Derk Richardson of the San Francisco Chronicle has described the band’s sound as “the heavy sadness of Townes Van Zandt, the light pop concision of Buddy Holly, the tuneful jangle of the Beatles, [and] the raw energy of the Ramones.” Hailing from Concord, North Carolina, the Avett Brothers have burst onto the music scene with the release of their acclaimed 2009 album, I and Love and You, and there’s no looking back.

I had the fortunate opportunity to speak with Seth Avett of the band to discuss—among other things—this very album, their recent rise in popularity, and whether or not beard envy was involved when working with the man himself: Rick Rubin. Enjoy.

JEFFREY PILLOW: First off, thank you for making some time in your busy schedule to take part in this interview. I know our readers over at The Nervous Breakdown are really going to enjoy this one. So, what’s Cloud 9 like up there? You guys are making serious waves with the new album (I and Love and You, Columbia).

Seth Avett: Thank you for saying so. Everything is going well. I and Love and You has been out for a little over a year now, and we’ve enjoyed sharing the record with a larger audience than we have with any previous records. We’re still proud of the record, though I believe we all have our minds on the next one. Scott and I have been writing and working on the next chapter of songs since well before I & L & Y was released, so it’ll be good for us to get to work on that next album soon. But yeah, no complaints. The year has been one for the books; lots of milestones…

JP: None other than the legendary Rick Rubin produced I and Love and You. What was it like to work with a master such as Rubin, to be in the presence of a man who has helped put the gears in motion of so many varying musical acts to the top of the charts?

SA: There was an immediate and natural rapport between us and Rick from the beginning. He made it clear that he had an appreciation for us and what we are doing as a band right off, so having that mutual respect did a lot for both of us in the beginning. He has become a friend and a partner-in-crime so to speak.

Through the process of making the record, we did learn a lot. We learned some new things about deconstructing a song and putting it back together, and finding a better understanding of its makeup by doing so. We learned about pacing ourselves in a different and potentially healthier way. And we learned to take the time to see a song through, and to experiment with different and sometimes opposing elements of a tune to get it right, emotionally and technically as well. We took a lot from the I and Love and You sessions that I think we’ll take with us into our studio work for the rest of our lives.

JP: And was there beard envy?

SA: No beard envy whatsoever, just respect! Rick’s in another league as far as that goes…

JP: That he is, though I think Joaquin Phoenix is trying to give him a run for his money. Anywho…

Your sound has been described as a fusion of folk, bluegrass, and pop rock. For me, I sense a bit of a punk underbelly, still a little pink and raw, that gets a little scratch here and there, a little cawing with the coo. The first time I heard “Kick Drum Heart” I was en route to work. Early morning daze. Eyes still puffy. Brain still half asleep. A local radio station, WNRN, which plays a refreshing blend of underground, not-so-common songs was spinning it. The song immediately took me aback.

The piano. The drums. The  stop and start. I could totally visualize kids slam dancing along. It was my first introduction to the Avett Brothers. I thought Mojo Nixon, step aside. The guy in the car behind me probably thought I was having a seizure. Sometimes you can’t help but to play a little air drums when you hear a good ditty. Know what I mean, Vern?

SA: Absolutely. I have a hard time keeping the air drums contained (whether I’m driving or not) when I listen to Queens of the Stone Age’s album Songs for the Deaf. It’s gotta be the greatest air drum record of the modern era. But yeah, we love some heavy music. We love some punk music. It’s certainly part of our fiber; we see no reason to hide that spirit if it’s calling…

JP: I definitely feel you when you say punk is deeply ingrained in you. I wasn’t surprised to find out in Scott Timberg’s Los Angeles Times interview that you guys were into the skate-punk scene back in the day, big into 80’s punk rock, and the like. I can totally hear the influence.

How would you guys describe your style? How do you feel this hybrid of so many genres resonates with your listeners?

