Thursday, August 10, 2000
Being Warped ain't easy. Playing alongside bands like Green Day, The Long Beach Dub All Stars and Less Than Jake every day can be a double-edged sword for an up-and-comer like Avail.
The band's lead singer Tim Barry phoned from backstage at the Warped Tour's stopover in Dallas to talk about his band's indie approach to success.
"My mind is totally bland. I'm in purgatory," Barry said. "I love the Warped Tour but it's a hard road when you're in a van.
"Most of the bands have buses. It's a 105 (degrees) right now in Dallas. You wake up at 6 in the morning on the floor of a van, covered in sweat. It's fun, but geez. I can't wait to sleep inside again."
The road to success has been a slow burn for the Richmond, Va., quintet. Avail (Barry, guitarist Joe Banks, drummer Ed Trask, bassist Gwomper and backing vocalist/go-go dancer Beau Beau) recorded its first demo in 1988 and steadily built a regional following.
Lack of venues
Barry said there is a dearth of opportunities for Richmond rock bands.
"Richmond, not including the suburban part, has 194,000 people. It's over 50 percent black and true to the South ï¿½ it's really just black and white. There's not a lot of other culture in it. So, it's a different sort of vibe than a place like D.C. that's a cultural mecca.
"Richmond is truly a slower place. It's like everything in a poor town ï¿½ you sort of make due with what you have. There's one club that's been really consistent for a long time, and dozens that have gone under in the last 10 years. So, people rely on the one club, which is 300 capacity. Other people set up basement shows and bizarre shows in weird warehouses or whatever.
"There's not a consistency of venues, but there's a consistency in enthusiasm. Tons and tons of people come out to the shows."
Surprisingly, being two hours from the thriving club scene in Washington, D.C., didn't prove to be Avail's big break.
"I don't think we really fit into that scene," Barry explained. "We really dug the music, but as with most city musical cliques, they're not overwhelmingly welcome of suburban kids coming in and joining the clique.
"So, we were always like these honky suburban kids who always went to shows in D.C. Then again, the kids I grew up with were a bunch of troublemakers, so we'd go in and cause a ruckus every time we showed up. So, it's probably understandable why we weren't welcomed into it.
"Still, it had a huge influence over the music we play, which is rock-based music with ethics. I think that's what we dug about it. Bands like Dag Nasty and Kingface were literally rock bands and that was the roots of it."
Eventually, Avail signed with notable indie label Lookout Records and began touring the country in a beat-up van.
"We were with Lookout forever, and we were really needing better distribution," Barry said. "We were touring internationally and we couldn't even find our CDs in Virginia. It wasn't Lookout's fault. We knew what we were getting into when we went with them. We were just kids and it didn't matter.
"It's amazing that we actually got a paycheck. I remember the first time we got one, it was like $10 each, but it was like, 'Yeah.' We grew with Lookout, and they really helped us understand everything."
Laying down tracks
Avail is now signed to indie label Fat Wreck Chords, which released the band's latest effort, "One Wrench." Barry discussed the group's recording process and the increased studio time that has come with upward mobility.
"We hammered it out pretty quick, but we also spent some time (expletive) with sounds," he said. "We did it in two weeks and then decided we didn't like the outcome. So, we remixed it, and it took another week.
"It's almost weird to say how long it took to do it because we usually do our records in like four days. Track one day, vocals the next day and then mix it the next weekend. We've taken a little more time on our last two records, mainly because we have the money.
"It's weird because none of us have had a lot of money when it comes to this band. We still don't ï¿½ we're still fully a working class band, paycheck to paycheck. But you know if you're going to sell X amount of records, you can spend a little more time in the studio."
Barry said Avail takes a democratic approach to songwriting.
"On the road, we're too overwhelmed to write at first," he said. "But once we get into a solid routine, the old acoustic guitar is always out and rolling. I don't think those songs ever become completed until we go home. So, almost all the writing is done at home. Everyone contributes, and that's what's really cool about it.
"It's fun to be in a band that's really egalitarian, and all the music's written by feel as opposed to having that one songwriter who does everything and tells everyone what to do."
Unafraid to say no
Don't look for Avail on MTV anytime soon. The group has no plans to sign with a major label, though it's had a few tempting offers.
"We've had offers," Barry said, laughing. "The only one we really considered was when they flew us up to New York. We had the intention of going there and not signing, but trying to understand how a major label works ï¿½ using them for knowledge.
"Then it became so tempting because they pulled out all the stops. You know, we had the cigar-in-mouth record guy going, 'You wanna play in the minor leagues, play in the minor leagues. You wanna play in the big game, you wanna play the major leagues, come to us.' It was funny as hell. We debated it for about a week and then said, 'Nah, it's not for us.'
"So, we've had offers, but we've turned them down. I don't see us jumping on one anytime soon, but I never limit myself by saying things that I wouldn't do. Right now, I would definitely say no if we got an offer."