There's nothing stately about Mariah DeRaet. She's an unassuming character offstage, a 25-year-old barista with a warm demeanor that could belong to any college-aged girl next door. Yet when she straps on a parlor-sized Martin acoustic as the vocalist of Tempe's Avery, she and her band (drummer Eric Estrada, guitarist Matt Safranck, and co-founder/cellist Allison Galbreath) turn heads.
Avery straddles the line between folk, pop, and alternative country, at times recalling Rilo Kiley at its most wistful. For a young outfit in a scene as eclectic as Tempe's, it's Avery's combination of down-home sound and DeRaet's songwriting sensibilities that sets the band apart.
Having just returned from a small Southwest tour, including a show playing the TMI showcase at South by Southwest, Avery walked away with industry experience that a band can find only by cutting their teeth in Austin. "It was just learning how to adapt to venues we're not used to, how to read crowds, how to network, and talk about ourselves," DeRaet says. "I'd like to say what we got out of it was professional, but mostly it just solidified our friendship as musicians and knowing this is the right path that we're taking."
Yet if there's any affirmation to DeRaet's choice, it's her band's live act. When Avery takes the stage, people notice. For a quartet that only cemented its lineup two months ago, they play with panache that belies both their age and their longevity. The interplay between DeRaet and Safranck is just as fun to watch as it is to listen to, and the complementation of Galbreath's classically trained cello skills adds dimension and character to an already original show.
Avery is a band that requires listening, however. DeRaet knows this, having carved out a niche that evokes introspection rather than the raucous nature of their Tempe contemporaries.
"When we first started playing out, we were paired with loud bands, and it was really hard to say, 'This is what we're doing and that's okay,' because we don't have to be loud to get our stuff across," she says. "A lot more people listen, because what we're doing is quiet and soft." That dynamic does nothing to hinder the band. As in folk, DeRaet tells stories, often weaving them with the gritty heartbreak of country music. But outside of the lyricism, Avery, as well as other Phoenix acts, are striving to achieve something more. Determined to place Phoenix's tight-knit scene in the national scope, DeRaet knows that it requires breaking down some walls to get some light to shine on the Valley. "There's a desperation to prove ourselves because of all the shitty things that are happening in Arizona," she says. "We want to put ourselves out there and be like, 'Hey, not everybody in Arizona is a cowboy, not everyone in Arizona is a racist.' What we have going on here is really cool, there's a lot of love."
No matter the approach Avery takes to illuminate the Phoenix community, they're bound to find themselves in the spotlight at some point. Between the follow-up to their self-titled EP, due later this year, and their local fan base, it's only a matter of time before the word gets out about such an engaging young group.
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As for DeRaet, Avery is her therapy, long before her songs reach a stage -- how they will grow from there is a reflection of Avery itself. "I'm a very circular thinker, and if I don't put it on a piece of paper and send it off somewhere, it stays in my head," she says. "I just want to reach as many people as I can."
Avery is scheduled to perform Friday, April 5, at Yucca Tap Room.