Eric and Kate Avey love each other. They are one of those couples so in love that they make you question your own relationship and wonder how to be more like them. The connection they share, the closeness they have and the passion they feel for one another is evident when they play together as the duo Strung Tight.
Eric, a journeyman of the local music scene, plays acoustic guitar and uses a looping machine to create stacked layers of music that include guitar effects and percussion. The full, rich, multi-layered sounds are complemented by Kate’s upright bass. But as bright and warm as their instruments sound with the looping machine, it’s their singing that gives audiences insight into the connection they share.
“Our harmonies just clicked,” says Kate. “I guess it’s just fate. It’s always been really easy for us to sing together. We both sing with other people occasionally, and it’s good. But it feels much better when Eric and I sing together. I can’t imagine not playing music together.”
As you might expect, Eric and Kate met through music. Kate was scouting bands for a campout party at her family’s dairy farm when she discovered Eric’s band – and, more importantly, Eric. They dated for four months, got married and now have three kids. Thirteen years later, they remain madly in love.
“If we could be together every waking minute, we would. It sickening,” Kate jokes.
Though lovers of music and one another, the Aveys didn’t start out playing music together. Eric began playing the drums in 1996. As he needed more sounds for different bands and projects, he started to learn more instruments. Eventually, he learned to play acoustic guitar, bass guitar, keyboard, banjo and mandolin. A self-taught musician, Eric has been performing with various bands in the Waynesboro area (where he and Kate are from) for more than 15 years.
Conversely, Kate’s journey into music started off not with bands in clubs but in a church. She developed her singing – especially harmonizing – in her church choir. She learned the saxophone in fifth grade, and Eric taught her to play bass two years ago.
Eric and Kate’s musical collaborations started about eight years ago. Kate, who is a full-time teacher, would step in and sing the Donna Jean Godchaux parts with Eric’s Grateful Dead tribute band, The Reckoning. For fun, the two would occasionally sing together at weddings and a few select venues. But they didn’t start performing together on a regular basis until they helped form the Boro Boogie Pickers, an old-timey bluegrass band out of Waynesboro. Eric was on the guitar, while Kate played the washboard, and both of them sang.
In October of 2012, Eric left his job working with special needs children to become a full-time musician. The Boro Boogie Pickers played together for more than six years, released three albums and performed countless shows. The group’s last performance was in December.
The Aveys also formed Mountain Ride, a bluegrass band featuring Eric on guitar, Kate on bass and a rotation of banjo and mandolin pickers. Last August, Mountain Ride went on a nine-day tour that included stops in Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire.
The formation of Strung Tight evolved out of Eric’s decision to perform solo. He began booking gigs as a solo act, but, he says, it didn’t feel right.
“After I did one show, I realized it wasn’t for me,” he says. “I like playing music with others more than I do standing on stage by myself. It wasn’t very comfortable for me.”
The first person he thought about inviting to join him on stage was his wife. “It was a no-brainer,” he says.
Kate says being asked to perform in a duo with her husband was the highest compliment.
“To have him come home and say, ‘I really want you to be there with me’ – I just loved it,” she recalls. The pair have been performing as Strung Tight since last April.
While they both enjoy playing bluegrass, Strung Tight plays a lot of different kinds of music including folk, rock, reggae, country, ’80s covers and a number of originals. Eric has dubbed their style as “acoustic goodness.”
Their multi-layered performances start with Eric. In a version of Ben Harper’s “Steal My Kisses,” Eric lays down an acoustic rhythm that becomes the looping base for the song. Then he adds a layer of cowbell strikes. Then a layer of tambourine. Then a shaker. Finally, he begins playing an effected guitar piece over top of his wife’s bass line. It takes him about 90 seconds to create all the instrumental layers and get them looping. The result is something more than music. It’s performance art. One off-beat strike or one muddled note and he has to recreate the layers again.
Eric says he’s proud that the band can play any room, whether it’s a hip coffee house or an Irish pub. “We get a lot of compliments on our volume,” he says. “We are aware that people are trying to eat and talk.”
Eric plans to add more instruments (like keyboards) to Strung Tight’s performances, and he’d like to feature Kate’s saxophone skills at more shows.
This summer, the duo will perform at their first big music festival – something Kate says she’s very excited about. “We look forward to spreading the love,” she says.
• Performing at Pete’s Olde Towne on May 30.