With the sun setting over Brown’s Island, the collective known as Avers waits in the wings. With a knowing look, the band takes to the stage amid roaring applause from the Friday Cheers crowd. As the set begins, a wave of psychedelic euphoria spins through the air. The Avers experience has begun; an experience that stems from the shared longings of each participant to see how far they could take their ideas.
With the sun setting over Brown’s Island, the collective known as Avers waits in the wings. With a knowing look, the band takes to the stage amid roaring applause from the Friday Cheers crowd. As the set begins, a wave of psychedelic euphoria spins through the air. The Avers experience has begun; an experience that stems from the shared longings of each participant to see how far they could take their ideas. Every participant is equally important, and their shared participation in Avers is what prompted Richmond to rave about them from the outset. When anyone talks about music in Richmond these days, Avers is bound to come up–and rightfully so.
Montrose Recording is a legend in its own right. This creative hub evokes a particular air of awe in all of the musicians that have come in contact with it; language alone is insufficient to convey the magic of the Montrose studio atmosphere. In light of this fact, it’s no surprise that Avers’ story begins in this place, with a meeting between Montrose co-owner/Hypercolor guitarist Adrian Olsen and fellow RVA musician James Mason about collaborating on music. They wanted to do something that was different than what they had done in the past–something that could grow into a monstrous phenomenon.
“Mason Brothers were taking a bit of a break and I started writing these songs that wouldn’t fit in that project,” Mason recalls. After catching a set from local Led Zeppelin cover band Zep Replica, Mason felt inspired and reached out to the band’s guitarist, Charlie Glenn, immediately. “I talked to Charlie briefly about taking the style of the riffs played in that band, and create something of our own,” says Mason. Glenn was busy with working on a new full-length by his main project, The Trillions, but this didn’t deter Mason. “After that conversation with Charlie, I met Adrian, and that’s when things started to take off,” Mason says.
Photo by Zak Billmeier
As soon as Mason showed up at Montrose to discuss this potential project, he felt invigorated. “I stepped foot into Montrose and could just feel this energy instantaneously,” he recalls. “I started explaining what I wanted to work towards, this more psychedelic project, and Adrian was pretty much on board.” After this meeting, the next two members to join were Alexandra Spalding and James Lloyd Hodges. “I mentioned this to Alex and she was into it. James had told me his friend JL showed some interest too and we started pulling things together,” Olsen says.
Hodges was at this point on a short break from Farm Vegas. He had collaborated with Mason in the past. Olsen and Spalding were quite familiar with one another due to their involvement in Richmond group Hypercolor. This was the first time the four had played together, though. “Adrian and I had tried to jam a long time ago and it ended horribly,” Hodges jokes. “But this time was different. We all were locked in and it just came naturally to all of us to write music together.” Avers began with Young Sinclairs’ Joe Lunsford taking on the role of drummer. His presence was chronicled on their debut full-length, Empty Light.
Glenn would soon re-enter the picture as The Trillions began working on their full-length at Montrose. “Montrose is just a dream and working with Adrian is great. He showed me some of the stuff that Avers was working on and I immediately wanted in on it,” Glenn says. Around the same time, the band found themselves in need of a drummer due to some scheduling difficulties on Lunsford’s part. The search ended quickly, as The Head and the Heart’s Tyler Williams had a similar experience to Glenn. “I was at Montrose one night and I found myself excited by what they were all working on,” WIlliams says. In light of Williams’ high-profile connections instigating much of Avers’ early attention, he also adds, ”Even though I joined towards the end, I wasn’t asked to join due to my other band. I want to play music, and during my off time from Head and the Heart, I want to remain active. Avers was my solution to that.”
One of the factors that sets Avers apart from several other outfits in Richmond is the place that they call home. With Montrose at their disposal, the band has found the luxury of recording songs as they are written to be a wonderful asset. “We will be writing something and we have this rolling excitement that makes [us] point at Adrian. [We] know [we] need to get it down on tape before it gets lost,” Mason says. The band operates under a simple rule: when a song is brought to the space, it can’t be finished. “It’s something we exist under as our credo. It’s like: bring a lyric, a riff, a rhythm, whatever–but we finish it together,” Olsen says. “That’s pretty much how a song like ‘Evil’ came together,” Spalding says. “I brought it to Montrose towards the tail end of recording, and it became a full-fledged song over the course of that day.” Spalding does feel guilty from time to time regarding the way this has influenced her other songwriting projects. “Because of how Avers operates, I will sometimes work on something for Hypercolor and leave it unfinished. [I] laugh at how I can’t just do that for everything I work on musically,” she jokes.
The band found inspirational experiences outside of Montrose as well, notably a visit to a home owned by Mason’s family, located an hour out from the Maritime Forest coastline. “This was a house that has belonged to my family for years. That house represents a retreat for my family and in that sense, I wanted to take the band there,” Mason explains. “I had been recently married, and James mentioned going to this beach house. I spent more time at that beach house than I even did on my honeymoon with my awesome wife, who was totally cool with me going with Avers for this retreat,” Hodges says. Mason feels the house is ingrained with a history that can’t help but inform the experiences people have there. “I felt like a lot of what makes Avers what we are was even further realized due to that trip. It brought all of us even closer and made this all make sense,” he says.
