Avail / Food Not Bombs

I had the excellent opportunity to talk with Tim from the band Avail in September, 1995, after playing a week-long game of phone tag. At least he called back. Here’s what he had to say. My questions are in this type, his answers are in normal type.

How did you get together as a band, how long have you been together, and has the band gone through many lineup changes in that time?

Avail has been together since, what does that flyer up there say, Friday, June 17, 1988 was one of the first Avail shows. We grew up in a suburb of Washington, DC and everybody was always playing music together, the high school sort of scene, everybody swaps bands and stuff, so there were a lot of lineup changes early on, and then in 1990 we moved down here to Richmond. We lived in this big punk house with up to 14 people and everybody pretty much played instruments and that’s how Avail really started playing out and putting out our own records. And then eventually everything fell into place with the current lineup and now we don’t live in that big punk house anymore but we still live with 8 people and it’s all of Avail except for the drummer, Erik, and other roommates as well, and 2 dogs, and a baby.

I have a question about your dog, but that’s coming up later. Next, did you always plan on going into music as a living?

All of us have always just played music and liked it, and we all grew up listening to hardcore and punk, and I think it just kind of happened. We never had any intentions of actually doing as much as we do now. We tour constantly and we never take it for granted, it’s amazing, like we just went to Europe for the first time and that was fucking insane, we couldn’t believe that we could be in a band and go and do these things, so we just take everything as it comes, it’s really weird for us.

I saw you play once in April and then a few months later, in July, I saw you twice, and that’s a pretty short time for a couple of tours. Does that take its toll on the band or do you all thrive on it?

Some of us thrive on it and some of us don’t. You know, there are people on tour that don’t like touring as much as others, and there are people at home that don’t like being at home as much as others, so it kind of trades off. This year, so far, we’ve played 107 shows since January and we got back from all the touring in mid-August, so we did a lot of touring, Europe included, and I think it went really smoothly. We had a few personal crises while we were on tour, not involving like personal conflicts between people in the band, but weird shit was happening at home. We lost a friend right around the beginning of the US tour, and had a couple other problems like that that kind of irked us during the tour, but we came home and everything smoothed out as far as that stuff goes. All the touring is really good, we’re going to tour again in late December before we go into the studio to record again, but that will be short, then we’ll tour again like madmen once the new record comes out.

When are the plans for that to come out?

I don’t know, we’re trying not to plan, because we don’t have everything written, and we don’t want to set a deadline, because then it will be like we’re writing songs just to put out a record. So we’re hoping that we’ll record in late December – early January, then I guess it would be like three months after that before it would come out.

Do you ever have time to write songs while you’re on tour? Do you make time to write songs, or do you just write when something comes to you?

It’s weird, every time we write songs it’s completely different. We rarely write on tour, like I’ll write lyrics and stuff on tour, but I usually don’t write them in the poetry form, I’ll just jot down lines and somewhere along the line they might work when we’re writing music. We have a 4-track at the house and everybody writes acoustic, really cheesy rock songs, and then a lot of times they get turned into Avail songs. So that is like individual writing, but everybody gets together and writes their own shit on it. So there’s so many different ways, and it’s really difficult to write because we tour so much. We’re taking a good long break from shows and doing some writing right now.

Is there anything that you can put into words that inspires your writing? Anything in your life or in all of your lives that inspires you?

I have this thing about writing, when I write lyrics, that if it’s not inspiring to me, something that I’ve felt directly, I have trouble writing about it. Like politics, for example, I can write sort of coated, political-style songs, but I have trouble writing, from an outside perspective, about people being repressed, and things like that, because I’m a white male, and I’m 24 years old, so I’m not like held down, in the same sense that a woman would be, or a non-white would be. But when it comes to something political, if I see something first-hand, like there’s a park here that I spend a lot of time in that a lot of homeless folks live in and they get kicked out every year when school gets back in because they’re seen sort of as an eyesore. And because I knew the people in the park, and because I felt close to their situation, I was able to write about that. The song’s called Monroe Park and it will be on the next record. So in a political sense, I was inspired by that because I kind of felt it, and then on a personal sense, obviously any relationship problems, or things like that, I can always write about because it directly inspires me.

So it’s got to be something close to you?

Yeah, exactly, or I feel like I’m faking it, and I can’t fake it. It wouldn’t be real. We’d all be faking it if it didn’t affect us in some way. And we’re all close to each other, so they understand what I’m writing about, and when Joe writes lyrics here and there, I understand what he’s writing about as well, and hopefully everybody in the band, and other people can interpret them their own way as well.

