It's June 28th in Seattle, and the city is ready to combust. The typically temperate region is currently stuck beneath a weather phenomenon called a "heat dome" that is causing a record-breaking heatwave throughout Washington State. To make matters worse, Seattle is one of the least air-conditioned major cities in the country, which has forced many restaurants and community events to close as a result of the oppressive conditions.
It's 103 degrees and rising when Revolver reaches AVOID singer Benny Scholl — who is outside loading up their tour van, heat be damned.
"We're leaving for L.A. tomorrow to record our new album," he exclaims. "We've been out running errands all morning!"
Scholl is so hell-bent on the task at hand that he's unfazed by the scorching temperatures — until Revolver mentions it. "Oh yeah, it's bad. It's about to get like 110 here today!" he says. "It's the hottest it's ever been in Seattle. It's crazy. No one has A.C. 'cause it never gets hot. Everything's closed today. It's fucking crazy, bro!"
The 23-year-old's exuberance is palpable throughout our chat. He's super pumped to get in the studio, where his rising Seattle crew — who traffic in boundary-pushing hard rock–meets–melodic metal–meets pop — will be tracking their sophomore album. Part of his excitement is purely due to the fact that music is Scholl's "heart and soul and the thing I think about day and night." But a bit of the buzz can also be chalked up to the fact that AVOID was recently signed as the first artist on Fearless Records founder Bob Becker's newly announced label Thriller Records.
"Thriller presented us with this opportunity, and it all happened kinda fast and was a little scary," he says of AVOID becoming the ambassador artist on a label founded by the guy who discovered and signed At the Drive-In, Portugal.The Man and many others. "But I'm so stoked. We all couldn't be more stoked how it turned out."
The Thriller Records deal is the latest in a series of wins for AVOID. Their 2018 debut, Alone, debuted at Number 3 on Billboard's Heatseekers Pacific Chart and has logged over 1.5 million streams. They've scored high-exposure song placement on the NASCAR Heat 5 video game and secured an IRL NASCAR partnership that included an AVOID car scheme for driver Joe Graf Jr. Plus, the Seattle crew just got booked to perform at this year's Louder Than Life and Welcome to Rockville festivals.
The young band — which is rounded out by guitarists Nick Olson and Luke Ryder, bassist Chris Echols and drummer Paul Jaton — also just dropped a completely bonkers, fun-as-hell, skydiving-filled new video for "HostAge At A BeAch House PArty" from their recent 2020 EP, The Burner. But for Scholl, the party is just getting started.
"We just want to have a good time and we hope you have a good time with us," says the singer. "If you want to find a serious message you can definitely find it in our personal pages or whatever — we definitely give a fuck and care about what we're doing. But at the end of the day, we want it to be easy enough if you're just a casual listener to pop on the music video and go, Wow those guys are crazy!"
In the conversation below, Scholl takes a break from the heat to lay out what AVOID are all about, how his no-limits mindset allows him to channel Converge, Slipknot and Justin Bieber, why his undying love of Green Day may soon result in a Dookie neck tattoo and much more.
SINCE IT'S LIKE 110 DEGREES OUT, LET'S START WITH SOMETHING EASY. WALK US THROUGH HOW AVOID CAME TOGETHER.
BENNY SCHOLL AVOID is still my high school, or even middle school, band that I started in choir class. I've only ever been in one band and this is it. I started it in middle school choir class with my buddy Nick [Mihas]. We got music passed around in class that had guitar and drum music on the bottom. I used to play drums in the band when we started. We just wanted any excuse we could have to get out of class. [Laughs] So we'd beg the teacher to let us be the accompaniment to the choir piece. And they let us. We learned the piece in a day, and we spent the next month writing like little four-chord punk songs.
Then that summer we went to, it wasn't School of Rock … But I was taking drum lessons and the guy was in a band and members of his band had a summer camp for kids to [learn how to] play in a band. Then there I met our guitar player, also Nick, who's still in the band with me today. Then we took it to the next level. That was the summer of us going into high school. We were called AVOID THE VOID all through high school and we did a couple cool things. I would book tours … I would bring my laptop with me to school and Facebook message, cold call and email venues on the West Coast and ask if we could play shows for 50 bucks or tips or whatever. So we did four or five of those tours as AVOID the Void throughout high school … But we wanted to be taken more seriously so we changed the name to just AVOID and revamped everything … then we got signed to Revival and then we got lucky enough with this Thriller opportunity.
HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO HEAVY MUSIC?
I'm 23, so when I was in elementary school I saw the Green Day American Idiot album cover at Target and I thought that was the coolest fucking thing ever! And my parents got that for me. I jammed the shit out of that. Green Day is still today my favorite band and the reason I wanted to play shows and be a frontman and all that. Then that led to Sum 41 and then to metal … I think my first love was pop punk, then punk like Operation Ivy and Rancid. That's definitely where my roots and love were. Then it was the Warped Tour scene, then I found Meshuggah. And that was like, "Oh fuck!" [Laughs]
SUM 41 TO MESHUGGAH IS QUITE A JUMP. IN TERMS OF MUSICAL INSPIRATION, WHO WOULD YOU SAY ARE YOUR TOP THREE INFLUENCES WHEN IT COMES TO AVOID?
We always say this for AVOID because I feel it describes the broadness of it perfectly: Dave Matthews Band, Slipknot and Foo Fighters.
I'M PRETTY SURE THAT'S THE FIRST TIME THOSE THREE COMBINED INFLUENCES HAVE EVER BEEN USED TO DESCRIBE A BAND.
[Laughs] Exactly. The overall goal would be, like, you never know what kind of song we're going to drop. We don't want to mash genres just to mash genres. We wanted to do it tastefully. So if we want to do a heavy song or a lighter pop song it's going to be the best it can possibly be. We definitely used to play with a click track, but … Now we're like, What if we don't do that live anymore? How cool would it be if there was a band that could bring that energy to these clubs, that could play their songs not like how the record is — [where] they jam on the bridge for five minutes and get the crowd up … Bands like Foo Fighters, Slipknot and Dave Matthews Band can do that and it turns their shows into more of an experience. … That's like legacy status.
SPEAKING OF LEGACY, SEATTLE OBVIOUSLY HAS A RICH MUSICAL HISTORY. BEING A BAND FROM THERE, IS THAT PEDIGREE INSPIRING OR OVERWHELMING … OR YOU DON'T GIVE A SHIT.
[Laughs] Definitely inspiring. We love Seattle music. Seattle's been so rich with music, even Hendrix in the Sixties. … We had, obviously, such a great scene with grunge. The early 2000 Seattle emo scene was really crazy, too, with Blood Brothers, Fall of Troy, Gatsbys American Dream. It was cool being inspired by all those bands growing up and it's definitely in our playing. Fall of Troy is collectively … like every single person in AVOID is like, "Those guys win." They're so good at music! [Laughs]
HOW WOULD YOU SAY AVOID FIT INTO — OR STAND APART FROM — SEATTLE'S CURRENT HEAVY-MUSIC SCENE.
I think we have our place in that we definitely try and do it with the mindset of these bands in the late 80s, early 90s: just get in a van, call a venue and go. It doesn't matter about internet numbers or how many people are at the show. If you just play enough and do it enough eventually something's going to hit. I think we bring the old-school element and fire to the new-age scene. Also our guitar player is constantly producing other bands in the scene and doing their records. I book a lot of the shows that happen around here. Our bass player does so many videos for bands. We definitely want to be part of making the Seattle music community better, whether it's with our band or us helping out other bands.
COVID PRETTY MUCH CRUSHED THE LIVE MUSIC SCENE FOR THE PAST YEAR. THAT OBVIOUSLY MUST HAVE IMPACTED YOU PRETTY HEAVILY. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW YOU DEALT WITH IT? DID YOU DEVELOP ANY NEW CREATIVE ROUTINES OR HOBBIES TO HELP YOU COPE WITH LOCKDOWNS AND RESTRICTIONS?
It was crazy. We were on tour when everything hit. We played Texas, and obviously Texas didn't give a fuck. [Laughs] So we're there making jokes about it. Then we play Illinois the next day and we get offstage, and I open my phone and saw the NBA had been postponed. That's when I knew it was serious. Like, "Oh fuck, they're putting sports away for this shit!" That's crazy. Then a couple days later we're beelining it from Cleveland all the way back to Seattle.
