An Earbuddy Interview with Carlos and Julian of Ava Luna / Gravesend Recordings

gravesend recordings

Carlos Hernandez and Julian Fader are the guys behind Gravesend Recordings, the studio responsible for recent releases from Grass is Green, Palehound, Krill, Shark?, Meenk, Conveyor, The Due Dilligence, and Mr. Twin Sister. When they’re not recording some of the best music around, they’re making it with Ava Luna. We got the chance to ask them a few questions that haven’t already been posed in previous interviews.

How did you guys get into recording other artists?  Was it something that just started on the side with your Ava Luna equipment?

Carlos Hernandez: Basically, yes. We both just started off recording our own music, even before Ava Luna existed, just recording whichever bands we were playing in. It was never really a decision to try to record other people, just a natural extension. We had a few mics, and a bit of space, and bands we knew were looking to record songs. It just made sense. For instance, Julian would record his friend Spencer in college, and early Ovlov things, and I’d help him out. Then Total Slacker asked me to record their album, and Julian was around to help out. It all just emerged from there.

How the hell did you guys start recording at the Trinity Korean Methodist Church?

CH: I used to live down there. It’s near Avenue X, in Gravesend, Brooklyn. We used to tell people “come down to Gravesend to record.” Our former bandmate, Siheun Song, who I’ve known since high school, owned that church. Her father is a minister. They basically just let us use a tiny room in the basement, a little 8×10 box with a linoleum floor. We hung up this disgusting foam and set up some drums. Ava Luna used to rehearse there. We recorded our first 2 EP’s there, and wound up making quite a few cool recordings there… Night Manager, Shark?, Total Slacker, Quilty, Ovlov.

Did the move to the much more spacious Silent Barn change the way Gravesend Recordings sounds?  Or the way you approach recording?

CH: Well, we’ve worked out of a bunch of spaces now, each one different. We were in a basement in Crown Heights for a while, this old dilapidated mansion where they used to throw shows. I lived down there, and bands would just come literally spend a few nights in my room and we’d work on records. Then we moved to the huge schoolhouse building with the green steeple (Bushwick residents will know the one I mean), sharing a bedroom with our friend Rocky, in a house full of kinda transient woodworkers and artists. She’d be hunched over in the corner, just on her computer, while we were working on music stuff on the other side of the room. Everything’s always been really open, shared, fluid. Everyone got kicked out of that building, and now I’ve heard it’s being converted to apartments. I think a bunch of those people ended up in New Orleans.

The major difference with Silent Barn is that it seems to be permanent. We’ve been kicked out of every space so far, but this time we’re committed to it, which means we have to take it a bit more seriously. It’s really changed the way I’ve thought about recording. And every space has been an education in brute force… who knows when a car will drive by and ruin a take, or when someone will walk through after coming out of the shower, or when the electricity will suddenly cut out.

We’ve put a lot of work into this space. Done a lot of building, painting, setup. It’s the first time it’s ever felt like it could approach being called a “studio” — as in, a space that’s actually equipped to make recordings. But even now, the space is totally open. A theater company rehearses in there. We host kids’ music classes. There’s always something weird going on.

How hands-on are you two when you record with other artists?

CH: It completely depends on the artist. Everyone has a different idea about what it means to make music, and what it means to record. The most basic process might consist of a band coming in and playing a few songs live… they learn to play the songs, play the songs, we capture it. On the other extreme, though, there are people who have vague but grand ideas, in which case we might be literally suggesting parts and arranging, we might be calling up friends to come in and play, we might even be playing ourselves. The most important thing is just understanding what the music ought to be, and assembling it the best we can.

Julian Fader: I like it best when we get to play on other peoples’ songs. It’s fun to briefly inhabit someone’s band for a day. I usually drum and Carlos plays bass, although we switch that up too.

CH: I was just looking at your Meenk interview. Julian and I, plus our buddy Ben Scherer, played all those instruments!

Do you guys work as a unified force, or are there some aspects that are more Carlos-oriented and more Julian-oriented?

