For several years, the Avett Brothers were a Southeastern secret. Their fans were fiercely loyal and spread the word. Then, suddenly, it seemed like the entire country was listening to the Avett Brothers.
The group, brothers Seth and Scott Avett, bassist Bob Crawford and more recent addition cellist Joe Kwon, is entering its 12th year as a performing band.
“From our perspective it’s been a real gradual thing,” says Seth Avett. “There’s never been a moment where I said, ‘Wow, how did it get like this?’ If you’d plucked me out of where I was 10 years ago and put me here it would be alarming and confusing. But instead of going from playing for 10 people to 10,000 people, we went from playing for 10 people to 20 people and 65 to 110 ...”
He says the growth has been gradual enough to process it and rise to the occasion.
“I remember reading an interview with Chris Cornell (of Soundgarden) after ‘Superunknown’ came out and they asked him what it felt like to ‘make it’ and he asked what they meant. At the time I thought, ‘How could you not know?’ I understand it now. If you’re on the inside you generally just do you work and think about how best to do the next segment of work. You don’t step back and congratulate yourself.”
The Avett Brothers began in Concord, N.C., in the late 1990s when the brothers, who had played in different groups, decided to combine talents. They first played together in a an electric group called Nemo, but an acoustic side project soon took precedence. Soon the group was wowing crowds with original songs performed with string band instrumentation and all the energy of a punk rock group. After a series of independently released albums and discs on North Carolina’s Ramseur Records, the group signed with Columbia Records in 2009.
The band’s major-label debut, “I and Love and You,” was produced by Rick Rubin and brought the group a solid fan base around the country.
The group is currently touring in support of the 2012 album “The Carpenter.”
Recently, the band recorded an episode of “CMT Crossroads” with country star and fellow North Carolinian Randy Travis.
“CMT asked if we had any dream artist we would want to work with and we said, ‘Well, this is Country Music Television, right? So Randy Travis!’” says Avett. “It seemed pretty obvious to us. And we do have some home state and home town connections. We recorded our first few records in Marshville, Randy’s hometown.”
It came at a time when Travis, who had been one of the biggest stars of the 1980s, was mostly in the news over alcohol problems.
“We had people question that. ... Who doesn’t have someone in their family or a close friend who has had a DUI or had trouble with drinking? ... I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback and doing it was really a dream come true and getting to sing with him was really natural and fun.”
Both Seth and Scott Avett write songs for the group. Seth says he’s become a better writer through the years.
“Songwriting itself, there’s a kind of mysterious element to it, but I feel like the majority of the work is very similar to other types of work,” he says. “You have to do it a lot to get better at it. And you have to find inspiration aesthetically and experience-wise.”
He says he’s also learned that not everything he writes needs to be released or even shared with anyone else, which allows him to create more freely. He says there are a handful of people he shares songs with for critique.
“I have a major built-in resource with Scott being my best friend and my brother. Rick (Rubin) is very valuable in that regard, too.”
One of the things the group has never had a problem with is energy. Avett agrees that the band seemed as if they were performing in arenas when they were performing at tiny halls. They have, though, had to learn some things about playing for larger audiences.
“Your movement on stage, if you’re really giving yourself over to the spirit of the night or the song or the energy in the room, you can embrace the grandness of it and with your physical motion you can engage people who are further away. We are much more aware of the logistical stuff about it. If you’re going to use lighting or video or projection, you have to widen your horizons. To make it a momentous occasion for 15,000 people is different from making it a momentous occasion for 500 people. We’ve been kind of on a learning curve for that for many years.”
Knoxville is one of the cities that has been able to see the group since the early days and Avett says it’s always been a favorite place to visit.
“Knoxville is a really, really special place,” says Avett. “It seems impossible to me that it won’t be heralded soon. We love Knoxville and we love knowing that it’s on the calendar (for a tour stop). Knoxville has a lot of grit and soul. It’s an incredible place. My advice is to enjoy it, because, before long you’ll have somebody making a reality television show about it. Enjoy it while you can.”
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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