Rumors have been circulating around Richmond, Virginia, lately. Some locals have heard rumblings that the members of AVAIL, the hometown punk heroes who have not played together in over a decade, have been working up to a reunion. Most have dismissed it, though, for two reasons. For one, rumors like these seem to crop up every six months or so and nothing ever comes of them. And two, the members have said repeatedly and emphatically over the years that they will never, ever get back together. But, like every band that says they’ll never reunite, AVAIL is reuniting.
“I hope you humiliate us in this, I think it’d be hilarious,” AVAIL frontman Tim Barry tells me by phone, knowing full well how cliché it is for a band to come out of retirement after they’d sworn they wouldn’t. But, lest anyone accuse AVAIL of cashing in for a big Coachella check, the band is doing their reunion in the most AVAIL way possible: One show at The National in Richmond on July 19. The 1,500-person venue is larger than the small clubs and dives the band used to play when they were active in the late 90s and early 2000s, but they want to do it once and do it right. Barry won’t say if there are other shows in the works but he doesn’t completely rule it out either.
We talked to Barry about how the AVAIL reunion came about and what fans can expect. (More info is available at the band’s website. Tickets go on sale Friday, March 29 at 10:00 AM.)
Noisey: I’ll put you on the spot to begin with here.
Tim Barry: I love it. Please do it.
You did Jonah Bayer’s podcast “Going Off Track” about four years ago and your exact quote was, “If there’s an AVAIL reunion show, I won’t be participating.”
You’ve always said no to offers for the band to get back together. Why now?
Well, first and foremost, that is an exact quote and you can quote me right back when I say I reserve the right to change my fucking opinion at any point in my life. [Laughs] Truthfully, and I can only speak for myself, the internet notified me that last year was the 20th anniversary of the AVAIL record called Over the James. I don’t listen to my own music. I don’t listen to much rock ‘n’ roll or punk rock music, at all. Shit, I pretty much only listen to classical music at this point [since] my ears are so fucked up from live music over the years. But on that 20th anniversary, my daughters and I were living in this sort of not great neighborhood, in this apartment, and we put it on. They were like, “This is your crazy band, daddy.” And I was like, “Yeah, it’s crazy.” But I started listening and I was like, “This is fucking good.” So we put it on again, and I noticed that my children were singing some of the lyrics, just on the second listen. It stood the test of time somehow. It was at that moment that I said, “Oh man, this would be fun to do again.”
Months later, I was talking to Beau [Butler], my oldest friend from kindergarten and former bandmate in AVAIL, and we were shooting the shit on the phone. I said, “I’d play a show if all I had to do was write the setlist and sing.” What he understood in that was that I wasn’t going to be the manager, which is what I was in AVAIL. He mentioned it to everybody and we sat down and talked and said, “Well, if we were gonna do something, what would we do?” So we said, let’s play Richmond.
But we didn’t know if we could play music anymore. The band Iron Reagan quietly lent us their practice space. The band, minus me and Beau, got together and practiced a few times and didn’t want everyone to come in and stand there with their arms crossed, staring at middle-aged men trying to remember songs they haven’t played in 12 or 13 years. So Erik [Larson], the drummer, called me and said, “Come on in whenever you’re ready.” So I went to Iron Reagan’s practice spot with no rehearsal—I didn’t warm up, I didn’t review the songs, I didn’t know which songs they were gonna play—and I plugged in my microphone. There was not even much talking. They just started. It was a fucking whirlwind. They sounded fucking fantastic. I don’t know how a brain can retain so many stupid fucking lyrics, but I was able to make it through all of the songs, pretty much.
AVAIL shows were always famously energetic. Do you worry about the physical effort it will take to pull off a show now that you’re in your forties?
Yeah, that’s an absolutely legitimate question, and one that I don’t have an answer for because I try not to worry. I think that everyone’s pretty comfortable in their skin. I don’t think anyone in AVAIL feels they need to act 90s punk or replicate what we did in our 20s. In fact, I generally think that’s an embarrassment. I can’t speak for everyone, but AVAIL played very small venues, so the energy was collaborative between the crowd and people on stage, almost because it was forced to be that way. If a person from New York can imagine AVAIL at CBGBs or a person from Chicago can imagine AVAIL at the Fireside Bowl or a person from the Bay Area can imagine AVAIL at Gilman St, the energy was contagious. But AVAIL is gonna be playing a venue that fits over a thousand people. But I don’t want to be the guy who jumps in the air on the first song and sprains his ankle and limps around the stage for the rest of the show, which sounds funny but it’s the type of thing that people do.
AVAIL has a quite a good standing in the history of punk. Do you worry about how reuniting might affect the legacy of the band?
Absolutely. AVAIL stopped playing—I can never remember when—let’s say 12 or 13 years ago. So that’s right at the cusp of the technology that’s been offered to us in the last ten years. So much of what I think is interesting about AVAIL is that a lot of it is folklore. It’s stories that get passed down instead of actual, quotable interviews on YouTube or endless cell phone videos hashtagged #availrichmond. There’s a lot of risk in ruining people’s memories by presenting a contemporary version of a band they enjoyed growing up. To add to that, the embarrassment of the sort of nostalgia culture and reunion culture of bands is sort of unprecedented and nothing that I expected when I was younger. So it’s safe to lump AVAIL into all of that because we’re no different. We’re sharing in the same nostalgia culture and reunion fetishes that people have these days. It’s very possible we could ruin your memories of seeing AVAIL in the 90s and early 2000s by reuniting, but I think… it’s gonna be fun as hell. I wouldn’t have anything to do with it if it didn't feel right, and it does. And then people can leave us the fuck alone.
