Avers members (from left) Charlie Glenn, Adrian Olsen, James Mason, James Lloyd Hodges and Alexandra Spalding (Photo by: Sarah Walor)
The new album Avers is about to release via Richmond’s EggHunt Records, “Omega/Whatever,” represents the indie rockers’ movement over the past two-plus years. Compared to the 2014 debut album “Empty Light,” says member James Lloyd Hodges, “It sounds much more like a band and less like sonic experiments.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is the versatile group’s commitment to collaboration and flexibility of roles between the members. Along with Hodges, those include Alexandra Spalding, Adrian Olsen, James Mason and Charlie Glenn; Tyler Williams played on the album, but has left to tour with his band, The Head and the Heart, and manage Richmond-based singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus. (She recently signed with Matador Records, which will reissue her “No Burden” album in September.)
Recorded in Olsen’s Montrose studio, “Omega/Whatever” follows the release of Avers’ “Wasted Tracks” EP last November. Olsen says the songs on that recording are the B-sides of the current album. “Most of the time, you would put out the record and then release the B-sides,” he says, “but we put that out first, so everything on our ‘Wasted Tracks’ EP is songwriting demos that we dressed up a little bit from our upcoming release.”
The often rollicking, sometimes moody sophomore album comes out July 29 with a party at The Broadberry, where Avers will be joined by Nashville’s Blank Range and Camp Howard of Richmond. Over coffee at Saison Market, Hodges, Spalding and Olsen talk about their progression from a collection of musicians with a variety of groups to a band that has an identifiable sound.
Richmond magazine: Would you say your first record was more informal in the way it came together than this new one?
Olsen: In that first record, there are a bunch of people on it who aren’t in the band, and it was something that allowed us to become a band, but it wasn’t necessarily the band’s recording. Ever since then, we’ve been playing and touring around the East Coast and we have become Avers. So this new record that’s coming out is markedly different, in my opinion, than the first record because we have been playing show after show and we’ve become like a unit.
RM: Could you say a bit more about how this new album is different?
Hodges: I think it sounds much more cohesive as a record and I think it has a pretty different sound, I agree with Adrian. “Empty Light” is kind of all over the place, I think, and that’s a product of the type of sessions that birthed it — like, it’s Tuesday afternoon and Adrian may have been working on some other session the day before and there’s already this weird keyboard station set up, for example, and then that keyboard station ends up being on the song that we write because somebody can get an idea down quickly. With this record, I think we definitely put a little bit more time and thought into what it was going to sound like together.
Olsen: When we did “Empty Light,” we hadn’t performed at all. I was talking to Charlie Glenn, and he had revisited the record after a couple years and listened to it. He was like, “I guess what we have interpreted [the music] to, even though we tried to play the record as closely as possible, is totally different now than it was when we tracked it.” On “Empty Light,” there’s three or four different drummers, people are alternating who’s playing bass and who’s playing all these instruments, so it’s a little more pieced together. For anyone who’s seen us play live, this is definitely us.
RM: A lot of bands start playing and performing and then record. You did the opposite.
Hodges: I think most of our other bands that we’ve been in have been that more traditional thing where you rehearse the songs and you go perform the songs and then you’re like, “All right guys, we’ve got three days booked in the studio. Let’s go try to record these songs we’ve been playing for a year.” Whereas this is like, "Hey, Alex has four bars of a vocal melody and a little tiny guitar part and we’re going to, tonight, turn that into a song."
RM: Are you still using the same process that you did with “Empty Light”?
Olsen: It’s something that we’ve tried to maintain and we’ve veered away from it a little bit. Recently we even had a meeting and wanted to get back to that, because it’s one thing to say, “Let’s slowly do this over the course of a week,” but if you show up in a studio and everything’s ready to go, it’s like, “Can we finish this tonight?” And it’s a whole different kind of mentality and energy.
Spalding: When you put a deadline, like you’re writing a term paper, you just have to go for it and get it done and you don’t really know what’s going to happen or what that process is going to be like. It doesn’t always work out, but that’s how we like to work.
Hodges: Also, I think it forces you, and has forced us, to trust our instincts. If you’ve been in the studio a lot and you’ve made a lot of recordings, it’s a pretty easy tendency to just get stuck in your head and overthink what you’re doing, but if it’s 8 o’clock at night and you really want to have something that you can listen to and feel good about by 2 o’clock in the morning, you can’t sit there and spend an hour talking about what the snare drum sounds like.
RM: You’ve been described as having a garage rock sound. Does that fit?
Olsen: Well, the studio is technically a garage. (Laughs)
Spalding: I think some of our songs are kind of garage-y, but I wouldn’t categorize us as garage rock at all.
Olsen: I think there are certainly elements of garage rock, but what we do, especially on a record, for instance, is way more polished than garage rock. I mean garage rock in and of itself is kind of like this flat-line rocking sound. What we’re going for is way more impact and shape to the song.
