Modern Fix

AVAIL – interview by skye


“All the music we listened to growing up and the diversity of where we grew up reflects in the music we play. If you hear us on tour you’ll hear everything from Johnny Cash, Steve Earl and Lynard Skynard to Black Flag, Leather Face and the Gorilla Biscuits. You’ll hear the most mixed up fucking bunch of crap coming outta this place [Richmond, Virginia] and I think that has an influence on our music because when we write that stuff tends to creep into what we’re playin’.”

Avail front man, Tim Barry goes on to describe Avail as an honest southeastern punk rock band that write true-to-life lyrics and aren’t afraid to share their southern up-bringing. Avail doesn’t have a political agenda or a blanket statement to throw out – instead they opt to connect with their audience on a more personal level – writing their music straight from their hearts. Their new album, Front Porch Stories, is just that – stories told to drinking buddies, sitting on the front porch with an acoustic guitar, a pen, and a pad of paper.

Even when Barry calls me one late Monday afternoon – his accented voice beaming over the phone even as he describes his busy band schedule, he had taken time out of his day to drop his buddy off at a train yard so he could hop a freight train to Florida. Barry’s personality carries an element of sarcasm and southern charm – quite odd for a fearless front man who bellows out his lyrics in such an aggressive tone. Barry lives in the heart of Richmond with his roommate Gina and his pets, Zeke, his 12-year-old canine companion and Ernie, his 11-year-old cat.

As ironic as it may sound, the conversation with Barry carried out the theme of the album – two country kids sitting on a front porch talking just talking about life.

Tim: I’ve been busy as shit today. I’ve been doing band work all fucking day. I mean, I went running this morning and all my normal stuff. But all day it’s been band stuff, well ‘cept for a little break I took to take my friend to the train yard so he could hop a freight train to Pensacola, Florida.

Skye: When you say Band stuff what does that include?
Tim: I’ll whip out my list. Okay, on the top of the list it says ‘interview 7 p.m. with Skye,’ three European email interviews, bring Ryan to the train yard, call promoters in Europe, check emails, agenda for meeting today, see if band Stop It wants to play a show with us, meet with web designer after we get off the phone, and then deal with other publicity stuff surrounding the record release. So, in a nutshell that’s what I’ve been doing all day and that includes band practice. I’m a busy boy [Barry gravels up his voice in a rough southern accent] I like it though. I’m always doing something. This is the first weekend in recent history that I just did – nothing! I would get up and walk my dog for hours…it’s a good weekend.

Where are you guys originally from?
When we were kids we lived up in a suburban town called Reston, Virginia. It’s like 18 miles southwest from Washington D.C. and we came down to Richmond in 1990. We just moved down here on a fluke because that suburban hellhole sucked. We came down here and never left.

How long have you actually been together?
I can’t figure that shit out! It’s been such a long time! The thing you have to understand about Avail is that when we started in high school…Avail was originally just Joe who plays guitar and some other guys. It only lasted like eight months and they broke up. You can probably safely trace Avail to 1987 because that’s when the name actually came out, but we didn’t really start figuring it all out until 1992. In ’92 is when we started putting out or own records and touring, but before that it was just one massive learning experience. We had to learn to play our instruments together and none of us were really good at it – not like we are now…or anything.

Is that sarcastic, or do you think you’ve improved?
That’s one of my favorite things about Avail. We’ve never gotten much better at our instruments. It’s still authentic with the same three chords. You know the bands that you buy the first three albums and they’re great, but then they start to sound metal and technical ‘cuz they are learning to play their instruments? Well luckily we never have! Ah, I’m just being sarcastic; of course we’ve changed. Avail keeps playing the same three chords as all other rock, country, and bluegrass artists – all bands have their own styles and we have our own.

Do you think that where you are from really influenced the kind of music you play?
Geographically, living in Virginia it’s not as high-paced as places like Anaheim, California – or other west coast urban sprawl areas – but we live in a slower paced place and it’s much more country here than just a bump up the road in Northern Virginia, so yeah it has an influence. The music here is more rock with a southern feel. Up north it’s kind of “chugga-chugga.” Please forgive me as I trail into my little monologue.

