ABOVE: AVAN LAVA. PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER GABELLO
Avan Lava, a three-piece electronic dance-pop outfit based out of Brooklyn, is one of those rare musical acts capable of delivering massive, radio-friendly jams without losing sight of its artistic integrity. Built from the ground up by the Grammy nominated multi-instrumentalist Ian Pai, a founding member of the Blue Man Group as well as the electro-clash performance troupe Fischerspooner, the band is founded on a tasteful blend of playful theatricality and soulful tribal percussion. After the welcomed addition of Le Chev—a Chicago-raised bass playing DJ, producer, and merry prankster—all that was left was finding the right vocalist. Through his connections in the theater scene, Pai stumbled upon the enigmatic Tom “TC” Hennes, who blew his future bandmate away during a performance of The Last Goodbye, a mash-up production of Romeo and Juliet set to the soundtrack of Jeff Buckley. Hennes’ voice channels the singer’s own hero, the “ferocious” Freddie Mercury, mixed in with a splash of Prince, pre-twerk Robin Thicke, pre-jerk George Michael, a smidgen of Dougy Mandagi of the Temper Trap, and rounded out with the soaring hook factory sensibilities of Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic. Pai, Hennes, and Le Chev know how to write a catchy dance track, and mainstream success appears to be inevitable. Thankfully, their music never slips into the formulaic. Elements of deep-house disco à la Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories spar with sexy urban love mantras that channel moments in The Weeknd’s debut studio album Kiss Land.
After returning from a string of shows in Paris and London, the band looks to cap off the month of July with an explosive homecoming performance on Thursday, July 31, at Rough Trade in Williamsburg. New tracks, product-tested and approved in Europe, will be showcased in full as the band looks to debut selections from its new EP. Multiple remixes of “Last Night,” a shameless (on the surface), but deceivingly intelligent, summer offering will potentially be delivered in multiple incarnations, as the track has been remixed four times by friends of the band, all before being officially released. “So Fucked Up,” a song Hennes attributes to the pangs of heartbreak, takes on dual meaning when contemplating the consequences of overly self-medicating the haunting symptoms of unrequited love.
We caught up with Pai, Le Chev, and Hennes in the backyard of their charming shared home in Williamsburg, on a beautiful sunny afternoon in late July. We’re also pleased to premiere the Last Night remix EP below.
KURT MCVEY: Ian, you discovered TC at a theater performance of Romeo and Juliet set to the music of Jeff Buckley. How long were you actively stalking a potential singer for this project?
IAN PAI: I don’t know if I was full-on stalking, but Cheever and I had been talking about finding a singer for quite a bit. We were working with another singer for a while, experimenting with others, we were even trying to sing ourselves.
HENNES: I didn’t know that.
PAI: It wasn’t working out so well. I didn’t know exactly what we were looking for, but I knew we needed a serious voice. My friend Lauren [Fitzgerald] was the executive producer of that play [The Last Goodbye] and she has a great eye for talent.
MCVEY: Where was it held?
TC HENNES: It was the first workshop we did at Wild Project, on the Lower East Side, in a garage-theater type space.
MCVEY: TC, were you singing just one Buckley song in particular? Were you acting in it as well?
HENNES: There was some acting. My solo was the “Corpus Christi Carol.”
MCVEY: That song definitely requires an impressive vocal range.
HENNES: It’s definitely a “high” song.
MCVEY: Is that your favorite Jeff Buckley track?
HENNES: No, it’s probably “Morning Theft.” I got to sing that with Juliet. I played Paris.
MCVEY: Nobody likes Paris.
HENNES: I know.
MCVEY: Is it tough playing a rather well-meaning but maligned character?
HENNES: A little tough. I did discover that he’s actually a decent guy.
MCVEY: So Cheever, tell me about “Le Chev.” How and when did you assume that persona?
