Avail: They've Got a Cheerleader with Poor Dental Hygiene By Todd Taylor

May 18, 2001

In it for the long haul without sucking wind, slowing, or softening, Avail's a band that has figured how to sculpt social protest into and through personal turmoil. They hate fights but love circle pits. They disallow disrespect at their shows, stopping mid chord progression if they see it, but they don't mind lots of jumping around and having a good time. They're not pricks about it. They don't wag accusing fingers. It's this visceral intelligence that sets them and their albums apart. That, and they fucking shred. The result's not only great, hard, melodic music, but the creation of a great time doing it, listening to it, and encouraging the audience to scream along. Avail's got it right, and for that, I love them for it. They've been doing it for so long.
I bet even if you beat them with a bat that had "rock star" backwards on it (like the Fear logo on brass knuckles), they'd still look like a bunch of guys standing in a convenience store parking lot before their show and act like the most humble people you've ever met after their set blows your ever-loving mind.

I caught up with Tim. He's the singer. We've talked before.

Interview and pictures by Todd Taylor

Todd: I'm going to pretend not to know you so well.
Tim: That will be really hard.
Todd: Give me a little background. How long has Avail been going on for?
Tim: God, this is stupid, Todd, doing this with you. Avail's been together for ten years or so and playing for the last nine.
Todd: And you're from Richmond, Virginia?
Tim: [chuckles] Yeah.
Todd: How did you not become a redneck?
Tim: I wouldn't say that we're not. Joe [to the guitar player], living in Richmond, how did we not become rednecks? Because we're not. We're fucking white suburban kids who lived there for ten years.
Todd: Did you know of any time you made a conscious decision not to become a beer-swillin', four by four-drivin' bad individual?
Tim: Hmmm. You know what? I have a big truck. I'm not joking. Not long ago I had a big beard and I wear a mesh hat. Maybe we're straight right fucking out of the ghetto.
Todd: OK, then why do you guys have such a positive message in your music when all of the external trappings of being a stereotypical redneck are there?
Tim: Because it's not a positive message to anyone other than myself. Seriously. Some of those lyrics I'm writing, I'm talking to myself - "You need to chill out."
Todd: There are a lot of abandonment issues and self-scathing observations.
Tim: I'm fucking really hard on myself and that's what those lyrics are. Fucking me telling myself to keep it up instead of giving it up.
Todd: Two part question: many of the socially conscious bands grow disillusioned after attempting political change for a decade and they begin to feel like they're not changing a damn thing. How have you guys maintained and actually accelerated your energy towards that?
Tim: When you're talking about bands giving up, that sort of thing, they're trying really, really, really hard and they have a goal. Their intent is to educate and get people worked up, and that pushes them into action. Our intent has never been to do anything like that. Our intent has been just to be expressive and we've never had a goal of changing something. That shit just comes out, those words and the music, and there's no fucking goal. That's what I think makes it work.
Todd: I think so. This sounds dumb, but you guys are motivational.
Tim: Motivational speakers [half chuckling].
Todd: You're riling people up and getting them excited and it doesn't seem empty and it doesn't seem like a joke.
Tim: Or an image. You know, politics and punk as an image or this emo crap... we're pretty much the full band version of Billy Bragg, where half the songs are love songs and half the songs have social issues in them. I realized that recently that's why I liked Billy Bragg so much.
Todd: OK, so the second part to the question: one of the largest things detractors complain about is that loud, fast, socially conscious music is "preaching to the converted." Do you have any way of explaining why that argument isn't completely true?
Tim: People love to be negative. People love to dismiss anything that is creative, really quick, by really generalized statements like we're "preaching to the converted." That's a profoundly boring statement. Number one, we're not preaching and number two, we're not preaching to the converted. And if you go to an Avail show - shit, we just got of the Warped Tour. "The converted," they've been smoking street crack rock if they think that those people are converted. In fact, we were doing a Food Not Bombs show in Richmond right before we left. We always do them. And one of the women that was doing the table, getting ready for the Philly demos (Republican National Convention demonstrations) didn't have enough room for all of the pamphlets. So she pulled out the stack of Mumia Abu Jamal flyers. And she was like, "Everybody here knows about Mumia." And then I looked around. I put my arm around her. I said, "Look around. These fucking people have no idea who he is. Put them back on there." And she did. So it's just a crack statement. It's just people stuck up. They're converted or they're bored, making mad generalizations.
Todd: I was thinking this in preparation - not as a dispersion at all - a lot of your audience is young. And what a great introduction to social change: exciting music.
