Ava Max is cool. Almost too cool and chill to be the same 26-year-old who has a global smash hit already under her belt and a highly anticipated debut album, Heaven & Hell, out now on Atlantic Records. In a pop music climate that is currently filled with whispers over beats, Max brings a flare of the classic pop music you know and love from B.T. (before TikTok) with a modern twist. Her premiere album, Heaven & Hell, feels like the perfect introduction to who Ava is both as a person and an artist: fun and feisty, with zero plans of slowing down any time soon.
There have been multiple times where a debut single skyrockets its singer to an unexpected level of instant success—like Instant Ramen, but Instant Record Deals. These overnight sensations seem to just happen by sheer luck, but what you don’t usually hear about is the hard work that predates it: “It’s weird because I’ve been trying to make it for a very long time, and at the end of the day, I’m just grateful people actually care about my music and relate to my music and I just want to inspire people.” Another thing that oftentimes is missing from these stories? A follow-up release to continue their momentum. Here, Max can sleep easily with “Kings & Queens” making its way up the charts and raking in over 244 million streams on Spotify.
“Once ‘Sweet But Psycho’ came out I didn’t really have time to work on an album because I went straight to tour,” Max says. While many artists recently, like Ellie Goulding and Katy Perry, talk openly about the inevitable fatigue that comes from the ride of celebrity, it seems that Ava is already taking the steps to make sure she doesn’t burn out: “It’s all about taking it easy and not forcing yourself to do something at that moment. I really believe in manifesting and if you’re not feeling it at the moment, let it go.”
Letting go may be easy when it comes to putting the proverbial pen and paper away for the day and taking a break from work, but a tad bit harder when it comes to getting over that person you can’t just seem to get over, a topic that we all definitely face, and one that Max faces head-on in her art. She revealed that one of her new songs, “Rumors”, “was a last-minute addition—it’s a fun song on the hell side, about how I hear so many rumors about this person but I’m still ending up in his room .” Who can’t relate? She also gave some slight hints that if, after this album, you’re already begging for more Ava, not to worry—a deluxe version will definitely be on its way soon.
Avatars (the name her fans lovingly gave themselves, although I’d love to pitch them Maxxinistas), may find themselves falling head over heels for Ava Max’s music because of how instantly they relate the lyrics in her songs—something that Ava says is one of the most important parts of music to her.
“Lyrics are all that matters. You have to relate to people. Literally, I don’t know how to explain it but lyrics have made a difference in my life.” Her love of lyrics predates her musical career and goes all the way back to when she was growing up listening to the divas of the early 2000s. I mean, who hasn’t belted “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” in a shower, or car ride, or karaoke bar? While I didn’t ask Ava if that tune was in her karaoke rotation, she said it was definitely one of the songs in the past that she wished she wrote because “it’s just too good.” Touching on her own lyrics, Max said that the track “Naked” on the album will give fans a glimpse of a different side of her—one they haven’t seen before.
As with any conversation in 2020, the topic of quarantine had to inevitably come up. “The best thing I learned about myself in quarantine is patience.” She also said that she realized she “likes to eat more than most people I know,” and at that moment, I’ve never related to a pop star more. While she is practicing patience during this time of lockdown, she’s skipped the sourdough starter kits and went on to not only record a new song for the album (“Heaven”, the opener, was done in lockdown) but also record some new music videos that will accompany the album, a process she said was really fun but of course, extra stressful in these times when your glam preparation also involves a COVID test.
When asked to pair this album with a cocktail—because this year we could all use a drink—the singer quickly answered with a jalapeño mojito, because “it’s kinda spicy, psycho, crazy.” But of course, it has a little sweetness. I’ll drink to that. And I’m sure Ava may want a cocktail in hand after the release of her album, both to celebrate “the project being out in the world and no longer mine, but the fans’” but also because with her debut album, she admits, “I’m nervous and I wonder how it’s gonna come across so I have all these thoughts in my head. It’s a rollercoaster of emotion.” After listening to the album, I feel she has nothing to worry about.
Without jinxing anything, I did slightly mention what she would do if she was nominated for a Grammy this year: “I would vomit. I would feel nauseous, sick to my stomach, and not know what to say. I would feel so grateful—I’d still feel grateful even if I don’t get anything like that.” My advice to Ava is to get the Pepto Bismol ready because if the Recording Academy has any sense, we’ll be seeing her on that stage soon, most likely thanking her childhood chihuahua that she says she loved and her family.
Heaven & Hell by Ava Max is out now on all platforms.
