Fusing sublime pop melodies with fizzy vocals, all eyes and ears are pointing in Ava Lily‘s direction. The singer-songwriter, who has been perfecting her artistry since a youth, is now ready to fully embrace the journey as one of this generation’s most exciting names to watch.
Drawing inspiration from the likes of Amy Whinehouse and Brittney Spears, the songstress had an advanced taste for music at a young age. It was then that Ava began uploading covers to YouTube before being discovered by Naughty Boy, who would later sign her to Virgin EMI Records. Fast forward to 2020, she began to pick up traction and praise from musical forces following the release of songs like “Closure” and “Blameless.” The success of her critically lauded EP Higher Love marked out Ava’s capabilities as a stylistic amalgamator, but her new music hints at a shift in her musical direction.
Earlier this year, Ava signaled her return with “Tight Fit,” which sees the singer take a deeper approach musically as she enthralls some of her most vulnerable work to date. Her second release, “Sad Party,” explores her relationship with alcohol and the effects that drinking has on her life and her relationships. The song’s accompanying video similarly captures the overt darkness in the lyrics, helming a strident sense of optimism that can be heard through her honey-hued vocals. This latest slew of singles, as well as her new project slated to release this year, continues to establish Ava Lily as an artist firmly grounded in the world of R&B-tinged pop, simultaneously using songwriting as a means of expression and therapy.
As she prepares to release her forthcoming EP, we chat with Ava Lily about her musical influences, recent singles “Tight Fit” and “Sad Party,” expressing herself through other mediums such as beauty and fashion, and more. Read on for our conversations.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your musical background?
I’m from Bristol, which is in the southwest of England. It’s a bit in the countryside, no one was really into music—well they love listening to it. I’ve always thought from a young age that everybody has this obsession with music and it turns out that that’s not the case because I’ve met people that aren’t really into music and I always find it so baffling. I remember having a conversation with my nan once and she was like, “I didn’t like music.” I was like “what do you mean, I don’t understand!” My dad was really into music, but he didn’t play any instruments or sing, but he would always introduce me to really cool bands and I remember him playing me Amy Winehouse’s first album, Frank.
I was just blown away and it wasn’t just from the music and the songwriting, it was because I thought, “wow you really can have an outlet for all of your emotions without having to have direct conversations with people.” For me, that was a really powerful thing because I was such a shy, quiet child. I’d always bottled everything up and this was just a way for me to get everything out. Now it makes sense because somebody said to me the other day that expression is the opposite of depression. That’s so true because I know that would’ve manifested into depression.
I was about fifteen then and I started writing and just stayed in my bedroom all the time, didn’t really have many friends. Then I put a cover out on YouTube and the first video I’ve ever uploaded got spotted by a guy called Naughty Boy, he’s a producer in the UK. He was like, “I want to meet you and hear your original songs” and by this point, I had been writing original songs because I had just been locked away in my bedroom getting my head down with it. A few months later, I signed my first record deal with Virgin EMI.
How did it feel to sign to a record label at such a young age?
It felt great. I didn’t ask for it, it just came to me. Being in a big record label so young, it’s kind of hard to keep your head above water. What it is, you’re so fragile when you’re like that creatively. It was like I have to try and make them like me more to keep my head above water and that’s where it was damaging for me. It felt like okay, they saw my magic but then tried to manipulate that and change into something else.
That just wasn’t something I could give. I know that major labels do work for some people and I know that age plays a big part in it, but when you’re so young, you don’t know what you want but you don’t have that voice to go with it. I think that’s when it started that’s when it fucks up basically.
Who are some of the musical influences that inspired you growing up?
Honestly, my first CD was Britney Spears. Everyone is always like how do you do these runs and rifts so freely, and honestly, I just used to rewind Christina Aguilera until I could do the same runs as her. So vocally, it was Britney and then Amy lyrically. I also would listen to cool bands that my dad would be like, “listen to this.” At the time I’d be like yeah, but now I really really appreciate that all of that stuff has influenced me. I guess just like greats from every era really.
In April, you released your first single of the year “Tight Fit”—I’d love to know more about the record and why it’s special to you?
I think “Tight Fit” is probably the most light-hearted one on the EP. It came so quickly and it was like, “I did this today, and let’s write about it.” I literally was going on loads of random dates in weird clothes, in weird places, and me and my producer were just talking about that. That’s why the first line is “got my cheap sneakers on with my fur coat and thong.” We were talking about me turning up, and then we sort of dug a bit deeper and spoke about who is that person that really draws out your obsession because a lot of this EP relates to addiction. It was like who is that person who really draws out your obsession and your madness and your addiction. It’s like you know they’re bad for you but you just can’t stop going back type thing.
