The Avett Brothers
A Fermenting Perseverance: With a Bluegrass Backbone
By Martin Halo
Musical projects are arguably one of the most fragile endeavors that people with a passion can undertake. It is a series of small successes and failures which lead up to not just the reaching of a goal, but the living of a dream. It is a process that matures over time and can only be described as a violent emotional rollercoaster, fueled with the driving power of passion and hope.
For most ventures the celebrations which follow each point of success sometimes result in a false sense of security and hope as projects disintegrates in the hands of their most devoted believers.
For the brothers Avett the harsh reality of chasing relevance, fame, and a lasting place in the musical divinity has yielded such heartbreak. But the real merit, strength, and insanity which lies in the heart of a musician are not tested through their successes; they are put to the test in the face of failure. To chase a dream and watch it crumble is part of life, but to pick up the pieces and dive head first back in, already knowing the emotional strain upon which you are about to endure, takes intestinal fortitude.
This is not a story about failure; this is a story about a glorious success. A success that is sweeping across the American landscape, with a bottle of Jack Daniels in one hand and an unspeakable verse of sincere melodies stemming from musical lineage of North Carolina in the other.
“It has kind of always been non-stop for us,” says Scott Avett (vox/banjo) just after an unexpected journalistic wake up call while sprawled across the bed which makes up his RV living arrangements. “Usually three dates here and three dates there but this has been the busiest we have seen. We have had very little breaks and we are just trying to push it.”
Touring in support of their fifth full-length studio effort, Emotionalism, which was released courtesy of Ramseur Records in May of 2007, the brothers won’t see home until the leg capper on December 29th in Ashville, North Carolina.
“What keeps me going specifically in the music realm is the writing and the creating of it. With that being said, live shows are a great place to try new things and take chances. Music has always been there for me but now more than ever it is calling.”
Son of an Alaskan Pipeline worker, Scott Avett grew up alongside younger brother Seth (guitar/vox) gazing out upon farmland in Piedmont, North Carolina. “We had a typical older brother, younger brother relationship with Seth looking up to me. As we grew older he worked to gain respect for me and we eventually started playing music together at a really young age through the church. We basically finish each other sentences,” shares Avett.
“I think there is something very complementary when siblings decide to play music together, just through harmonies and things like that. At times with a band like Oasis the siblings’ factor probably becomes a problem for them. It might help with their marketing because people really want to see them fight all the time or read about the drama. But the reality is they might write more music if they weren’t arguing all the time.”
The shattering rise of musicians stemming from the Carolinian landscape (Keller Williams, Andy Cabic, Jonathan Wilson, and Warren Haynes) is only outshined by the psychedelically enlightened children whose first glimpse of the world was California.
“I think there is a whole community of musical hybrids going on in the Carolinas. Artists like Langhorn Slim and Regina Spektor are taking really old types of music and approach them with progressive thinking. We have the Carolina Chocolate Drops back home and they are a really good example,” shares Avett. “That is something that is seen quite frequently in the Carolinas and Tennessee more often then in big cities.”
With the origins and intentions of the project firmly stated, Avett transitioned into the makeup of what would eventually become Emotionalism.
“A lot of the time Seth and I will admit to this, and the reality is that we got our hearts broken to watch our previous project fall apart,” in reference to their hardcore endeavor, Nemo. “After that happened we were really gun shy, so we broke it down to a really simple form with just the two of us; banjo, guitar and songwriting. It taught us how to write with nothing to hide behind.”
“Emotionalism was the first time we went into the studio and said to ourselves that we were going to do exactly what felt natural to us. Four Thieves Gone: Robbinsville Sessions (2006) and Mignonette (2004) were natural but we were still thinking in terms of, ‘we have to do a few songs with me screaming on it because that was just an element of what we do!’”
“Emotionalism was the first step for us in moving into the realm of breaking down our perceived expectations for how we make records. What I mean by that is these songs don’t have to be of a certain makeup, they only have to be what is natural.”
Avett’s voice turns giddy as he continues, “What we are really excited for is the next record,” he shares. “We want to be able to take what we learned from this process and really explore the notion of no limitations. We are moving into a time of liberation where we are going to let our music become what it is going to become.”
Overseeing the production for Emotionalism was Bill Reynolds. “We wanted to bring in a buy that we trusted to tie production ends together,” says Avett. “It is usually just us and the engineer. We brought in Bill Reynolds who used to be in a band that we were very influenced by call the Blue Rags.” Reynolds is now the resident bass player in Sub Pop’s gem, The Band of Horses.
“Even if Bill was in the studio and didn’t say a word he would still have been a valuable part because he is somebody that we really respect,” states Avett. “Just having him there was a motivation because it was somebody to play for and to bounce ideas off of.”
With the Emotionalism Tour coming to a close with a three night New Years Eve run in North Carolina, Avett touches on future plans for the project. “Once this tour rounds out things are really going to slow down starting in the middle of November. The first week of December we are going to be playing dates in Florida and recording demos. We have a lot of ideas,” he shares, “a lot of ideas that were left over from the record that need time in the studio to develop.”
“I think Seth and I are going to go in and complete the songs that need to be completed and then from there the plan to put the record together in January. We are not going to do many shows during that time. We have another EP well on its way to being finished to we are just formulating the game plan,” concludes Avett.