Known for its incendiary live shows, Avail helped put Richmond on the musical map. It's a blue-collar punk band that features honest songwriting about relationships and personal politics, and its members have always remained loyal to their fans and Virginia roots.
The group recently had three of its early albums ("Dixie," "4AM Friday" and "Over the James") remastered and reissued on a new label, Jade Tree Records out of Delaware, with loads of extras (see sidebar). And this weekend, it will be ending a short, two-and-a-half-week tour in Richmond.
Style spoke with lead singer, Tim Barry, who also works seasonally as a stage production assistant with the Richmond Ballet. An avid mountain biker and adventure-seeker, Barry has a hard time staying put. Besides working on a new album and tour, he says he has a "more folky, acoustic-driven" solo album coming out on a small German label, and a subsequent European tour in early May.
At 35, Barry is somewhat of an elder statesman in the local punk scene and he's given plenty back. In years past, Avail donated all proceeds from its annual Richmond shows to the local group Food Not Bombs. Barry explains that, unfortunately, the members of Avail had to suspend this tradition in order to get out of debt incurred while paying their own health insurance during lean years with their former label, California-based Lookout Records (which had been struggling financially).
And this is a band that definitely needs health insurance.
Style: How did the reissues come about?
Barry: Lookout had stopped paying us and a lot of other bands. We hesitated for more years than anyone can count ... and we collectively decided to leave ... and other bands followed, like Green Day left shortly after that. It was a bummer. ... But we took those records to Jade Tree. Now everything is remastered and we added live records, 7-inch [singles], little oddities and covers, unreleased photos. I think it came together really well. [Jade] understood that people who listen to Avail don't have a lot of money, so they made a special preorder deal: all three discs, a poster and T-shirt for $30. Those guys are great.
As you get older, how do you maintain a connection with youthful punk audiences?
Actually, I'm going to disagree that the audiences are young. It's baffling to me, but the age group at our shows now is mostly 20 to 40 years old. And the energy is still there. We're lucky. For people that play the music we play, it's not supposed to last this long. I have no idea why it has. Maybe because we never had a gimmick, or dressed a certain way. Our songs aren't in tune with the radio. ... We write about things we understand, things that affect us. We're not overtly political and don't preach. Preaching bores me.
How would you characterize the Richmond scene today?
I think it's great. A different cross section of people that go to the same shows, art shows and concerts. People seem supportive. I don't go out as much anymore, I'm kind of an outsider on the inside. ... Richmond really has a name across the country, and it's not just Avail that did that it's GWAR, Lamb of God, VCR, Strike Anywhere, Pink Razors and other bands that tour.
What will the upcoming local show be like?
We usually play here once a year. It's insane. I'm getting e-mails from people coming from Chicago, and England even, just for this one Richmond show. ... It'll be a family reunion in essence. The whole tour should be like that. S
Avail plays an all-ages show at Alley Katz at 6 p.m. Saturday, April 29, with The Draft (featuring members of Hot Water Music), Smoke or Fire and Pink Razors. Tickets are $7.
The Avail Rereleases:"Dixie" (1994)
Written in a huge communal house on the 1600 block of Grace Street and recorded in two days, "Dixie" is Avail's punk-metal coming-out party. The new version includes the great 7-inch, "Attempt to Regress," featuring one of Avail's catchiest songs, "Connection," which made it on more than a few mix tapes back in the day. Also added is a raucous (though poorly recorded) eight-song live performance from the Kings Head Inn in Norfolk with a cover of the Violent Femmes' "Kiss Off."
"4AM Friday" (1996)
Also recorded and mixed quickly, this album finds Avail with a fuller, more realized power-punk sound building on its Dischord influences and adding more melody. There's a song about a riot in "Monroe Park," and the new version includes a better-sounding, blistering 14-song live show from the intimate Bottom of the Hill club in San Francisco.
"Over the James" (1998)
Introducing Gwomper on bass, this album continues to blow doors with anthem punk, not losing a step with a new configuration. Among the many local names dropped among the lyrics: Virginia Commonwealth University, Oregon Hill and the James, as well as songs called "Nickel Bridge" and "Lombardy Street" (an acoustic version is included). It also features fun covers of Elvis' version of "Suspicious Minds" and Billy Joel's "You May Be Right."