It’s A Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful Day: An Interview With Tim Barry of AVAIL

by | Apr 29, 2022 | MUSIC

As recently as 2019, if you stuck your hand into the mud of the James River, chances are you would have traces of kepone in what you pulled up from below. If you weren’t around in the 60’s and 70’s when it was dumped into the river by the Allied Chemical Corporation in Hopewell, you’ve probably heard about the environmental disaster from some old head around Richmond. If you’ve eaten fish from the James, maybe you’ve got some of that non-biodegradable pesticide bobbing up and down in your bloodstream. 

Tim Barry mentioned kepone in the lyrics of “Scuffle Town” by his legendary blue-collar Richmond punk band, AVAIL, on their 1998 classic, Over The James.  

You know who AVAIL is. At the very least, you’ve heard of them. You can’t come up in Richmond and not have traces of AVAIL in your blood. In 2019, they reunited, after 13 years away, to play back-to-back SOLD OUT shows at the National and a run of sellouts along the well-worn tracks of the East Coast. Most fans of the band didn’t think any of this would happen. Maybe the dudes in the band didn’t either.

But here we are. Again.

Chances are, if you stick your head underwater anywhere near Brown’s Island on August 6th of this year, you’ll hear lots of guitars and sing-alongs. AVAIL will headline the Over The James Fest with Quicksand, Cave In, Ceremony, Screaming Females, and Terminal Bliss. Tickets go on-sale Friday, April 29th at noon (that’s today — see below for ticket link).

I called Tim Barry to see if all of this was a bag of lies, and he told me everything I’d heard was true. Kepone is still in the river. The river is still flowing East. And AVAIL is having their own festival, this summer in Richmond.

It’s a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful day.

Ryan Kent: Tell me everything, Tim. I saw the announcement released earlier today about the Over The James Fest.

Tim Barry: Well, so tell you everything? I don’t know how to start other than to say that when Avail originally began discussing doing reunion shows back in 2019, or whenever the hell they were — God, time flies — I thought it would be fun to do a handful of reunion shows. A couple of reunion shows here in Richmond. This is going back to the origins of the sort of reuniting. [We thought] it would be fun to do a couple of shows up and down the East Coast, and then possibly do an annual Richmond show on a specific date so that everybody knows, and we can all get together. Mimicking Lucero’s Block Party of Memphis, or the Bouncing Souls Home for the Holidays or Stoked For Summer, they do up at the Stone Pony in New Jersey, and the handful other bands that sort of curate these hometown festivals.

Then the pandemic happened, and everything was put on hold. And here we are in 2022, and we’ve just announced the first segment of Over The James, I guess we can call it “fest,” here in Richmond. I really can’t stress enough that Brown’s Island is the perfect venue. Although we may not feel like we’re a popular enough band to fill the space, I think creating an event that would bring people together and [not be] about who’s popular or whatever, just an event that everybody would feel comfortable coming to, is the goal.

Brown’s Island being outside on the James River, with the freight train line right there, [is] sort of the perfect scenic Richmond experience. People can come for the weekend and ride mountain bikes and kayak, or stay in the hotels that are walking distance, or people can ride freight trains in. And there’s plenty of great [illegal] camp spots that folks can stay at. Sort of make a weekend of it. So, it has everything for everyone. For those coming from out of town, Richmond is just filled with all kinds of everything you need.

And then to add to that – today we announced the festival itself and its lineup, and there’ll be other events surrounding it [which] we’ll roll out as they become confirmed. I’m going to be playing a solo show at the Richmond Music Hall, the day before the Over The James Festival on August 5th, with Andrew Alli, Josh Small, and Sally Rose. Then with the James festival happening, there’ll hopefully be some shows at the Camel, the Broadberry, and lots of other stuff going on.

RK: Man, that sounds amazing! Tell me about the bands on the bill for Over The James.