What was the music scene like when you guys first started up?
We grew up in the high school music scene and I was in a band that tried to rip off other bands but when we started doing Avail stuff, our main influences were definitely the stuff that was coming out of D.C. in the late ’80s. It was stuff like Soul Side, Dag Nasty, King Face, 3…a lot of bands that disappeared that had a tremendous impact on us. What was interesting about growing up in that area is that we were not really welcomed into the D.C. scene. The music they were playing was straight up rock music and those bands had political agendas. It was in the late ’80s that the term Emo came up and it was actually New York hardcore bands making fun of D.C. hardcore bands, because the D.C. hardcore bands wrote songs about their feelings – thus calling it Emo rock. When you say Emo now, it has an entirely different meaning. That’s the mix of music we would listen to.

I hear a lot of old country and southern rock influences in your music, do you have classic musical idols that you look up to?
I’ve never had that type of idol. I’ve had infatuations with different people but it’s more like people that I can’t get to, or they’re dead. It doesn’t have so much to do with their music, but maybe their ideologies or how I perceive them through their music. I had a mild obsession with Woody Guthrie for a long time because he rode around in freight trains across the country and wrote songs for striking workers. I thought that was inspirational. Because of his songs I started riding freight trains to find inspirations while riding the rails. Johnny Cash too, like it or not, the man can tell a fucking story. He’s got the most heartfelt baritone voice. Billy Bragg and Steve Earl…ah, it’s mostly just country people.

Do you think your influences as far as the country music come across in the way you write?
I don’t know how much it comes across in how I write lyrics. I write lyrics dependent on what kind of mood I am in.

Do you write about fishing, your dog, divorce or barbeque stains on white T-shirts?
T: No! Sometimes people do say that I have a folk way of writing lyrics, I don’t really know if that’s totally true or not but it might just be because that was the type of music I’ve been surrounded by my entire life. My mom brought me up on Emmy Lou Harris and bluegrass music. Musically, sometimes we put in a little bit of our culture into what we’re doing. There’s a song called “West Wye” on the new album that’s a railroad song and it starts out with a massive guitar intro that sounds more like Lynard Skynard than any other kind of punk influence. We’ve always done that shit! There’s always some sort of interlude in our albums that carry a country feel or a Baptist spiritual type feel.

Do you think that alone sets you apart from other bands that are out there right now?
I guess it does but it’s not like the most intentional thing for us to try to be set apart. Are there really any bands from the Southeast that say ‘hey we’re from the southeast! We’re ass backwards!’ They actually embrace the southern culture in void of the stereotypical racism that people always associate with the southeast. We embrace music that came from the black and white working class. So I guess it does set us apart, but in the same way the New York “chugga-chugga” sets them apart as a regional style of music.

I don’t think “chugga-chugga” is an actual music category.
Hey man, I just wrote that shit so don’t even be stealing that!

Why did you choose to name your band Avail and how did you dub that fitting?
Little fucking kids looking stuff up in the dictionary. At the time the only shows we’d do were benefit shows for a group called Positive Force D.C. and we looked up to them and the stuff they did at the time. There were a lot of one word named bands and we were sorta being copycats and looking for the same one-word-name, something short that we could make big on flyers. The definition of Avail is to benefit or assist. A writer for a daily Richmond paper added in that Avail meant to be strong. It’s a fitting name, I guess, or it’s just cheesy and we’ve had it for so long. Now it just has to stay there. It might be cheesy, but it doesn’t bother me. It takes a lot to hurt my feelings.

How does your band, in general, get along and how would you describe your bands overall personality?
Avails personality is eclectic. There is a huge misconception among people that have been following us for a long time that we’re all the same in the band. We are so fucking drastically different and I think that’s the only reason we’ve stayed together so long. Bands that go out with an agenda, theme, gimmick, or concept don’t make it and they get frustrated. Avail is a bunch of normal working guys who like to play music. We’re all politically and personally completely different. To sum up how we get along – like family. You have to understand…Beau Beau and I have been friends since Kindergarten and everyone else falls into place around there and we’re like a bunch of siblings. We get annoyed with each other, we talk shit to each other’s faces, we do it behind each other’s backs, we hang out together, we don’t hang out together but no matter what there’s a sense of unconditional love. If something were to happen right now in my life, those guys would be the first ones there to take care of me and vise versa. That’s maybe not unique, because everyone who has been stuck together as long as we have might have that same sort of solidarity, but it’s impressive to me looking at it in a clearer perspective. I step back sometimes and can’t believe how long we’ve honestly made it, how we’ve gotten to this point, and to know so much about each other, know our each other’s faults, be quick to point them out but quick enough to point out our own too. Everyone is always there for each other in the end…it’s wonderful.

