.”
Andy didn’t mind letting Ava find her way through songs with multiple takes in the studio. They were not using tracks and not doing any overdubs, so they had to get it right playing live.
“We were doing takes,” Andy said,“so when you do a take, we’d look at each other. I’d shake me head, and she’d shake her head. ‘Let’s do it again.’”
In the studio, there were musical challenges to be solved to get the songs where Ava wanted them to be. “The Kid” is a song that took a bit of revising without finding any resolution. Nobody was satisfied, so Ava took a break and decided to take a different approach because she believed in her song and wanted to finish it.
“There was one song ‘The Kid’ that took lots of reworking,” Ava said. “That was a good experience for me. Everything had been going so smoothly. It took us three days to get in a good place. In the end, I ended up just cutting it solo because it just wasn’t working with the other instruments. I like the song a lot, and it’s important to have on the CD. It came out honest.”
By working with Ava, Andy taught her song craft about adjusting songs and adding structures to them. It was up to her to use the lesson in the song or not, depending on how she wanted it to sound.
“I was able to help her get those songs into a structure and a format,” Andy said,“have a beginning and an ending, have a bridge or something, make some adjustments and write charts for all of her songs. She made all of the decisions of what she wanted on this record, what to take out and leave in.”
At the same time, Andy didn’t want his musical knowledge to overwhelm Ava and interfere with her creative process. He gave her space to think through issues and find a musical solution.
“I did not want to give her too much information because I didn’t want to disrupt that thing I don’t understand, the innate ability she has to create music. She’s not a blazing virtuoso on the guitar. She’s a songwriter, and she has a gift for putting chords together that are obscure and nontraditional. How does she do that? I don’t know.”
Working in the studio with Ava was a learning experience for Andy as well as a memorable one. One moment in particular will always stand out to him.
“The best part about it was being in that room playing two guitars together and playing through those songs,” Andy said. “We didn’t have headphones on, so we were listening to each other. I will remember looking over there and seeing her with her eyes closed, singing, strumming the guitar, in front of the window with a sunbeam on her face. I’m sitting there playing the notes too. We’re making music. We’re making a record. That’s the moment.”