I think the weirder thing was getting back home. I not only couldn't tour, but my job was to book and work shows. I fully engulfed myself in music. So it was like, Damn, what the hell do I do? It was a lot of uncertainty and doubt and trying to keep my head up. I would find myself spiraling a little bit because I missed everything so much. We've got these NASCAR connections — AVOID has two songs on the NASCAR Heat 5 game, "Song About James" and "HEAT," which is insane — so I finally got a racing wheel and a pedal and started doing simulation NASCAR races. That shit is so fun. I started on PS4. I've played the NASCAR video games since I was a kid. I've always loved them. Our guitar player Luke is also really into it. We just wanna drive race cars and be in a band! [Laughs]
YOU ALSO HAVE A REAL-LIFE NASCAR CONNECTION WITH DRIVER JOE GRAF JR. TELL US ABOUT THAT.
Yeah, Joe Graf Jr.! So we got into the video game … I grew up loving NASCAR. It was my dad's thing and he got me into it, and Luke was really into Indy racing. There's a genuine connection. Then we were like, Yo there's a huge market! [Laughs] Every week there's hundreds of thousands of people at these races. People are fucking with this. And they aren't listening to like modern pop. They like hard rock. … It's not just Southern redneck Confederate flag bullshit. It's not about that. They're trying to distance themselves from that. It's about, A) Fast cars are cool. [Laughs] Anyone that follows us knows where we stand politically and socially and that we don't wanna mess with that. But most of the people in that sport are on the same wavelength. No one wants to be hateful … But now I've totally gone on a tangent! [Laughs]
DID THE JOE GRAF JR. CONNECT HAPPEN THROUGH THE GAME?
No, my buddy Nate [Blasdell], who plays in that band I Set My Friends on Fire, is Joe Graf's day-to-day manager. [Laughs] So he'd also already wanted to bridge the gap between rock, metal and NASCAR and we had a genuine connection: we'd been repping NASCAR for a while. So that opened up the conversation about actually being a sponsor for the team. And that's how we got on the car in real life.
DO YOU PERSONALLY WORK ON CARS OR DO TRACK DAYS?
I'm more of a fan of racing. I'm not really that good with cars. My dad's good at working on cars and has shown me some things. I could change your oil for you if you needed it. [Laughs]
OKAY, ONE MORE NASCAR THING: LET'S TALK ABOUT YOUR VIRAL MOMENT SINGING "THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER."
So, Joe Graf's main sponsor is Bucked Up Energy Drink. And they were sponsoring the race that I sung at [Camping World Truck Series Race at Las Vegas on March 5th, 2021]. I got a call like two weeks before the race and they were like, "Hey we need someone to sing the national anthem, do you want to do it?" And I'm like, Well not no. [Laughs] NASCAR is asking me to come sing the national anthem — I'm going to do it! Duh. So I was like, "Can Nick and me do it, so he can play guitar and I'll sing?" They said, "Sure that's fine."
So we get driven into the stadium [Las Vegas Motor Speedway], and we're down on the track and they laugh at us when we brought over our power amp. They're like, "We don't have power down here; you can't plug that in." So I got told five minutes before that I'm doing it a cappella! It wasn't a planned thing. I've never even practiced the song alone! [Laughs] Suddenly the first time I'm singing the national anthem a cappella was alone in front of 12,000 people. It sucked! [Laughs]
CONSIDERING THE LAST-MINUTE SWITCH-UP IT'S AMAZING THAT YOU WERE ABLE TO SOLDIER THROUGH IT.