Tim: And that's what happened to us. Beau and I were talking about that the other day. We got turned onto the bridge between music and politics through Positive Force shows in D.C. First one that comes to mind is seeing Verbal Assault's last show at a church and when the show ended, as people walked out the door, they were given drums and pans and drumsticks and we all walked over to the South African embassy and protested Apartheid. Nowadays, bands like us and Hot Water Music and a handful of others are an introduction, an alternative to the alternative. Especially just getting off the Warped Tour, a lot of kids go to that and say, "This is the biggest alternative festival ever." And then they're "Wait a second, it goes even further underground." We were lucky to be on it with Hot Water Music and other bands that are underground enough and established enough that these kids can maintain coming to those shows and still be excited because it's people getting down with the bands that are playing.
Todd: Speaking of Hot Water Music, have you guys ever considered doing a side project like their Rumbleseat or Unitas?
Tim: You know what? Joe's going to do that shit eventually, without a doubt. For us, Avail is time consuming. Actually, Joe writes a lot in the band room, as do I, and we just kind of write for ourselves and if it turns into Avail stuff, it turns into Avail stuff. So if you go through the hundreds of four-track tapes that we have in there, we could actually put something out right now, but we'll just leave it and maybe fuck with it some other time. That's such a good idea, though. I definitely want to do that someday. I was talking to Mark, who records us and is recording Hot Water, and he was like, "Any time. We'll pack in some beer and roll with it."
Todd: Rumbleseat is so great.
Tim: It's fucking excellent. Robbie from Ann Berretta just did a CD similar to that as well.
Todd: Who would you be most honored if they covered one of your songs?
Tim: You know what? Not one band because if any band, even if it's some high school kids, covers one of our songs, I'm so fucking flattered.
Todd: That's a great answer.
Tim: It's mind-blowing. I remember the time we went to Australia, we played "Virus," which is off (the album) "Dixie." Everybody went fucking nuts in Melbourne for the song. It was like a hit. And then I found out later that it was because one of the local bands had been covering it for years. Let me think of one in particular... Johnny Cash.
Todd: Great. Going on to lighter stuff. Explain your dancer Beau Beau to me.
Tim: Ugly.
Todd: How did this heavily tattooed, kinda freaky bearded guy who doesn't play an instrument get in the band? Did he just show up one day and not leave?
Tim: Exactly. Because we started in high school, he's the guy who was always around. You know, every band has one guy. He's that one guy that wouldn't leave anyone alone.
Todd: Did he become a roadie?
Tim: Yeah, basically, I played drums and he was the roadie. He sat back there when I played drums. Never left us alone.
Todd: How did he lose his front tooth?
Tim: Joe and him were wrenching the van one morning, getting work done on it out back and around noon we were getting ready for band practice. Beau hadn't eaten so Joe gave him one of those microwave pizza things. He was eating that. We all went upstairs to tune up and get ready for practice. He knocked on the door of our band practice room and said, "Uhh, I can't come to band practice today." I was like, "Goddamn it, man. Fuckin' everybody's so slack," and blah, blah, blah. "We've got to practice." He smiled and goes, "Nope. Gotta go to the dentist." He was eating a pizza. He lost his entire front tooth.
Todd: How?
Tim: Because he used to drink three six packs of Pepsi a day and not brush his teeth. His teeth are rotting. If you get him close and have him smile, he's got huge, gaping holes in them. I was, "You swallowed your tooth. You're going to shit it out." I was joking with him. I was grabbing the Polaroid camera and I hear Gwomper, the bass player, who's so ghetto it's sick, he's like [in Boomhower voice from "King of the Hill"] "Man, you gonna finish that pizza?" And he's fucking chowing the pizza and I'm taking pictures of Beau with no front tooth. And I hear Gwomper gagging. He fucking ate the tooth. It's so rad. Oh my god. If you knew Gwomper like we know Gwomper, it's perfect. That's the story of Beau's tooth that came out of Gwomper's butt, eventually - or it's still in there.
Todd: Why does Beau have to pee on stage before a show?
Tim: Beau is riddled with tons of traditions. Avail has tons of stupid traditions. That's one of his things. He has to pee before he plays and he pees on stage in a cup and leaves it up there for the unlucky person who's got to clean it up.
Todd: How is the transition with the new drummer coming?
Tim: Man, it's not like a new drummer, it's like a new spark. He really stepped into the band and everybody was really weary of how it would work. Nobody wanted to jump to conclusions like "Oh, this is going to be perfect." He's a professional muralist. He has a mortgage. And he's a great friend of ours and has been for a long time so we went really slow, testing the waters. We spontaneously played. We didn't set up with "learn these songs and let's try them," he actually knew them. He played a couple songs off of "Over the James" right off one day when he stopped by the house. I was, "God, this is going to work." And, again, it hasn't been a transition, it's been a spark. Right when he came in, only two songs off of "One Wrench" had been written and he's just a fucking drumming mad man. What's great about his drumming is that he sees songs as a whole. When we'd be playing, like improvising, Joe would come up with a guitar part. Ed would roll right into and then take the changes. He would make them and follow. He's just a wonderful guy and an excellent drummer. I mean that as honestly as I possibly can. It's hard changing something like a drummer after nine years. And that's a fucking task. You don't know if it's going to work, if the sound is going to change or whatever. He took it to a different level. We're stoked.