With that, what about when you go on tour? You’re touring schedule is just massive. How do you guys work together when you go out and play all of these shows?
We got that shit down like clockwork now. It’s early on, whenever a band goes on tour for the first time, it’s either break up on this or don’t, if you don’t you just have to stick it out. Most bands break up on their first tour. The second step is Europe, which is where even more bands break up. I always tell bands that if they can make it through their first U.S. tour and you can make it through your first European tour then you’re good to go. That’s how it goes for us. We’ve been to Europe seven times, been to Australia, Japan, we just went to Brazil, went to Canada and toured the U.S. more times than I can count, but we just have it down. It’s not always easy, we have our designated seats in the van, we know when it’s a good time to shut up when someone is angry, we know when to make fun of someone when they are angry just because it will make them smile. We manage ourselves, the roadies are consistent and they’re our friends. It just clicks, it’s a process we’re really familiar and comfortable with.

So what about comparing some of your bigger shows to the smaller bar-venue shows?
I dig inconsistency. I like to be challenged constantly. If you were in a band and you were playing the same set list in a 300 capacity club, with the same size stage every fucking night for 130 nights a year, you’d realize that this is getting pretty fucking boring. What I love about Avail is that we have mad inconsistency, like we’ll go on one tour in Europe and play in front of the largest amount of people we’ve played in front of in our lives – a festival with 10,000 people – it’s the scariest fucking thing I’ve ever done in my life. As soon as that tour ended we did shows on our own in Europe in 300 capacity clubs with knee-high stages, totally in your face shows. That’s all I want in my life – shit to be mixed up and inconsistent just to make me happy. Everything’s a challenge so I don’t prefer large to small – either or is fine.

How does the crowd usually respond to you guys playing live?
Let me just say that people are crazy! What happens is, we are honest on stage and we move around a lot and mean what we’re doing and people in the crowd respond to that and it’s cool ‘cuz I’ll look out into a typical crowd and see the cool MTV kids going nuts doing their pogo thing, older folks getting down next to ’em, hardcore kids kickin’ and spinnin, and punk rockers with Mohawks running in circles. It’s fucking crazy is what it is! Beau’s lost his tooth – all of us have chipped teeth. I lost my two front teeth singing and now I have some porcelain ones. It’s absolute chaos.

It’s dangerous not only to the band but to the fans as well.
I swing the mic sometimes but I keep it on a short leash. Beau started doing this helicopter shit and I looked up at him thinking ‘god damn you’re gonna hurt the fuck outta someone!’ Except that someone would be me because I wouldn’t see it and an SM58 microphone in the back of your goddamn head is gonna fuck your ass up. What a weird occupation we have here.

What other bands do you like to or would you like to tour with?
Right now we’re about to tour with The Curse from Philly. They’re brand new killer hardcore band. We’re also touring with Hey Mercedes. I’d say right now some of my favorite tours are the Florida vacation tours we go on once a year. We take some time off and go down there. Right now if I could go on tour with any band and it was feasible, I would say Strike Anywhere or a band called Denali from Richmond. They’re fucking neat with a woman singer and Strike Anywhere would go fucking nuts.

Skye: It’s always insane when a band can get on a tour with other awesome bands…you can just tell by the energy on stage throughout the whole show that everyone’s just having a good time and that gets the kids to go nuts!
You should be one of those journalists that go on tour with the bands. That shit’s pretty fucking cool. How many bands are willing to do that if they’re in a bus-van like ours? It would be cool to capture the real life of a tour like ours where we’re all scummy and cold – smell like beer.

