Ava Elay is thirteen years old. I understand that harping on an artist’s young age is something of a cliche, but it bears repeating: Ava Elay is thirteen years old. A middle schooler! The fact that she’s making music at all is noteworthy, but make no mistake: this is not a dancing bear situation, and this is not a novelty. “Rain” would be a striking, beguiling pop song regardless of the songwriter’s age. It touches on familiar imagery (she sits in the rain without knowing why, before immediately suggesting that she’s waiting for someone she loves to pick her up), but it feels fresh and even exciting.
Elay deploys the song’s main hook right at the start, and she made a smart choice. With its easy, effortlessly cool singsong rhythm, it’s an instant ear worm, and I found it popping back into my head while folding laundry or walking the dog. In our interview, Elay said that “Rain”’s hook was constructed rhythm-first, and you can tell just from listening to it. As impressive as it is to come up with a catchy melody, it’s even more impressive to make that melody move with such natural, fluid grace.
It’s worth mentioning Elay’s presence in the song, as well. Her voice is clear, cool, and refreshingly unaffected: she does not, as the kids say these days, “sing in cursive.” She sounds like she’s in complete control of her music, not showing off or trying too hard to impress the listener. She just lets the melodies, the rhythms, and the icy-cool washes of synth chords speak for themselves. Some songwriters take years to sound as mature and intuitive as Elay; I can’t wait to hear what she does next.
What inspired you to write a song like “Rain?”
My songs are usually inspired by a mix of real things in my life and daydreams about characters or situations that I imagine. When I wrote “Rain” it was literally dark and rainy and I started thinking about what it’s like to lose someone important. You’ve devoted your life to this person, and you feel this deep personal relationship with them. And since you don’t want to let go, you are stuck, sitting in the rain. But the song is also about your internal emotions and how they’re like a storm that just keeps on growing.
As a thirteen year old, you’ve likely absorbed a different set of influences than someone ten or twenty years older than you. What sorts of music have shaped your sound?
I actually listen to a really wide range of music including a lot of older stuff like Elton John, Queen and the Beatles. I also really like modern pop like Lady Gaga, Ava Max, MARINA and Dua Lipa. And I love the drama and storytelling in musical theater — especially musicals by Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber and classics like My Fair Lady. So I think I have a very blended style because I have all these different inputs.
“Rain” has an outstanding hook—was it something you sat down to write, or did it just come to you?
Thank you. The hook was just something that came to me. I remember I was sitting in the car, and it was raining, and the windshield wipers were clunking out a steady beat. And I got so lost in the sound of the wipers that I just started riffing on it, singing and not focusing too much on the exact words. The whole process was just this very rhythm driven thing.
What’s a special insight a thirteen year old songwriter might have that an older songwriter might not?
I guess I think about things teens might care about, like what it’s like to be in a fandom. There’s this intense attachment to a certain person or thing, and the feeling you might not be able to escape from it, and this big emotional concept that this has actually become a part of your identity. So I try put these emotions in my songwriting and then let the listener find whatever meaning they want in it.
What are your ambitions for the future?
I want to record the songs I wrote over the past year during lockdown. And I’m also writing new songs and stories all the time. So I feel like my future is going to be very productive. Whether it’s singing, acting, writing, songwriting, or drawing. When I first learned the difference between the right and left sides of the brain I was like “OK, half of my personality is in my right side, or maybe more than half.” But now I’m pretty sure my entire personality is in the right side because creativity drives everything I do.