It was crazy … and not to cook my own goose but at least I was in key! Everyone that was there — partially it was probably just to ease my nerves — they were like, "You did great!" When I hit the high notes the stadium erupted into cheers. So I was feeling pretty decent about it. I enjoyed the race and then I looked at Twitter. And Twitter had a different opinion. [Laughs]
WAS THE BACKLASH ON TWITTER DIFFICULT FOR YOU? OR DID YOU JUST CHALK IT UP TO ANY PRESS IS GOOD PRESS …
It took a minute … At first the full honest emotion was that it was funny. There were a couple tweets here and there and the video had 50,000 views, nothing crazy. I was like, Oh this is funny. The old NASCAR people don't get music, whatever. Then the next day I woke up and there were actual articles. Like if you Googled my name there were legit articles, like, Singer Botches National Anthem. I was like fuuuuck. [Laughs] It wasn't just shitty no-name blogs, either. I was like, Bro, come on!
Any press is good press, but I was so nervous because it was the most attention we'd ever gotten. I was like, Fuck I really hope five years down the line you don't Google my name and this is the thing that gets the most press. [Laughs] That was my first thought. Then I was like fuck perceptions … but then it went to Jim Rome and he started talking about it. He's like the number one national sports radio show! So that was fucking fucked. [Laughs] He was really funny and goes in on me. And I screen recorded it and tweeted it from our band's page. And that started a back and forth between him and us. … All of his fans were blowing up our Twitter and our little fan base was trying to fight back. [Laughs]
So he ended up playing our music on air — and then changed his opinion on air! Like, hold up, this is good! Then I called into his show and he interviewed me for fifteen minutes. And it spun the whole thing and everyone listening was like a fan now. So it feels like for the most part the national anthem was forgotten because we spun it into something else. And Jim Rome is now just a theme of our band.
NICE, SPEAKING OF YOUR MUSIC: IF YOU COULD PLAY ONLY ONE OF AVOID'S SONGS TO INTRODUCE SOMEONE TO YOUR BAND, WHAT SONG WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
I would say probably "HostAge At A BeAch House PArty," I feel like it's a nice palette of everything you're going to get with us. Because we get pretty heavy and we write pop songs. We like everything in between. If you have 17 minutes, give The Burner a shot. Listen to it on your way to work or something. I think all five songs really show our capabilities. But if I had to pick one song? "HostAge At A BeAch House PArty."
OUTSIDE OF THE BAND, AND MUSIC IN GENERAL, WHAT ARE YOUR PASSIONS? THE VIDEO FOR "HOSTAGE AT A BEACH HOUSE PARTY" SHOWS YOU SKYDIVING …
Truthfully, my heart and soul and the thing I think about day and night is music. I love this and want this so fucking bad! Even the skydiving thing, I don't fucking care about skydiving! [Laughs] A month before we shot the video we were like, We need a big crescendo, something crazy to go over the guitar solo. And our guitarist looked at me and was like, "Why don't you just jump out of a plane." And I was like, "That's a good idea!" … And I'm terrified of heights. I only did that so that the music video could have something in it. [Laughs]
But I really do like racing, and sports in general. I would say that's something I'm passionate about. But my number one heart and soul is music: playing shows, booking shows, helping other bands come up with ideas … I want to be in it 24/7.
DO YOU HAVE ANY "UNEXPECTED" MUSICAL INFLUENCES THAT MIGHT SURPRISE LISTENERS?
I think people definitely don't expect AVOID to have the vast music appreciation, knowledge and love that we have. But we really get inspired by like … Converge and Justin Bieber. [Laughs] We just love the coolest shit. We really do take influence from the heaviest most brutal creative shit and pop, modern, mainstream. Nothing's off limits for us and that's where it's at.
IS THERE ONE BAND THAT TOPS THE LIST IN TERMS OF YOUR FANDOM?
I feel like Green Day, that's the band I have a really big fandom around, and I know everything about that band.
BUT HAVE YOU GOTTEN YOURSELF A DOOKIE TATTOO YET?
[Laughs] Dude I gotta get one, bro. I need a Dookie sleeve.
[LAUGHS] A DOOKIE NECK BLAST.
[Laughs] A neck blast! Like the explosion in the front of the album. No, but I don't have any band tattoos. I might get one, I might not. I mean every time I see a band tattoo I think it's lame — no offense to anyone that has an AVOID tattoo! I really appreciate those ones. [Laughs]
Thanks. [Laughs] Anyone that's an AVOID fan gets it. I talk so much shit. I'm such a hater. [Laughs]