Todd: It seemed seamless.
Tim: I was losing so much sleep about playing our first show. It was sick. I was so fucking nervous. "OK, we've practiced this a million times but live is a totally different ball game. We went to make a video for a Fat Wreck Chords compilation thing and we set it up at this little bar down the street from our house and we got in there and we were like, "What the fuck are we doing?" We had all of our friends in there, we're going to play the song about fifteen times, and have them film it on digital. All these kids were waiting to get in so we could play. We were like, "Fuck this. Let's just play a show." And we put that song in the set five times. We played a show but we really didn't think about it. We were calling songs as we were playing. When the song would end, we'd ask, "What do you guys want to hear next?" It was a blast. When we finished, I looked at Ed, "Holy shit, we just played our first show." And Ed was like, "Yeah. Shit." I was, "I'm not stressed any more." So it went by without a hitch. We looked at one another and we were like "Oh my God. This is working. No doubt." Boom, we went on tour.
Todd: How did you score the attractive "Vanarchy" license plate?
Tim: Joe fucking came up with the Vanarchy word, which is the business side of Avail because we're still self-managed and do everything under Vanarchy, Inc., because Avail was taken by about fifty different people. Joe said he was getting personalized license plates for our old van, named Jenny. Originally, they said AVABC - the Avail Battle Cruiser - and we had to vote if we wanted them to read "Inbred" or "Vanarchy." How we came up with the word Vanarchy, I have no idea.
Todd: It's great.
Tim: It's awesome. And then we decided that Inbred was out of the question because the folks down in Mississippi wouldn't take all that kindly.
Todd: Have you caught anyone attempting to steal the plates?
Tim: Yeah, they got stolen once and the best part about it was they weren't punk kids. Joe walked out back and the van had no license plates on it. We called the police and did that whole number and later on that afternoon, Sean, who's a bike courier downtown, calls me up and goes, "There's these two gangsters driving around in this fucking low rider with license plates that say 'Vanarchy.'" He had them right there. "Are these yours?" He had a bunch of couriers surrounding the car. And I said, "Yeah, they are." He said, "Do you want me to get them back for you right now?" Because bike couriers are lunatics. I said, "No, I'll call the police to go down there." What kind of moron puts on vanity plates that they've stolen? It's so recognizable. Why don't you try to steal ones that say something like GMZ224? What if they had said "Inbred"? Baby G's would be rolling around downtown with "Inbred," it would have been much cooler. Anyway, I've got to thank the Richmond bike couriers for saving the plates.
Todd: Any sayings your mom or dad told you when you were a kid that still holds true today?
Tim: I can't remember a goddamn thing my parents told me. Joe says [from the background] "Be nice to your mother or she'll smack you."
Todd: What was Plan #2 for your life?
Tim: Now, at almost thirty years old with no skills whatsoever? Uhh, Joe will be a mechanic. He's learning all that stuff and went to school for it. Fuck, man, I think I'll just be pumping gas. Since I haven't worked since 1993, and that's not because I'm wealthy it's because of the economy of Richmond, I'm thinking at this point, I can't work for anyone. Seriously.
Todd: I feel identical to that.
Tim: I'm going to have to be self-employed. I'm going to have to be doing something that I can just get by on a little bit of money because I don't want to be wealthy. I don't think it's good for anything. If I can't make money, I'll do what a lot of people do. Get a job for four fucking months, work my ass off 60 hours a week so that I can go down to Mexico for a year. And then, basically, I just want to live and be creative and not fuck people over and be happy and if all else fails, freight trains are still crossing the country and there's big bottles of wine to go with them. If all else fails, no health insurance, I'll get food stamps in every state and fucking drink myself back and forth across the country. I've always got a plan.
Todd: Final question. Are you happy with how things are going for you guys?
Tim: I can say, right now, I have never in my life been as excited as I am about the band, playing live. That may surprise people and it surprises myself after all these years because you think you can totally get burnt. If someone asked when I was twenty-three, "When you're twenty-nine, do you think you'll still be doing this?" I'd probably say, "I don't know." But more people are coming to the shows, the records are selling more, and I can't tell you, playing live, something about this tour, I have been so fucking excited every night, all over again, like I've fell in love with music and we're going to keep rolling until it doesn't feel right.
Todd: That's perfect.