It’s hard to believe that The Avett Brothers are in their 16th year of making music. North Carolina-based brothers Seth and Scott Avett, along with bassist Bob Crawford and cellist Joe Kwon, have made an incredible transformation since their start as string-breaking, fingers-bleeding punkers-turned-folkies.
Consistently refining and expanding their sound, the tightly knit quartet has watched their audience grow along with their musical pallet. Now a bona fide arena act, the band’s latest album, “True Sadness,” is the third in a row with super-producer Rick Rubin.
Their highest debut to date, the album hit the top spot on Billboard’s folk, rock, and albums charts, and made it to No. 3 overall. It also showcases a band that is still experimenting, allowing keys and beats to lightly flavor their typically dusty ragtime stew.
Ahead of the band’s anticipated Sunday KAABOO Del Mar appearance, DiscoverSD spoke with Seth Avett about the album, and the band, from his home in Concord, North Carolina.
Q: Did you always plan to do three albums with Rick?
A: It’s not really a calculated decision. And it’s not so segmented with us. It’s kind of always happening. And it’s such a natural process with Rick that my brother and I haven’t yet sat down and said, “Should we make this next record with him?” We just stay in touch and it’s a very fluid process. That can and will change at some point. But it’s just been a continuation of our work together. And it’s so natural and based in good commitment with each other, that it would be a shame to have gotten to this place together and not see where it takes us.
Q: You keep it incredibly personal again on this album. Will that access to your diaries always be open?
A: We sort of built this thing by attempting to keep the walls down. And I feel safer than I ever have to do that. We’re coming up on 16 years as a band and I have yet to have a bad experience from sharing personal things. The only thing I’ve ever gotten back from that is people feeling more connected. And you really couldn’t ask for much more.
Q: There’s just so much noise out there.
A: The negative out there only exists as much as you check into it. In all of the real-life interactions I have with other real people, all I’m experiencing is a lot of love. The poison always comes from these illusory places like Twitter or Facebook or something. And if I don’t take part in those imagined forums, then they’re not real. I think if I was always checking into them, it would inform some of the artistry. And that would be an unhealthy way to go about things. It’s better to just keep sharing the art that I care about and let the rest fall into place.
Q: Ever think about doubling down on those punk roots?
A: I think it’s a question of perspective. In the beginning, it was Scott and I and Bob, along with Zane our road manger, just the four of us in a van. And the songs ranged from either a ballad, which really served as a respite, or a front and backbeat ragtime full-on outpouring of explosive energy for three hours. And that was it. And there certainly was a beauty and a charm to that. But I feel like that’s still present. It’s now just one of the colors in the kaleidoscope.
Q: So, in other words, can’t go backwards?
A: We want to evolve. Or, at least, we want to admit that we’re evolving. If we let the early stages of our careers inform what we’re sharing now, I think that’d be a dishonest way of going about it. There are bands out there that I love that have had the exact same sound for 20 years. That’s just not our trajectory.
Q: Any ideas on how it’s going to expand the next time?
A: We pretty much always have our sites set on the next thing. I think that’s a healthy part of the experience for us. But our lives are very full now. Scott, Bob, and I all have children, so there are glimpses of what’s next in sound check, but it won’t be a real thing until Scott and I carve out a few weeks next year to sit down for a while in each other’s kitchens. A very basic conversation between my brother and I. That’s how it always starts. And that’s how we keep it us.
Scott McDonald is a writer, on-air personality and consultant with 15 years of experience in the San Diego music scene. He has interviewed hundreds of artists, from the legendary to the underground, for print and television. Follow McDonald and his melodic musings on Twitter @eight24_ or Instagram @scotteight24. Send your music musts to email@example.com.