Nashville’s Savana Santos (ex-Avenue Beat) spills her guts as she embarks on a solo career full of achingly intimate songwriting and brutally raw music – or as she calls it, “melodic word vomit.”
Stream: “cheater” – Savana Santos
Alt-pop trio Avenue Beat shot to fame with what was arguably the “it” song of 2020: A massive f***-you anthem to the year that took so much from us, and gave us nothing but grief, loss, fear, and fracture in return. Already playing together for seven years at that point, the Big Machine-signed band of best friends Savana Santos, Sam Backoff, and Sami Bearden found favor in everyone from Atwood Magazine and The New York Times to People and Teen Vogue, all of whom fell for the 22-year-old trio’s candor, warmth, and wit.
Yet the ride was short-lived, and by the time Avenue Beat released their debut album, it was already over – so much so, in fact, that they cleverly named their LP the debut farewell album.
“That whole era feels like a fever dream,” the band’s lead singer, songwriter, and producer Savana Santos recalls, now two years out. “It was wild and amazing and crazy, and I feel so lucky to have been able to experience it.”
The trio may have run their course, but Santos’ own story is only just getting started. After impulsively tossing a one-off single out into the ether under the “moniker” shmavana shmantos back in 2021, the now 25-year-old Nashville resident made her formal solo debut on Big Machine / Valory Music Co. / Tape Room Records earlier this summer. Released in mid-June, “messy” stays true to its name at least on an emotional level, with Santos’ achingly intimate vocal performance and brutally raw lyrics highlighting her talent for bringing to life the rawest parts of our innermost selves:
I didn’t know that you knew how
To break a heart so good
To push and pull and
Twist the knife
Just like the bad guy would
But there’s a stupid,
selfish, fucked up
Part of me that isn’t set
No, I don’t want you to
Un-learn me yet, so
I am glad that it got messy
I am glad that this was war
And we fought petty
Because that means
At least you won’t forget me
Honestly I am glad that it got messy
– “messy,” Savana Santos
“I wrote ‘messy’ at 2:00am one night when I was in my feelings,” Santos shares. “It doesn’t always feel like a choice for me; I either sit with the feeling and let it soak into my body in a negative way, or I can write about it and get it out in song form. I put an early version of the song on my Instagram two years ago, and to this day I still get messages asking when I’m putting it out or people telling me they’ve been rewatching the video. I knew it was one that stuck with my fans, so it was natural for me to release this first.”
Having reintroduced herself with a beautifully brooding ballad, Santos returned earlier this month with a more upbeat, utterly spellbinding bedroom pop seduction: Released August 4, “cheater” gets even messier (can you imagine?!) as the artist “narrates the tension” in a relationship, coming to a climax in a chorus full of guilt, longing, and strain.
“Truth is I been sitting, thinking ’bout somebody else, I been out here crossing fingers hoping you could never tell,” she sings, her breathtaking voice doing acrobatics as she gracefully rises and falls in waves of intense emotion. “I know that you’ll be mad because it’s someone we both knew, I’m a liar, I’m a cheater, I’m in love with the old you.“
“This was about a specific time in my life,” Santos recalls. “It’s one of the songs that I didn’t love the day I wrote it, but a few weeks later I felt it with all of my heart. I have this note in my phone with just random shit that pops into my brain. I remember seeing the words, ‘I’m a cheater I’m in love with the old you,’ and it stuck out at me. I like to pull situations apart in songs and explore them in different ways. This song was me doing that with a feeling I was having. It felt like a niche emotion that I needed to express in a way other people could understand.”
I’ve been thinking ’bout learnin ’bout physics
To try and travel back in time
To when the feelings and the sex was fucking wild
I don’t wanna lie when I’m with you
Don’t wanna offend you, I miss you
But I’m touching myself to the thought of the old you
– “cheater,” Savana Santos
Savana Santos is only two songs into her solo career, and we can only hope that she’s here to stay.
