Interview with Avery, Teen Musician!
Avery Milner (Whirlybird) is an 18 year old musician based out of Atlanta and NYC. Her songs feature vulnerable tell-alls laid over upbeat indie rock instrumentals. Her latest EP ‘Hot Flashes’ is available on all streaming platforms.
Let’s do an introduction! What’s your name, age, interests and a fun fact about yourself?
I’m Avery and I’m 18, almost 19. I’m a musician and I don’t have many fun facts, but one time I threw up in front of Nelly in the airport security line.
How did Whirlybird become your stage name?
Honestly, I ripped off the name from a Count Basie Orchestra track that I love, just to use as my Instagram username. That was around two years ago, before I had even released anything; even on Soundcloud. But people started calling me ‘whirlybird’ when they didn’t know my real name and eventually as I started writing more and releasing music I thought it’d make a good band name. So I stuck with it!
When and how did you get your start in music?
I’ve been into songwriting since I was a little kid. I used to take guitar lessons and I got ‘fired’ because all I wanted to do was write songs and have him teach me how to play them, but I didn’t practice. Then as I got older, I started getting a little more serious. This is embarrassing, but I used to be a ukulele girl in middle school, so I guess that’s where I got started with playing instruments. My freshman year of high school I bought an acoustic guitar and started playing school talent shows and dinky little open mics in suburban Sacramento. When I moved to Atlanta, I saved up for an electric guitar and that’s when I started to really find my digs. I joined a band as a rhythm guitarist in December of 2018 and started playing live shows, and I really haven’t been able to stop since then.
Don't worry about it! What does music mean to you, and what do you love about it?
Haha that’s a hard question, because honestly music frustrates me more often than it satisfies me. But I guess that’s why I keep going. Every time I want to quit or I feel like I’m not good enough, I try to zoom out and see where I’d be without it, and I never like what I see. I’m pretty stubborn, and I like that music can be the same exact way. It kind of sees right through you, it doesn’t sugarcoat anything. Most of the time, I’ll write something and when I listen to it, I can only hear what’s wrong with it. But what’s really beautiful about music is that at the end of the day, the things that are wrong with it have just as much merit as the things that are good. You have to bargain with music to love it. It’s not a one sided relationship, it’s give and take.
Would you say your sound has a certain style or aesthetic that can be put to words?
I always like to hand that question over to other people, especially because I’m constantly reevaluating what I want my music to sound like, and most of the time I don’t even know what I sound like in the first place. I guess right now what people know me for is sentimental indie rock. I’m a hopeless romantic but I don’t like writing slow songs, so I tend to mask very personal lyrics with a brighter, jittery tone. My best friend called it “vulnerable but snarky”, so we could go with that.
Does anything inspire you to write and create? Whether that's a famous artist, concept or movement, etc.?
Yeah! I love artists that kind of front their music with words, like music that is first and foremost meant to be heard instead of just passively listened to. I love Sidney Gish for that reason, I’d say her music is probably my biggest inspiration. I also really admire songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Norma Tanega, Haley Heyndericks, and Adrianne Lenker, because they all strike a balance between these big, intricate ideas and a super intentional, delicate execution. That movement from something large scale to something digestible is what I strive for. I like when music sits with people, when it longs to be unpacked. Big ideas in small packages I guess.
What equipment or things do you usually need to complete your work and process?
I’m pretty bare bones, for writing all I need is my guitar, amp and my IPhone notes app.
What’s it like to work with others to create/play music, opposed to working by yourself?
I’ll be honest, I’m s*it at collaborating when it comes to writing, but I’m trying my best to warm up to the idea. I love having a band though; there’s something really exciting and scary about hearing your music in the hands of other musicians. It takes a lot of organizing, but when you get right in the pocket with your bandmates, it’s a whole new thing that’s completely separate from you. I love it.
How does it feel to perform in front of a live audience?
If the energy is good, there’s really nothing better. But if it feels out of sync, like the energy in the crowd is off, or the equipment isn’t working right, it can throw the whole set and make performing pretty frustrating.
For aspiring musicians, what are your tips on getting started as an artist and sharing your work with the world?
I think the most important thing when you’re getting started is just to be patient with yourself. No one is expecting you to do anything or putting any pressure on you, except for yourself. Be forgiving, start small, and say yes to every opportunity you get (as long as it’s safe and aligns with your values). And if you have a platform, use it to genuinely say something. Don’t mistake being marketable for being talented, because they’re not the same thing, and many of the people you’ll compare your success to will have one of these things and not the other. Seek help when you need it and give credit to the people that helped you. When you want to release something, copyright it. And please don’t take yourself too seriously.
Any plans for your future as a musician? What do you hope to achieve in the coming years?
I wanna get more comfortable with myself. I don’t have many specific goals right now but I want to write more, connect with more people and release a whole bunch of music before I eventually lose steam.
What is your advice to teens about life in general?
I don’t feel mature enough to answer this question. Honestly I think we have a lot of weight on our shoulders, our generation is tasked with fixing this wildly broken system and the dying planet that we’ve inherited. We’re still kids, but we have to pay attention. Don’t be silent about the problems that matter. Don’t let millennials make fun of you. Be as strong and assertive with who you are as you can manage. And always tip service workers at least 20%.