Images: Charlotte Rutherford
It’s no secret that the music industry (like most industries) has historically been dominated by men. In our largely misogynistic and patriarchal society, it’s easy to completely overlook female musicians, or even worse—to compliment them with the tired old adage, “she’s good for a girl!” I personally have had enough of that bullsh*t. There are so many immensely talented instrumentalists who have inspired me that deserve recognition—not only as songwriters and artists, but as guitar players in their own right. So, here is my (admittedly hipster) insight into some sick female artists you should be listening to RIGHT NOW.
Annie Clark (St. Vincent)–Alternative Rock
St. Vincent (Annie Clark) is my personal hero. She is the first woman to design her own signature model of an electric guitar for the mass market. In terms of technical ability, she is nearly unmatched amongst her peers. St. Vincent just won the Grammy for Best Rock Song for “MASSEDUCTION,” the leading and eponymous single from her most recent album, co-written and co-produced by the sensational Jack Antonoff (who famously also co-writes and produces for Taylor Swift and Lorde.) This video is a really cool interview in which she explains the process of designing her signature guitar with the Ernie Ball / Music Man team, and touches on the marginalization she felt as a young guitar player.
Nai Palm (Hiatus Kaiyote)–Alternative/R&B
Nai Palm, from one of Australia’s hippest bands Hiatus Kaiyote, is one of my favorite technicians. She has an innate ability to effortlessly float over her guitar strings while simultaneously executing complex vocal melodies, especially in live performance. The first time I heard Hiatus Kaiyote’s 2015 album Choose Your Weapon, I spent nearly a month trying to learn all of the songs note for note. It’s a masterpiece. In this live and stripped down performance for Paste Magazine, Nai Palm’s guitar prowess really shines as she plays “Atari,” a trippy song inspired by the legendary video game. Nai Palm also recently graced the cover of She Shreds Magazine, a publication devoted to showcasing female instrumentalists.
Ah, Queen Mitski. If you’ve been sleeping on her, you better wake up fast… Mitski is one of the most lyrically prolific and sonically unique artists of the last few years. She is also a multi-instrumentalist and plays both bass and guitar on her records—though her live shows have evolved into very choreographed stage performances complete with manic pacing and disconcerting arm movements. Her most recent album, Be The Cowboy, is a highly stylized piece of art with songs that clock in under three minutes and feature esoteric titles such as “A Horse Named Cold Air.” In this video from 2016, Mitski and her band perform the song that put her on the map (thanks to mad love from NPR), “Your Best American Girl.”
The Japanese House–Indie Pop
The Japanese House, the indie/electronic solo project of English singer/songwriter Amber Bain, just released one of the coolest albums of 2019 – Good At Falling. Featuring her signature auto-tuned/vocoded vocals, clean guitar tones, and rhythmically complex percussion, listening to Good At Falling is like sinking in to 40 straight minutes of gut-wrenching pop bangers. “Nothing feels good, I can’t fix it, it’s not right.” The dichotomy in her use of both colloquial and obscure language adds a complexity to the album not often found in music by her contemporaries. This stripped down video, however, is from a live performance of her song “Still” for BBC Radio, in which Amber has the opportunity to showcase her solid guitar playing abilities.
Brittany Howard (Alabama Shakes)–Rock/Blues
Brittany Howard is an absolute powerhouse. I remember seeing Alabama Shakes live for the first time at Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee back in 2015, and literally losing my mind while watching this woman shred on guitar. The authority with which she plays her instrument is like that of a stern school teacher—both loving and tender, but still cheekily disciplinary. Alabama Shakes’ debut album Sound + Color, produced by Blake Mills, won them a Grammy right off the bat. Brittany uses some nasty distortion and can solo with the best of them, which are elements I try to incorporate into my own music.
Brandi Carlile was the most nominated female artist at the 2019 Grammy Awards, and a three-time winner. She has been releasing music for over a decade, but is finally now receiving broader recognition for her art. Her playing isn’t flashy. However, in its understated nature, it is the perfect companion to her profound lyricism and vocal mastery. I also straddle the line between rock and folk, and as a songwriter, Brandi has been a huge inspiration to me. She is a powerfully soft force to be reckoned with. This video is from her recent performance of her nominated song, “The Joke,” at the 61st annual Grammy Awards.