Hodges: Way more dynamic, too.
RM: Since “Empty Light” came out, you’ve been to South by Southwest, you opened for the Foo Fighters here in Richmond, you’ve been on tour. What’s the journey been like?
Spalding: It’s exciting when you put a lot of work into something, you record an album and then you play in front of people and people start enjoying it. And then you play one show and then someone else asks you to play another show, and then all of a sudden you’ve got a tour and then you’re being asked to play at South by Southwest and you’re being asked to play all these festivals. It feels very inspiring and rewarding.
RM: What has opened the most doors for you?
Spalding: I don’t know if there’s anything so singular. It’s just publications like [The Daily Beast and Esquire] or having our song on KCRW, a taste-maker radio station in L.A. or EggHunt, this local record company, picking up our album and putting it out — people that are music lovers believing in us, trusting in what we do and taking a chance on saying, “Hey, I really like this. Everyone should know about it.” We’ve had that happen in little spurts.
RM: How did you connect with EggHunt Records?
Spalding: We’ve kind of kept our eye on them to see what they’ve been doing and they’ve been checking us out for a while. It just made sense to partner up at this time.
Hodges: One of the biggest challenges for us, with the other labels we talked to, was having it all line up and feel right. I think with EggHunt, it feels like a good partnership and like a solid foundation. It was a good learning experience to go through that process and kind of come out the other side and have a situation that we feel fortunate and feel excited to be a part of, especially with the other groups here that are on the label, and I guess, with EggHunt’s plan to expand and have other artists that aren’t necessarily Richmond artists on the label, it’s exciting to be a part of something that seems like it’s got some momentum.
Alex: Ultimately, Adam [Henceroth, of EggHunt] really likes the album and that really encouraged us. He really wants to get it into the hands of people. He’s as excited as we are about it.
RM: How would you characterize “Omega/Whatever”?
Hodges: There are lots of themes that show up in the writing because we’re writing songs together. I think growing up is a big theme on this record, and what it’s like to grow up in this strange time that we live in. Love, of course. Loss. Alienation.
Olsen: Yeah, a lot of that.
Spalding: Another common thread sonically is that, yes it is four songwriters coming together, but none of us individually would do the things that you will hear on this record. That only happens with this group of people.
Hodges: With this record, it actually sounds like the band has a voice.
RM: Do you all play multiple roles in the studio as well as when you’re doing your shows?
Hodges: In the studio, definitely. Adrian plays drums on a lot of the songs. A lot of people don’t know that. He’s a great drummer. On the recording, and we all play bass and keys and guitar, and if someone has an idea and they want to use an instrument to express that idea, we’re lucky and fortunate that all of us have the ability to jump on really any instrument and then we have a secret weapon because Alex is a fantastic cellist.
Spalding: Was a fantastic cellist. (Editor's note: Spalding and Olsen are both graduates of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where for his senior project, Olsen recorded Spalding's former band, Annie and The Beekeepers.)
Hodges: We trust each other at this point because we know each other and we know each others' abilities and we will always give the other one enough rope to go out in to the live room and hang themselves. Sometimes [there may be] two of us at a time or one of us trying to figure out an idea on an instrument that might not be our main instrument. It can be great, or it can be hilarious. It’s just because we’re working pretty quickly. It’s a product of how we like to work.
Spalding: I think because there are four main singers onstage, when people see us live, they try to pick it apart — like we’re parts of these other bands, and we’re four different songwriters — but I don’t really see it differently. Yes, you’ve got different voices, different personalities like every band. But it’s one central focus. These are the songs we create together.
RM: A lot of groups do have a focus of one front person or leader, but you spread that around.
Hodges: Most of the bands that I love always have two to three singers, and two to three main writers. In the Beatles, there were four singers. So for me, that’s what gives it a certain amount of depth and richness that we’re going for, whether live, on the album.
Olsen: From the beginning up til now, like we talked about, we became more of a band. I personally have kind of viewed the recordings we make as kind of like a mixtape, a band playing a mixtape. Moving forward, for me, I think the goal is to turn it into more like a singular entity. With the Beatles, someone who’s a fan would definitely know that it’s John or Paul or George singing, but that’s really secondary to the arc of the record and the song, where it becomes a singular voice.
RM: What’s the response been like so far to the single you’ve released, "Everything Hz"?
Spalding: We’ve had great response. People have been picking it up. It’s been playing on small independent radio stations, even in the U.K.
RM: Where do you see the band going from here? If you look ahead, what’s next?
Olsen: I look forward to putting this record out and trying to build momentum of “Everything Hz,” our first single, and everything that’s going to go into the release and then touring our butts off and trying to put ourselves in a position that we’ll be making records for years to come and building our audience.
Hodges: I like that.
The "Omega/Whatever" album release party at The Broadberry starts at 9 p.m. on July 29. $12 ($10 in advance). 2729 W. Broad St. 353-1888 or thebroadberry.com.