Music lovers from all over the globe can recognize the uniqueness of certain genres and styles that sound like home. Residents of North Carolina can safely claim The Avett Brothers as clear representatives of their signature
bluegrass country pop mixed in with some folksy honky-tonk rock n roll. Prepared to release their seventh studio album since 2000, Seth and Scott Avett have been traveling and cultivating a rapidly growing fan base non-stop, keeping the realities of adult life at a surreal distance. However, nurturing their unbridled musical endeavors has been a rewarding experience for the brothers and their fans. 2009’s “I And Love And You” peaked at #1 on the Billboard best selling folk albums, preceding a special Grammy performance with folk icon Bob Dylan.
The obvious oneness and sonic compatibility of The Avett Brothers seeps through each recording, offering listeners a warm welcome into themes of family, love, hardship, and undeniable grace. The careful mixing of genres and attitudes throughout their records showcases both an unprecedented technical tightness and melodic ease. Each of their prior six studio albums and four impressively strewn EPs have the capacity to inspire wild sessions of foot-stomping and delicate swells of country pride.
Striving to keep fans closely in step with their vision, Scott and Seth produced 13 video shorts chronicling experiences with interviews, live performances, composing, and recording. The brothers have fostered a fresh brand of unity for fans across every genre they decide to dip their boots into. Scott Avett shared with us the past and future of this growing fixture of popular music.
It’s been 12 years, six full length albums, and four EPs since you began recording together. With another album on the way, are you showing any signs of stopping?
That is a good question. Absolutely not. As far as writing and recording, we may have more of a hunger for that than we’ve ever had. The question more often is, “How do we work that in with our growing responsibilities of adulthood?” A marriage, children… there are different narratives and events in our lives that call for more time in your life, and that’s good, and that’s magical. There’s no desire or evidence of slowing down or stopping. I think if we go too long without making and creating things we’re gonna feel less and less like ourselves, which isn’t good for anyone around you, really.
Describe how the opportunity to perform with Bob Dylan at the Grammys came about. Do you ever hesitate when asked to collaborate, or have you said ‘no’ to any offers?
We have said no to peoples’ offers. We’re very adamant about the nature of collaboration. We’re very adamant about the natural progression of it. We don’t have this thing where we say, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if we sang on whoever’s record?” That feels real unnatural. We only like to let it happen if it comes about naturally. Maybe we’re already friends with somebody, or we’re touring with somebody. You don’t really know the personalities or whether it could work if you’ve never met this person. That’s why you don’t see more collaborations with Scott and I with other people. We generally shy away from planned collaborations, just like people generally shy away from planned marriages. (laughs) The Bob Dylan situation was separate. Dylan stands outside of a lot of roles in a lot of ways, unavoidable, because he’s Bob Dylan, which I think is unfortunate for him. Kind of lonely at the top, I would assume. The idea of playing with Bob Dylan comes up, and you just sort of have to get used to it. He’s not the only one like that for us, but the fella that produces me helped me meet a few people in the Grammy foundation who ended up being big fans. They came to our show in Los Angeles and we got a chance to shake hands, say hello. We just stayed in touch with them, and they’d let us know if they wanted us to be a part of the show. They wouldn’t let us know who they were thinkin’ about for a long time. It came about naturally, and we said, “Yes, we’d love to,” and we were in L.A. for six days and played for six minutes… so. That’s how much planning and effort goes into that awards show. It was a great experience. Very surreal, as you would expect it to be. It’ll definitely be a story for the grandkids.
You’ve got an upcoming show here in Lincoln come April. Have you ever played live in Nebraska? Any interesting experiences you remember about playing here?
In my memory, we’ve only played in Nebraska once, and that was in Omaha. It was in a smaller place. I remember it being great, one of many on a run, and the area was sort of separate from the rest of the city, sort of an up-and-coming kind of area. It was a bit of an island outside the city. I remember the crowd being awesome, and we need to spend some more time there.
What differences do you think you experience, as brothers, in the creative process of composing your tunes?
It’s a funny thing, as with all siblings.Scott, being 4 years older than me; he was just my hero. I wanted to be like him. It wasn’t until I was 14 and he was 18 that we could become friends, and not just The Avett Brothers, you know? The relationship between us is one of extreme care. I know that when I’m writing with Scott there’s really no possibility for selfishness, for the spotlight, whatever. We both know that we both have each others’ best interest in mind, and that is priceless in any collaboration, I feel. As far as getting attention, all that’s out the window, which is really good for any kind of artistry. Another advantage of brothers: a lot of times we don’t have to talk about anything. We’ll just go with it, and we know we’ll agree about 90 percent of the time with the decisions we make in that process, and if someone comes up with something that the other one doesn’t like, we talk. The main component is that we’re family and we look out for each other in every capacity.
Your songs showcase a wide range of emotions, instrumentation, and tempo. How do you arrange live sets to keep the energy level high throughout?
We never play the same set twice. We always write the set right before we go out. We try to be connected with what the night feels like, what the personality of the night is, because every night’s different. We don’t think it would be wise to try and apply a safe set list that may have worked in Nebraska to a show in Texas. Every night is a separate entity, and we think very much about the flow and about when it makes sense to really take a breath and to really try to bring something pretty to the table, or when it’s time to throw down and really bring some energy and excitement into the room. Sometimes we’re right, sometimes we’re wrong. Sometimes we have to change it there on the spot. Basically, we try to be sensitive and receptive to tonight, to right now. That generally serves pretty well.
Each of your releases has seemed to have its own unique theme and feel. In what direction does the new album take the band?
I feel like its taken us in a few directions. It’s a weird thing, because there’s quite a bit of variety. We recorded like 23 songs, and it was the first time in our history where we’ve taken every song possible to the studio, instead of doing 20 demos and recording about 15 songs. We took every demo all the way to the end, you know?
There weren’t any “pretty girls” featured in “I and Love and You,” can we expect any in the future?
Possibly. One of the 23 songs that we recorded was “Pretty Girl From Michigan.” That’s sort of the quintessential back-catalog song we’ve been playin’ for like 6 years, and we have finally recorded it successfully. We tried to record that song for “Four Thieves Gone,” we tried to record it for “Emotionalism.” That song has been a bit of a ringer, but it’s a definite possibility. The series has not ended, it’s just sort of taken a bit of lull at the moment.
How often do people mispronounce your last name?
(laughs) It seems to be gettin’ a little better. At one point, there was a newspaper headline that read, “Sometimes You Just Gotta Avett (aye-vett)”, and they were trying to say “You Just Gotta Avett (av-ett)”, you know, like “Have it?” We were trying to figure out for a long time what that meant. (laughs) It’s getting less and less.
Do you have any remaining goals or aspirations for the Avett Brothers, or are you content with simply continuing to do what you love?
There are things in life that we would be glad to do, but we’re very aware of the fact that we’re not guaranteed any of it. We just try to make the most out of this show, this song, thisrecord, and we try to live in the moment as much as possible, cliche as that sounds. Whatever good or bad comes from it, we can only put all our efforts into what we’re doing currently, and I hope that comes over well.
Interview by Dylan Bliss