After the retreat, work continued on Empty Light. The ten-track record is an artifact of time, representing different days in the lives of the songwriters that brought these songs to life. “I like that we all end up playing different things. Charlie might end up with the most variety in his role as an auxiliary guy, but there are songs where Alex just sings, and songs where James just bangs on a tambourine,” Olsen says. “We know to play to the song’s needs. We’ve been doing this long enough that we are informed to how this can work and how it can go terribly wrong,” Hodges says. “Lucky for us, we only have it go terribly wrong in the privacy of our practice sessions,” Spalding jokes.
The first song the band worked on was “Mercy.” Spearheaded by Mason, work on this song initially brought the members together. “That song means a lot to me; it’s definitely what informed my desire to want to even do Avers,” Mason adds. Other tracks like “The Only One” hearken back to Olsen’s early songwriting tricks with unknown former bands like The Razorektors. The aforementioned “Evil” has a lurking spookiness to it that might not feel so out of place in Hypercolor, but adds a haunting feel to Spalding’s already incredible voice.
In theory, Empty Light should probably feel like a mixed bag. In light of its creation through sporadic recording sessions held over a number of months, it could have easily ended up that way. Yet the charismatic personalities of each Avers member lend themselves towards developing an identity that shines through each and every song on the album. This charisma, evident on songs released months in advance of the full album, generated a buzz around the band that escalated quickly as they worked towards finishing the record.
With the record soon to be released, Avers began preparing their live set–which, surprisingly enough, did not match up very closely with the material on Empty Light. “Despite ‘Mercy’ being one of the first songs we worked on, it didn’t really fit live,” Mason says. Meanwhile, the band had continued writing after finishing the album, “so we had material that we could have in the sets that wasn’t even going to be on the record,” Hodges says. As they gradually built their set, though, one important factor came to their attention that had nothing to do with the set–they all wanted a dedicated sound engineer who could capture and do justice to their best performances. This was how Patrick Ball became the seventh member of Avers.
“When we approached Patrick about doing this, we didn’t want him to feel confined in any way,” Olsen says. “We wanted him to take risks and do things that he might not naturally do in most of his typical sound gigs.” Ball, easily one of the most talented live sound engineers in the city, was an obvious candidate for this position. “I spend a lot of time on the road doing sound, and when Avers approached me, I didn’t know what my availability was going to be like,” Ball says. “What ended up happening was that Avers gigs were happening when I had breaks from being on the road, and it just worked out naturally.” Ball is also a remarkable musician, who writes under the moniker Patrick Bates and has contributed to the project Autocue. “When I do sound for Avers, I don’t think I approach it as a sound guy. I approach it as a musician, and use that as my template for how I operate during their live shows.”
Avers’ first shows were out of town. They used these shows as a means of fine-tuning their set before their Richmond debut in December of 2013. Once in the public eye, they often found themselves tagged with the term “supergroup.” Their associations to The Head and The Heart, The Trillions, Farm Vegas, Mason Brothers, Hypercolor and many others could lend themselves to that term. However, the band sees it differently. “There may have been a slight design as to how we initially began when it was just the four of us,” Mason says. “But we never put this band together to serve the purpose that a term like supergroup might refer to.” Spalding also found the logic of that term to be confounding. “It seemed like being referred to as that just added a preceding notion of what our intentions were for this project,” she says. “We started just like any other band has started.” Hodges also adds, “It just so happens we have all had a bit of past recognition for our efforts as working musicians.” Given their continued success in the live environment, as well as the rave reviews Empty Light has received, Avers have quickly distinguished themselves as having merits beyond those implied by their connections to other bands.
The future for Avers couldn’t be brighter. “We do [have to] work around Tyler’s schedule for his other band, but that hasn’t prevented us from continuing to work on this,” Olsen says. In light of their respective other projects, the fact that Avers abides by a looser schedule makes the project easier for its members to fit in smoothly with the rest of their creative working lives. “By no means is Avers just a side project, but I wouldn’t want The Trillions to fall to the wayside, or have Alex and Adrian postpone plans for Hypercolor,” Glenn says. The group is still continuing to write songs and already have a second record finished. “It’s like in baseball terminology–we are on a hot streak, and it hasn’t really let up yet,” Mason says. In 2015, The Head and The Heart will be taking a bit of a break, which should allow time for Avers to pursue a few more opportunities. “We’ve already done a lot of great stuff as it is; I think 2015 should be awesome,” Hodges says.
Outside of the connections all of the members of Avers have already developed, their creative network continues to expand. “Even with bringing Patrick in, we have continued to collaborate with our close friends. Our friend Sarah Blake is doing all of the artwork for Avers. We went to high school together and I hadn’t spoken to her in ten years. I reached out to her, sent her some tracks and asked if she would want to do the artwork, and she was way into it,” Olsen says. “Sarah puts a lot of thought into the process of how she develops the art that represents Avers. She has a whole theory behind what Empty Light means and what that represents. It’s always awesome to work with people like that,” Spalding adds.
In the coming months, Empty Light will see a proper release on vinyl, and the band will continue to tour as often as possible. Avers are one of the greatest treasures that this city has unearthed in recent years and their legend is already reaching unheard-of magnitudes.
Avers will be performing as part of Fall Line Fest at The National on Saturday, September 6. To purchase tickets for Fall Line Fest, click here.
This article is taken from the Summer 2014 print edition of RVA Magazine, out now! Look for copies available for free at your favorite local Richmond businesses. To read a digital version of the full issue, click here.