At all of your live shows I’ve been to, and I’m sure most of them, you all have a lot of energy on stage, but still the crowd seems to stay peaceful, and I love shows like that. All the shows are great, with a lot of songs packed into a pretty short period of time, always over too soon. But have all of your shows had that non-violent feeling, with a lot of people just enjoying the music?

Yeah, a lot of times. Of course, if you play 107 shows in such a short time span, there’s going to be fights eventually at a couple of shows. But it’s really cool, because, as you were saying, I don’t think the feeling at an Avail show is like, “Let’s fucking beat the shit out of each other.” I’m really into slam dancing, there’s cool energy with it, but there’s different kinds of dancing, where you’re really bothering the fuck out of other people, and hopefully at a lot of the shows you’re able to dance and not get too violent. And with that sort of crowd and that sort of feeling, if there is somebody who’s causing a problem, usually it’s dealt with pretty quickly, because nobody really wants it. There’s been fights in the past where, it sounds kind of pretentious to say, but nobody wants a fight at a show, so I say something like, “We’re not gonna play anymore if there’s any more fights,” and it sounds kinda lame, like we’re something cool, but it actually works. At one show in Fort Worth there was a fight and I said that and I saw the person causing trouble again and people were like, “please, just calm down, and let’s have fun,” so it actually works sometimes in that sort of situation.

I know you play a lot of shows, but is there any one show that you can say was the best, or one of the best, that you’ve ever played?

Oh man, no, not at all. Every show is completely different, and whether there’s like 600 people or like 60 people at a show, they’re always good for different reasons, there’s always things that suck for different reasons too, like I hate really high stages, things like that, but you can work around that kind of stuff, and make it really cool regardless. Big shows are rad because you get so much energy off of everybody, and everybody’s singing, and it’s just fucking amazing, and then like a show with 60 people is amazing for various reasons. We played a really small show in Salt Lake City on the last part of the US tour, and it was so much fun, just because it was a small group of people, and they weren’t really familiar with our music, like some of them were, but it was really fun and challenging to play that kind of a show, and by the end everybody was smiling and we had a great time, so shows are good for different reasons.

How were the crowds in Europe?

They were so weird, Europe is such a trip. I can run it down. England was stereotypical – leather pants, fucking dreadlocks, all these crazy things, like total drunk punks, and they just have so much fun, and the turnouts were good in England. France was literally like San Diego, everybody was like an emo person. Every country was completely different. Our shows went really well in like Czech Republic, Italy, meaning that turnouts were good and we were really happy. Germany was very much like America, and then places like Holland, nobody had heard of us, and it was really fun in that sense too.

Most of your shows seem to be pretty inexpensive. Do you have anything to do with the ticket prices being so low?

Yeah, we’re really anal about it. We really don’t want to play shows for over $5 or $6. We’ve turned down really big shows just because they’ve been $7. But a lot of this stuff is really new to us, especially playing in clubs. We like inconsistency, to tour and play clubs, halls, and basements, and different places, but the clubs are where you lose control a lot of the time with door prices and things like that. We ran into a couple of problems, for example, we played a show at the Wetlands and I found out later, after the show was over, that it went through ticketmaster, where the door price at the Wetlands was like $6 and there were some people from Philadelphia there that I was talking to and they had ticket stubs through Ticketmaster where they were $10. And so we’re really learning from our mistakes, and everything’s really new to us in that sort of situation, so we’re trying to work around those type of things right now. We don’t want people to pay $10 to see Avail and a couple other bands play because we wouldn’t pay that much. If you want to go to a couple of shows a week, you don’t want to pay $20 for it, so we stand really firmly on that. We have played about 2 shows that were I think $12 with GWAR, a fellow Richmond band, but we decided after a long debate that they were like a theater group with 18 people involved so we felt comfortable with that.

What other bands do you listen to or see live?

The bands that I seem to focus on listening to are local bands. I guess we’re really community-based people. The bands that we all really like here are the Young Pioneers, who are people who used to be in Born Against, and Hose Got Cable has got to be one of our favorite bands as well, and there’s another band here called Action Patrol.

Yeah, I saw them play with you in Connecticut back in July.

Yeah, fucking love that band. And I think all of us listen to really weird music outside of hardcore. Like we all listen to the old DC bands and bands like Black Flag and Circle Jerks, and stuff like that. But we’re rednecks. We listen to Lynrd Skynrd, and country music. I listen to a lot of bluegrass music. I think we’re gonna put a bluegrass song on the new record. It’s debatable.

