Recording and performing under her first name, Avya Trotter-Hlavac writes carefully refined songs that are vulnerable, personal and emotionally moving. Avya’s latest single, Teach Me To Dance, sees her venture into pop artist territory, with sparkling synths and driving drums accompanying lyrics about self acceptance. Made with support from NZ ON Air Music.
The youngest of four, Avya comes from a very musical family, and growing up near Mangawhai she demonstrated a determination to get ahead under her own steam from an early age.
“Dad was a singer-songwriter and pianist, and Mum was a piano teacher. My brother was in a covers band, my sister was always writing songs. When I was seven I stole my brother’s guitar and started making some noise on it, and he was like, ‘Alright, I’ll teach you some chords!’
“He taught me my first few chords and I just played those chords over and over and over! A couple of months into playing guitar, I knew maybe four songs and I already really wanted to perform for people, so I started busking when I was seven or eight years old. I would post up outside my local supermarket and busk. I just loved playing for people. That continued until my teen years, and I started playing more and more gigs. I started writing songs when I was about 11.”
Moving south to Auckland Avya studied music at MAINZ, making an early national splash by appearing on the TVNZ talent show Popstars in 2021. Having released an early EP back in 2020 she’s been sticking to singles since. Co-written with her friend Noema Te Hau, the catchily natural Teach Me To Dance was produced by Joel Jones.
“It was actually one of those songs that took quite a few gos to get it quite right,” Avya reminisces. “I think we re-wrote the chorus maybe three times in three different sessions! I think this session started with free writing. We’d use a random word generator on our phone, and just pick whatever word comes up, and then you free write. So you just write for five minutes straight with a timer on, and you’re not meant to stop. You’re not meant to put your pencil down, you just keep writing.
“I can’t remember what the word was, but something about that just sparked the idea. We just ran with it, and from there picked up the guitar, jumped into Logic, found some different sounds. I think there was one sound, which is a real subtle sort of drumbeat, which is actually the same sample from Hotline Bling. It’s really funny, I didn’t realise til afterwards. That’s still in the song, and that’s the first sound that we stuck with.
“We mainly write with guitar and vocal, and just really want to get the song right acoustically before getting too into the production world. I think it took about three sessions to finally land on a chorus we were happy it, and then we produced it into a rough demo. I love that it was very much a rough demo. We sat on that for a year or so, until I took it into Joel. He made it a much more produced track.”
Coming from an acoustic background, Avya has dipped her toes into the pop world before, but Teach Me To Dance is definitely the furthest she’s gone in that direction.
“I think the pop production is just what this song called for. When I put it out I knew it was a lot poppier than the other songs that I’ve done so far. It’s just heavy on the synth and electronic drums, and many, many, many vocal layers! Putting it out felt quite different, but also just felt like what the song needed, so it was just following the intuition I guess.
“Certain songs will suit different vibes. What we had before was a slower, more acoustic version, and it still works, but I guess we just experimented, and when I took it into Joel, he suggested we put it up a key and then speed it up 7 beats per minute or something like that. It immediately changed the vibe from quite a cruisey pop song to, ‘Okay, this is a pop song!’
“I guess it was just a natural progression, landing with the pop production that it has, but it’s hard to know what I’m gonna do in the future, ‘cos you just write a song and then see where it lands. I never really decide before writing a song, ‘Okay, what is it gonna be?’ You start with a feeling, or a thought, or a concept, and then you just follow your nose a bit until you land wherever you land, and then curate it afterwards. Production is the second part of the process for me. I’ll fully write the song on guitar or piano, and then have a think about what sort of production might suit that song, and choose a producer accordingly. I’m kind of still in the stage where I’m trying out different sounds, and I’m fine with one song being a bit more poppy and then the next one being more stripped.”
On first listen, you could be forgiven for mistaking Teach Me To Dance for a love song, however it’s actually about Avya’s relationship with herself, as she reveals.
“It’s essentially a letter to my inner critic. The song is an analogy for learning to live with the parts of yourself that you don’t like. Essentially, rather than suppressing all those things, learning to accept them and going, ‘Okay, this is who I am, let’s learn to navigate being who I am.’”
A darkly futuristic but euphorically spirited music video accompanies the song. The video was directed by Jackson Doudney, who also directed the video for Avya’s previous single, You Don’t Get It, produced by Joe Faris.
“Jackson’s my go-to video director. I’ve worked with him before on projects, and he’s just awesome. I was super involved in the video process, and it’s super fun! It’s obviously very different from the writing and production, and is a whole different realm.
“From the start I knew that I wanted it to be kind of sci-fi ’90s – The Matrix or Blade Runner style. When the song was complete and I listened to the production, those were the sort of references that came up. That was the higher level concept, and we ran with that. We filmed the video in this dark warehouse space, and just incorporated all these different themes. We got heaps of this thick plastic from Mitre 10 and created this big plastic wall, and then I’m kind of dancing through this plastic wall. It represents all the different internal battles that go on throughout the song, throughout the lyrics. There’s a spotlight shot of several versions of me moving around the room, there’s a levitating table, and I’m confronting myself, so there are two versions of me battling it out, essentially.”