TB: The bands are sort of a collection of groups of people that we all thought would be really special for the event. And I can go into it, or you can pick through each group, with each band member, but I suggest that everyone looks closely at who’s playing, and why, and listen to their music. And I think everything will start making sense. And again, there’ll be more events, not just my solo show the night before, not just Over The James fest. [Trying] to get everybody involved is the point. I think that Richmond is such a welcoming place that the folks who live here will have open arms for the people coming from out of town, and can act as ambassadors to the city in so many different ways.

RK: Over The James is a seminal punk album. Beloved here, as is AVAIL. It was inducted into the Decibel Magazine Hall of Fame in 2019, which is no easy feat for a melodic punk album in a predominantly metal magazine. The album turned 24 a few weeks ago, so it’s fitting to have the festival at Brown’s Island. But I bet you couldn’t imagine having a festival named after your “new” record in 1998. That’s almost two and a half decades later.

TB: [Laughs] I never really thought of it like that. Honestly, when we were in the trenches, when AVAIL was touring in those years, that’s kind of the years that AVAIL peaked – around Over The James. I say that like, internationally. And when we peaked, it really wasn’t that much of a peak [laughing]. Our big shows were not big compared to really popular bands. So yeah, that’s even more humbling to know that when we were at our strongest and always on tour, and during that time frame of the release Over The James, that all these years later, we’d be able to help put together an event in Richmond of this size and scale.

RK: What are you most looking forward to about the fest?

TB: Well, I live real close to Brown’s Island. And I’m most looking forward to my seven-year-old daughter Coralee, and my nine-year-old daughter Lela, and I riding our bikes over the Teapot Bridge, and spending the afternoon around on Brown’s Island. Then getting to watch their crazy-ass dad sing in AVAIL for the first time. I cannot tell you, couldn’t make it more clear, that is absolutely what I’m most looking forward to. And then us just getting back on our bikes and riding home and having some ice cream sandwiches and going to sleep.

RK: After the 2019 reunion shows at the National on some on the East Coast, your solo album, The Roads To Richmond; the pandemic put everything on hold for everyone. Has it inspired a desire to do more reunion shows besides Over The James, or what else has it inspired?

TB: Personally, I can say – and this is not speaking on behalf of AVAIL. Personally, I started playing shows again in early February and then some more shows with AVAIL later in February. And I can say that I didn’t realize how deeply I missed playing live music until I did it. I have always said, and so many other players say this, that they play every show like it’s their last. I did not grieve. I did not mourn during the pandemic. I didn’t have this sort of overwhelming need to go out and play music, because I felt like the last shows that I played, I gave it all I could.

So, with that sort of stubborn, “I’m fine, the pandemic’s not affecting me” bullshit that was going on my head, in February of this year, when I got back out on the road, I suddenly felt whole again. I didn’t realize I was just using defense mechanisms emotionally during the pandemic. With that said, I am so eager to spend time playing music and being in that environment again for a while, whether that be with AVAIL, or… I’ve [got] tons and tons and tons of solo stuff lined up. But the way I see music, and hopefully, this will be represented [during] Over The James and the solo show, and all the other shows around it and other events: I believe that music is a celebration. It’s a coming together of all kinds of different people. If that’s accomplished at this festival, I think I’ll feel really fulfilled. I’d really like it to be a place where people can just be themselves without being criticized, and let go. And hopefully we can accomplish that.

With that said, when I said there’s great hotels, restaurants; we’ve got Vinyl Conflict, Plan 9; people coming in on trains, people hitchhiking. It’s also, beyond music being a celebration, a coming together, in my brain; it’s an excuse to do things and an excuse to live your life. You can hate AVAIL. Hate all of the opening bands. Not like anything about the idea. But you can still come [laughing]. It’ll be an adventure. It’ll be an excuse to get out of your routine and start sharing an experience. Whether you come in on a freight train, hitchhike, fly, walk across the Teapot Bridge, or ride across it with your kids. I think the goal is that we celebrate and use this as an excuse to live.

RK: To say “yes” to something.

TB: Yeah. Instead of hiding, like we’ve been doing for so long. I think there couldn’t be a better venue for [it]. I mean, outside is bulletproof as far as pandemic goes.

