Vancouver-based singer-songwriter Ava Maria Safai is releasing her debut album in repetory with a concert on July 28. Her new album, called We’ve Got Issues, is a sprawling musical journal that encapsulates ten years of her life. Topics range from mental health to family deaths to the Syrian refugee crisis. I sat down with Ava to talk about how her music career has led her to this moment, and where she plans to go from here.
David: What was your first experience playing music?
Ava: I was so little but I just found this tape of it yesterday, and it’s me when I’m one year old – I haven’t learned to walk yet, and I’m crawling – and I crawl right to the piano, stand up on both my legs and start playing the piano. But the first memory I actually have is me playing with my dad at a recital when I was, like, five. We were playing a duet.
D: Oh, you were both playing the piano?
A: Yeah, he played the hard part and I played the easy part.
D: Aw, that’s so cute.
A: Thank you!
D: It seems a lot like making and recording music, everyone’s doing it. There’s Garageband, it’s pretty easy.
D: So in this competitive world, what are some of the challenges of producing your own music?
A: I think what makes everyone different is their brand and what their songs are about, how personal their lyrics are, what’s different about the way that their music comes out. And it’s finding that originality when it seems like everybody and their mother is putting out a record every other day. That’s the toughest part for me. I think that the actual bit about writing songs and lyrics that are meaningful to me always just came super easily to me.
D: You talked about being original. How do you break out from the crowd?
A: I think a lot of people will say that they write a lot of stuff that’s close to the heart. But I think what sets me apart from a lot of different people is that it’s all stuff that I wrote over the course of ten years. So some of the songs on the record are from when I’m twelve, and some of the songs are from when I’m eighteen, nineteen, so it’s more recent, whereas a lot of people churn out songs in the course of a couple months. And it’s honest and truthful over one era of their life whereas I kind of took this record as the opportunity to keep a diary.
D: Sounds like you’re making the Boyhood of music.
A: Yeah, exactly. That’s the best description I’ve ever heard.
D: How do you keep the continuity?
A: I think it’s a lot about going back and revisiting what I wrote to see how relevant it is to the life I’m living today. So sometimes I’ll go back and I’ll have the songs that I wrote – age twelve or thirteen – and the music’s great, the lyrics are awful. I’ll picture what I’m going through at that time just because I didn’t have the vocabulary or the knowledge or experience to express that. So a lot of it is about revisiting what I said ten years ago and making sure that it’s still true to me and who I am as a person.
D: That’s so cool.
A: Thank you. It’s a fun hobby. A jobby.
“I grew up telling people that I was gonna be a professional storyteller.”
D: (laughs) I understand you’re also an actor and a writer. How do you see these different crafts interlocking with music?
A: They’re all just different forms of telling stories. In acting, you do it by picking up a character and you embody them and you try to see what goes on in their head and tell their story that way. With writing, you’re literally creating a story. And with music, it’s the same, you’re just doing it with a bunch of notes and lyrics and you try to make people feel something and relate to something. I’d like to keep doing all of those things.
D: Who, or what artists, or what storytellers inspired you?
A: I was raised in a classical family, like when I was a baby they would put on Ava Maria in my crib – that’s who I was named after, the song. So I have a lot of that influence in my life. But as I got older, I got more moody so I started listening to heavy rock – and classic rock, too. So Queen and Pink Floyd became major influences. And then I changed again and I got more into singer-songwriter pop like Ed Sheeran, Adele. So it’s like a mix of a whole bunch of different people.
D: What are some of the themes you find yourself coming back to?
A: I think mental health is probably the biggest theme that has been a part of my life since I was pretty young, just because depression started with me when I was really young. I often find that a lot of songs on the record have to do with what I dealt with at a young age and how that carried into my older life. Some of the songs I wrote when I was younger were about how sad I was. Now, the songs I’m writing at this age are more about how I’m coming out of that sadness and how I’m dealing with having an illness, coping with it, and how other people’s illnesses have affected me
D: And how do you hope people will feel or relate when they listen to your songs?
A: I just hope that the music brings people together, in a sense that, at the end of the day, everybody’s human. And everybody’s looking for happiness and everybody’s looking for a ray of hope when there’s just darkness and sadness in the world. You can spend all of your time thinking about that, but you can also spend all of your time looking for joy and looking for things that make you happy. And I think I try to pull a lot of that into my songs just because I spent so many years on the dark side and now I’m finding the contrast of that. It’s just made me feel a lot better.
We’ve Got Issues will be on released on July 28. You can find out more about Ava’s music and her other projects here.
Her concert will be on July 28 at 7:30pm on the Red Gate Revue Stage. Tickets are available here.