LE CHEV: When I moved here, I was playing in a lot of rock bands, the bass primarily, and thought that was what I was gonna do. I really didn’t have much to do with the recordings. “Le Chev” emerged the moment all that changed. The moment you realize that someone needs to take the reigns, you take them. It’s been a long, dark journey of music recording since then. [laughs]
MCVEY: Lines have been blurred between writing the tracks and producing them. Bands used to make their stuff in one space and then take it to a producer who was in a studio somewhere else. The producer is in many cases officially part of the band now.
LE CHEV: It’s definitely true in our case.
MCVEY: Is it almost boring just to be on the musical side these days, or is the production element more fulfilling or exciting? I also feel like bands normally have too many people anyway. Bands have downsized.
LE CHEV: Things will always take the path of least resistance, and we’re seeing that in a lot of music these days. Now people have entire music studios on their laptop. Kids aren’t so much sitting alone with their guitar anymore as much as they’re sitting in front of their computers building tracks out from scratch. I would say this band is absolutely a product of musicians turning to current production techniques.
HENNES: But we do play live. It’s not just computers on stage.
MCVEY: I feel like a lot of modern bands either sound great on recordings and can’t really bring it live, or they’re great live and sound awful on record. How do you ensure that you’re great in both situations?
PAI: We take our live shows really seriously. We spent the last two years working on our full-length and the same amount of time perfecting the live element. In fact, much of our music is designed specifically for a live show. It’s important for us to shape the show carefully and have an arc for the experience. We want people to leave completely exhausted but totally ecstatic.
HENNES: I think what maybe gets lost in this new method of making music is the relationship factor. We’re a family on and off stage. We connect extremely well to each other, which allows us to focus on making a better connection with the audience.
MCVEY: Speaking of family, you’ve got this new single off the full length called ” So Fucked Up.” That track is going to be responsible for a whole lot of babies.
LE CHEV: [laughs] People are gonna get hot to that one. Wait until you hear the rest of the tracks.
MCVEY: You’re doing four different remixes of your latest track “Last Night.” Did that happen organically or did you know you wanted several versions going in?
PAI: Well, we weren’t expecting to do four, but we put the original out to a few people we liked and got four back that we really loved. It just made sense to put them together as a package and release it.
HENNES: It’s interesting how the remix of a song can actually become the definitive version. I think the original version of “Last Night” is strong and can definitely stand on its own, but sometimes you’re shocked when a remix takes a track to a whole new place.
MCVEY: Do you feel like a lot of modern artists and producers are putting out a lot of skeletal, bare-bones tracks just for that reason?
LE CHEV: Absolutely. I’ve discussed this quite a bit in the studio; you don’t create these maximalist club tracks right off the bat, you definitely leave some room for the remix.
MCVEY: You just played London and Paris. Did you learn anything overseas about how your music connects to different audiences? Have you tweaked anything since you’ve been back?
LE CHEV: Now that house and electronic music is so big, audiences expect to enjoy the show even if they don’t know the songs. People expect big drops, and a lot of clear emotional maps that tell the audience, “Now is when everyone jumps.” We played a beautiful old theater in London and a lot of people didn’t know our stuff but really responded to those big rave-up moments. We go out of our way to balance that tastefully.
PAI: Our songs are designed to get people going, but there’s also space to quiet down for a bit and then get nuts again. There were about 1,400 hundred people at KOKO in London. Everyone was going crazy despite the fact that we were playing most of the songs for the first time.
MCVEY: What can those who are familiar with Avan Lava, and those who are not, expect from the upcoming show at Rough Trade?
HENNES: At least one costume change. [all laugh]
PAI: We’re really excited about this new material, I think people will be equally excited. We expect everyone to sweat their asses off, so come wearing gym clothes, it’s gonna get messy.
AVAN LAVA WILL PLAY ROUGH TRADE IN WILLIAMSBURG TOMORROW, JULY 31. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, PLEASE VISIT ITS WEBSITE.