SA: I’m not sure how exactly I would describe our music to someone. My quick answer when a curious person at an airport or restaurant asks (a group of nine guys, band and crew, who look like us have a hard time traveling incognito sometimes), is that we’re somewhere between country and rock.  I think this is true, considering how incredibly vague this answer is.  In the modern landscape, where the word ‘rock’ can be a partial reference to Jakob Dylan, The Mars Volta, Tomahawk, Lil’ Wayne, or The Deftones, and ‘Country’ can be in a conversation about Ryan Adams, Willie Nelson, Darius Rucker, or Wilco , there’s a lot of room for interpretation with these big general classifications.  But to answer the question, I have no idea…

I don’t think I’ve accurately described our music to a non-listener once!

I think the reason we’ve had some luck in relating to our fans is that we all have a lot of similar loves for, and ties to, music.  There is so much to draw from now musically, and a lot of the folks out there these days who love older country music may also have a good deal of experience with Nirvana, or Soundgarden, or the Beastie Boys.  The eclectic nature of our songwriting I think links up pretty well to our (and a lot of our fans’s) taste for variety in sound and influence.

JP: After “Kick Drum Heart” finishes, the DJ comes on, and I couldn’t quite make out who he said you all were. I’m thinking she said, Averett Brothers; but I did manage to memorize a  couple of words so I figure by the time I get to work, log in, and access Google, I’ll be able to pinpoint who this kick ass band is. Boom. There it is.  Google comes through again: Avett Brothers, “Kick Drum Heart.”

I e-mail my wife. “Avett Brothers,” I write her. “You have to listen to this song I just heard.”

She writes back, “I just did. Wasn’t that an awesome song?”

Now, we’re hooked on the Avett Brothers like a crack-cocaine junkie.

SA: I love to hear a good story about discovering music (whether it’s our music or not!).But thank you for making the effort to track it down. That’s just proof the radio can still bring some excitement to a person’s day, which is a beautiful thing…

JP: You all have been around for ten years. I felt like I’d been living under a rock for a decade when I learned that. Now you guys have just exploded onto the music scene. If you don’t know the Avett Brothers by now, it has been reported, you actually are living under a rock. How is this experience for you, the eruption in popularity? Is it something you have to take in stride or what?

SA: I think that we have taken it as well as anyone could be expected to take it. The history we have, working very hard with our band for the past ten years, has definitely made the experience sweeter and more appreciated.  In the process, we have gradually learned to process each step along the way in a healthy manner.  If we somehow could have achieved the level of popularity we are at now, when we first started, I believe it would have been very detrimental to each of us personally and as a band.  We’re much better prepared at this point just to genuinely say thank you if we are fortunate enough to receive a compliment, and to keep our efforts focused primarily on the important parts of this journey: writing and performing at the best of our ability, bringing some artistic integrity to the table, and trying to do some good along the way.

JP: This sort of goes along with a previous question. I wouldn’t say I and Love and You is a departure from Emotionalism (2007), but more a natural progression and evolution in your sound. On one hand, you have songs which carry a similar torch  (“Salina”) as with the new album: the singles “I and Love and You” and “January Wedding,” for example. On the other hand, there is just a new dynamic that is brought in. “Slight Figure of Speech” which, though it somewhat  beckons back to “I Killed Sally’s Lover,” walks a different line.

The  songwriting, not just instrumentally but lyrically, is phenomenal. By not allowing yourselves to be strapped down by one single genre, do you feel this  really opens up the capabilities of being more creative? I guess this goes  without saying but the reality is some bands simply do not have this freedom  you guys do because they’ve really boxed themselves in by aligning their sound  and outward persona with a very specific genre of music. Their sound, in other  words, can be defined. I don’t what the hell to classify the Avett Brothers as, and don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing, a very good thing.

SA: I definitely see this unclassifiable-type mentality as a good thing. What we want is to be open to whatever song that is needing to emerge and be written, without trying to constrict it and shove it into some predestined aesthetic box.  We feel that the song should dictate what it’s instrumentation is, and what rhythm it should be played at.  These factors are malleable, and can and do change, because a song sort of has a life of its own.  But yeah, we feel it’s a good thing to let the song do the deciding, and to just be open to that and honor it if you can.

