by Laura Stanley
Surrender, the new EP from Alexia Avina, sounds like acceptance. Each track is a sweet sigh, an expulsion of negativity, and a realignment of the self. Avina layers her guitar and vocals so they sway and curl around each like the steam from a late morning cup of tea. The EP is a safe space where you can reflect and, above all, feel calm. When I tell Avina I find her EP calming, she’s flattered.
“I’m always curious about how I feel to other people. How it feels to be around me and how I feel being around other people,” she muses.
Avina is an American citizen but moved to Thailand when she was five. She came to Montreal about four years ago to attend McGill and is earning a degree in Anthropology with a minor in East Asian Studies. She hopes to graduate soon and when we chat, she feels relieved that she passed a required language course.
Avina picked up guitar when she was 15 and then got a ukulele. For a high school graduation present, she got a MacBook and started recording music using Garageband. Her first EP Kind Forest is ukulele based but she admits to me, with a laugh, “I feel like I could never touch a ukulele again.” Nowadays, Avina plays electric guitar and, when writing songs, will experiment with her loop station. She also teams up with Nick Schofield as Best Fern to make music that’s equally gentle though more electronically tinged than her own. Avina credits the softness of her music to Montreal’s ambient scene, a music genre that she discovered after moving to the city.
“It took my a while to really appreciate ambient music. There was kind of a learning curve,” she says. “When I first started listening to it, I was 20/21 and I found myself very impatient with it. I wanted it to go somewhere or lead somewhere or have some melodic break but I think that it has helped me listen more and be present more. The process of how it unrolls is much more important than where it leads.”
A willingness to let things unfold finds its way into the sparse lyrics of Surrender. Throughout, Avina repeats fragments or asks questions that don’t have answers. “Who will go out with a friend?” she repeats on track two; “If I’m the one that you need…” she says again and again in the opener, leaving us to finish her thought. Her songwriting, as she explains, reflects a fresh perspective she gained late last year, one she now carries with her: “being open to ambiguity and that being okay.”
“By surrendering, I mean that I became mindful of these waves of really tender sadness which would pass through to gratitude for recognizing that and accepting [sadness] as an equally valid part of the experience. Mostly, I am just trying to be gentle and tender with myself and by holding all sides equally with an amount of reverence and respect. It’s been hard to not reject any aspect of experience.”