Sounds amazing! I’d come back with lots of tattoos. Ha! Okay, where are some of your places to play?
Oh lord, I should say Richmond, Virginia. I have to say my hometown is where I get the most nervous. There’s nothing like getting up on stage in front of everyone you know. When you fuck up they never give you any rest about it. Going back to the question about favorite shows to play, everywhere is different. We played in Lawrence, Kansas in the Bottle Neck on the last tour and shit, there weren’t more than 100 people at that show, but I loved it! I also love playing in New York ‘cuz those shows are just packed. The last show at the Roxy in L.A. was great – it was just packed. If I could live those shows over everyday I would be happy as hell. I don’t think it’s specific to where we’re at but the vibe we get at the individual shows.

So what’s your favorite thing to eat when you’re on tour?
Tim: Ah man! Don’t ask me that! I’m the only Vegetarian in the band and I’m a total hippie when it comes to food. The band loves to eat at Waffle House and Denny’s. I prefer to go to the health food store and get some tofu.

You’re outside the van eating grass.
Ha! Everyone can make fun of me for not eating meat but I haven’t had any in 13 years now. At home I eat such a good diet but as soon as I go on tour I get grilled cheese sandwiches and fries at Denny’s like twice a day. Your body just craps out on you. I go on tour and become a Starchitarian. We just eat the most random things.

What do you guys do on your spare time on tour?
There is really no spare time. The only spare time is in the van. I said it before that the van is my library. That’s where I read and the backstage is the living room where my friends hang out and the stage is like the big party and Motel 8’s and 6’s are all identical on the inside so that’s my house. I never get lost in there like when I wake up in the night to go pee because everything is exactly the same. We bring our bikes and shit on tour so we’ll go riding but we don’t have much spare time. I do a lot of reading though.

What do you read?
I generally don’t read magazines because I bring a bag of books with me but the other guys read like Motor Trend, People and Maxim. If I buy something I buy like Gun and Ammo magazine.

I know I shouldn’t have said that. We have a sniper on the loose in Virginia right now that motherfucker. I don’t know if you watch the news but in Ashton which is just up the road from here where that latest person was shot crazy shit is I was supposed to be up there that morning. They arrested those two fools that they think were affiliated with it in Richmond actually.

What kind of people are you breeding over there?
Man, that ain’t no person from down here! They’re probably from Maryland or some shit like that. It’s just got this whole place scared to fucking death and there’s no public school today or anything.

Do you fear for your safety?

Me? I don’t give a fuck – I worry more about, Joe who plays guitar, has an elementary school age son and if something happened to that kid Avail would be history because we’d be full time trying to kill that fucking guy. At the same time more people die from West Nile virus down here or fatal car accidents. The media loves it this type of shit though.

Yeah that’s all I’m going to make this interview about…your thoughts on the serial sniper.

Nice! I don’t own a gun and I never will. Unless I buy a farm or something, then I’ll get a shotgun so I can walk out the front porch in my drawers when I hear something, cock the gun and yell ‘who’s out there!’ and scare people off.

You can shoot your own chickens.
You don’t shoot chickens! You chop their heads off and let them run around.

How would you know Vegetarian!
Come on man, I live in Virginia. Deer season starts in a couple weeks! Get your gun and fly out here it’s gonna be a blast. When I was young I used to shoot squirrels and one time I shot a bird and it didn’t die all the way. It was a Bee-bee gun I shot it with and it was lying on the ground flapping around and I thought ‘Oh my God this is the worst fucking thing I’ve done in my entire life.’ I couldn’t put it out of its’ misery and my friend had to do it and I vowed never to fucking do that again. A few years later I decided I wasn’t even going to eat meat anymore.

So, you would say the bird incident traumatized you?
Fuck yeah! The last time I looked I didn’t have pointy-sharp teeth so I figured I’d stop eating meat. My dogs got sharp teeth so I feed him meat. I’ve said too much, fuck I’m going to be in trouble.

So let’s talk about your album now. What are your thoughts on the Front Porch Stories?
I’m fucking stoked on it to be completely honest with you. You put so much of your heart into something like that – writing the words and recording it – it’s such a tedious process and it’s scary to hear how the recording comes out and how things are portrayed through sound. I didn’t listen to the record when we finished it for about a month because I was burned on it. I waited and listened to it and I compared it to our last album on Fat called “One Wrench” which is a semi-dark and depressing album for Avail, this album is bright and clean sounding. It’s powerful and I’m excited about it.

