Hooks and Phonics with AJ Avila

Published  December 2014

antigravity_vol12_issue2_Page_11_Image_0001When I hit the Powerball, I’ll pull a Jeff Spicoli and get the original lineup of Van Halen (including Michael Anthony—sorry Wolfie) to reunite to play my party. The perfect opening band will most certainly be Davila 666, a Puerto Rican garage pop band that calls themselves “Menudo on drugs.” They’ve been my favorite band since seeing them open for Guitar Lightning Lee at the Saturn Bar in 2008. It was one of those rare moments that a music fan lives for: seeing a band you’ve only vaguely heard about and then getting your mind blown. I was instantly singing along to all the songs—and they’re in Spanish and I don’t even speak Spanish! Unfortunately, they broke up a few years back. The good news is that their principal songwriter, AJ Davila, has put out two solo records in 2014 (Terror Amor in February and Beibi in November). AJ and his band just finished touring as part of the Burger Caravan of Stars, a tour with Burger Records labelmates Natural Child, the Coathangers, and more. I talked to him during his time off between that tour and a tour of Argentina.


Where do you get all these hooks from?!

AJ Davila: Oh man, I’m a sucker for hooks! When I make a song, I want the verse to be a hook, I want the prechorus to be a hook, I want the chorus to be big. I don’t know. I’m a sucker for hooks. I love them.


In your songs they seem to be everywhere.

I love that. When I make a song, that’s the most important thing: to have a catchy song. It can be a dark song, it can be full of noise or whatever, but it has to be catchy.


In February, you put out the Terror Amor record and now you’ve just put out another album, Beibi. Is this some kind of post-Davila 666 release of a bunch of songs you’ve built up or are you just continuing to do what you do?

I’ve always been a hardworking guy. When we stopped doing Davila in 2012, I just started recording. And I recorded a lot of stuff. This year I did those two albums and I did a song with Natalia Clavier: she’s the singer for Thievery Corporation. I recorded five songs in Mexico. I love to record.


antigravity_vol12_issue2_Page_11_Image_0002Were the songs for both albums written around the same time and you picked certain songs to match a certain mood of each album or was one album written after the next?

They are different sessions. You can feel it in the production. The Beibi album was a record I had planned with Burger Records for I don’t know, four or five years. For the past four years I have just been recording and those two records came from those sessions.


Talk to me about your songwriting process and how it relates to the recording process.

I always start with a vocal melody and so I do kind of pre-production on tape, just the guitar and the melody or piano and melody and start making small demos and then, I don’t know, I have like 200 songs. And of those songs, I choose the ones I like more and then I go to the studio and I record the basics. And then I record phonetic vocals, with no words. And from the phonetics, I write the lyrics. The lyrics are the last part to record.


Do you feel like your songwriting has opened up since you’re not writing specifically for Davila 666 anymore? Are you more free?

I made the songs in Davila. But we had been playing for a long time. I don’t want to do Davila 666 anymore. I just want to do this. If we make a reunion, then we can make it… but I just want to do this. This is my thing now. I feel way freer right now. With Davila, the aesthetic that we were looking for was more punk rock. And this is whatever I want. I go more crazy. I experiment a lot. I used keyboards and synthesizers for this record. It doesn’t have to be that way or the other way. It can be whatever I want.


I assume the majority of the people who buy your records don’t even speak Spanish. Would you agree with that?

Yeah, our biggest audiences are in the United States and Europe.


Is that something you think about when you’re writing songs or do you just write songs and don’t give a shit?

I just write songs and don’t give a shit. I can write songs in English. Music is a universal language so it doesn’t matter. If music is catchy, people are gonna feel it. I wish more people in Latin America could hear our songs and that’s something that I want to do. We play a lot in Mexico City. I just moved to Mexico City. I’ve been living there for five, six months. We’re gonna do a tour of Argentina in a few days. Hopefully more people from Latin America can get to the music and I think it’s happening.


How was the Burger Caravan of the Stars?

Oh man, it was amazing. It was mad fun. Every day was a crazy party. And the shows were really good. We loved it. We all supported each other.


Too bad it that tour didn’t stop in New Orleans.

Yeah I know, I was like what the fuck, it was a scheduling thing.

Oh well, it’s gotta be tough to beat that Mardi Gras Day show with the Black Lips and Missing Monuments.

That night was fucking crazy! Some crazy dude gave us acid on the stage. And everybody was on fucking acid. That night was fucking amazing.


Its gotta be that way on Mardi Gras Day.

I know. Love Mardi Gras. And we have big love for New Orleans. New Orleans has been a great place. We really love it. It has that Puerto Rican feeling. You can drink on the streets and it has Spanish influence like we have in Old San Juan. It’s a special place.

AJ Davila Y Terror Amor’s album, Beibi, and the Davila 666 singles compilation, Pocos Anos, Muchos Danos are available on Burger Records. For more info, check out burgerrecords.org

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