“Reflection” is the debut album from Ukrainian electronic producer and songwriter VONAVI (a.k.a. Andrei Ivanov). The music has a highly cinematic feel to it, so it comes as no surprise that Ivanov has a strong interest in film. He’s done commercial work, scored documentaries, and had songs featured in tv shows How To Get Away With Murder (“Sunburst”) and Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger (“Feel the Embrace”). For “Reflection,” Vonavi teamed up with director Andrew Litten to create compelling music videos for three of the songs. Musically, the album is also very collaborative, with appearances from Run Rivers, Jack Hawitt and Lorna Rose. Over a Skype interview, Vonavi discussed the making of his background and the making of “Reflection.”
Could you describe your musical background?
Vonavi: I have no formal music education. I just started to be interested in music when I was 15. Back then, I was interested in R&B and hip hop music, which was very popular at that time. I didn’t have much internet access at the time. When I got my first internet access, I started to be more interested in club music. And at around 17, I downloaded my first digital workstation, I think it was FruityLoops, and then I started making some music.
So you started with FruityLoops – what is your current studio setup like?
Vonavi: So I used FruityLoops just for a short period actually, because someone told me that FruityLoops is like a toy, it is not serious. And then I got Cubase because it was more professional. Using tutorials, I learned how to use this program, and I made the album in Cubase. For the album, I used a kind of mixture between analog and digital. I used my vintage piano with a couple of different microphones. It’s not a matched pair like you’d normally use, it was that I used everything that I had at the time. So it was this piano, couple analog mics, and my computer, and that’s it.
Do you think being self-taught has shaped your sound?
Vonavi: Yeah, I think that I was always drawn to the melodies. Even when I got my first MIDI keyboard and started just with one finger, it was so fascinating. And then I started coming up with the chords even without knowing what was the chords are actually. I was doing music for three years without knowing what’s the chords are.
And then when I started making music for the commercials and film, I was interested in the music theory. Quite often there are interesting modal change modulations and that kind of stuff that I couldn’t understand just by myself. So then I started going to the different YouTube channels and discovering the music theory. I had like a musical intuition of what was right. Combined with the music theory that I’ve learned, I think now it’s better than it would have been than if I’d started with the formal education.
Before this album, you had music used in film, television, and commercials. Were you initially focused on that?
Vonavi: It was actually by mistake. I have interests in film, especially short documentaries. I even like good commercials that are artistically interesting. And I found like a lot of the video s on Vimeo.com. I was there all the time and was even downloading videos in my folder. Collecting them and watching, over and over. And then my brother just told me like, why don’t you try to connect with directors and maybe do some music for them? And then I was like, okay. So I collected a lot of emails, going through the web searching, going through different websites of directors. I sent over a hundred emails, and I got one good positive, that someone wanted my help on the sound design.
Are you thinking about visuals as you compose your music?
Vonavi: Not really. I may have some images in my mind. But I have three videos and with only one, “Fear For You,” did i have just a hint to the director of what I kind of feel for the video. It was for me, it was a kind of like a feminine quality and something which has no time. Like it’s not from our time, it’s something frozen, and also sand and an ocean, and that’s it. And then Matt Hughes director, he came up with a solution for the video.
How did the various musical collaborations come together?
Vonavi: It was actually a tricky one, because I was doing music from by myself for a long time. I just went to SoundCloud and different resources, like even going through the music that I like and searching for the vocalists that are on the tracks, and trying to connect with them. So again, I sent a lot of emails, and I was lucky with Chris [James aka Run Rivers]. Not only is he an amazing vocalist, but he’s also an amazing person who helped me a lot. He introduced my music to his friend, Lorna. And so we did a couple of tracks together. It was like a lucky accident, actually.
How firm of an idea did you have as to how the vocals would fit into the material?
Vonavi: I was like 50% sure of what I wanted for the vocals. For example, I sent the demo to Chris and I was 100% sure that there should be a male vocal. But he wanted to see what he could come up for vocals together with Lorna. And I was just blown away. And so I’m trying to be open. It’s safe to be open when you know that people that you are working are very good.
For more info, visit: http://vonavimusic.com/