On Saturday, the Raleigh psych-rock legends will share a stage with Moon Duo, Man Forever, and Mdou Moctar, Boogarins.
It’s been nearly two years since Birds of Avalon released a new album—the pummeling Operator’s Midnight—but that doesn’t mean the Raleigh psych-rock legends haven’t been keeping busy. Guitarists Cheetie Kumar and Paul Siler own the popular Raleigh venues Kings and Neptunes, and their building is also home to Garland, Kumar’s beloved Indian and Asian street food restaurant, for which she was nominated for a James Beard Award in 2017. Others in the band have gone to graduate school, or had kids, so today, Birds of Avalon is embracing a slower pace. A decade into their career as a band, they’re leaning hard into structured improvisation, resulting in enveloping compositions that are at once patient and trippy as hell.
We caught up with Siler about what makes the Triangle music scene thrive, and the approach they took to curating their stage at Hopscotch. Catch Birds of Avalon along with Man Forever, Boogarins, Mdou Moctar, and Moon Duo on Saturday, September 7 at Kings, at 8:30 p.m.
What’s your personal history with Hopscotch?
My history was Hopscotch is very deep. I booked the first Hopscotch. After that, they didn’t need me to do it anymore. I was the one in charge of being in touch with all of the artists’ booking agents and getting all their flights together and hotels and all that stuff.
Birds of Avalon have played every other year. This is the fifth or sixth time, I think. Usually, we do a day party on years we haven’t played. Our venue has been extremely central. We have two venues, so they are very much a hub of what’s going on. Garland is too. We open our to-go window during Hopscotch because we sell boozy snow cones and snacks that we don’t normally sell, so people get excited about that.
What is your favorite Hopscotch memory?
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard [in 2015] was pretty great. That was Birds of Avalon, Zach Mexico, and King Gizzard at the Pourhouse. That was a very memorable night. It was just a good vibe. It was just the music, and that band was really great.
[In 2014], they had like a 17-piece band called What Cheer? Brigade at Kings, and it was totally nuts. I think it was the last thing going on anywhere. They were just playing and playing and everybody was freaking out. Then they left the building, went down the steps and out the sidewalk, and kept playing down the street. It was awesome.
Tell me about the bill you put together for this year’s festival. Why did you pick these artists specifically, and what sort of commonalities were you looking to highlight?
When we all first talked about it, we had about 15 names we were sort of all excited about trying to get. Not all of those were available, but a couple were, and then [Hopscotch director] Nathan [Price] and I discussed other bands that we had played with or had things in common with. We are psyched about it. It could have been more perfect if another thing or two had fallen into place. But if you told me last year that our bill would be what it is, I would just be shocked.
There’s a really good thread through it. Everybody’s from somewhere completely different, and we all kind of adhere to a hypnotic, psychedelic, patient sort of sound. Kid Millions, the guy playing first, has been the artist-in-residency at Hopscotch, and he was the drummer for Spiritualized when they played at the Plaza years ago. He and Cheetie and I have known each other for over 20 years, and our bands have done lots of shows together with his band, Oneida. Oneida wasn’t available, but his side-project Man Forever was. They are a perfect way to kick off the night. Mdou Moctar has played at Kings a few times, and we’re all just huge fans. There’s that afrobeat, hypnotic style again.
Boogarins are from Brazil, and we played with them in Chapel Hill. And I’ve known the main Moon Duo guy for over 20 years. Birds of Avalon and Moon Duo did a tour together in 2017, and we’d also toured with his band Wooden Shjips back in 2011. We just feel great about the commonality of the way we look at music and [have] a good rapport with each other.
So it’s a good mix of old friends and new friends who have a common feeling about music. It’s sort of having a groove without being groovy, you know what I mean?
What do you love most about being an artist in North Carolina?
It’s a really good community. Being a band that has toured a lot, it’s a good place to come home to. Cheetie and I always thought we would probably move, because we like big cities and we like being in them. But touring all the time gave us the opportunity to be in big cities and come home to Raleigh. We’re in a place that’s big enough [that] a decent amount of music that we like [comes] through, but small enough so we can still practice at our house, and we can live without having the pressures of New York or San Francisco.
For us, the food community here has just been fantastic for Garland. The press that the whole city gets around food is deserved, because it’s really small business owners doing really interesting food. A lot of the interviews with Cheetie revolve around her connection with music and food, which is right here in our building: It’s music and food.
How does living here influence the music you create?
We’re really lucky. I think there’s a common-sense way people approach things here. There’s not a lot of ego, but everybody seems to understand that trying to be a rock star doesn’t really work. You don’t even try to be one, but if you are one, that’s great. There’s no guarantee for anybody, but it tends to make their artistic statement better if it’s not this forced thing. Every town has some of that, but I think this area has a lot of it. There’s just not a lot of cheesy shit here.
We operate Kings this way: We don’t want to have security guards, or have a bunch of TVs or beer signs. It’s understated. We want it to be clean and look cool and sound good. You want your foundation to be really good, and then see what happens.
– Sarah Riazati