CH: We usually work together. We’ve got different backgrounds, but we’ve also been playing in a band together for years, so we’ve got a pretty good sense of what our strengths and weaknesses are. Some specific things are more oriented toward one of us, or we might take on pet projects. Haha it’s hard to describe this briefly, it’s like trying to sum up each of our personalities.

When The Mars Volta were recording The Bedlam in Goliath, they claimed that the studio was haunted by a poltergeist.  What’s the poltergeist in The Silent Barn like?

CH: Oh, man. Like I said, we’ve recorded in many spaces by now. Silent Barn, I’d say, is the most positive. It’s literally right in the heart of this bustling community of artists, people always working on amazing, interesting things all around us. Which is the exact opposite of our first space in Gravesend, which was an isolated border-neighborhood way in South Brooklyn. I will say, the poltergeist in here, whatever it was, was more or less exorcised along with the neighborhood of Bushwick. It’s fun, but also strange and a bit frightening, to be in the center of this hugely expanding, evolving neighborhood of new residents and imminent high-rises. It feels very kinetic, very immediate, very “important,” in a way that our former spaces might not have.

JF: I love the Mars Volta.

Which band was the most enjoyable to record?  And why was it Krill?

CH: It was Krill. Because they rule. For a band whose MO is fucking around, they don’t fuck around. They made two records with us, and it took a total of four days between the both of them. Blase effortlessness. I really appreciate recording bands who just know not only how they want to sound, but also how they want the process to be. A lot of the time we’ll hold a band’s hand through the recording (sometimes we’ll even have to show them how to tune their guitars). But not with them. There was really good trust, wordless communication.

JF: #KrillNation

When I heard Krill’s Steve Hears Pile in Malden and Bursts into Tears, I couldn’t begin to imagine how strange the writing or recording for that EP was.  Did the band pitch to you: “okay, this song is about a turd, but only kind of”?

CH: No. In the case of Krill, they had everything ready to go, really, before they arrived. Our only job, on the Krill records, was just to capture the band, get it to sound huge. There wasn’t really much discussion of the music itself. We’ll never step on someone’s toes, or butt our heads in as “producers,” unless it’s really asked of us, or unless it’s part of the project. I could talk all day about my involvement in some other things… but Krill will be Krill no matter where they go. That being said, the sounds we were able to capture, the energy of the playing, the way the instruments all fit together… one of my proudest recordings.

Did you binge-watch THX 1138 with Conveyor when they recorded Prime?

CH: Yes. Believe it or not I’d never seen it before. Kind of lucky, the first (and in fact the only) time I’ve ever seen it was with Conveyor’s soundtrack. Pretty sick.

JF: I still haven’t seen the movie in order, only in the order Conveyor tracked it in!

Has Ava Luna ever thought about recording a big ole epic concept album like that?

CH: Hah, that’s a conversation for another day. Every Ava Luna album is some sort of concept or another. I think the short answer is, no, I don’t necessarily think I’d be into making something with an overt concept like that. As far as Ava Luna goes, I think process-oriented, or subject matter-oriented concepts are more fitting. I did have a dream, long ago, of rescoring Chaplin’s City Lights, but that’d be more like something for me to do for fun. All that free time I have.

Is there any band that hasn’t recorded with you guys that you’d like to coerce – I mean, woo – into the studio to work with?

CH: We’ve been pretty successful at wooing in some sick people. Eartheater, White Suns, Railings, Fox/Crane/Bear, Greg Saunier, Laser Background, Krill, Palehound. Quite literally some of my favorite bands, bands whose shows I’d see and just flip out. A few that we’d love to work with some day: Celestial Shore, Warehouse, Palberta, Man Forever. Of course now they’re gonna see themselves on the google alerts and I’ll feel embarrassed. Come record with us, guys!

JF: I hope Warehouse doesn’t have a Google Alert.

Who would win in a fight between Rowdy Roddy Piper and the Nature Boy Himself, Ric Flair?  I don’t mean now, but I mean in their prime, man?

