Avra Velis, better known as Avra, has had some exciting moments throughout her 28 year music career, but none more than her latest album which is set for release on December 1.
The album Avra and Yiorgo, currently available on iTunes, is a predominantly Greek album that features the well renowned George Bousias on Bouzouki.
Avra confesses it was the power of Greek music and the language which made her want to give this latest album a really Greek feel to it.
“There is something about the Greek language that makes it so alive and Greek music has never lost its integrity as a musical style because it’s still very passionate and alive,” Avra says.
“When you sing in Greek it just grips you, if you were to take an English song like Love Holds Us and sing those lyrics in Greek it would just be something else.”
Avra, who has been writing music for the past three decades, has released numerous albums and has written (and appeared in) musicals and theatre productions.
While experiencing both the highs and lows of the entertainment world, Avra says it’s experience which has led her to where she is today.
“I’m going to sound a bit contrite when I say this but if I could take the knowledge I have now and take it back to my early days, I would have been better off.
“I would have also saved a lot of money because I spent most of it travelling around Australia doing independent releases.”
Being the only child and daughter in a Greek family proved to be one of the many things which made Avra’s early life eccentric and unique.
Born in the northern Brisbane suburb of Hendra, Avra recalls a childhood and a family that was largely different to other typical Greek Australian families.
“Very few Greeks lived on the Northside and the fact that my mother and father chose to live in Hendra was kind of an eccentric move in itself.”
“My parents were a lot older than me as well and it was an abnormal Greek family because I was an only child, whereas everyone else had brothers and sisters.”
It was around this time that Avra’s mother enrolled her young daughter in various after school activities like speech and drama lessons.
Avra also cites childhood concerts from artists like the late Dame Joan Sutherland, Liberace and Billy Joel as being a huge inspiration for her.
“They had a big influence on me because they taught me how to entertain people; Liberace could hold an audience with the tip of his finger.
“Nowadays they have big video screens up near the stage whereas back then they had to hold the audience with their charisma, and I don’t know whether they meant it or not but they really made you feel like they were singing to you.”
Although her grades at school flourished, Avra’s renegade style of playing and her approach to music wasn’t always a hit with the people around her.
She would often approach her music in an unconventional way, much to the chagrin of her music teachers, and this almost lead her to fail the subject at High School.
“I played by ear so I didn’t fit the system and I remember my music teacher used to say to me, ‘You’ll never get anywhere in music because all you do is write songs and play by ear’.”
“I was always getting into trouble because I would cut my classes and secretly go to the music block and they’d throw me out soon enough when they found out I wasn’t a music student,” Avra says while giggling.
This was only a glimpse of the many run-ins Avra would have with the school board in the years that would follow.
While struggling to make ends meet as a musician, Avra took up a job as an English and Drama teacher in South Australia.
Having spent four years and almost $3,000 trying to renovate the Drama studio, she decided that enough was enough and it was time for a change.
“Oh dear (she sighs), I was the worst teacher, I really was, I tried really hard but in the end I was just a frustrated artist and I just thought, I can’t do this anymore.”
“I put my own money into fixing up the Drama studio at one of the schools I was teaching at and I got into trouble for it because I hadn’t filled out a form for the contractors to be on site, after that I decided it was time for a change.”
Her latest album Avra and Yiorgo was produced by Avra’s long time partner Kevin Freeman, who has worked with the singer on many occasions.
When talking about the influence Kevin has over her work, Avra confides that he is very much on the pulse when it comes to the concept and creation of an album.
“He (Kevin) is incredible, he can hear another dimension, whereas I hear the song and listen for when my words arrive.
“I marvel at how I can write a song and Kevin can hear strings, drums and not just guitar but guitar parts and he’ll see underlying sections in different parts of the song.”
George Bousias, who was called in to play bouzouki for the album and sings on a couple of the tracks, is also excited at the prospect of this album.
Having been born in Brisbane just like Avra and playing bouzouki for the last 25 years with artists like George Dalaras, Marinella and Haris Alexiou, Bousias admits it’s his work on this album that he’s most proud of.
“I think this is the ultimate stage where I’m at with my music, especially since I met Avra and Kevin and it’s just going to grow and grow from here.
“I never like to look at things in the long term so right now all I’m concentrating on is the Avra and Yiorgo album and I’d like to see it really kick off,” Bousias says.