Dorset musicians, Ava and Elijah Wolf, are taking The Gravity Drive to another level. They talk to Fergus Byrne about their new album.
For any artist, be they poet, painter, sculptor or songwriter, the moment of unveiling new work can be stressful, to say the least. The emotional turmoil when one’s ‘baby’ is launched upon the world; when work that has lived inside your head for days, months or even years is about to be judged by others, can be daunting. So, for musicians Elijah and Ava Wolf from local band, The Gravity Drive, it’s handy to have gone through a process of heavily critiquing their own work before it even gets to the recording stage.
Their new album, The Wildlight, is scheduled for release in August and a limited edition pre-release CD with a special lyric book inside is quickly finding homes in a fan base that reaches far and wide, even as far as Moscow.
The Wildlight contains ten incredibly polished tracks that have been pulled together over more than three years and inevitably not every song has retained the exact form it started with. The rigorous process of creative input after principle songwriter Elijah presents new songs to his wife and band partner Ava, means some songs can take quite a beating before reaching the studio.
The opening song on the album, Hits like a Fix, is a classic example. Now a soporific, piano-based love song it was originally written for guitar and started life as a rock track. Ava never really liked it, describing it as ‘frenetic and attacking’. ‘I just felt it was trying too hard’ she says. ‘I just really felt we should pull it right back and make it on piano and make it more seductive—more like a trip. So we had a bit of a wrangle. That was the big wrangle of the album.’
Elijah laughs, ‘I resisted it for so long and then one evening I thought, right sod it I’m going to do exactly what she says. And literally that opening riff just fell out of the sky.’
Living in gentle Dorset countryside, Elijah’s song-writing process may be the envy of many musicians. When an idea begins to develop, whether it is a riff, a chord sequence or a lyric, he often goes for a run through the idyllic Dorset lanes where he lives, and lets the idea germinate. ‘As I’m out running, the melody and lyrics will just kind of appear’ he says.
But it’s just another day in a working family’s life. Ava will often hear him ‘tinkering’ around the house. ‘Sometimes he gets a vague look in his eye’ she says. ‘Where he appears to be in the room but he’s clearly not—he’s off on some writing thing inside his head. So I know there’s a new song coming. He’ll play it to me and then if I love it I’ll say so—but I can be quite a harsh critic if I don’t.’
‘As a songwriter it isn’t the easiest thing’ explains Elijah, ‘bringing a new song to anyone, whether it be to the band or to your wife. These are your little babies and you love them all in different ways for different reasons. And you know that some are better than others. But the great thing about Ava is that, instantaneously, if it’s good she’ll be completely honest and on your side and if it’s not working she’ll tell you as well.’ Elijah sees the process as giving The Gravity Drive a useful standard and an early quality filter.
The results prove there is little doubt that the internal ‘wrangle’ has a beneficial impact on the duo’s creative process. ‘That’s why I think it’s worth being super critical instead of saying, yes it’s a good song and just stumble forward’ says Ava. ‘Just take time and think, how can this be better? It takes a lot of energy and it’s quite an emotional journey. The album’s been quite emotional. We’ve been trying to make it the best that we can make it.’
Although he admits much of the album was done quite quickly, Elijah echoes the statement that there has been real effort to lift their music up a level. ‘We would work together as a band and be 90% there with a song,’ he says ‘and I’d look at Ava and know she wasn’t convinced yet. One track took us about a year to get right. It might have been finished a lot earlier but for Ava’s pursuit of excellence.’
That pursuit of excellence is born out of years of experience. Elijah started performing with his brother and school friends and played his first gig in front of over four hundred pupils in his first year in secondary school. ‘Just before I started’ he recalls, ‘it dawned on me that I was in front of an awful lot of older kids and if this goes badly, well … but it went OK.’ The band eventually signed for a small label and then broke up to go separate ways, but Elijah was hooked.
