Still Life

The Avett Brothers have worked for years to get to the top, and they'll never stop evolving

click to enlarge The Avett Brothers just landed their first overall No. 1 on the Billboard charts.
The Avett Brothers just landed their first overall No. 1 on the Billboard charts.

Their songs are already known. People sing and scream every word at their often-sold-out shows all around the country. But finally last week, the Avett Brothers' latest effort True Sadness took Billboard's top-selling album title — a first for the band.

"I'd have to go back to the 15-years-ago self," says Scott Avett, who along with brother Seth started the North Carolina-based folk/bluegrass/rock band in 2000. "If someone said, 'You're going to embark on a journey and you won't have a hit until 15 years into your career,' I wouldn't have believed them."

Still, he wasn't completely surprised. He says that after all of the work they've put in (touring constantly, recording nine studio albums) and the luck they've had along the way (Mumford & Sons helping to take folk music into the mainstream), this was the next logical step.

"But the mountain didn't move when our manager texted us with the news," Scott says. "We still had a show; I was still talking to my wife about sending the kids to summer camp. Life moves on."

This is a band that believes in family and love and God, and even, on occasion, drinking. Since the beginning, many of their songs have explored finding forgiveness and moving forward. The brothers never said they would get every decision right. It was always about trying.

It began with a suggestion. What if they took the new album's songs and remixed them? Scott says that famed producer Rick Rubin, who has worked on the Avetts' past four records, was only spitballing, not dictating. But they liked the challenge. So along with core members Bob Crawford (standup bass) and Joe Kwon (cello) and others, they recorded electronic/pop versions of the mostly acoustic tunes.

Scott calls the process eye-opening.

"We all agreed even if we didn't choose those tracks, we didn't lose anything, it would change us and inform us," he says. "That's the bigger point — rather than making something that would upset people or please them, to move forward with this craft that we do."

They've been living with the songs on True Sadness for two years, and are glad to take the new tunes on the road this summer — including a stop in Airway Heights next week, where they'll decide the playlist the day of, as they do for all of their shows.

Not everyone is thrilled about the new direction. Reading the dissenting opinions, the ones that say they've sold out or they're trying to make a Top 40 pop record, are upsetting, Scott says. He read one review that didn't appreciate the canned clapping on the opening track "Ain't No Man."

"Of course, I was there in the studio with nine other people doing the clapping for that," he says. "People can have their opinion, I shouldn't say much of anything. But that song, the big chorus, was written 10 years ago. It's hard."

Even back when Scott was still in charge of the band's website, fans were sending him emails outraged that other groups of folks were coming out to the shows, as if the band could only be owned by a select few. "They want the masses, and then when they come, it's difficult to let go," Scott says.

Today, Scott's out and about on his farm in Concord, North Carolina, the scenic area he was raised in and sees no reason to leave. It's part of why the band likes to play smaller venues (they're not playing Seattle this time around).

"Early on, we built what we do by accidently dodging the major markets," Scott says. "It was a misstep in some ways, but we understand the mentality of smaller cities; we grew up in one. The depth is never-ending, and you kind of know what to expect there."

After 2013's Magpie and the Dandelion, the band time took some time to regroup. Seth Avett went through a divorce, then started dating Dexter's Jennifer Carpenter. They closed ranks and barely talked to the media. But this new album addresses issues ("Divorce Separation Blues") and a certain theme runs throughout: you aren't perfect, but try to be good anyway.

In March, Seth posted a letter to fans on the band's website: "Scott and I lead different lives, but we are, as we have always been, fully invested in one another's stories."

Scott says he's ready to keep making the music. He says that they could record a new album this weekend, given the chance. But they don't want to annoy people with even more tunes.

At 40, Scott says he hasn't learned much about life. But one thing he's realized is that it's easy to accumulate way too much stuff.

"At this age you really start looking, you've worn a black T-shirt and a blue button-up shirt every day, you're not going to wear that rhinestone jacket," he says. "I'm feeling minimalist lately. I'd like to see me living lower than I can be, because it's enough."♦

The Avett Brothers with Grace Potter • Tue, July 19, at 7:30 pm • $45/$55/$75 • All-ages • Northern Quest Resort & Casino • 100 N. Hayford Rd., Airway Heights • • 242-7000

Geoff Tate's Operation: Mindcrime @ Bing Crosby Theater

Wed., Oct. 16, 8 p.m.
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About The Author

Laura Johnson

Laura moved to the great Inland Pacific Northwest this summer. She is the Inlander's new music editor.