Real girls in their own place.
Not too crazy and just a pinch of naughty...
An Awesome (and Asinine) Conversation With An Avett Brother.
Words by Pisha Warden
Pictures The Avett Bros
If you’ve heard of The Avett Brothers, you’re probably a huge fan. At least, that’s the general consensus I’ve come to, based on my extensive internet research (does Facebook count?) in preparation for my interview with Seth Avett. He’s one half of the duo (and brothers) that lead this, folky, bluegrassy, rock ‘n rolly, and enigmatic trio (Bob Crawford’s their bassist and only non-brother) from North Carolina. And while I’m only kidding about the Facebook research (sort of), their music, which has been described as “epically genuine” can move even the most critical musicphile. But again, you have to know them first to love them. I’m not a hardcore music reviewer, I don’t speak that language, but I can certainly give you a vivid description of their latest album "The Carpenter"—which debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 chart last month.
They have managed to channel the spirituality of Mumford & Sons, the spunkiness of Ben Folds, the intimacy of Bon Iver, with a raw energy that feels more like listening to a live performance than a studio album. It’s eclectic and joyous, in the best ways possible.
A few noteworthy highlights from their career so far; Rolling Stone Magazine called them the “Artists to Watch in 2009,” with the album “I and Love and You” peaking at #16 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums (#1 on the folk album chart). Paste Magazine also crowned it their Album of the Year. In 2011 they performed at the Grammys, joining Bob Dylan and Mumford & Sons for a rendition of Dylan’s counterculture war cry “Maggie’s Farm.” Which I can only describe (with all journalistic integrity) as AMAZEBALLS! So how is it that they’ve managed to remain relatively under the radar for over ten years? With the new album released last month and the exposure they’re receiving from their new Gap ad, that won’t be the case much longer. (Side note to my ladies—have you seen the blue eyes and dimples on these boys?!? Hubba hubba!) I had a chance to speak with Seth, as the band was putting the finishing touches on the album. His North Carolina drawl and easy conversation immediately charmed me, while making me extremely self-conscious about how much I curse when I talk. (Don’t fuck this up, Pisha, he’s clearly a gentleman!)
Pisha: Thanks for chatting with me today, Seth! I’m with Me In My Place, I don’t know if your publicist told you that?
Seth: Am I going to have to send you a picture of me in my underwear in an apartment?
I mean, if you’re offering… Gah! Pish, what did I just say?
Pisha: I was going to wait until the end of the interview to talk about this, but yes, I am definitely looking forward to pictures of you in your underwear for our website.
Seth: (laughing) I might have to talk to my lawyer about that.
Pisha: Seriously though, this is really exciting for me, because this interview is gonna give me an enormous amount of street cred amongst my music-savvy peers. One of them, my friend Meredith, wants to know if you enjoy making grown women teary-eyed with your music?
Seth: Oh man, I feel kinda bad for fans if they’re crying because I stink so badly! That I don’t like. If it’s tears of joy or if it makes them think about something that makes them happy, or maybe think about something that used to make them sad but doesn’t make them sad anymore, I think that’s good. Sometimes, when it comes to artistic expression that makes me feel teary, maybe it kinda hurts but I like it. So…I guess…yes!
Pisha: Another friend wants to know how it feels to be so awesome and his follow up question is “If you had to describe yourself in one word that starts with an ‘a’ and ends in ‘e’ what would that word be?”
Seth: (laughing) Asinine.
Pisha: Nice! I saw you on a billboard for Gap while I was driving home last night. How did you become involved in their “Icons Redefined” campaign?
Seth: They approached us after some fans in their organization saw us live. The campaign features artists that they consider to be brilliant and/or artists that have been described as brilliant but are just kind of just under the radar. We knew we were going to be in good company because of some of the other performers they were showcasing. Plus Scott and I have always loved the previous Gap campaigns with Ryan Adams, Willie Nelson.
Pisha: It looked like a fun ad to shoot.
Seth: It was, it was! Really any time Scott and I get together, we can make something fun. You could put us in bad situation, and we’re gonna get each other laughing, you know? They basically wanted us to hang out, joke around and play our instruments, and that’s what we do anyways.
Speaking of you and Scott doing your thing, what was it like growing up in your house?
We grew up on about 60 acres of fields, pastures and forest, so we had a lot of room to run around and let our imaginations run around too. We had a piano in our living room and our dad was always playing songs for us on the guitar. We went to church most Sundays, and always sang there. We have a very close and loving family.
That closeness definitely comes through in your music, there’s so much heart in it. I’m curious to see how people react to the new album and to songs like “A Father’s First Spring.” I know Meredith is going to lose it when she hears it.
Yeah, with that one, I could see it coming from a mile away. It’s a very emotional song, a very romanticized song, it’s gonna be pulling on those heartstrings.
Any favorite tracks on the new album?
I feel very behind every single one of them. You have to be like that, for us, to release a record. I’m very unfamiliar with the idea of filler material or numbers that are lesser than other numbers. I like the ones that push our abilities live. “Paul Newman vs. The Demons” is gonna be a beast, really getting it strong. Building it in the studio is one thing, but getting on stage and killing it—and with that song, you really gotta kill it—that’s gonna push us.
Would you say that your creative process has changed over time?
