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The best kept secret in music


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SATIATE 1992 Lookout Records
DIXIE 1994 Lookout Records
4AM FRIDAY 1996 Lookout Records
OVER THE JAMES 1998 Lookout Records
ONE WRENCH 2000 Fat Wreck Chords
FRONT PORCH STORIES 2002 Fat Wreck Chords


Feeling a bit camera shy


Slicing through a leafy swath of trees, the freight train tracks snake along the edges of the muddy James River. From this little patch of greenery in the heart of post-industrial Richmond, Virginia, the rails run to the blue ridge hill country, through sleepy towns like Roanoke and Lynchburg, before splintering off to points all over the south.

When the graffiti-covered trains aren't thundering along, every hour or so, it's nearly silent. No honking cars, no bustling crowds, no TV sets or blaring radios. The birds eek-eek-eeking overhead are about as loud as it gets. You can find Avail singer Tim Barry here frequently, striding along the rails, his canine companion Zeke at his side.

It seems like a strange spot for a punk rock hero-type to hang out, but if you know Avail it makes sense. Figure it like this: the band typically spends a third of the year jammed in a smelly-ass van, driving from dingy bar to dingy bar, playing loud music for loud people. When they get home, Barry and company want a little solitude.

But it's more than that. From a quick glance at Avail's lyrics, which Barry writes, it's clear the guy's got something going on upstairs. For starters, there's the deep current of alienation that runs through the band's six albums. Take these lines from 2000's One Wrench: "I hope I never have to use the word friend again/ It's the same old slap in the face." Or these from 1998's Over the James: "I could give a fuck about small talk discussions/ In fact I'd rather be alone." More recently, on the new Front Porch Stories, Barry finds himself wandering through empty city streets, thinking about growing old in anonymity, while still holding out hope for a future "free of isolation."

Don't think all is gloomy in Barry's world. He's also penned paeans to the working stiff ("N30"), anti-government polemics ("Governor," "Virus"), wry social critiques ("Scuffletown"), and diatribes against the fashion industry ("Model").

Not surprisingly for an inveterate road warrior, stories of travelling and returning home feature prominently in Barry's lyrics. There are allusions to hometown characters and landmarks, mentions of trips up and down the Interstate, and many, many references to stowing away on freight trains. "I write lyrics all across the world, but the only ones that work are the ones I write at home," he says. "This album isn't as emotionally desperate as the others; it's really subtle politicking."

In a lot of ways, a voyage through Avail's sonic landscape is like a journey across the country via boxcar: the terrain changes constantly, but seamlessly. Three-chord thrash morphs into sing-songy pop punk then slows to a growling mosh before breaking into a 70's rock-sounding chorus. It's this ability to destroy genre barriers without sounding contrived or schizoid that's become Avail's trademark. You can probably trace Avail's musical approach to the time and place the band started.

Flashback to the late 1980s: Avail is just getting out of the garage. They're living in an outer suburb of Washington, D.C., 90 miles north of Richmond. Founding member Joe Banks is on guitar, Barry is playing drums, Beau Beau is driving the band to gigs --and dancing like a Ritalin kid -- while a couple of other long-gone dudes round out the picture. The fabled D.C. hardcore scene is factionalizing. Ian MacKaye and the old guard are fusing rock and funk and reggae with powerchord punk, and people are calling it "emo." Meanwhile, across town, a new generation of straight edge kids are throwing all-day mosh-a-thons. At the same time, a huge thrash metal scene is going on and punks are going crazy for Slayer and Nuclear Assault. The Avail guys are into all of it -- and even end up playing shows for all three sub-scenes.

In 1990, the band gave up on the D.C. area, moving into a low-rent, 100-year-old brick rowhouse in Richmond and regrouping with Barry on vocals. From there, Avail got serious about world domination, touring relentlessly and releasing four acclaimed studio albums (Satiate, Dixie, 4 A.M. Friday, and Over the James) for Lookout Records, before recording One Wrench for Fat Wreck Chords. In addition to veterans Barry, Beau, and Banks, the current lineup consists of bassist/surfer/Bob Villa-wannabe Gwomper and drummer/mural painter Ed Trask. Songwise, it's pretty much classic Avail. The tunes go from Ramonesy ("Done Reckoning") to chugga chugga ("Gravel to Dirt") to anthemic ("East on Main.") "I'm really happy with it, which is an odd thing, 'cause there's usually three or four tracks I hate," jokes Beau Beau. The fellows say they just wanted to make a record they liked -- and didn't give a fuck what anybody else thought. Chances are, though, that plenty of other people will dig it, because, at a time when the airwaves are clogged with get-rich-quick emo bands full of phoney angst, Front Porch Stories is an authentic offering from an honest band.