Having a conversation with Vancouver musician and poet C.R. Avery is a lot like one of his live shows; a meandering affair that could just as easily touch upon ‘60s beat poetry as the obscenity-laden standup of comedian Louis C.K and everything in between.
For the revered multi-instrumentalist bluesy, beatboxing poet, pianist and playwright, art doesn’t just imitate life, it is life.
“I’m just inspired by so much,” said Avery, who proceeded to lay out a laundry list of influences ranging from T.S. Eliot to Check Berry to Allen Ginsberg, who all played a small role in pushing Avery to try out new creative pursuits. “I just kept on being inspired by all these different types of storytelling. Maybe it was a little crazy to take them all on, but it’s like anything; once you learn to cook Chinese, you wanna cook Italian.”
Delving into so many different art forms made sense for the naturally restless Avery, and his live performances are an accurate reflection of that.
“My favourite shows are cabarets. You have a comedian who comes out and just juices the crowd and then — boom — a burlesque dancer comes out and then — boom — a country band does a tune and then a poet comes out and hits you on that level and then a dirty Rolling Stones rock ‘n’ roll song and then a folk musician does an eight minute song that has you on the edge of your seat,” he said. “But I can’t afford to build a 12-person circus every time, so my set moves when I feel the audience getting bored, or my mind is starting to drift.”
In spite of his fondness for the Vaudevillian stage shows of decades past, Avery’s wandering performances have a certain contemporary feel to them, tailor-made for the fleeting attention spans of a generation raised online. A generation, according to Avery, with an affinity for decent music.
“People are just looking for good music now, and I don’t think it was like that 10 years ago,” he said. “Yeah, sound quality has gone to shit with our MP3s; yes, the music industry is crashing because record stores left and everyone knows how to get shit for free, but everybody now is just a giant library. Twelve-year-old kids are discovering The Velvet Underground and Nina Simone and that’s really hip.”
As you’d imagine, Avery’s creative process varies as much as his schizophrenic stage show, trying out different verses or poems with an array of instruments or singers behind him until he finds the one that fits.
“Sometimes you get lucky. I’ll write something and I hear the playback of me on the piano and — boom — it doesn’t need anything. But it might also work as a rock song or with a string quartet or a gospel choir,” he said. “There are a few of those and those are your friends, but like Leonard Cohen said ‘If I knew where to go to get the good ones I would go there more often.’”
Even after sharing the stage with the likes of Canuck alternative hip hopper Buck 65 or the grizzled legendary singer-songwriter Tom Waits, 2013 is shaping up to be one of Avery’s biggest years.
Besides putting the finishing touches on his appropriately titled forthcoming album My Year in Burlesque, which Avery wrote this summer on tour with a scantily-clad troupe, “living in the dressing room, surrounded by pasties and sparkles,” he is also in discussion with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra to put a live concert together.
He has 14 songs written for a full orchestra, including five he recorded with the Prague Symphony Orchestra last year for his last album, Act One. He’s delayed having an album release party, however, until he can perform with a full symphony behind him.
“That’s a crazy bourgeois world of kings and queens that I need to bust into, but I know if I achieve it (with the VSO), that’s gonna be a whole new world for me,” he said.
Shouldn’t be much a problem; Avery’s been conquering new worlds for some time now.
Catch him backed by the Singers of Company B at Dusty’s Bar Friday (Jan. 25) at 9 p.m. as part of the bi-weekly Creative 5 Eclectic showcase. Tickets are $10 at the door.