Ava Swanson’s Aweless Indie Irony

How does an artist capture and criticize the day in an age without perpetuating the stereotypes that define it? Just ask AVA.

Ava Swanson was born and raised in Bozeman, Mont., in a musical family.

Watch “AVA” sing “Pawn Shop”

“In my house as a kid, everything was a song,” she says. “Getting up, getting dressed, going poop. We’d always sing as a family.”

“It’s been the perfect time for lessons. I had to learn about stepping back from the momentum I had before the pandemic. I had to really reflect on what I am expecting from this music career.”

–Ava Swanson

After high school, she moved to Squamish, British Columbia, where she specialized in political performance art at Quest University Canada and formed an indie R&B group, buckwheat.

When she graduated last year, Swanson moved to Stanley, Idaho, for the summer where she worked at bakery while recording her latest album “VABA ESTE” under the stage name AVA.

Then she embarked on a cross-country solo tour in a Subaru Forester, which took her to many a legendary music city. Little did she know she made the trip just in time.

“I found I loved playing places where a few friends or mutual connections could come see me,” she says. “The shows in Memphis and Nashville where I didn’t know anyone were actually kind of sad. Music is so much more meaningful for me when I feel connected.”

When the Coronavirus pandemic ramped up in March, Swanson realized she could be caught in Canada without health insurance. So she and her boyfriend made a mad dash for the United States arriving at a friend’s house in Tahoma days before the border shut down. After laying low for three months, she found a job waitressing at Fire Sign Cafe while trying to figure out how to further her music career in a world where touring is no longer an option.

“All of my music goals shattered,” she says. “I’m a very futuristic person. I love to daydream and have things to work toward. I didn’t know who I was without the ability to identify goals and tread toward them. It was heartbreaking.”

After falling into a deep depression, Swanson joined local singing collective Tahoe Sisters in Harmony to safely connect with community and reinspire her love of music.

“It’s been the perfect time for lessons. I had to learn about stepping back from the momentum I had before the pandemic,” she says. “I had to really reflect on what I am expecting from this music career. Is it healthy and reasonable or am I setting myself up to be disappointed? This is what it’s going to look like in this era so I have to be ready for that.”

Satirical Indie Pop Bliss
The enchanting “VABA ESTE” is an eclectic mix of social commentary and reflective poetry cloaked in lo-fi indie pop. The title comes from the name of her parent’s boat; it mingles Estonian and Latin to signify “free this.”

On the opening track “Boring,” Swanson muses about politics, religion, fame and love over the hushed tones of a Washburn electric guitar on delay.

“I’m so very boring, but I gained a dozen followers this year,” she croons with a understated irony and sideways criticism of her clamoring need to be special.

“I grew up in a generation that is highly individualistic and meritocratic,” she says. “If you’re not exceptional and you’re not specialized, it’s your fault and you’re a failure. I see people with serious mental health issues growing up under a value that you have to be unique.”

With an uncanny lyricism about nothing that evokes the dry wit of Courtney Barnett of Australia, Swanson examines how image, desire and mortality shape modern times.

“My age is always at the coffee shop,” she warbles on the pseudo-innocence of “Pawn Shop.” “We like our brands and we like to be seen. A generation made of icons. The generation of our parent’s dreams. But we don’t bother with our fathers.”

“U.S. values taken to extreme lead to such toxic ways of living,” says Swanson. “That comes down to me and my people having such crises of selfhood and understanding or place and role in the world. These are things I like to poke at in my music.”

“Magnolia” is a stripped-down acoustic lullaby reminiscent of cosmic 1960s anti-protest melodies by Melanie and Joni Mitchell.

“Saturday, sleeping for hours,” she sings. “Let out your neurons. Oh, let ’em play. Play like magnolia flowers in acid rain.”

“I’m kind of going for this observer eye,” says Swanson. “I think when it’s too on the nose it doesn’t work. How can I speak candidly and observe the world, but not in a way that’s so obvious?” | ava-music.net