You’ve had a solo career that’s been going on for more than a decade, and you’ve told me that some of your fans don’t even know about AVAIL. Is that right?
I would actually phrase it that many of my fans don’t know about AVAIL. Only the people who share the road with me see that firsthand, like the merch people who help me along the way, hear people apologize and say, “I’ve never heard Tim’s old band” or “I listened to Tim’s old band. I don’t like it.” It’s a completely different group of people.
Not participating in AVAIL anymore, 12 or 13 years ago, was essentially one of the greatest burdens ever lifted from my shoulders. For many reasons, not just negative. Just many personal reasons. I got to be myself, I didn’t have to answer to a whole band. Now, here I am playing my kumbaya shit on my acoustic guitar, and that went much further than I could’ve imagined. So all these years later, I live off of music. And for years, I refused to let people put on flyers “Tim Barry from AVAIL.” It was like my first name was Tim, my middle name was Barry, and my last fucking name was From AVAIL. It took forever to get that shit off. And once it was gone, and I had detached from the AVAIL crowd, about a year ago, I played an AVAIL show at a song.
I remember that. You said you did it just to see if people would know it.
Yeah, and very few people knew it. But if I played it at Fest in Florida, everybody would know it. So who is AVAIL’s fanbase now? People just move on. We’ll just have to see.
I think for a lot of fans, AVAIL ended very unceremoniously. What do you remember about the end of AVAIL?
I wasn’t having any fun. There was too much tension in the van. Beau and I made a personal pact in the early 90s where, if this isn’t fun, we’re not doing it. It was just not a good time and it was reflected on stage. I remember playing the Knitting Factory in Manhattan. This was around the time people would correspond with you—after a show you’d hear from people via email or message board or Myspace message. I remember there was a fan who’d come to every AVAIL show in New York since ABC No Rio to Wetlands to this last run. His name is Pete, he lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, now. He said there was something off about the show and he left early. And I was like, that’s weird. If they can see it and feel it, that’s interesting because I see it and feel it. The only time we ever played Fest, Vanessa Burt, who works for Fat Wreck Chords and Mutiny PR, she was stage left watching the show. When it was over, she was like, “Yeah, it’s just weird. Something was off. I left. Didn’t feel right.” It just wasn’t working.
When it starts to get sad is when you can feel that a band is uninterested but they keep doing it because they don’t see another option, or it’s easier than getting a real job.
I guess it just made us more aggressive. It’s weird you bring up doing it for money or instead of a real job. At that point, that last tour, every single one of us was working. I worked like three jobs. AVAIL paid no fucking money. It’s weird thinking back on how many shows we did and how little money we got out of it. Nothing. Seriously, there was nothing when it was all over. I think, the last tour, we each got paid $250 for ten days. Certainly we’re not doing it for money this time. But we are going to launch an online store. It’s weird to think that the very last t-shirt was sold at the merch table to the last person. There’s never been an AVAIL t-shirt available ever since.
Something that’s going to happen with this reunion show is that you’re going to get 20,000 Facebook comments asking if you’re coming to Brazil and San Francisco and everywhere else. Are you prepared for that?
The older I get and the more I tour, the more firmly I believe that you can come to me. If you live in Long Island and you want me to play Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Long Island, I’m just not gonna do it. You can come to the Brooklyn show. But yeah, I got a little prep on the contagion of the internet regarding AVAIL when I was in London, England, last summer with the band Hot Water Music. They’d asked me to do an AVAIL song on stage with them, and I did it, and I thought people would be happy to hear the song in that format. And they were! [Laughs] Because it went crazy, the amount of people who saw it and talked about it. I guess I should just suggest people get their hotel rooms and Airbnbs and flops and punk houses and whatever else. I’m looking forward to playing that show. I can’t say we won’t do anything outside of that, but I absolutely have no idea.
What if it turned into a situation where it was a high markup on StubHub? That seems like it’d be antithetical to the premise of the show.
Like a high ticket price where they mark it up because of the venue? Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t really care, honestly. AVAIL played shows for five dollars to ten dollars for 15 or 20 fucking years. Whenever you take a step up to a venue that’s that big, there’s a million people with their hands in the pot and we’ll probably all make exactly what we made playing a show for a $7 ticket. [Laughs] But I’m sure the ticket’s gonna be $25, maybe $30. But I guess those people still stuck in 1990s punk will attack us on Maximumrocknroll, internet edition. But I don’t really fucking care. [Laughs]
Does the band have any interest in writing or recording new songs?
That’s not anything anybody’s brought up and I seriously doubt it.
Well, thanks, Tim.
Thanks, Dan. [Sighs] What have I gotten myself into?
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Dan Ozzi is on Twitter.