Phoebe Bridgers–Indie Rock
The last eighteen months have been busy for industry sweetheart Phoebe Bridgers. She has toured all over the world in support of her 2017 LP Stranger in the Alps, she released an EP and toured with her trio boygenius (comprised of Phoebe and her two friends Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus,) and she most recently released a self-titled album as Better Oblivion Community Center with fellow indie rocker Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes,) for which they are currently on tour. Known for her confessional songwriting and understated production, Phoebe is quickly becoming a household name in the folk and indie rock spheres. This video is from a dope live session done on KEXP and features my favorite song from her record, “Motion Sickness.”
Liza Anne–Indie Rock
Fresh off of touring with Grammy Winner Kacey Musgraves, indie rocker Liza Anne is one of my favorite artists right now. Her 2018 album Fine But Dying was my soundtrack last summer, with gritty emo-bangers such as “Paranoia” and “I Love You, But I Need Another Year.” The whole album is drenched in distorted guitar tones and introspective lyrics. This video is from a live session recorded for Paste Magazine and features a lovely stripped down performance of one of my favorite songs by Liza, “Take It Back.”
Leah Capelle is a pop/rock singer-songwriter from Chicago and is currently based in Los Angeles pursuing a B.S. in Music Business at USC Thornton School of Music. Earlier this year, Capelle released a visual for “Settle Down,” a dauntless feminist ballad exploring identity, acceptance, and empowerment. Watch it below.
New year, new music. You all missed me while I was gone, right? On second thought, please keep your opinions to yourself. There’s a lot of great new music this week, but I’d like to take a moment to highlight the new releases from women this week. We’ve got new songs from powerhouses Jess Glynne and Tiffany Young, plus a few newcomers. No, Ariana Grande hasn’t released her new album yet, so this list will just have to tide you over until then.
“Thursday” by Jess Glynne feat. H.E.R.
Yeah, you’ve probably heard “Thursday” all over the radio and wondered why you were crying in the club because of its raw honesty, but have you heard the new feature from H.E.R.? No, you haven’t, because it just came out today. In this song, Jess Glynne presents a vulnerable and open account of learning to love and accept yourself. Speaking of, I chatted with her about this song, her new album, and more—interview coming soon. But for now, pour yourself a glass of red wine, because this is going to get you all the way in your feels.
“Born Again” by Tiffany Young
Mark my words: Tiffany Young is going to be a star in 2019. The California-born singer is huge in Korea, and now she’s making her way stateside. Her voice is incredible. Her new song “Born Again” is a robust production with poignant vocals that will embed themselves under your skin and a catchy dance beat.
“Hurts Like Hell (Madison Beer Cover)” by Jenny March
This acoustic cover of Madison Beer’s hit is the perfect petty anthem for not wanting your ex to get over you. If you can’t relate to that sentiment, tell me: what was it like being indoctrinated into literal sainthood? March’s version is less pop-y and more raw than the original—it is acoustic, after all.
“Valhalla” by Lauren Ruth Ward
This song gives a really cool rocker chick vibe. It feels 70s to me, but maybe that’s just because I don’t listen to rock music so I don’t know what a 70s vibe is actually like. Let’s go with it. Lauren also has a great voice. Grab your leather jacket before you hit play on this one.
“WTP” by Teyana Taylor
Yes, the song itself came out with the release of her album, K.T.S.E, but the video is new. The cool thing about it is it’s completely self-directed. I don’t want to spoil it, because you should all go watch the video, but she killed it. And as far as female sexual empowerment goes, it doesn’t really get any better than a song that repeats “work this p*ssy” over and over for like, four minutes. And it’s not a command, like, for a guy to work it. It’s saying “I will work this p*ssy.” I could summon the one gender studies course I took in college to write an entire essay on the importance and power of that, but I’ll spare you all if you promise to watch the video.
“Pretty” by Terror Jr.
Terror Jr. is technically a duo, but their lead vocalist is female, so I’m counting it. Also, truth be told, I had no idea they were a duo until I looked it up. The more you know. Anyway, with a hook like “they say pretty is pain,” Terror Jr.’s song “Pretty” is reminiscent of Jess Glynne’s “Thursday.” But while Jess Glynne presents a soulful and slow narrative, Terror Jr.’s song is all airy vocals and infectious melody.
“Anxiety” by Julia Michaels feat. Selena Gomez
F*cking duhhhh, I included this on my list. I sort of feel like this song could very easily be called “FOMO” because the first verse talks about how you don’t want to go out or see anyone but then when you decide to stay in you miss them. I appreciate Julia Michaels’ openness about mental health struggles, and I feel both very heard and personally attacked by this song. But in all seriousness, THANK YOU for bringing visibility to this.
Follow the Betches New Music playlist on our Spotify for all these songs and more.
Image: Courtesy Of Atlantic Records