Her unfiltered, diaristic lyrics are matched only by her unapologetic and soul-stirring musical talents, all of which have thus far coalesced in two achingly raw and intimately beautiful songs full of feeling, depth, and substance. To be clear, Santos doesn’t just wear her heart on her sleeve; she pours her whole humanity out in song.
For her part, Santos says she doesn’t think too much about it; she’s been writing songs since she was an angsty fourteen-year-old back in Quincy, Illinois, and so it’s all second nature at this point.
“It’s just a form of self-expression and a way to get out my feelings in ‘melodic word vomit,'” she laughs.
“I just hope the experiences I put into these songs can relate to someone somewhere. If that happens, I’ve done my job as an artist.”
Santos’ own story is just getting started, and it’s already a beautiful mess (in the best way possible, of course). Stay tuned for more to come from this fast-rising artist, and reconnect with Savana Santos in our interview below!
A CONVERSATION WITH SAVANA SANTOS
Atwood Magazine: Savana, congrats on the start of your brand new solo adventure! First off, who is Savana Santos as an artist, and how does she differ from Avenue Beat?
Savana Santos: Avenue Beat was such a fun adventure to get to do with my best friends. I would say my music still comes from a similar place, just with a little bit of a different perspective.
“F2020” was such a jam, and the debut farewell album was a very fun hello and goodbye. Do these songs still resonate with you today? What's your relationship with Avenue Beat's short but impactful life?
Savana Santos: the debut farewell album means so much to me, it’s like my little baby child. That whole era feels like a fever dream. It was wild and amazing and crazy and I feel so lucky to have been able to experience it.
How have you handled the transition for writing for and performing as a group, to writing for yourself and performing your own songs?
Savana Santos: It’s very different when you don’t have a “crew” to hype you up or give you a different point of view. You have to make ALL the decisions for EVERYTHING and just hope you’re not making the wrong one. It’s very weird…but also exciting! But also SCARY!
shmavana shmantos was a fun, short-lived concept. What drove you to make music under your own name, and was that a conscious and/or difficult decision?
Savana Santos: I loved her. I love her. I’ll miss her. It wasn’t even a decision at all, honestly. One day I was just like “fuck it” and threw up a song. It was such a low stakes project for me, and that’s what made it so fun.
This brings us back to your debut as Savana Santos! What inspired you to (re)introduce yourself via “messy”?
Savana Santos: “messy” is a song I’ve been sitting on for like THREE years. I posted a video on Instagram and up until I announced it as a single, I was still getting messages asking if I’d ever put it out, which honestly astounded me. That made it feel like a natural first song.
“messy,” in a word, aches. “I didn't know that you knew how to break a heart so good,” you sing at the song's start. “To push and pull and twist the knife just like the bad guy would.” Immediately, you set a tone that is brooding, raw, and honest. What, for you, is special about “messy”?
Savana Santos: Brooding, raw, and honest is how I like it! [laughs] I think “messy” is so special to me because it stuck around for so long. Some songs you write and forget the next day, but this one has always found its way back.
“cheater” is much more upbeat than its predecessor. What excites you about this song, and was it important for this track, with its emotionally charged message, to have a stronger sonic charge as well?
Savana Santos: I produced this with my friend Johnny Simmen, and he really helped find a lane for the track. I love when songs go somewhere you don’t expect, especially with production. We just went in and did some experimenting with that in mind, and this is what we got!
Your finale, “i’m in love! i’m in love! i’m in love!” is utterly invigorating – it's such a cathartic release of passion and pent-up emotion. Why end the song like this?
Savana Santos: This is amazing, I’m so glad you caught that. I utterly LOVE a headbanger build up moment. It’s my favorite thing ever.
With these two songs, how would you describe the picture you're painting of yourself as an artist, and what are you most excited to show people about your artistry?
Savana Santos: Truthfully, I have absolutely no idea. I don’t really think about painting a picture of myself when I’m writing a song, it’s just a form of self-expression and a way to get out my feelings in “melodic word vomit”! [laughs] I just hope the experiences I put into these songs can relate to someone somewhere. If that happens, I’ve done my job as an artist.
Stream: “cheater” – Savana Santos
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© Delaney Royer
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