When she released her single, “Sweet but Psycho” in 2018, singer-songwriter and performer Ava Max, was taking a leap of faith. Though she had initial fears about releasing a brand new song into the pop space that year, looking back on her journey today, she doesn’t regret taking a chance on herself at all. Just after the release of her debut album, Heaven & Hell, the talented pop songstress spoke with Pulse Spikes about her creative experience over the last year, the importance of messages through music, and why she’s using her platform to help her listeners feel confident, brave, and invincible.
Congratulations on Heaven & Hell! You’ve been working on this since 2018, and you’ve had quite the journey since “Sweet but Psycho” came out… What’s the last year or so been like for you in terms of this record coming together?
You know, it’s been a year and a half since I made it, and [the record] had been really hard to hold onto actually because I really love to release music right as it comes. That was the hardest part, just holding on to all the music for so long. But I’m just so happy it’s out. I’m so happy that people are loving it and dancing to it, and I’m getting so much love and feedback.
Let’s talk about the sound of the album. Most artists prefer to say that they don’t like their music to fit into one box. but in your own words, how would you describe your sound to your listeners?
Unapologetically pop because I feel like I am very bold with what I say in my songs, and I try really really hard to make a statement because I think it helps people who really are in a rut or maybe they think they can’t do something. For instance, “Who’s Laughing Now” is a motivating song that is about being strong and overcoming your obstacles and so I think it’s really important [for music] to have a strong message.
My next question is about “Kings & Queens,” which I love. There are so many songs by artists out there who will write about things like feminism but in a way that addresses it as it eliminates men from the feminist narrative. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like on this song, you hint at the idea of a collaboration between the two, and that we’d all be able to celebrate together. Is that the message you were sending? We want to know what this song really means for you.
Yeah, “Kings & Queens” is about equality and female empowerment. It’s about queens supporting queens and uplifting one another, and I think it’s also about having fun with it and again, popping champagne!
At Pulse Spikes, we don’t like to just cover the latest in entertainment. We’re really focusing on people’s stories, young artists, and visions, so we just need to know, why did you choose music? What inspired you to pick this pathway?
I’ve always wanted to do this since I was eight years old. Ever since I was younger, I’ve been singing. It’s the only thing I’ve known really. I didn’t know anything else.
Your songwriting is honest but you use a very lighthearted and dance-based sound to make it memorable. “So Am I” is a powerful song and I feel like it’s one of your most vulnerable tracks. What compelled you to share a song like that with everyone because that’s not always easy to do?
“So Am I” is really just about not fitting into the formats that society wants to put us in… I really wanted to make a song that was for everyone in the world. Every single individual once in their lifetime or more has felt like they didn’t fit in…and “So Am I” makes you feel like, “Hey, you’re unique. You don’t need to compare to anyone else. You’re you.”
You’ve split this album into two separate chapters. Side A, are all the songs related to your version of heaven and Side B are all the ones expressing what you think is hell. Can you describe how you came up with that idea?
Yeah, Heaven is really bright. Sonically, it’s really happy. It’s kind of like a feeling of freedom, and I really wanted it to feel like it was infinite in the feeling you get from songs. So that’s Heaven and sonically, it’s just brighter. Hell is a little darker, a little edgier, a little sensual, and I really wanted it to show that the devil on our shoulder sometimes makes us a certain way.
You don’t need to compare to anyone else.
What advice do you have for young people who want to go into music today?
Do you. Don’t look at what other people are doing. When I first released “Psycho,” there was no pop music out, so in a way, I was putting out the first pop song in a really long time, and that was really frightening, but I did it anyway.
And it’s brought you incredible success since then! So, where do you look to when you feel like you’re out of inspiration or experiencing something like a creative block?
I go take a walk outside because sometimes my brain will just have like, a brain fart, so I just go walk outside or listen to other music. I have to be alone sometimes when I’m overwhelmed and then I can find my focus.
What’s an album, song, or artist that you love that people would be surprised you’d listen to?
I think, reggae music. Collie Buddz, I really like him! Yeah, I love reggae music.
Lastly, What do you hope your fans take away from Heaven & Hell?
To be themselves and to know that they can accomplish anything. If they’re in a bad relationship, they should move on from that relationship.
STORY ERICA DANIELLE GARCIA
PHOTOS CHARLOTTE RUTHERFORD
STYLIST MIMI CUTTRELL
STYLING ASSISTANT SOPHIE SHANNON
HAIR DIMITRIS GIANNETOS
HAIR ASSISTANT ANGELINA JORDAN
MAKE UP ANTHONY NGUYEN