When Ava Earl was a junior in high school, she and her then-boyfriend embarked on an impromptu hike turned near death experience. After becoming stranded at the top of a mountain, it took the pair eight hours to get down the trail – which turned out to be a difficult rock climbing route. Earl said she didn’t know if they would make it down alive.

For many artists, trauma breeds creativity. Earl is no exception. She poured her emotions from that day into lyrics for “Mountain Song,” her most popular track to date. The song has received over 90,000 streams, and in June 2021, it was added to the “Contemporary Folk” Spotify editorial playlist. Earl cites this accomplishment as her proudest moment – that and when she opened for singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers in 2017.

Earl’s words in “Mountain Song” are honest, her vocals gentle and beautiful, and the instrumental accompaniment enriching. Lines like “Just wish I’d had a warning” and “I climbed until everything was below me,” draw listeners into the emotional anxiety of the moment. Through the lyrics, “this is no blessing but at least it’s not a curse. It could have been so much worse,” Earl offers a vulnerable reflection on the event.

If this experience is any indication, Earl is anything but mainstream. With her large hoop earrings and signature pink eye shadow, the Alaska native and Weinberg first-year is the kind of girl who, despite having asthma, played the penny whistle as a child because she thought it was unique.

An unexpected heartbreak in March 2021 changed Earl’s relationship with music. She was at a cross country meet in Anchorage, racing in a pressurized dome when she suddenly lost hearing in her right ear.

Earl underwent surgery to receive the Cochlear Company Osia Implant. Although she's glad she got the surgery, the implant doesn't provide perfect hearing. "I’m still struggling to get [the hearing implant] loud enough to understand stuff without feedback,” she said.

While Earl's hearing loss has made it harder to do her job, she said the worst part is that she can no longer experience music in the same way. Her favorite part of recording The Roses was listening to the various session musicians in each ear.

“I had headphones on, and in my right ear I could hear [session musician] Joe’s acoustic guitar, and it’s this cool staccato like arpeggio deal. Then on the other side, I heard [session musician] Steve's electric guitar. One of the best moments in my life was hearing it in both ears, and I can’t do that anymore.”

While hearing loss was an unexpected obstacle, Earl is set on pursuing music full-time after college. During the school year, however, she runs a tight ship.

From classes to racing on the cross country team, the singer-songwriter said music sometimes takes the backseat. But with summer around the corner, Earl is ready to take advantage of the months ahead. She’ll tour areas of the midwest (Ohio, Michigan) and east coast (New York, Connecticut). In addition to her July tour dates, she plans to record an album in Maine.

This recent momentum in Earl’s music career has been a long time coming. She started playing guitar at the age of 8, and recorded her first album at 12 years old in Anchorage, Alaska with funding from her parents. It was a great learning experience that inspired her to take music seriously, she said.

When writing songs, Earl draws upon inspiration from her own life, her romances, as well as current events, books and movies. Her tracks showcase her vocal range and versatility, and many of them contain both string and percussion instruments. Her music contains elements of American folk, and like Taylor Swift, whom she cites as one of her biggest inspirations, Earl possesses soulful qualities and dynamic songwriting abilities.

Earl often starts writing a song by just playing guitar. When inspiration strikes, she takes out her songwriting notebook and pulls out the voice memos app on her iPhone.

For Earl, music is larger than life and her craft unwavering. Whether she’s playing for an audience or recording in the studio, she describes the feeling as “magical.”

Thumbnail courtesy of Ava Earl's YouTube channel.