This whole EP is a long road to self-discovery and evolution I guess. A common theme for me is addiction so when I stopped drinking it was like, “okay I’m just gonna go on loads of dates or I’m just gonna get to the gym like 7 times a week.” It was like I was like I was putting one addiction forth and when I stopped that, I was putting into another. The whole dating thing started when I was sober and it was like I need to deal with this now. “Tight Fit” was kind of during that time and era when I was like just going on a lot of dates and experimenting. I’m just talking about that person that feeds addictions.
Going back to what you said previously, I’d love to know how you cope with those addictions these days.
I’m a big believer in going into the fellowship so I go to AA. I haven’t directly spoken about that in my EP but if you listen to my songs… I like to live my life and I like to write that way through my songs so they’re all so honest. I feel that through being honest, it enables people to listen to that and be like, “fuck yeah, it’s okay to feel that.” It’s okay to sit with your emotions so I’m a big believer in feeling how you feel and not trying to numb it.
When you go sober, you have this sudden realization that you have to feel all of your feelings. It’s not easy but that comes with a lot of growth. I talk about this in my songs, especially the next single that will come called “Happy Switch.” I talk about that feeling when you’re in bed at night and you just cannot switch your mind off. That’s why I called it “Happy Switch” because I was like what if there’s just a switch where you can just flick it and fall asleep peacefully. It’s about accepting and acknowledging that this is how I feel and I’m gonna sit with it.
Musically, you tend to be quite open and vulnerable, what are some topics that come pretty naturally to you as of late? Is there anything that is fairly difficult to talk about in your music?
Just life, just literally life. Feelings, emotions, and rawness. I love all of that. There’s no interest in writing about something that’s not true to me, I can’t do it. I like to be as authentic and I like people to listen to my songs and feel like it’s okay to feel. I like to embrace sadness, I feel as though that’s really important.
I think a lot of people try not to ever feel those types of feelings, but I think it’s healthy to really sit with your sadness. It’s unhealthy to brush under the rug, it’s unhealthy to not feel your feelings. It’s okay to feel like that and I try to teach people that through my writing. When you do bottle things up, it comes out in horrible ways and that’s all part of the process for me.
When I was in the process of getting sober, that was the whole thing. I’ve already uncovered so much stuff and so much has bubbled to the surface now. All I can do is deal with it, there’s no numbing involved now.
How involved are you in your music video concepts, and how do you connect your lyrics to the creation of your music videos, for example, “Sad Party”?
I’m really happy about that. I worked with an amazing director, Edward Cooke, and we were working really closely when planning that. I wanted it to really represent my mind when I was going through the things I was talking about. It was very trippy and blurry and everything was falling apart. I wanted it to look lonely and hectic because “Sad Party” is about having a party in my room by myself ultimately.
I wanted to capture that loneliness across in the because they’re really important to me. I wanted it to represent the hectic chaos of my mind and the loneliness. It just goes hand in hand with that and Edward edited that beautifully so I’m really grateful for that.
Do other mediums such as fashion and beauty play a role in how you creatively express yourself?
For sure, I think you have to represent yourself in a way that makes you feel like… the most you that you can be. I definitely think about that every day when I wake up and get ready for the day. It’s almost like how you want to face the world and I do think that that plays a big part in everything that I do. Not so much for other people to see this is how I look, but you just want to feel like the most you that you can be.
Do you have a self-care routine?
For me, it’s just nature and switching on. We forget so quickly that even just going outside will make you feel better. Honestly, I’ll be and my room all day and wonder why do I feel like shit? Then it’s like, oh yeah, I haven’t been outside today. It’s just basic needs that we neglect in order to feel happy. For me, you have to work for your happiness. It’s not just something that you can just wake up and be. I know some people can, but I’m just not that type of person. There’s a lot that I have to do to feel I’m giving my best self to the world and a lot of that is having some time to myself.
I don’t really like to be around many people, I’m not good in crowds. I’m very much a one-on-one person. I’m really sensitive as well. I was having a conversation with my friend the other day and she asked, “do you feel like you have to do more than the average person just to stay happy?” I was like, yes! 100 percent. I think a lot of creatives are so sensitive and they feel things so heightened. It’s great because we often have a lot more gratitude for when times are really good, but then when times aren’t too good, we really feel that. You have to keep those things in place.
With the release of these two singles, you’ve taken a bit of a different approach artistically. What do you learn about yourself as an artist and musician when recording and making new music?
I think for me, I just have to be honest. Otherwise, it’s not authentic. At the end of the day, you’re the one that has to carry it all and if you’re not speaking your truth, are you going to feel that fulfilled? I’m not.
As a musician, what impact do you want to leave on people?
I just want people to feel like it’s okay to feel that.