Video by Mike Melia and Lauren Knapp
Seth and Scott Avett grew up in North Carolina in a region dominated by old time music and with a father who had a love for the likes of Hank Williams and the Everly Brothers. When they began their music careers, they were fronting a neo-punk band called Nemo, but they soon discovered that they — and their audience — liked it better when they turned to acoustic guitar and banjo.
In 2001, Seth and Scott joined bassist Bob Crawford to form the Avett Brothers band, blending rock, folk, bluegrass and at times, a hint of their punk roots. They struck on a distinctive Americana sound, started touring and produced a number of independent albums.
Last year, the Avett Brothers teamed up with renowned producer Rick Rubin to make “I and Love and You,” the band’s first record on a major label.
“I don’t think it has changed our writing, but it has changed our recording certainly,” said Seth. “It certainly is before ‘I and Love and You’ and after ‘I and Love and You’ in terms of attention to detail and the desire to get it right on every level: spiritually, emotionally, all the way through.”
“Rick sees eye-to-eye with us and we all agree there are all these things swirling around making art and music that are just distractions….You take the glamor, the notoriety, fame, money and push that aside and say we’re making the best of what I can make here, period,” said Scott.
They’ve been steadily gaining notoriety, recently performing at this year’s Grammy Awards and sharing the stage with Bob Dylan.
Live performances remain central to what the Avett Brothers do and who they are as a band. “We’re really excited about having a catalog of so many songs. We can always go back and change them at will based on whatever we’re feeling,” said Crawford. “What if we tried this song really fast or we took a fast song and slowed it down? It’s all about the possibilities.”
They recently released their third live album. For the band and their fans, it’s a way to “check in” to see how the music has evolved.
“The concept of the live record is to keep mile markers throughout the years,” said Seth. “So much of what we do is based on what we do on the road. So much of who we are is what we bring to the stage and it is a way to mark the chapters.”
The Avett Brothers bring hints of bluegrass to a larger audience. For Joe Kwon, the band’s classically trained cellist, the Avett Brothers have exposed him to a wide range of music he hadn’t encountered before.
“Playing with these guys has turned me into a different type of cellist,” said Kwon.
Although being on the road has been critical to their success, for the Avett Brothers, there is nothing better than being home in North Carolina.
“We love it at home,” said Seth.
“I have been homesick since I was 12 years old. That is not a joke,” said Scott.
Jim Avett, the boys’ father and a musician himself, joined us for our conversation before a recent concert in Washington, D.C. “It was always in the back of my mind that these people were going to do something with music. I didn’t know if anyone off the front porch would ever hear it. I didn’t really care. All of us were bound together by music from the start,” Jim said. “Music in our family has always, always been central. I can’t imagine a day going by without notes being struck in the house.”
The Avett Brothers are now back in the studio working on a new album with Rick Rubin. No release date has yet been set.