Friday, September 10, 2010
(Originally Written for Creative Loafing)
While Scott and Seth Avett’s musical style has been labeled as everything from bluegrass to punk, the one thing that has held constant is their live show. No matter the venue or audience, The Avett Brothers approach each performance like their lives depend on it, exuding equal parts heartfelt intensity and sincere enthusiasm. It’s an endearing combination that has truly made the band a force to be reckoned with as they have grown as performers over the past ten years.
After playing a New Year’s show at the Fox Theatre, The Avett Brothers return to Atlanta, performing at Chastain Park Amphitheater during the venue’s final weekend of the 2010 season. A few days before their Atlanta stop, Creative Loafing writer Max Blau chatted with founding brother Seth Avett about their major label debut I and Love and You, progress on their upcoming album, working with producer Rick Rubin and the Deftones.
It’s been 10 ten years since The Avett Brothers released their first self-titled EP. Looking back, did you ever think that you would be where you are now?
[Laughs] I could not have expected to go this far because I wasn’t expecting it to have done what [we’ve] done popularity-wise. When we started this project it was the exact opposite of what we were doing. We started this project as a way to turn around and go the other direction away from attempting to being known and to have a successful musical career. We were just trying to strip it down…Everything since then has been a very natural progression and a gradual progression. Which is a blessing because we would not have been prepared to do what we are doing now 10 years ago…I definitely could not have predicted it being as it is now. The last 10 years have gone by quickly, but I feel that we built things in a slower way—which has been good.
You mention the natural progression of your music, which has culminated thus far with your latest album, 2009’s I and Love and You. From a critical standpoint, the album stood as one of the more contentious albums over the past year, being called everything from brilliant to selling out to dividing a fan base. How do you feel album it almost a year later?
I feel about it generally as I do after a year-long. I’m still very proud of it, but I’m certainly ready to move on. I do believe that it is our best work to date, but my mind is so heavily onto the next one and has been for a little while. To me, it seems like more of a step backward looking at it than it really is, just because I have been thinking about the future and the new songs on our new demos.
Basically I’m still proud of the record. It was a great learning experience for us, and I still view it as a bridge—not so much from one album to the next, but more of like the end of one era into the beginning of another. Not like a small step, but a large step as far as our process and getting what we’re looking to get in the studio. Before that, we never spend more than a couple weeks tops on a record, and that’s just because of our natural pace—we move fast. Beyond that, economically, there hasn’t been much time. We recorded Emotionalism in 11 days. And that’s everything—overdubs, mixing, mastering—the whole thing in 11 days. It wasn’t because we wanted to do it in 11 days, it was because we only had 11 days.
That urgency can sometimes be really good and charming and create good results, but for a lot of reasons, I and Love and You felt like a beginning of a new era. And like you said, Max, for some people that’s good news, and for other people they won’t listen to another recording we make. And that’s okay—if we’re not doing what someone is enjoying now then they can find it elsewhere.
So tell me about some of these new songs. How far along are you in terms of creating them? Is there a new record on the horizon?
There’s certainly a new record on the horizon, but we’re not far along enough in the process to know when. But I can tell you the demo process is begun and is going strong. Scott [Avett] and I have already demoed probably 15 songs or more. Generally for us to be happy, we like to have about 30 to pick from and that’s not going to be any issue this time.
Are you planning on working with producer Rick Rubin again on your next album? Describe the experience of working with him on I and Love and You.
We would like to. We haven’t hashed it out that far to figure out whether it will happen or not, but it’s certainly an option. We should know in the next few months how that all will go.
As far as working with Rick, it was a great learning experience for us. Before we left to go work with Rick for the first time, my wife asked me if I was nervous, and I responded “No, I’m not nervous. I’ve recorded lots of records.” In retrospect, I maybe should’ve been a little more nervous, just because once I got in that environment I realized what I expected out of myself was more than I ever had before.
Rick is not a heavy-handed producer, he’s not someone who’s behind the glass as a domineering force or anything. Rick is very calm, he’s a positive force in the studio. He’s big on experiments, big on taking the time to find out what works and what doesn’t work. He’ll be the first to tell you that when one of his ideas is terrible. He doesn’t think that everything he touches is gold. I learned a lot from Rick about pacing and taking the time to refine things, to get them right—not just energy-wise, but technically, spiritually, to refine it on all levels.
There [was] a mutual respect from the beginning. It wasn’t so intimidating as you think it might be when you step into the studio with Rick—possibly the most revered producer on the planet.
What has been the biggest change that you have noticed in your fanbase since you released I and Love and You, your Rolling Stone coverage and even having your records sold in Starbucks?
Max, I got to tell you, the only real difference is numbers. We’ve been very fortunate and blessed from the beginning to have really good folks come to our shows and a very wide range of demographic come to our shows. Thankfully, there doesn’t seem to be a real narrow demographic of people. Differences in color, backgrounds and ages all seem to find some relatable factor in our music as far as we could tell—that’s just been really exciting to see.
Back when there was 10 people in the room, as opposed to 1,000 people in the room—the only real difference is numbers—because there’s always been a lot of variety and positivity coming from the audience. We’re beyond fortunate for that.
Going off of that—playing from 10 to 1,000 people—how in particular has your live show evolved?
Again, numbers are bound to affect things. In the early years, we certainly had nights that were over the top in terms of enthusiasm, excitement. It’s formidable to notice how much energy is coming from a hundred people as opposed to a thousand people. When there’s a thousand people in a room with a similar or identical reason for being there, it’s palpable and alive. Onstage, you’re just bound to be more excited—there’s really no way not to be. I think the shows have become increasingly jubilant and celebratory—just over the top with excitement.
Before you go, give me one artist you’ve been in love with lately.
I always have trouble with this question…But I’ve been listening to the new Deftones a lot. I’m a big Deftones fan—always have been—they have a new record. I guess they’re one of the last bands that I consider a real heavy band that I’m very active about and very aware of what they’re doing.
Thanks a lot, Seth.
You bet, Max, thanks for your time.