Closing out the summer concert season at Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavilion are the Avett Brothers, who built on eight years of independent success with a blend of folk, bluegrass and alt-rock spirit for their 2009 breakthrough, I and Love and You. Produced by industry legend Rick Rubin, the record offered a fuller sound while retaining the close harmonies and thoughtful lyricism of the band’s earlier work.
The Avett Brothers’ Lakes Region headliner appearance caps an all-day holistic living fair dubbed Cowcello, featuring performances from four area bands and vendor booths devoted to health, wellness, fitness and green lifestyles.
Seth Avett took a break from touring to speak with the Hippo about the band’s success, plans for a follow-up to their major label debut, and how he and his brother Scott maintain family harmony on the road and in the studio.
The Avett Brothers project began as an antidote to striving for success. What do you think of how it’s turned out?
As far as how it’s changed and progressed, I feel good about it. I don’t have any complaints about the nature of it changing. I feel like we’re aging; becoming an adult, you bring about that change on your own. You strive for success in whatever you’re doing, whether it’s building songs or building houses. You want to do it as well as you can. If you’re recognized for that and someone thanks you that’s — the punk rock attitude sort of dissipates naturally about that. We started not with the idea of actually gaining any kind of popularity. We needed at the time a simplifying of our attention musically so we brought it down to ground level.
We wanted to keep the music exciting, progressing and improving. It just so happened that went along with getting the bass player and making another record; and then playing a show here, then there, then going across the ocean to play. I think each step we’ve taken has happened gradually enough that the quote unquote success of it hasn’t really been too jarring of a factor.
When you approached your first major-label effort, did you think about doing it differently because the stakes were higher?
There may have been a little bit of that, but we kind of thought that’s gonna be there no matter what. It was not an overwhelming sense of needing to change or live up to anything in particular. From the very first demo prior to cutting Country Was and then Carolina Jubilee and through Emotionalism, each one we’ve made, each time we’ve put pressure on ourselves basically to step up to the challenge, to do something better, different than we’ve done before, and to put everything we can into it. So the major-label step is kind of more storied than it really is. We just saw an opportunity to share our music with more folks and to make a record with Rick [Rubin, producer], which seemed like a really interesting and exciting way to try and take the artistry to another level.
We felt like the opportunity to work with Rick was worth the risk of maybe making something that wasn’t great. We felt even if we make a terrible record we’ll still be able to use this experience. As far as being on a major label, at the point that we did that we were eight years into our history and we went into it with quite a lot to offer. We already had a fan base; we’d already played some arenas and that kind of thing. So it wasn’t a nightmarish feeling. We came to a place where it made sense for Columbia and for us. When I was a kid, I would have looked at it like it’s such a big deal, but we’ve built it step by step, so it just made sense.
Rick Rubin has a reputation for helping artists find things they didn’t know were there. Did that happen?
Yeah, for sure. I think the reasons for that are multiple, one of them being that we get along with Rick so well, it’s a great relationship as a friend and we see eye to eye on a lot of things. Rick definitely helped us with breaking it down and building it back up in a way and also having a better notion of the time it might take to get to disc. We’ve always been in such a hurry, working ourselves into the ground. We’ve made records very quickly and very bare-bones. Which often can be good, you know, and has its charms. But Rick has taken us out of that and given us time to make the best album we can make. But yeah, absolutely Rick has helped a lot.
How is the new album coming?
It’s coming along wonderfully. We’re almost done in fact; we might be 98 percent there.
Does it have a title yet?
No title yet and no release date yet. I know that we’re hoping for early next year if we can get it there. But there’s still a fair amount of studying on it to do to make sure everything’s where we want it to be, and to figure out what songs will be on the record, mixing, mastering, art and stuff. It’s all on our mind but hasn’t come to fruition completely. I’m very excited about it. I will say that there’s something about the making of this record that felt very much — I and Love and You felt like the beginning of a second era for us in a way. We had to try and get our feet wet in that era. It’s out there because of us taking a first step into a new realm as far as recording in our lives. I feel like this new record we’re working on is stronger than I and Love and You. The theory and principle were more comfortable in this second era of our journey.
You played a lot of festivals over the years; has that experience shaped you at all?
Yeah, definitely; we like variety, we like playing in theaters, going to coffeehouses and bars, street corner, whatever, you know? We’re really comfortable in the festival atmosphere. We really like the celebratory spirit that’s very present. People are there for a love of music and that’s why we’re there too. We love festivals; it’s the best time of the year.
Brother acts have an interesting history. How do avoid becoming like Oasis? How do you keep the harmony?
Scott and I are very fortunate in the way that we don’t argue much. When we do, it’s pretty minor and we work hard to get back to a more comfortable place, to figure out the cause. From our very first tours we had to back each other up because we don’t know anybody out here. Who knows what someone might try to get out of you? You’ve only got your one ally. Your brother’s got to be your ally. We’re always like that, so we don’t have that legendary conflict of other brothers. If anything, it’s been maybe our greatest strength as an organization. So we’re not in that long history of brother bands, thank God.