Ava’s journey was via acting school and growing up in a family that ran a well-known nightclub in Birmingham. Her brothers managed Duran Duran and whilst on tour with them she learned an awful lot about just how hard you have to work to produce great music and great performances. However, she never dreamed that one day she would be singing in a band herself. ‘It surprised me’ she says. ‘But it didn’t really surprise anyone that knows me, because apparently I’m always singing. I’m one of those people that walks around just singing and bursting into song in the supermarket.’
It’s easy to describe The Gravity Drive’s sound as harmony-driven pop but that’s like describing Coldplay as a pop band. There is so much more going on. ‘We’ve always relied on the boy-girl harmony-driven aspect of it as being a focus point’ says Elijah. ‘Whether that’s me bringing in a big song or a simple acoustic track, the harmonies are the main thing.’ However, it’s the diverse taste that the band shares that creates the ‘magic’. ‘In a lot of albums there is a bandwidth in which the band operate’ says Ava ‘and you absolutely know it’s not really going beyond that bandwidth—that’s what they’re going to deliver. But I think our album is full of surprises. We journey from quite heartfelt ballads to something that’s quite rocky. But that’s our interest in music. We have an eclectic taste in what we listen to and that’s definitely reflected in the way we write. So we’re sort of a little bit multi-genre.’
The Wildlight has been in the melting pot for a while. As a completely independent band with no record company support, Elijah and Ava started a Crowdfunder campaign with the hope of releasing the album in 2017. It took time to get it right and there was no music industry throwing money their way—which is potentially a raw subject. Talk about the way the music industry works unleashes a tension in Elijah that isn’t easy to mask. ‘With the music industry, the way to get to the top is to spend money’ he says ‘and to pay all the right people and pay the pluggers and play the game. And that’s all well and good, and it doesn’t guarantee success but it guarantees you might get heard.’
But that isn’t a game that Elijah likes to play. ‘I think we’ve got more of a Robin Hood approach—we’re going to do what we’re going to do and because we believe in it, it will go where it’s going to go.’
The band is unlikely to change to suit industry needs and there is a strong sense of a determination to remain authentic. Elijah continues: ‘We believe that people who are creative should believe in who they are and that the industry and the game should bend to the original artists—not the artists bend to the game. We might be naïve in that belief, but it’s got us to a certain point and we’ve managed to stay authentic and not sold our souls.’
Outside of ‘the industry’, the internet and social media has helped many unsigned bands to break out of their home patch and develop a wider audience. Elijah explains how ‘bubbles’ of interest appear through Spotify and other streaming services. ‘For some reason and we don’t know why, in Moscow they’re playing lots of our music. We’ve not been to Moscow and we don’t know quite why that is. There’s no way that we could go to Russia and gig there, but what’s interesting is that in the future we might, because there is a presence there. So you can see there are little bubbles. I’m not sure why but they do appear. That’s the greatest thing; you can get global without having to physically be global. It might not be a huge impact but you can see how you can grow those bubbles if you stay authentic to who you are.’
Now, four years on from that Crowdfunder initiative, it seems The Wildlight has benefited from the extra time in development. After their first album, Testament, a period of touring meant the band and especially Elijah and Ava’s vocals had the opportunity to gel and gain confidence. ‘In terms of songwriting, performance, artistry and record-making’ says Elijah, ‘this is us at the peak of our powers—so far’.
The Wildlight has some absolute gems. Hits like a Fix, Shooting Star, The Wildlight—all memorable. Play Kaleidoscope loud—close your eyes and imagine yourself in the middle of a field with thousands of people singing along—it has that anthemic quality. And the new single Forever—where Elijah and Ava’s vocal harmonies, lifted by drummer Ryan Halsey and bass player Rob Male, soar over an inspired production mixed by engineer Chris Potter. There is a slickness yet authentic quality to these songs that makes The Wildlight one to treasure.
Polished and sparkling, this is The Gravity Drive’s new baby, an album that also hints at even better things to come.
The new single, Forever, is scheduled for release on June 5th. The album is officially released in August but there are a limited number of the special pre-release CDs available from www.thegravitydrive.com.