JP: As a huge Bruce Springsteen fan,  I mean huge, I have to ask: “Hanging Out on E-Street.” You were asked to be a  little part of this video series, and in turn, did a cover of “Glory  Days.” When the Springsteen camp approached you, what went through your  head? That’s saying a lot, for The Boss to not only be familiar with the Avett  Brothers but to dig you guys that hard to ask for you to be part of this  honor. Sure, Rolling Stone bestowed upon you “the Artist to Watch of  2009,” but The Boss., The Boss is, that is a completely new level.

SA: The Boss is called ‘the boss’ for a reason.  He delivers one of the most passionate and exciting live rock and roll shows in the world and has been for decades.  We have an immeasurable amount of respect for the man, and to have him nod in our direction is a compliment we will never forget…

JP: You’ve been touring extensively  over the past few years. Dave Matthews. Bonnaroo. SXSW, and you guys have a  show here in Charlottesville on October 17 with Grace Potter and the  Nocturnals. What is a typical day and night like in the lives of the Avett  Brothers? Do you ever just get worn down and want to say, I need the night  off? What is it that keeps you coming back to the stage and hitting the road  for the next town?

SA: We do get tired, sure.  We get ragged and worn, as anyone who works for a living does.  Our days and nights are I guess somewhat bizarre, relatively speaking.  We generally drive through the night.  We look for quality meals, we do interviews, sometimes we meet with fans and say hello to folks, we have pretty extensive soundchecks, during which we try to rehearse as much as possible and maybe even have some fun doing so.  We then get ready and eventually get on that stage and, with the people that join us on any given night, find a joy and a celebration together.  The fans are why we are able to do what we do.  They give us power even when we are exhausted.  They lift us up and for that we are forever grateful, ‘cause we surely need it sometimes.

JP: I want to thank you again for this opportunity to interview you. I appreciate it. I know our readers are going to be digging this like some potatoes. Best of luck with the remainder of the tour.

SA: Thanks for your time and effort, Jeffrey. Sorry we weren’t able to knock this one out pre-show, but hopefully we will see you down the road.

 

For more information on the Avett Brothers, including where to purchase their music and what town they’ll be in next, visit www.theavettbrothers.com.

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JEFFREY PILLOW is a contributing writer for The Nervous Breakdown and Hoops Addict. He lives in Charlottesville with his wife, daughter, and dog -- three separate entities. A certified basketball junkie, he also loves cheddar cheese and poorly crafted science fiction thriller films involving cold-blooded animals and bad acting. SEE Shark Attack 3: Megalodon. His work has appeared on Yahoo! Sports, USA Today, and 16 Blocks magazine et al. Visit him online at www.jeffreypillow.com.

24 responses to “Little Bit Country, Little Bit Rock ‘n Roll: An Interview with the 
Avett Brothers”

  1. Irene Zion says:

    Pillow,
    I love you,
    but I don’t do music.
    So that’s my comment.

    • Jeffro says:

      I think you may very well like the Avett Brothers if you give them a listen. You can stream most of their songs on their website.

      • Irene Zion says:

        Pillow,

        It’s not that I don’t like music, it’s that I have a time-management problem.
        I have too much too do and not enough time to do it in.
        If I started listening to music, my mind would wander and I’d never get anything done.

  2. M.J. Fievre says:

    Of course, I went and Youtubed their videos… Now I’m all over the Avett Brothers. Thanks, Jeffrey. Great interview.

    • Jeffro says:

      They’re great, aren’t they? You should check out some of their older stuff too. It’s a lot more raw, not quite as polished . . . and I love that sort of thing.

  3. Jessica Blau says:

    Great interview.

    A couple months ago I sent my mother a CD of a bunch of songs I thought she’d like. I and Love and You was on there. JUST TODAY, my mother called from California and said, “Who are those guys who sing that I and Love and You song?” She said there are only three songs on the CD she likes and I and Love and You is the only one she listens to over and over again. It is such a beautiful song that it transcends things like age and geography. It’s not a young person’s song, not a Southern song, not an old person’s song. Just a beautiful song.

    • Jeffro says:

      What a kawinkydink!