What is the theme of this album and what does the title mean?
Avail has a tradition of stealing a line from any of the songs on a record and making it the title. “The Falls” has a line that says ‘the years full of front porch stories…’ that song is a tribute to all the things that go on in Richmond and we thought ‘wow, front porch stories epitomizes Richmond.’ People ride their bikes, stop by their friend’s front porches and drink a couple beers and tell stories. Conversations are unstoppable in those situations. When we were deciding on a title we realized that a lot of the lyrics I had written spurred from conversations I had with people on porches. A lot of the songs themselves had been written on the front porch, beer in hand, an acoustic guitar and a pad of paper. We thought in retrospect that it would be a fitting theme. With record cover designs, our drummer, Trask just had an art show and the painting on the front is one from his art show and it just fit all together.

How does the writing process work in your band and does everyone contribute to the process or is it usually just the same people?
Every single person contributes but the writing process is always different. I can passively play all instruments so sometimes I’ll write a song and I’ll lay down drum tracks, bass and guitar tracks and do vocals and I’ll let the rest of the guys listen to it and if they like it they’ll put themselves into it. Joe, who plays guitar, will come up with vocal lines and fuck with guitars. A lot of our ideas come from fucking around in the band room. Out of nowhere it just all clicks together.

What do you really hope people walk away with after listening to this album?

I just hope they enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoy making the music and recording it. The thing with Avail is that we feel lucky to have lasted as long as we have and that people still buy our records and show up to our shows. It’s like a privilege to go on stage and play the songs. We enjoy it and we hope that other people dig it too. Some people look into it personally and get a lot out of the lyrics because I’m brutally honest when I write. I don’t have an image to hold up and I write from a really simple perspective sometimes and other times its coded and abstract.

If you were to make a music video of one of the songs off of this new album which would it be and why?
Funny, we’re doing that right now with the song “West Wye” the song with the country intro. The concept came from Ed and Gwomper [Avail Drummer and Bassist] and they explained the concept and I agreed that I had thought that too. We took that to our people and they picked the same song and the same concept we had thought of. The concept is they’re going to hop freight trains with me and film footage of riding freight trains throughout the southeast. It’s also going to go along with live footage of us playing a big gig in Richmond, on November 16 where all the Richmond kids will be acting like lunatics. Also, images of graffiti writers bombing freight trains, we’re just throwing images together that no one else has really fucked with before.

What are some of the future goals of your band. I know your album is coming out soon and where do you go from there?
We do the same shit over and over. We write the record, we record the record and then we tour until we can’t tour anymore because we’re going to fucking die. Our future goals are to just tour like lunatics. I love it and we’ll get home and chill out for a month and write again, and if we hate what we’re writing we will break up. If we like it, we’ll finish writing, record, and tour. That’s it!

Have you ever had a threat of a break up?

Nope. We all still like the music. That’s the goal. If we don’t like it then fuck it. We wont bother doing it.

What are some of the things you a grateful for?
The longevity of the band. Sometimes I pinch myself and think holy shit we’re still doing this and people still like us. Most bands don’t make it this long and I don’t know what we’re doing different and I don’t to even try to figure it out.

Do you feel that you’ve “paid your dues?”
I don’t know what that means. Those people that have that attitude are called pre-mature rockstars when they think they can play a couple shows and then play big ones to be popular. Most people that have those attitudes can’t get out of the basement. Fuck paying dues, we just do it. We ain’t in the Union!

What advice would you give to up and comings bands?

If they wanna do something you have to stick together and this is what I say to starting bands…the more shows you play and harder you work the more you become recognized and if you jump on and do it you’ll make it. Play what you like and don’t try to mimic what you see on MTV. Do what’s right for you and blend your music. Just fucking do it and don’t wait for other people to make you popular.

Is there anything else you would like to say in this complete open question?
I would just like to say that my dog Zeke looks so goddamn cute laying on my bed right now right next to Ernie the cat. Ernie is 11 and Zeke is going to be 12. There you go that’s all I’m saying…the end!