When C.R. Avery takes off his pants, it’s poetry.
At least that’s what the rock n’ roll, beatbox poet-cum-singer claims.
Avery is doing this interview via cellphone while standing in line at a Vancouver bank.
So I have to take his word for it.
Which isn’t hard to do, since the rest of the interview is also poetry.
“I went to the Lou Reed school of arts,” says Avery. “I can’t be anything else.
“From Frank Sinatra live at the Sands with Quincy Jones conducting, to Mohammed Ali thrashing reporters with his tongue, I take it all in.”
Then it’s Avery’s turn at the teller.
He calls back 10 minutes later.
Now, he’s talking about solo acts and rock n’ roll.
In Whitehorse tonight, Avery is performing solo.
But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a quiet evening.
“The guns are loaded,” said Avery. “You’d be a fool not to come to the show.”
Sometimes he plays with a rock n’ roll band, sometimes he performs with whole symphonies and sometimes he’s all by himself on the stage with only a mic and a keyboard.
“I’d love to see Ani DiFranco with a 10-piece band,” he says. “But I’d pay a lot more money just to see her with a guitar.”
The good thing about solo performers who also play rock n’ roll, is that when they play rock n’ roll, it’s dynamic, says Avery. “It doesn’t have to be crunch for an hour.”
“Jeff Buckley can slay a room by himself,” he says. “But then playing with a band, he’ll bring it down to just him on the guitar and then boom, set off explosives and kick the band in.
“So it’s good to be able to stand on your own two feet but always be open for somebody to bring in the troops.”
It all depends on the song.
“If you listen to the demo version of Subterranean Homesick Blues, it just doesn’t work, it doesn’t sound good,” he says, referring to an early acoustic version of the Bob Dylan hit.
“Before that, Dylan has four albums of him just playing acoustic guitar and harmonica and it sounds killer,” says Avery.
But now, “he was at the mercy of the song, and it didn’t work acoustic. It had more balls and it had an alleyway running through it and when he put it with a rock n’ roll band, boom it sounded at home.”
It’s the same with Avery’s poetry.
Everything has a soundtrack, he says.
“Every time you watch a movie, you hear something. If it’s a piano, a radio in background or just the noise of traffic, it just sounds better,” he says.
“The same goes for anyone who writes words. If it’s going to be spoken, it actually sounds better with something underneath it. It could just be a freight train in the background, or a dog barking, or it could be a full band.”
Or it could be a whole symphony.
Avery just finished recording his most recent album with the Prague Symphony Orchestra.
“My goal is to bring orchestras back to the day when singers would sing with orchestras and tell jokes between songs,” he says. “It just got too bourgeoise and too expensive, but I hope to bring it back to the rock n’ roll band.”
Avery grew up with a country singer for a dad and a classical musician for a mom. He was beatboxing by the time he was 11.
Then he got into the blues, and poetry, and anything else that caught his fancy.
“By accident I watched Guys and Dolls and loved a couple songs from that,” he says. “I was always open.
“I’m inspired by Louis CK and George Carlin as much as I am by Keith Richards.”
Avery’s a self-described outlaw hip-hop harmonica player, beatbox poet, punk piano player, string quartet raconteur, rock n’ roll matador and playwright.
He also paints.
“And I’ve slept with a few dancers,” he says, with a laugh.
But Avery doesn’t take the rock n’ roll lifestyle lightly.
He remembers living in utter poverty in East Vancouver and getting booked at one of the best venues in Seattle as part of a poetry slam.
“We were in this gorgeous old-school theatre in Seattle,” he says. “I mean look where our art has taken us. It is the greatest passport you can have.
“People go on vacations and get stuck in these tourist calligraphy traps, but with us, we get taken right to the bohemian centre, to the arts community, and it’s on from the get-go.”
These days, Avery is on the road a lot.
Last weekend he was in Memphis, the weekend before he was playing on the Gulf Islands and the night before his Whitehorse show, he was in Ottawa for Versefest.
Sure it can get tiring, he says.
“So can being a single mother living in the city working as a waitress. I mean, come on, I live a pretty good life.”
But Avery works at it.
“Destiny is a three-legged horse,” he says. “You got to give it its fourth leg.”
Contact Genesee Keevil at