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Exploring The Vanities with The Avett Brothers

Scott Avett at All Good – photo by John Patrick Gatta

The Avett Brothers developed when the allure of roots music became more appealing than being one among many hard rock acts. But it was the trio’s equal interest in the country, folk and classic rock of the past mixed with the punk energy of their formative years that played a role in creating a sound that can be achingly pretty one moment and rip the wallpaper off a room the next.

Despite years of touring that produced a strong foundation of devotees, Scott and Seth Avett and Bob Crawford went in a decidedly 20th century direction and moved to a major label rather than releasing their latest music themselves. Supported by co-head of Columbia Records, producer Rick Rubin (Johnny Cash, Dixie Chicks, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Neil Diamond) the members became inspired to make an album where the songs dictated the direction rather than be conscious of a live show to showcase them. The title track of “I and Love and You” and “The Perfect Space” find the addition of piano-based instrumentation offering a graceful respite from the more familiar hook-laden ways of the acoustic numbers (“And It Spread”) and simple pop ecstasy infused in “Kick Drum Heart.”

As I discussed matters with Scott Avett, I became aware of what was hinted at in the explanatory liner notes and design of the new album; that the explosions of energy during their performances masks an intellectual depth that manifests itself in other aspects of the band members creative output. It’s not much of a surprise to find that Avett received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting along with Bachelor of Science in radio broadcasting at East Carolina University.

As he explains, “When I go to see a band about 30 minutes in to seeing how great somebody is on their instruments, there’s a visual aspect for me. I really appreciate it and love to be impressed and influenced or inspired by it. For us, we’ve always wanted to offer something that wasn’t just everyday, and put you in-the-moment. It may not be behind, it may not be ahead, but it’s something different and that’s really fun and exciting, and adds to making it special.”

JPG: For several years I heard about the Avett Brothers but only caught up musically with 2007’s Emotionalism. I never saw you live until Bonnaroo. I’ll admit I was surprised at the audience’s rabid reaction to your performance. The same thing at All Good later that same summer. Was that type of feedback something that you encountered from the beginning in smaller rooms, or one that was cultivated over the years?

SA: Well, what kind of fed this and kept it going as it is in the form that it is, was that we got that we got that type of spark or explosion. It was a spark in the beginning, on much smaller levels instantly when we changed forms from more straightforward hard rock to channeling through two vocals and two acoustic instruments and using a little more raw energy. Much more raw energy. Bare energy. That sparked immediately on much smaller levels. We’ve been very fortunate to watch that spark multiply every time that we played.

JPG: The word of mouth aspect of it is very interesting because you’re not a MySpace type of band, but you still have this grassroots following with a strong interaction with fans via your website.

SA: The foundation has been built on the grassroots and grassroots of punk rock, whatever you want to call it, has been built in that element. The foundation is key, and the rest is, from here, you let it be what it will be. The sky’s the limit. We’re very fortunate because we didn’t know any better. We just knew what to do as far as keep traveling, keep playing shows. It’s what we wanted to do. We didn’t have big plans at the beginning; we just needed something to do just like everybody needs something to do. It was something we had a door open to, and you can do this if you want to do it, it’s there. There’s always another venue to go play and they’re booking you still, so keep doing it. That led us on and is still leading us on.

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