The story of Avandra and how their sophomore effort, Descender, came to be on Blood Music is one filled with strife and a fairy tale turn of events. The album was written in the wake of Puerto Rico’s devastation caused by Hurricane Maria and due to the huge response from their debut, one fan wrote to Blood Music and the rest, as they say, is history. Or at least, how they ended up where they are now. Avandra’s music is progressive in nature, epic in scope and sound, and overall a pleasure to listen to with just enough bite to cut through the otherwise majestic atmosphere. Just ahead of the album’s release we had the chance to pose our Profile questions to mastermind Christian Ayala Cruz, who also takes care of vocals, guitars, and synths, so head below to see how it went down.
How did you first get into playing music, and have you achieved the level of success that you hoped for?
I’ve been playing guitar since the age of 12. I had a friend in middle-school that asked me if I played guitar since we both liked Foo-Fighters, 311, and Green Day, and I said yes. Little did he know that I had just received an electric guitar from my aunt that family from Philly had sent her. It was this Toys’R’Us guitar called a Synsonic, and it had an internal speaker with a switch to turn it on or off. Curiously enough, my first experience with distortion was with that guitar, pedal free. It used a 9v battery and as it died, the sound would start distorting. I thought it was a really cool sound! So that kinda got me used to what came next.
I try to keep my level of desired success high enough to last me a life-time. Complacency is an artist’s worst enemy and if I set the bar too low then it’ll be easily met, and then what? I do try to establish small goals to accomplish each day, so in that sense I have many small successes throughout the day, but in the bigger picture, I’m not even close, though working to get there!
What’s the most you have ever debased yourself to get your band onto a show, into a magazine or otherwise promoted, covered, and praised? (If you don’t have a story, please tell us any funny/embarrassing story.)
We haven’t had the misfortune (or fortune?) to have that happen to us yet. We’ve been lucky enough to deal with people who have genuine interest in promoting the band. Embarrassing story I guess would be us playing in a place called La Respuesta in San Juan, PR, opening for Orphaned Land. The sound guy was just a mess. The monitors were so loud I would hear every note I played rubber-banding. It was crazy and we barely heard each other play. It was a mess and very embarrassing. But hey! What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!
What do you see as some of the great things happening in metal and what are some of the worst things happening inside the scene right now?
Heavy question. I guess, because now most people can record in their room, they have time to experiment since they aren’t paying for studio time. Downside is few people are experimenting. For example, a lot of the recording and mixing techniques that people are using are coming from the same places, making metal sound very homogenous and uniform. And uniforms in metal? Hell no!
There are, of course, many new great bands coming out that are shaking things up. In Puerto Rico, we have Moths, a band that mixes King Crimson-like prog with Stoner/Doom, which makes them stand-out. Astronoid is another band that I’ve been following lately. They are great!
It seems that now everyone has a passion for some cause and that those people are very open about displaying their passions. This is probably a very, very good (and progressive) thing socially. What are some of the most important issues (social/political/humorous/etc.) for you and how do you insert those issues into your music?
A lot of Descender was written during the no-power days of after Hurricane María hit Puerto Rico, so I did basically two things in those days: read a lot for my master’s thesis and write music on my iPad using Bias FX (virtual amp). So a lot of the lyrics and themes of the second album are based on language and it’s poietic (from poiesis, meaning formative or creative) power over the self: how language can allow us to realize our grand potential or oppress it. The song The Narrowing of Meaning, for example, is about how some people (politicians, pastors, certain types of parents, etc) use language in a very narrow and oppressive sense to try and limit the scope and possible perspectives on life. Horizons open up when language does.
The song Ubiquitous is more straight forward political. There is a verse that says “900 branches stemming from the tree of death), signifying the 900 bases the U.S. has around the world that just bring death and destruction to places where they say thy want to “help” (come on…).
What, or who, got you into metal and how old were you? How did your family take the news?
I believe it was a gradual thing. When I was 5 I was into Michael Jackson, and loved Beat It cause of the guitar riff. Then at 8 I was obsessed with The Beatles, so the concept of a band that wrote music together was really imprinted in my brain at this time. Then at 10 I was really into The Wallflowers, though at 12 311, The Foo Fighters and Green Day were my first real introduction to distorted music. At 13 it was all about Metallica, so it was here that I started really listening to metal. Then everything changed at 14 when I discovered Dream Theater. Nothing topped that until I was about 18 when I discovered Opeth and Porcupine Tree. Since then, Dream Theater, Opeth and Porcupine Tree have been my Holy Trinity.
My parents didn’t much mind. Of course, my mom didn’t like me playing Opeth around the house, at least not the songs with growls, but she liked Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree quite a bit.
What advice do you have for aspiring music critics and outlets out there? How can we all better serve the genre in the eyes of a hard-working musician?
Be as honest as you can be. There is no point in being agreeable with a band that just isn’t good. The problem with too much yes-saying and not enough no-saying is that then you create an artificial plane of equality between mediocre bands and bands that are actually good and have something. This in turn creates a distorted musical appreciation from the part of readers that are more easily influenced by what they read.
What’s your goal? You guys thinking world domination? Maybe saving a continent? Maybe invading one? Any interest in starting a cult? Do you guys have day jobs or hobbies you want to share? Whatever it is, please let us know.
Totally starting the Cult of Avandra, which we will then use to invade every country out there!
But smaller picture stuff, right now our goal is to become big enough to be able to live off of this crazy enterprise, thus allowing us to create music at a much faster rate (we also want to become big enough so that Microsoft Word recognizes Avandra without the red line underneath it). We also want to expose the world to bands from Puerto Rico. A lot people just think of us as exporting reggaetón and salsa, but nah. There’s a lot of great stuff down here (or up here, depending on where you’re reading from).
While the other guys have day jobs, I (Christian, the lead singer/guitarist guy), am working on finishing my master’s thesis and basically live off of what I earned as a Research Assistant at the University of Puerto Rico for around the two years I did it.
When you’re not obsessing over your own material, what are some of your favorite albums to listen to currently? (Feel free to include non-metal)
Recently I’ve been listening to Carbon Based Lifeform’s Derelicts album quite a bit, and also the new Astronoid album. I’m into game soundtracks so The Witcher 3, Morrowind and Skyrim soundtracks have been on play for a while now, though the Stellaris soundtrack is PHENOMENAL.
What is the 12-month outlook for you or your band? Any specific events on the horizon that the masses should be aware of?
We are releasing our second album, Descender, on April 26, and are planning a small East-Coast tour around the U.S. in August. That has us really pre-occupied for now. We are also writing for the 3rd album, which is well on its way, with two big epic songs already written, and a handful of less epic ones (in length, not quality) as well.
Summarize your band in exactly one word. (Disclosure: If you include additional words, we will select our favorite for publication)
Many thanks to Christian for his time!