      They do that, don’t they? Transcend generations. Not many bands have that ability. I completely agree with you there. That’s why I think they have real staying power: “It’s not a young person’s song, not a Southern song, not an old person’s song. Just a beautiful song.” And a lot of their songs are that way. Just good music.

  4. Jim says:

    Score! That’s a tough interview to get. Nice going.

    Their dad (Jim Avett) is a real inspiration, especially to those of us who are fathers.

    http://wp.me/pYZxH-11u

    • Jeffro says:

      Thanks for reading Jim, and also, for turning me on to the music of their dad. Any man that chases chickens has to be a good picker.

  5. Lenore says:

    i was just listening to “pretend love” on my way home from work. how strange to come home and see this. ask them if they know a guy named Michael Mazochi. he played our last LA show….

    • Jeffro says:

      Michael Mazochi. I’ll have to remember the name next time I interview them. I’d love to do a follow-up once their next album hits the streets.

  6. Greg Olear says:

    This is great, man.

    One presumes Brooklyn did, in fact, take him in.

  7. Mary Richert says:

    Yes! When I heard “Kick Drum Heart,” for the first time, I was on my way home from work, just another generic, mediocre day at the office, and the song was so… elevating. I don’t know if you’re a fan of OK Go, but I like them for a similar reason. The music is energetic and alive. I love when you listen to a song and you know the people making it are really into just the joy of creating music. So glad you got to interview Seth. Great work!

    • Jeffro says:

      “Ge-ge-ge-get get over it! (Hey!)” Little OK Go for you. I saw them perform this and went out and immediately bought the album. Pure energy. That’s my type of music.

      I feel you on hearing “Kick Drum Heart” for the first time. I had no idea they played slower songs until later that evening. I just knew by that one song, that was a band I could get into.

  8. Great interview.

    I’ve listened to “I and Love and You” a billion times since it came out. Every person that gets into my car for any period of time hears me say, “Hey, you have to hear this.” Love it. It’s very rare to find an album is so 100% solid that every song makes you feel great. I tell people this album makes my heart happy. Good stuff.

    • Jeffrey Pillow says:

      I’m the same way man. When I discovered them, I e-mailed a bunch of my old friends from back home where I grew up who are real musicheads, guys I used to be in a band with when I was younger, and was like, “You need to listen to this.” Genre wise, you can’t really classify them as purely anything. Not folk rock, bluegrass, rock, etc. They really strike a chord with listeners because of that, just as Seth said. Avett Brothers, along with MGMT and Nels Cline Singers, are easily my favorite bands of the modern era. They make me love music again which is something, I have to admit, I’ve had trouble with since that window of age 15-22 closed, in newer groups.

  9. jmblaine says:

    I hear good things about these
    guys around Music City
    but haven’t heard them yet
    I’ll go check it out now though

  10. Simon Smithson says:

    I have never heard of these guys before. Another win for TNB!

    And I concur. Songs for the Deaf is such a sweet air drum album.

  11. Joe Daly says:

    Was just reading about the Avetts in a UK magazine last week. Now I get this killer interview on TNB, so I guess I need to put on the headphones and see what they’re all about. Awesome interview, JP.

    Songs for the Deaf could be its own cardio workout for air musicians.

  12. Kerry says:

    Jonathan Evison actually turned me on the The Avett Brothers over this past summer and then I was lucky enough to see them live here in my hometown of Las Vegas in September. You might think you love the Avett Brothers until you see them live and then you realize you WORSHIP them. They put on a seriously raucous, heartfelt, energetic live show. If you can catch them live DO IT.

  13. jonathan evison says:

    . . . hell yes, i’m a HUGE avett bros. fan! they’re fucking brilliant! . . .thanks for bringing them to TNB, master pillow!!!!

  14. Bonnie Blau says:

    I’m the mother of Jessica who commented above. The song, I and Love and You is just amazing. I belt it out whenever I’m in my car, three and four times in a row (the time it takes me to get to Santa Barbara from my mountain home), adding my own harmony. I’m buying the album now that I know there is one. I’m 71, by the way. And still beltin’. Love those boys!

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