I’ve definitely become more particular about my process and more compartmentalized with my time. Just because there’s so much more going on and not a moment to waste, you know? Basically I’ve become much more studious with my approach.
You and Scott were similarly methodical in your approach to dealing with the business side of your artistic careers from pretty early on. How did that develop?
Scott and I have a certain measure of practicality, I think. We were raised watching our dad run a welding outfit for building bridges, so we saw how he ran the business. We saw him with our mom sitting at the kitchen table writing up the checks for the employees. (It was a very small crew, 6-7 members at most.) So we sort of grew up watching the nuts and bolts of a blue-collar operation, and when we started the band, we immediately were like, “Okay, how do we make this like a legitimate business? How can we benefit from the taxing of businesses, do we become an LLC or something? Let’s figure this out.” And immediately that sort of set us apart from a lot of the folks we knew who were making music, because it takes a very different part of your brain. If you’re someone who loves to create paintings or songs or whatever, the last thing you want to be thinking about is forms and all of that. But it’s really necessary because it is 2012, we are in America, and if you don’t make your business legitimate, you’ll get run over. The business will run you over. We knew that early on, and so we didn’t see it as an option, we just thought it was something we had to do. It’s funny we actually ran our business like a blue-collar business, to where we kind of subcontracted out management, subcontracted out touring, promotions, all that stuff. We set it up as if we were building a house and subcontracting the plumber, the electrician, and all that stuff.
How did it feel to be on stage with Bob Dylan and Mumford & Sons at the Grammys last year?
It was as surreal as you would imagine and it happened as quickly as you would imagine. After it was over, it was like, “did that just happen?” In scenarios like that—things are moving so fast and environments change so quickly that you don’t have a ton of time to try and digest it, which is good. It was incredible, and it was a story to tell the grandkids.
Did he say anything profound to you?
I had a good moment where we were trying to figure out something about how to play the song, and I asked him if he wanted to finish the song with a C7 rather than just a normal C. And he was like, “I don’t know, let me hear it.” And I did it and he was like, “No, no, let’s just do the normal C.” It was just a moment. But I’ll certainly never forget it. It was definitely the right decision.
It seems funny, and it sounds overly simple. And it is. But it would have sounded silly to finish with the C7. And as soon as he said that I was like, “of course.” I can’t really explain it, but… going with the more natural way is always the better way. He’s exemplified that in his musical life and we try to do that, but you always get in your own way. That little moment I had with him, it just spoke to a bigger mentality when making art and presenting art.
What’s your favorite part of being on tour?
Just sitting up in the front of the bus with the guys, when it’s really calm and everybody is having tea or coffee, everyone has a moment of relaxation and we get each other laughing. That’s pretty much the top of the mountain. That, and when I get a chance to talk to people and hear people’s stories—the fans—I can’t even describe how much fuel that gives me to continue doing what I’m doing. That’s another one.
The last song you listened to?
Lemme think for a second…“The General Specific.” A Band Of Horses song, from an album they put out in 2007.
I love that album! I love that song!!!
Let me tell you something. They’re friends of ours, I love those guys. You know that song? It’s the one that sounds like a modern Beach Boys song or something. It goes “If your trials end…”
Aaand now he’s singing it to me. *swoon*
Yes, I definitely know that one.
I could listen to it ten times in a row! Bill, the bass player, he’s a great friend, and while I was listening to it I texted him, “Hey I’m listening to that song. Damn, it’s good!” I had to tell him, you know?
Do you or your bandmates have any freaky pre-show rituals that maybe you don’t want people to know about?
(laughing) Yeah…yeah. The one that’s not so funny but is true is that everyone has a certain drink thing. I’m always picking up a hot green tea, even if it’s a hundred degrees in the sun. A lot of times I’ll make it fresh and walk on stage with it nice and hot. Jacob and Joe and Scott all seem to be on this coconut water kick. And the one that I’ve probably never told anybody, and I probably shouldn’t tell you but I will, is that we all get together in a circle and put our hands together like a sports team might do, and we go, “whoooooooa” (building to a crescendo) and then our manager yells, “One! Two! Three!” and we all yell, “BUST A NUT!”
It’s a tradition that bled over from me and Scott’s high school soccer days. That’s what we did before games ,because we had this all-black soccer ball that was called Nut. And whenever you kick the ball, you’re busting a nut.
Sure, that’s just a soccer reference. Uh huh.
(continuing) So we always do that, and sometimes we’ll have a moment of silence right before everybody starts the “whoooa,” and during that moment you think about whatever you want—kind of like a prayer, in a way—maybe thinking about somebody in the hospital, or asking for the strength to go out there and do the thing.
If the Zombie Apocalypse happened tomorrow, which band member would be most fit for survival?
Oh, me, no question. (laughing) Every one of us would answer like that! I would say… hmm. I would say not Joe. How about that?
(Joe Kwon is the band cellist.)
That’s fair! I have two more, but they’re easy ones: what’s your wife’s favorite thing about you?
My ability to make taco salad.
What’s your favorite thing about your wife?
The face she makes when she’s really, really, laughing.
Aww, that is sweet! I’m looking forward to making Meredith cry when I tell her what your answer to that question was.
(laughing) You gotta tell her to stop crying!
Will do. Thanks again, Seth, I definitely look forward to catching you guys live the next time you’re in LA!
Thank you so much, Pisha, and hopefully we’ll see you soon!