The Avett Brothers Return
It's been a consistent steady climb for North Carolina's the Avett Brothers, the folk/bluegrass project formed by brothers Scott Avett and Seth Avett.
After breaking through with their 2007 album, Emotionalism, the Avett Brothers garnered the attention of GRAMMY-winning producer Rick Rubin, who signed the band to his American Recordings label. Rubin produced 2009's I And Love And You, which peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard 200. In 2011 the group made an impressive debut on the GRAMMY stage, performing with Bob Dylan and Mumford & Sons on the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards telecast.
Rubin returned to the fold to produce The Carpenter, the Avett Brothers' new album due Sept. 11. The album features 12 tracks, including the opening ballad "The Once and Future Carpenter" and the first single "Live And Die."
Prior to their new album's release, Seth Avett discussed the band's memorable GRAMMY appearance, his hopes for The Carpenter and what it's like having your brother in the band.
One of the more memorable performances at the 53rd GRAMMY Awards was the Avett Brothers sharing the stage with Mumford & Sons and the legendary Bob Dylan. What are your recollections of that evening?
When Dylan walked in the rehearsal room, we were all there in the space, which is in an industrial section of L.A. Everybody was joking, talking and laughing, and then Dylan walked in and everybody gets real quiet. I'll never forget that. But the whole performance was a great experience, and just as surreal as you'd think.
A lot of people might define the Avett Brothers as a folk band, but it seems as though you encompass a lot of styles, including country, bluegrass, pop, and rock.
I love music, and I don't specify that into any certain genre. I love Mos Def, I love Louis Armstrong, I love Hank Williams — I've got favorites in every genre. And that being the case, there's no genre that I'm angry to be lumped into. I would be fine with any genre they would put us into. When I meet somebody that's never heard our music and they say, "What kind of band are you?" I give them a different answer every time. I'll tell them we're a rock band, and other times I'll tell them we're a country folk band with a banjo and a cello player.
One of the more interesting songs on The Carpenter is "Paul Newman Vs. The Demons." What inspired that particular song?
There are two major themes, one being dealing with your own darkness and questioning how many times you're going to have to relive the darkness, and how many times you're going to have to relearn the same lessons, which I think is a pretty common question. Also, Paul Newman, he's just a stellar example — in my mind, the greatest example — of someone who is just the coolest guy. There was a long period in his life where he was the coolest thing out there. But even he realized in the long run that, no matter how good he was as an actor, what's really going to matter is what he did with his charity.
So it's basically just a comment on refusing the idea of being cool, and [letting] love flow through you and [using] your coolness for something that actually matters. [Paul Newman] wasn't perfect. He had his demons. The inspiration for it came crashing into me at one point, but he's a prime example of one we kind of look up to as an artist and someone who was able to parlay [his fame] into something worthwhile.
And I just hope I could be like that too. The song says I hope I can be like him and not get too caught up in my own head and in my own journey. I don't want to take that and use it for ego. I want to be able to use it for something worthwhile like Paul Newman did.
What's it like having your brother in the band?
So you're not as adversarial as the brothers Gallagher?
I know that there's a lot of legendary brother fighting in bands. We are not one of those. And I hate it for the Gallaghers. It breaks my heart to hear about some of the fights those guys go through.
For me, I've got my greatest ally on the bus with me, on the stage with me, in the studio with me, and I'm the younger brother, so when I was a little kid, he was my hero. I wanted to be like him more than anybody. Then when I was around 13, 14, and he was around 17, 18, we got to the point where we could be friends. And it was no longer that older brother annoyed by his younger brother kind of scenario. Right around then, we started writing songs together, and we started touring together around 2001, and we worked out a lot of those kinks.
We've had a lot of arguments, and I'm sure we'll have more. But it's such a negligible percentage that we actually quarrel. For the most part, we try to back each other up and look out for each other and give each other the spotlight as much as we can.
What are you hoping for in terms of listener impact for The Carpenter?
I would hope that The Carpenter invokes some thought. I hope maybe it's inspiring for someone who wants to make a piece of art, but if they don't, just that it's thought-provoking and gets the gears turning. A lot of times I feel the best things that can come out of art [are] the motivation and activation of the mind.
(Nick Krewen is a Toronto-based journalist and frequent contributor to The Toronto Star and SOCAN's Words + Music. He is co-author of the Key Porter book Music From Far And Wide: Celebrating 40 Years Of The JUNO Awards and a contributor to the recently published The Routledge Film Music Sourcebook.)