Named after a genus of flowering plants (whose most famous member is lavender), Lav Andula has been an active member of the Arizona avant-garde underground for years. They’ve regularly shared bills with fellow forward-thinking tinnitus inducers like Lana Del Rabies and Black Baptist at venues like The Lunchbox and Trunk Space. Seeing Lav live, one feels the aptness of that drearwave descriptor: Their harsh, gloomy music washes over you like the surf. Barbed fragments of melody stick to your eardrums like salt while waves of feedback, warped beats, and hissing electronic sounds roll slowly and steadily through you.
One of the best introductions to Lav Andula’s unique approach to noisy electronic music can be heard on their cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.” The song starts violently with percussive clangs and flying-UFO drone sounds before Bush’s familiar, bewitching melody seeps through the maelstrom. Lav’s voice is mixed in a way that’s hazy and disembodied, like they’re an echo in the distance or they’re the ghost of a voice caught on an EVP recording. The song is simultaneously lovely, lush, and unnerving. Like all great covers, it creates a sensation akin to entering a familiar room where all the furniture has been moved around and up-ended. You’ve been here before, but everything is new now.
But more than just altering the style of the song, Lav has reframed the song's "deal with God" body-switching meaning into something that’s more intensely personal.
“For me, this song is more of a take on gender dysphoria and transitioning,” Lav says.
Lav’s music and history navigating the scene have been deeply informed by their experience living as trans. Growing up in Nashville, they started producing electronic music when they were 17. “I started doing electronic music to depict an altered state of consciousness,” Lav says. “I’d find myself immersed in these emotions that I might not even have known I’d been experiencing or I’d feel really weird after having feedback blaring in my ears for hours.”
The hometown of the Grand Ole Opry wasn’t a good fit for experimental, mind-warping noise. “In my experience, Nashville was not an accepting place for avant-garde electronic music and queer artistry,” Lav says.
Moving to Phoenix proved to be a boon for the artist. “Phoenix really help push me to branch out and do more of the stuff that I’m really interested in doing,” Lav explains. “I had a lot of encouraging friends and artists who pushed me to just be fucking weird and they really got into it and empathized with it. I think that’s beautiful.”
After releasing a string of excellent tapes and digital recordings and building up their presence as a compelling live act, Lav picked up sticks and moved to Flagstaff before eventually settling in Tucson. They noticed a mark contrast between the scene here and the one up North.
“Flagstaff was really difficult,” Lav says. “I tried to help make some stuff happen and the majority of people there aren’t interested in listening to that sort of music. It’s hard to gather support in that town for music that people aren’t used to hearing.”
While Lav said they felt mostly accepted as an artist in Phoenix, they admit that they still had to deal with misconceptions and prejudice as a trans artist.
“I do see a difference in appearing more feminine and visibly trans,” Lav says. “I get asked regularly at shows if that was my own music I was playing. I had a sound guy once who was convinced I plugged my own equipment in wrong and tried to rearrange it. And I’m not typically someone people think of for femme events, so being taken seriously in any scene can be a struggle.”
2018 was a productive year for Lav Andula: In addition to putting out that Kate Bush cover, Lav released two EPs. One of them, //.atrophy.//, came out under the Lav Andula banner; The other release, it’s all yr fault;; it’s spring was released under the name letmechoosetodrown. It’s a stylistic departure, foregrounding the melodies buried under Lav Andula’s bracing noise to create something that feels like an ambient record. “I had been doing a lot more harsher stuff and I just missed making melodies,” Lav says of the side project.
While Lav indulged their softer side as letmechoosetodrown last year, they plan to bring the noise in a major way in 2019.
“My music is becoming more harsh,” Lav says. “I’ve gone from doing sad girl shit to more mad girl shit.”
Lav Andula. Performing as part of A Night At The Roadhouse, Saturday, January 5, at The Bikini Lounge, 1502 Grand Avenue.