Hi, My Name Is Ryan

The clown prince of Phoenix's downtown art scene is sacrificing madcap antics for a Mormon mission

While the band's discordant songs fit in with the other cacophonous music that night, Reich says Avery and Andrew Jemsek were running around and getting in the faces of those who'd come to see his work.

"I worked really hard on that show," Reich says. "And in the space of three and a half minutes I watched a room full of 35 people clear out."

Kathy Cone, co-owner of the Cone Gallery, says while Avery and Jemsek didn't "cause any major harm" with their performance, she feels they sometimes need to "temper their acts."

Ryan uses his performances to conquer his fears, to vent his emotions, or to screw with the audience.
Luke Holwerda
Ryan uses his performances to conquer his fears, to vent his emotions, or to screw with the audience.
Ryan stands outside his ward in central Phoenix where he attends services every Sunday (except when he can't get a ride). 
Ryan wrapped both himself and the Trunk Space in crime-scene tape during an over-the-top solo performance gig in July.
Benjamin Leatherman
Ryan stands outside his ward in central Phoenix where he attends services every Sunday (except when he can't get a ride). Ryan wrapped both himself and the Trunk Space in crime-scene tape during an over-the-top solo performance gig in July.

"I don't want to discourage them from their free expression or anarchy, but they occasionally need to respect others and realize other people's needs are important, too," Cone says.

Earlier this year, however, Night Wolf played the Willow House, and Avery thought it would be fun to wrap the interior of the building in crime-scene tape. He then burst outside and began performing for those seated at the coffee house's picnic tables, including Reich, who shouted, "Shut the fuck up, you talentless hack!"

The situation eventually devolved into a MySpace war, where Reich was getting more than a dozen nasty messages a day from "all these teenagers" (read: Avery's fans), and a couple of contentious exchanges with Andrew at the Willow House. The photographer thinks the whole situation could've been avoided had Avery and company learned how to take criticism.

"I get very irritated in this scene with this seemingly unwritten law that you're not allowed to criticize, and if you do, your head needs to be on a plate," Reich says. "If you're going to perform, you have to get better at your craft. . . . You impress your friends and this small circle of fans, but that's about it."

Andrew shrugs it off. Reich, he says, is "just this angry guy who likes to yell at people and hates everyone."

"With any of our bands, we proclaim, 'We're idiots, look at our outfits, look at our setup, we're joking,'" Andrew says. "So basically, anyone taking us seriously beyond that is a moron, because we're obviously just joking and we're obviously just bored kids who are entertaining ourselves and trying to entertain other people while doing so."


Letting loose is the furthest thing from Ryan Avery's mind on a Sunday morning as he leaves for church, where he holds the position of elder. Gone is his usual outfit of a wacky tee shirt and polyester pants. Instead, he's clothed in the more conservative attire of a dark suit, white dress shirt, and black tie.

Avery wasn't always eager to fit in. As he sits pensively on a beat-up couch inside the vintage Garfield Neighborhood home he shares with a few artists and a local DJ, Avery remembers how he "thought it was important to be an individual" in church when he was 14. It meant wearing baggier or different colored clothes, a chain wallet, and even a Mohawk. (He pulled it back into a ponytail for church.)

Unfortunately, Matt says, Mormonism is a religion where conformity is heavily encouraged, causing fellow churchgoers to ostracize his brother.

At 16, Ryan realized his appearance was causing "more harm than good," he says, and, even though the members of his old ward were being "stupid and shallow," he shaved off the Mohawk and eventually began dressing less flashy. He began taking his faith so seriously that, later that year when his mother gave him the option of not going anymore, he decided to stick with it.

"What really helped me a lot with getting into Mormonism was knowing I didn't have to do this, but I really wanted to," he says.

Although his parents praise their son's artistic interests, Ryan suspects they'd like him to be "more of a regular Mormon," including going to Brigham Young University and starting a family when he returns from his mission.

"All those things would be great, but it's not really appealing to me right now," Avery says. "Maybe they will someday."

Family members have occasionally turned out at his shows in support. Matt admits he's a big fan, and Douglas was even a guest on Grand Avenue Tonight!earlier this year. The elder Avery, however, says he's only concerned about Ryan's activities "if it involves doing or encouraging drugs, premarital sex, or drinking, or anything else immoral or outside God's teachings."

He needn't worry. Avery says he vociferously abstains from tobacco, alcohol, drugs and caffeine. In fact, he's quite the ideal Mormon, in most respects. He prays daily, attends church every Sunday (except when he can't get a ride), wants a temple wedding, and tithes out of his meager income as a cashier at Zoës Kitchen in central Phoenix (including chipping in any scratch made from gigs). He's even abstinent by choice.

Avery's beliefs also extend to his performances. He avoids cursing, though the occasional "fuck" or "shit" slips out, and refrains from joking about or referencing any religious matter in his acts.

"I can appreciate all forms of humor . . . but jokes about any kind of religion make me cringe," Avery says.

God's even a fan of his work, he claims, and hasn't taken offense at anything he's done onstage.

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