“I want it to feel like you’re 15, jumping up and down on your bed with your friends.”
ANAVAN play synth-based dance music without guitars, yet they call Los Angeles rock venue The Smell home. But it works, because their electro-pop aesthetic has a punk sensibility that blurs style and genre, and it's all very catchy and unpredictable, danceable and substantive. I spoke with ANAVAN drummer and vocalist Aaron Buckley over the phone a couple days after he returned from the band's first European tour. We talked about ANAVAN's tour there, why people need dance music, and where they hope to go next with their music.
In your promo materials and on your website, there is a story claiming that the band is from Alaska. Is this true?
Actually, I am from Ketchikan, Alaska. Bret is a native Angeleno, and Molly is from Minnesota. When we first signed with GSL, Bret wrote up this silly bio that claimed we were all from the "The Last Frontier," which we all thought was pretty funny. Anyway, I grew up there. It's a seriously rad place -- everything you can imagine from what you have seen in movies. I moved to LA almost eight years ago and have been here ever since.
You just got of tour in Europe. What were some of the highlights?
Prague was great -- there were kids who knew the lyrics to a lot of our songs. Another great thing was when a kid showed up with a GSL tattoo on his arm. It was our first time in Europe. We played 33 shows in 35 days. We want to go back ASAP.
What about the tour makes you so eager to return?
In Europe, promoters and venues treat bands really well, like I've never seen before. In the U.S., when we play somewhere like the Hemlock [Tavern, in San Francisco], we get a food buyout for the evening -- but in Europe, we get a full three-course meal. Promoters, bartenders, sound people -- they all greet us with handshakes and smiles, they're familiar with our music, and we always have a place to stay. In Germany, there was a second floor in the venue that's called the “band apartment” -- our own place for the night with a kitchen, shower, and living room. That's a big reason I wish I could go back. And people at shows are really awesome. They might not know our music, but they were still into it.
How was the transition back home?
It was a little strange to come back to the states. The U.S. is definitely a very new country, an infant compared to Europe in terms of our history. We had a homecoming show in LA, and it was awesome to play for fans and friends. From playing a lot of shows in LA, we have a solid core of kids that always show up and scream along with me and Molly and get sweaty and crowd surf and knock over the drum set. I call them the ANA-FANS
Does the band still have day jobs?
We're still working but watching most of our friends quit. We all have awesome jobs where we're given the freedom to do what we're doing. I'm a graphic designer. Bret helps manage a silent movie theater in LA that's run by a bunch of film geeks. It's a team effort, so they let him go on tour if he needs. Molly does fine art work.
ANAVAN is very involved in and associated with The Smell and the scene surrounding it, but you're the only band that's making dance music. Do you see yourselves as a necessary counterpoint to the majority of the music coming out of the group?
I suppose we are a counterpoint of sorts, but we didn't make a conscious decision to play dance music in the context of The Smell scene. I love dance music. Molly's an amazing synth player. I'm on drums, she's on synth -- what better to do than make dance music? Bret likes all music. In The Smell, everyone's sound is exactly how they want it and expresses exactly who they are. Luckily enough, people there like dance music, and they also like No Age.
What do you like about playing dance music?
A lot of it is about wanting to make the music, and especially our shows, worth your while. I personally want it to feel like you're in your living room with a good album dancing around, or 15 jumping up and down on your bed with your friends, and I want that to happen in a rock venue. We're in very political times, so I think people need that relief.
What's the songwriting process like?
Sometimes we write independently, sometimes I'll come up with a song and bring in to the table. Molly's written three or four of the songs. Some are just ideas that we discover while we're goofing around and eventually one becomes a song. “The Perfect Sound” is written by myself and our producer. It's the one song that we created for the band that wasn't created by the band. We whipped it together in a week, and Bret and Molly were like “This needs to be on the record,” but we had to learn how to play it. One of our goals was to balance between electro music and what we did on the first record.
How would you describe that difference, between this record and the first one?
The first was recorded really fast, and we were raw and had no producer. When I hear it, what comes out is that we were all such fans of GSL. This album is stepping out of that family tree, finding our own space, and leaving that lineage. We still have a foot in there, but we're stepping out some. Maybe the third record will be totally different.