Interview: Avett Brothers 'stretch out' on major label debut
Before there was New York, there was Poughkeepsie. Before there was Washington D.C., Los Angeles and Nashville, there was Chestertown, Md., Medford, Ore., and Huntington, W.V.
The Avett Brothers didn't follow the typical trail of tears that juts burgeoning bands across the United States in order to blow them up big.
"The people in those small towns are so excited about music. People seemed to come no matter where went," explains Avett Brothers bassist Bob Crawford. And just because the group is now signed with American/Columbia, and is facing down the Sept. 29 release of their Rick Rubin-produced album "I And Love And You," "doesn't mean we're gonna stop playing Charleston."
Music lovers exist in small town America as much as its big cities, and the group's sound seems to be a dialect that translates easily across borders. The Avetts' unusual blend of country, punk, pop-folk and Southern rock collates from three-part harmonies, acoustic guitars and shit-kicking rhythms. It's a very natural sound and, on "I and Love and You" in particular, is very sweet.
Fans won't be entirely unfamiliar with the new material, as the group - which consists of Crawford, actual blood brothers and guitarists Scott and Seth Avett and touring cellist Joe Kwon - has been playing most of the tracks on their endless number of tour dates. What's different is the expert touch of Rubin, who "showed up [in the studio] every single day... We only know how to play our instruments the best that we can play them. But now, we were working with people who have been doing that for 30 years."
"The presence of the name Rick Rubin is bigger than the man itself. So we had a bout of self-inflicted intimidation," Crawford laughs. Rubin has helmed some of the most influential recordings from acts like Beastie Boys, Johnny Cash and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
"So to rehearse, we would play the same songs 30 times in a row, lock in things we had taken for granted. It made us a better band. So then we'd go in after that, and some songs we'd play in one take and he'd be like, 'You're good.' For some, he'd bring in some of his own people. We stretched out more with electric instruments, drums, a piano."
Any "stretching out" that the band did prior to their 2008 signing with Rubin's major label imprint was done almost entirely on their own. They began in 2000 as a trio in Concord, N.C. and began releasing a jumble of live albums, EPs and full-lengths under their manager's label Ramseur or on their own. It was their 2007 effort "Emotionalism" that finally got traction on sales charts and EP "The Gleam II" that solidified their name further. They toured constantly all the while.
So it was at least a little surprising that they'd make the leap from being self-released, independent artists to landing on a major.
"We had been doing very well independently. So this deal... took us a year to get it right," Crawford says. The band has been excited by the additional push from Columbia's publicity department for instance, and the ability to "finally" spend some money on album artwork. "We did all the work, all the hard work, and we didn't wanna give that up. But we were driven by wanting to work with [Rubin], it was the carrot dangling before us."
Was the carrot worth it? Check out the excellent album in its entirety, streaming at NPR, and the music video for the title track "I and Love and You" on MySpace.