At times like these when it feels like the world is ending, one of the few purely escapist activities we have left is getting lost in music. Avery Leigh’s Night Palace gives us that on “Into the Wake, Mystified,” a lushly arranged meditation on the “gossamer thread that connects us to certain people in our lives forever.” Avery Leigh Draut, songwriter and lead vocalist, explains that the song took many shapes and sounds before settling on the final piece, released on March 10th. The evolution of the band’s first single more or less mirrors the shifting tides of Draut’s own path in music, from classically trained opera singer to frontwoman of a shimmery alt-pop ensemble, to whatever comes next.
Growing up the daughter of two service industry professionals turned business-world parents, Draut hesitated to consider music as a viable career path. Though she and her father would perform in musicals together and singing was always a huge part of her life, she saw it as more of a hobby than a way to earn a living. But when she was applying to universities, her parents surprised her by encouraging her to follow a less conventional path. “I had this chat with my parents and they were like, you love this and you should try to do this,” says Draut. “Their transparency with me about their long time struggles with making ends meet before I was born prepared me and helped me to understand I would need to create a piece-meal, gig-centric way of making a living, with (hopefully) many small sources of income that are (whenever possible) related to my creative endeavors.”
Armed with that knowledge, Draut auditioned last minute for a few music programs and was accepted to the Hugh Hodgson School of Music at the University of Georgia. She recalls her first lesson in the classically-oriented program: when one of her professors asked her what she liked to sing, she told him of her affinity for musical theatre and jazz. He responded, “No – we’re gonna sing opera.” Luckily, opera proved to be just as enticing to Draut. “I loved it. I totally fell in love with the nuance,” she explains. “Obviously there’s nuance in all music, in so many different ways, but classical music is the most challenging that I have experienced.”
Draut describes the next few years as a means to find her way creatively. After realizing that double majoring in theatre and music was next to impossible, she tabled her love for musical theatre for the moment and exercised her voice through opera. While she loved performing, there was a part of her that always wanted to write music as well, but it was at war with another part that told her she couldn’t. “I always wanted to write my own things, but kind of didn’t really think of it as an option. I was like, ‘other people do that,’” explains Draut. “So, it was kind of just figuring out that that’s not true and all art is for everybody and you can try to do anything.”
After graduating, Draut felt disenchanted by some aspects of the classical music business and found herself in a moment where she wasn’t petrified by the thought of writing a song. Thus, the early iterations of Avery Leigh’s Night Palace were created. She collaborated with musicians she met through the scene in Athens and took years to land on the dreamy, crystallized sound heard on “Into the Wake, Mystified.” “This song has been through a million different lives as you can imagine, existing for four years,” says Draut. “I wrote all of the structures, chords and melodies for the song on this electric organ I had in my living room in Athens called the Magic Genie.”
Draut transformed the stripped-down organ-and-vocals arrangement to a bubbly, orchestral tune filled out with elegantly simple string and woodwind parts, written by Draut herself. Though she views her operatic life and the Night Palace project as two separate worlds, Draut thinks her tendency to seek sweeping arrangements comes from her love of opera and its grand accompanying orchestras. “There’s such lush writing in opera and these huge orchestras and that is so magical and beautiful and I would love to incorporate [that],” Draut says. “I think there are a thousand different directions I’m going at all times with this project, but they’re all closely related and will sound like they make sense.”
Since starting Avery Leigh’s Night Palace, Draut has relocated to Brooklyn, where she works part-time as a production coordinator for the Met Opera and has sung backups on shows for musicians such as Jo Lampert (tUnE-yArDs), Kadhja Bonet, and Eric Bachmann. She travels between New York and Athens, where her band is still located and where she’s currently waiting out the pandemic with her boyfriend and the Magic Genie that astoundingly found its way back to her.
“This organ was living with me in Athens, then when I moved to New York, I moved it into my boyfriend’s house at the time, so it lived in Athens. Then he and I broke up and I didn’t know what happened to the organ,” Draut recounts. “I came back to Athens to visit and went to my friends house and it was sitting there. It turned out that my ex had given it to a friend who had given it to this guy. He was moving, so my boyfriend and I moved it into his apartment in Athens which is where I am right now, with the goats in the yard.”
Avery Leigh’s Night Palace will release more music later this year, and presumably, Draut will brush the dust off her old friend, Magic Genie, in the meantime.