What do you do when your newly-released album is experiencing chart success beyond your wildest dreams, and you can’t celebrate by playing shows? If you’re the Avey Grouws band, you harness the power of the Internet to get your music out into the world and to produce a crowd-sourced music video.
Avey Grouws Band formed in 2017 after meeting at a weekly blues jam near the Mississippi River in the Quad Cities. Chris Avey, Bryan West and Randy Leasman are all from the Quad Cities, and Jeni Grouws lives in Decorah. Their first full-length album, “The Devil May Care,” was released on March 20th, and reached #10 on the Billboard Blues Album chart the first week of April.
Around the same time, the band released a music video for their song, “Let’s Take It Slow."
The Avey Grouws Band has been playing a series of livestream concerts on Facebook to make up for not being able to perform live, due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. The band hosts an all-request “Quarantini Party” on Friday nights, and “Bloody Marys and Blues” Sundays at noon.
IPR will be hosting the next Bloody Marys and Blues concert, this coming Sunday on our website.
In advance of the show, Jeni Grouws spoke to us about releasing an album at this time and the challenges that musicians face right now.
When did you start working on the album? When was it finished?
"In 2018 we released our EP, 'Road to Memphis.' It was thrown together fairly quickly and released without much fanfare. Since the day that EP went out to the public, we were working on our full-length album that would eventually become 'The Devil May Care.' Since we don't have rehearsals, every time we did a show we were essentially working on the new album, playing with ideas, words, techniques. We actually went into Catamount Recording in Cedar Falls for much of one week last October and recorded our tracks to analog tape. Then it was in the hands of Travis Huisman from Catamount until December. We worked with our publicist Betsie Brown at Blind Racoon to officially release on March 20."
What were your plans for touring/performing in support of the album? What plans did you make once you had to cancel your dates?
"Well that is the million dollar question right now! We had a full tour schedule planned to start with the release of 'The Devil May Care' on March 20, but that was all put on indefinite hold with the coronavirus pandemic. Right now it's just kind of a waiting game when it comes to taking this new album on the road. And while that's definitely not ideal for us, it's absolutely right for the situation.
"It feels difficult to make any real plans right now. But while this album release is important, what we're all dealing with worldwide is more important. Many people are struggling emotionally right now. There's stress, anxiety, anger, fear, loneliness, sadness and more. We've always felt very connected with our fans. They become a kind of family. So we knew we needed to provide some relief and comfort in the one way we knew we could: with our humor and our music. So our album release ended up going online with our trio on March 20. That led us to decide on two streams a week on Facebook.
"We chat with our fans almost as much as we play music. We've heard from many, many listeners that these shows keep their spirits high, and they certainly keep us feeling connected as well. We need them as much as they say they need us. It's beautiful.
"The downside of the situation we are in is that we had to make some tough physical distancing decisions. While this is important to helping flatten the curve, it does mean we can't play together as a band. We are all missing that right now. But for the three of us that do these shows each week, they are not only helpful financially, they are an amazing way to keep us boosted emotionally. We've had anywhere from 3,000 to over 15,000 views on each stream. These are people that are connecting with us in a strange but beautiful way. We try to read what they are saying to us while we play because that communication is important to us. The back and forth from the audience and us is what makes each show unique. And that has continued in a very special way in these streams."
When did you learn the album was on the Billboard charts? What was that moment like?
"I got an email from Billboard the week before we hit saying there was a possibility that we'd be on the char, and they needed info from us. I thought it was a scam. I called the poor guy first and grilled him. He seemed honest and kind, but it still seemed so....unexpected.
"When I woke up to an email from our publicist that we hit #13 that next week, I was just floored. Our publicist was too! Everyone in the band celebrated online together, and then the celebrations continued with our fans. And then the very next week, we hit #10. We were stunned. I mean here we are, this truly uncool group of Iowa musicians that met at a jam, and our album is up there with Marcus King, The Teskey Brothers, Robert Cray, Larkin Poe, Samantha Fish, and other artists we admire. How can you not feel excited about that?"
How did the music video for “Let’s Take It Slow” come about?
“'Let's Take It Slow' was written this past summer when I was seeing that there always seemed to be 1 or 2 couples at the events we were playing that really looked like they couldn't wait to get out of there. And I started thinking about how busy our lives get, especially when we are in a relationship. It is so easy to feel the obligations of social life, and that can take over the time we spend together tending to the people we love the most. So this definitely became one of my favorite songs long before social distancing was enforced.
"The week before our release, our publicist asked us if we had a video that we wanted to release the same day to kind of encourage the excitement of the album. I did not! But I was home with my high school daughters and husband, and everyone we knew was home with their families. I started to feel like this song took on a new meaning. For once we really did have no place to go! No outside obligations or external pressures, just time together whether we liked it or not.
"And as I thought about that, I started thinking of my friends all across the globe who were experiencing the same thing. At first, I was trying to convince my daughters to help me make a lyric video, but as we were talking about it, one of them started a Tik Tok dance in the kitchen with her dad. Honestly that's what gave me the idea. If our family was crazy enough to dance with each other at home, I was sure there were others like us!
"People sent in clips from Des Moines, Davenport, Boulder, Colorado, and Decorah, Minneapolis. They even came from London, England and Switzerland! They were not high quality images, but the enthusiasm was spot on. It was absolutely perfect. And a huge shout out to Tyler Irwin, a junior at Decorah High School, for editing the video in one very late night!"