RK: What would you tell a younger version of yourself?

TB: Well, I mean, we never thought there was longevity in music. Times have changed to the point where bands are around forever. I mean, fuck yeah, I’m dad rock. Fuck yeah, AVAIL is dad rock. It’s easy to make fun of. But it’s also really exciting that we can still do this. And so does Lucero, and so does Hot Water Music, and so does Strike Anywhere, and so does Ann Beretta, and so do all of these other great Richmond bands. There’s more. It’s like, we’re all supposed to retire at 23 and get a job driving a forklift at Nabisco? So, now Nabisco is gone. So still playing music — it’s definitely exciting to still feel excited.

RK: What would you say on the flip side of that? What’s going to be the hardest part about playing with AVAIL again?

TB: I don’t know that there is any hard part. I mean, I never stopped traveling. You know, when AVAIL stopped, I kept on going. I’m really used to being on stage and singing, and that lifestyle. So I really don’t know that I look at it as anything difficult coming. Maybe it’s just how I see my life and where it fits in the world, but I look for things that I look forward to. I really look forward to watching the trains going by the river, you know what I mean [laughing]?

I keep harping back to a time, many years ago, when AVAIL played this random festival that wasn’t very well attended on Mayo Island. I don’t really remember why it happened or who organized it, but I remember enjoying playing outside, right along the river, with the heartbeat of Richmond. I’m not looking at the challenges as much as the things I look forward to, I suppose.

RK: PMA. [Positive Mental Attitude]

TB: I should get a PMA tattoo on my fucking neck [laughing].

RK: I saw some shows at Brown’s Island last year, and it was quite amazing to hear this train come through and… 

TB: Like a ghost.

RK: Yes! And then all the people cheer. Grace Potter played down there. She was singing a song about a train, then the train happened to come through. Then it blew its horn. It just reminded me of when Prince played the Super Bowl, and it rained as he’s playing “Purple Rain.” I mean, how perfect is that?

TB: God, I forgot about that. How do you forget about that? Yeah, that shit’s just the world lining up.

RK: I’m hoping when you guys are playing, the train comes through.

When you’re around something all the time, you don’t necessarily see the soft changes. Like, say, your partner, or your parent. If you’re around them all the time, maybe you don’t notice how they age. However, when you take breaks away from them, you come back and see things differently. What has changed about Richmond since moving here from Reston in 1990? What have you noticed has changed that somebody maybe wouldn’t see that stays here?

TB: I could go on and on and on, and complain. I could be positive. The only way I can sort of sum up the way I see Richmond, Virginia in 2022, compared to 30-plus years ago — Richmond was once a town and now Richmond is a city. That’s it, man. There’s two Richmonds. You either live in Richmond, Virginia, or you live in RVA. It doesn’t mean that either is better or worse. It’s just how it is.

Over The James Festival will take place on Saturday, August 6 on Brown’s Island, rain or shine. Doors open at 3:30 pm, music starts at 4:15. In addition to Avail, the event will feature performances by Quicksand, Cave-In, Ceremony, Screaming Females, and Terminal Bliss. Tickets go on sale Friday, April 29 at noon (a few hours after this article goes live) and can be purchased at Broadberry Entertainment Group’s website. Tickets for Tim Barry’s solo show at Richmond Music Hall at Capital Ale House on Friday, August 5 go on sale at the same time, also at Broadberry Entertainment Group’s website.

AVAIL Photos by Ken Penn

Ryan Kent

Ryan Kent

Ryan Kent is the author of the collections, Poems For Dead People, This Is Why I Am Insane, Hit Me When I'm Pretty, and Everything Is On Fire: Selected Poems 2014-2021. He has also co-authored the poetry collections, Tomorrow Ruined Today, and Some Of Us Love You (both with Brett Lloyd). His spoken word record, Dying Comes With Age, will be released by Rare Bird Books in 2022. Ryan is a staff writer for RVA Magazine and maintains a pack a day habit. (photo by D. Randall Blythe)

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