Smile Politely

Avon Dale returns to Champaign-Urbana

Avon Dale originated here in Champaign, but packed up and moved the band to the intimate musical scene of Memphis. Their rhymthic guitar sounds and rustic, soulful vocals (think Andrew Hozier-Byrne of the band Hozier) help create both bluesy ballads as well as fun little ditties.

Their two albums, Dress It Up (2014) and the more recent Little Ditty (2016) have taken them on sprawling, fast-paced summer tours. Their current Strings and Rust Tour will bring the band back home to Champaign with a free show at Rigg’s Beer Company on August 13th.

I spoke with the band to find out more.

Smile Politely: What are your names and who plays what instrument?

Conrad Polz: Avon Dale is a four piece band consisting of:

  • Conrad Polz – Lead vocals and guitar
  • Alec Heist – Drums and Percussion
  • Andrew Allen – Bass guitar
  • Patrick Vaughan – Lead guitar and vocals

SP: I understand a couple of the band members met in Champaign. What brought you to C-U in the first place and why did you decide to start Avon Dale?

Polz: Alec and I (Conrad) are both UIUC graduates and met our senior year to form Avon Dale along with our former bandmate and fellow UIUC graduate, Matt McCarter. Matt and I were both athletes on the wrestling team and had started playing acoustic guitar together for fun. Matt and Alec were both in the history education program and discovered they both loved playing music and enjoyed the same bands. When we all got together, it felt as if we were meant to be. We were friends who shared a common passion for music and loved playing together. The name Avon Dale originates from the house where our first songs were written on Avondale Ave. in Champaign, IL. If you’re not familiar with the street, it’s off of Neal just north of Stadium Drive next to the new Papa Del’s location. At the end of our senior year, we enjoyed playing together so much that we joined Alec as he moved to Memphis to complete a Teach for America program so we could continue to play music.

SP: How did moving to Memphis change the dynamic of the band?

Polz: Moving to Memphis definitely had a big influence on the continued development of our sound and greatly impacted our growth as individual musicians and artists. We experienced a lot of great local music and really began to hone our skills as performers and recording artists. We’ve been lucky enough to meet great people and work at such influential places such as Ardent Studios. We were also lucky enough to meet such talented and committed musicians and bandmates in Andrew and Patrick.

SP: It’s been almost one year since your last album, Little Ditty, came out. How has it been received?

Polz: We think it’s been received very well. We definitely have more streams online than previously and we’ve gotten onto a few Spotify playlists with Little Ditty. Also, playing live is a good indication of which songs are connecting with audiences and a lot from Little Ditty seem to be doing that.

SP: What would you say is the biggest difference between your two albums?

Polz: I think Little Ditty is a much more thematic compilation of songs as compared to Dress It Up. We spent more time writing, recording, and producing the songs in Little Ditty with intention of making it thematic. Dress It Up was our first professional recording and we’re proud of it, but I think we learned a lot from it to make Little Ditty a step up.

SP: Could you compare and contrast the music scenes of Memphis and Midwest cities, like Champaign and Chicago?

Polz: Memphis is sort of a big city/little town in many regards. I think that’s evident in the music scene here. It’s pretty tight knit and everybody knows everybody. It’s nice in that you can develop great relationships both in business and as friends and work with a lot of different people. Chicago is vast and the music scene is very diverse. We haven’t experienced that same kind of small town comfort in other cities.

SP: In my opinion, your music sounds soulful and bluesy but it also has a unique edginess to it. Living in Memphis, do you think it’s important for newer bands to stand out from the traditional blues sounds that the city is known for?

Polz: Absolutely. Memphis is famous for its rock and roll, blues, and soul music. I think’s it’s important that bands understand, respect, and include those influences in their sound so that there is something familiar in the songs for audiences to connect to. But it’s also as important to stand out with something fresh, something new to say. In my opinion, the best artists and songwriters do that very well.

SP: Your current Strings and Rust Tour is taking you to so many different cities across the U.S. How are you traveling and what have been some of your favorite places to pass through so far?

Polz: It’s been quite an adventure and we’ve had a lot of fun playing to new cities and spreading our music. We’re 4 guys in a 15 passenger van with two rows of seats taken out to haul our equipment and luggage. We’ve enjoyed many places that we’ve played but the ones that stand out include Bremen Cafe in Milwaukee, Elbo room in Chicago, Lafayette’s Music Room in Memphis, and The Attic at Rock Brothers Brewing in Tampa.

SP: What do you learn individually about yourself and collectively as a band by going on such a sprawling, quick-paced tour?

Polz: As a band, it definitely gives you an insight into which songs are connecting with audiences and which to improve on. It also gives insight to new cities and Markets we want to expand in and return to. Individually, you’re generally playing with other acts and I believe by just watching other musicians, you pick up on the things that you want to continue to develop and incorporate into your own playing/performance. The road definitely tests your stamina and forces you to make long trips with little sleep and play multiple shows with little time to recover.

SP: Are you currently writing any new music?

Polz: There are a few that are in the works, but we plan on spending a lot of time in the fall and winter to prep and write for a new album.

SP: In my opinion, Little Ditty seemed to channel that weird limbo between being a young and carefree 20-something and being a more “responsible adult”. Even The full-fledged songs broken up by little ditties in between seems symbolic of this balance. I’m curious what themes your future music could carry with it.

Polz: I think that’s a very accurate picture of some of the themes in Little Ditty and I think it’s reflective of our experiences at the time. I find that most songwriting comes naturally through observing and reporting your life and the experiences you have with others. In general, we tend to write songs with some form of optimism through adversity or perceived adversity. I like the idea of a silver lining. With that being said, the songs on little ditty were written around December of 2015 and we plan to get back in the studio in February or March of 2018. We’ll have a lot of new experiences to draw from when we start to flush out the songs and we know it will be something fresh with a new perspective.

SP: Are you planning to re-visit any certain places in Champaign?

Polz: We’re definitely excited to come back to Champaign. We’ll definitely take a stroll down Green Street, visit the old house on Avondale, and might have to stop into some old haunts. We wish the Illini Inn was still open so we could join the Mug club for the fifth time.

SP: We look forward to welcoming you back to Champaign for your show at Rigg’s Brewery on August 13th. Are you guys very big craft beer fans?

Polz: We love craft beer and we’re excited to play Riggs Beer Company and have some of their brews.

RSVP to Avon Dale’s Rigg’s show here.

All photos taken by Michael Cardwell.

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