Are there any bands that you’d like to go out on tour with?

Yeah, we actually talked about it yesterday. Hopefully in late December we’re going to do a 10-day tour of the south, to Florida and back, and hopefully we’re gonna go with Hose Got Cable. We don’t want to tour with bands that are really popular, I mean Hose is getting popular, but we want to go as equals. We don’t want to do better because we’re freeloading off a band that has a better draw, because we feel comfortable doing things ourselves. Like if we went out with a really popular band like Fugazi, who we don’t know at all, but it would seem kind of weird, like we were trying to get popular off of them, and we’re not into doing that kind of stuff.

It doesn’t seem like you have much time outside of Avail, but is there anything else you like to do when you’re not busy with the band?

Yeah, and right now is the perfect time to ask that, because we are only practicing and playing maybe 2 to 5 shows for the rest of the year. Beau is really into building model cars and he pierces people, that’s his job. Rob and Erik are both in school right now, for the semester. Joe, the guitar player, is a dad, so he stays at home with the kid all day, and things like that. And I have a volunteer job that I do 4 days a week with a social service facility here and I start a photography class tomorrow, and I mountain bike… all day, every day.

A friend told me that you like to jump freight trains…

Yeah, I ride freight trains. I’m sort of into putting myself in weird positions because it’s kind of empowering and you learn a lot about yourself, kind of like weird religious people going into the woods for a month and not talking to people. I put like $30 in my pocket, go down to the train yard, I only go south, never go north because it’s kind of weird and dangerous up there, but just get a backpack, a sleeping bag, some peanut butter and some bagels, and ride a freight train down south and wherever I get dumped, I hitchhike to whatever city I can get to and live on the streets for a couple days and hope that I can get back by hitchhiking and riding freight trains, and if not, the $30 will hopefully get me a Greyhound as close as I can to Richmond. I haven’t done that too much this year, but it’s a really interesting thing. And my suggestion would be to anybody who wants to try it to really only go with somebody who’s done it before, or learn about it, because it’s extremely dangerous, and you can get killed falling off the things. There’s also freight train gangs and shit like that, so it’s a really strange experience but it’s the ultimate in freedom.

What is the charity Food Not Bombs about and do you still do some work for it?

FNB is really loose-knit individuals across the country, originating in Boston, to use American waste to feed people who are hungry. A lot of restaurants and grocery stores throw out perfectly good food because it’s out of date or it’s taking up space, so these people go around and collect these things as donations and cook them to feed the homeless or anybody who needs food. We’re mostly involved from an outside perspective. I try to go down there and serve as often as possible, and we let them cook at our house whenever they need to. We do yearly benefits here and we donate our portion of the money or all the bands’ money to FNB. We’re playing here on September 29th, next Friday, with two bands from England, Bender and Citizen Fish, and the Young Pioneers from here. The Young Pioneers and Avail are donating their portion of the money to FNB, and obviously the bands from England will get paid so they can get home.

I told you I had a dog question so here it is. One line that always makes me laugh when listening to Satiate (“Upward Grind”) is “I share my clothes with my dog.”

That was me. I didn’t know that was going to be in there and so loud. That’s my dog Zeke.

Do you really share your clothes with your dog?

I think I was just fucking around. We were out of town when we recorded that. Whenever I leave, he takes all of my clothes out of my room and puts them on the couch in a huge pile and lays in them until I come back. It’s really weird, but I think that I might have been thinking about that because I was out of town. But that’s what I meant, and he still does it. He’ll be 5 in November and I just got his name tattooed on me, because I am a redneck I guess.

Do you get asked to do a lot of interviews, and do they get tiring or do you sometimes hear new questions?

Well, this interview has been extremely good. There’s times when we do a lot of interviews, sometimes we go a while with none. I never get tired of doing interviews, as long as they’re well done and not the same questions every fucking time. People always ask us about our tattoos and piercings and stuff like that which gets really annoying, but I guess it’s our fault because we have them. There was a time when we got asked the same fucking questions: “Give a brief history of the band, what do you think about veganism and vegetarianism, are you straight edge and what do you think about it, and what do you think about slam dancing at shows”. There are ways of wording those questions so they don’t come across as just bland. Like you talked about the shows and people dancing at them, you didn’t just say “what do you think of it.” You told me your perspective and I thought that was rad. Then you can just flow, it’s not like a one-word answer. AVAIL / Food Not Bombs

Interview by :
Mike Hall