Duo AVA are Anna Phoebe (AP) and Aisling Bower (AB)
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
AP: My mum plays violin alongside her career as a social worker and used to take me to concerts from about age 5 – I was always fascinated by the violinists. I started violin age 7, and had a music scholarship at school, got a distinction in my Grade 8 and played in the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland and Camerata Scotland. Music was always something that was a huge emotional part of my life but not meant to be something I relied on financially. I studied politics at the London School of Economics and volunteered for the Labour Party. Alongside campaigning work and political life at university, I was touring in my uncle’s punk/goth band and also hosting music nights in London. I got work through word of mouth as someone who could improvise, as well as doing all the string miming sessions for the music TV shows. After graduating from LSE I auditioned for an arena rock band in the USA and ended up touring with them for 6 years. My whole career has been a tapestry of coincidences – I’ve always just said yes to opportunities and enjoyed where they’ve taken me.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
AB: In my 20s I moved around a lot – I lived in three different cities in the UK (Brighton, Bristol & London), Los Angeles, Amsterdam and Berlin. Every place I’ve lived in has had a strong influence on shaping my musical path: Brighton was a pop music & songwriting phase, LA is where I first discovered a passion for writing music for visuals and theatre, London instilled a ruthless work ethic & resilience and Berlin added a whole dimension of other influences and inspiration. I’m constantly meeting people that inspire me both creatively and generally – and when I don’t I tend to change my environment.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
AP: The greatest constant challenge is trying to juggle music, family and friends. Music is so integral and all-encompassing it’s hard not to be obsessive and workaholic about it. Having kids brings its own challenges but has also been an incredible lesson that there IS more to life than music. There have been countless smaller challenges along the way -most of them are psychological and involve a fair amount of imposter syndrome. Like saying ‘yes’ to playing keyboards in Roxy Music despite not having played properly since secondary school, I worked really hard to learn all of the organ/piano/Brian Eno parts and found it nerve-wracking, though ultimately totally fulfilling. It reminds me of a duck on water – you’re trying to glide gracefully across the pond but underneath your feet are paddling like crazy.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
AB: For me personally, this whole last year has been a new turn for me – releasing music that wasn’t written for a specific project or film but was simply written as an expression of self. Performing is not something I thought I would necessarily do again, certainly not in the context of how things have panned out, but I am loving every second of it and now I am most excited about our next record and our next few performances.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
AP: We write our own music which ranges from acoustic piano and violin through to a much more electronic DJ set, so we tailor it to whatever suits the venue.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
AP: I love historic venues like Ronnie Scott’s where you can feel the energy of all the people who have played seeping through the walls and through the floor of the stage. Same as the Royal Albert Hall – it always feels such a privilege to play there.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
AP: Touring arenas in the USA was an incredible experience, just because the production was huge with 21 trucks of lights and pyrotechnics. There was a Taranta festival in Puglia, Italy which was to over 350,000 people, which just felt insane looking out onto a sea of people further than the eye can travel. But there are some performances like playing at the foot of the pyramids in Cairo, and inside the ancient temple of Petra in the Jordanian desert, where you feel you are connecting back to something ancient. These experiences leave an imprint and become part of the energy you share with the next audience. When you come to see an AVA concert, I’m tapping into those feelings and experiences and making them part of the performance no matter where we play -its size or location.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
AB: I don’t think success is a static thing for me, it’s an evolving fluid term. I am constantly adapting my goals, aspirations, and expectations of myself – but I also think it’s important to remember to enjoy the process, with all its ups and downs and surprises because what do we do it for if not that?
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
AP: I think what Ash said about being fluid is a really good concept. Being open and curious to develop your language as a musician for me is key. Enjoy the moment! Music is such a privilege – it’s a key to open doors to meet amazing people and have incredible adventures. Then there are some basics. Accept the stress of being self employed. Accept that worrying if you’re good enough is normal. Accept that a career in music is career in sharing your vulnerabilities: find your own voice, and always connect to a core truth when you are making and performing music. People can tell.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
AP: More of the same! Writing, recording, performing. I’d love to be on the 6th album with AVA – I have no idea what it would sound like by then, who knows how it will evolve! My dream would be for AVA to play Hyde Park – we’d make it into an entire AVA universe with guest musicians and singers, orchestra, maybe a few acrobats/aerialists and 12 foot flames shooting out behind Aisling’s piano. THAT would be fun.
What is your most treasured possession?
AB: My great-grandmother’s piano, an old German Stichel that is the piano I grew up playing.
AVA’s ‘Waves’ out now on the One Little Indian label
Anna Phoebe’s new album Sea Souls – original compositions inspired by the sea featuring Phil Manzanera of Roxy Music – is released on 3 September 2021 on the Eat the Peach label