CH: Upon a quick google investigation I can see that you’re asking about wrestling.

JF: I used to go to WWF matches when I was 12.

Faulkner or Hemingway?

CH: Borges

Electric Balloon was a bit different from your past records.  It felt a little more assertive.  Maybe a little more instinctual?  Was that change a conscious decision?

CH: It was more assertive by design. Ice Level was really pure composition. Every note mapped out in advance. I listened to it the other day for the first time in a while — I realized that it’s really sad music, the stoicism of it really reflects my state of mind back then. Electric Balloon was wildly opposite — no rules, very little composition, room for immediacy, collaboration, even full-on improvisation. Which method brings the music closer to pure honest expression? Which method is more conducive to storytelling? I’ll look back on them one day and know better. Meanwhile, wait til you hear the next album…

You recently posted “Purple Jam” on SoundCloud.  Is this how the writing for most songs, or at least “PRPL”, begin?

CH: For “PRPL”, yes. It was really fun to share that. The idea of building a song from free improvisation was very novel to us at the time, but it was so exciting to open up to that sort of possibility. It speaks to the ability to self-record, to have the freedom of just playing without boundaries, not worrying about arriving with a plan or a blueprint. Like I said, the polar opposite would be Ice Level, which was written & rehearsed for a year and recorded in a day.

JF: I posted that because I thought it might be fun for people to hear how that song was initially such a lazy jam. Carlos was sleeping while we did that–it was just Becca, Ethan, Felicia and I noodling. A few months later, Felicia came back with that amazing melody, and we realized we should turn it into an actual song. There’s another jam from that morning session called “Orange Jam” that could become ORNG one day, who knows.

CH: I love the fact that they made that while I was sleeping. I remember I was in a really melancholy mood that evening. I like to think of it as a dream, realized…

The cowbell on “Plain Speech” is downright inspired.  There’s no question here.  I just thought I would let you know.

CH: Every band is allowed cowbell on one song

JF: Ethan played that cowbell, that is all Ethan.

What bands or artists have you guys been listening to lately?  Anything on heavy rotation?

CH: Honestly most of what I listen to these days is music we’re working on in the studio. Which is fine, since most of the people we work with are people I’m obsessed with anyway. As far as straight idolatry, however, I recently went to the OOIOO show and bought their new album. Fucking unbelievable. I also got to sit in on the mixing for a new Sisqo single (long story), so that’s stuck in my head pretty bad.

JF: I am really into Michael Hurley right now, specifically his album Hi-Fi Snock Uptown (from ‘72 I think).One of the weirdest, saddest albums I’ve heard in a while.

I’m operating under the assumption that Ava Luna is inspired, to some degree, by all music – soul, rock, punk, R&B, electronica. Is there any music out there that doesn’t influence you guys?

CH: All music? Who’s listened to all music? I still consider myself kinda shamefully undereducated, always missing references, blanking on names. But the honest truth is that, for the most part, it’s the little things that pop out at me, gestures and techniques, sounds, chords, snippets of words… and most importantly, the whole process by which a culture and context can produce a human, and the human can produce an idea, and the idea can produce a sound. I’m more interested in that story than in any particular sound or style.

JF: Carlos has never heard “Sex and Candy” by Marcy Playground, FYI.

Did I see on Facebook that the band is tracking new material in the studio?  Is this for a new album?  Please say that it is.

CH: We just finished tracking a new album.

JF: It is done.

Is the band taking the Electric Balloon approach?  Did you get two weeks of Ethan’s pancakes and writing/recording?

CH: Shhh… this new album is full of ghosts and weird stories and faraway things, I don’t want to talk about it yet.

When do you think the public at large will get to put its ears on “Scootin’ in the Groove”?

CH: NEVER!

You can check out Gravesend Recordings on Facebook, or better yet, book some time in their studio at their website. Can’t make your own music? They will tune your guitars and play your instruments for you. You heard it here first, people. Also, be sure to follow the coolest band on Earth Prime on Facebook, Twitter, or Bandcamp.