Bob Crawford, Scott Avett, Seth Avett


Creative challenges keep these Americana darlings moving forward  

One would think a band with as many influences as the Avett Brothers would have an extensive list of dream collaborations or future goals. But the North Carolina-based trio prefers to live in the moment, an attitude that’s helped them deal with the fame that comes after scoring multiple Americana Music Awards and performing with Bob Dylan at the 2011 Grammys. That philosophy took on deeper significance when bassist Bob Crawford’s 2-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor while the group was tracking their 11th studio album, The Carpenter. “That situation literally affected everything,” guitarist Seth Avett explains. “It was a game-changer all around—especially for Bob, but for the whole band.” For The Carpenter, the group continued their partnership with Rick Rubin, the producer who helped create the polished roots-pop of their 2009 breakout album, I and Love and You. It was different from the ragged acoustic string-band music of their early years, but no less earnest.

I and Love and You was our first step into the second era of our lives, and The Carpenter finds us much more comfortable there,” says Seth, 31. Brother Scott, 36, agrees, noting that the group’s 2008 signing with American Recordings helped usher in the band’s latest chapter. “Major label support can help or hinder,” he says. “For us, it’s been a very positive change. With it comes bigger everything. It’s neither better nor worse, but it is forward, and we feel like moving forward is the answer.”


How did you select the songs?

SETH: Sequencing and variety are very important to us. A record needs to flow and make sense from top to bottom. We tried to get all the songs strong enough on their own so they could be on the record, and then find out what order works so the record doesn’t feel choppy, too quiet or loud, too heavy or sentimental. It’s not a question of these being the 12 best songs, it’s more that these 12 are an album.

Will you save any songs you cut?

SETH: I hope. I believe in all of those songs as much as the ones that made it on the album. That could be my twisted perspective from working so hard on them, but I am proud of them. I’d like for them to see the light of day sooner rather than later. I don’t want to wait for the 10-year anniversary: “Here’s a bunch of extras. Re-buy the album.”


What’s your writing process?

SETH: It’s always different. We try to stay away from any kind of formula. Scott and I write very differently. For him, it has to be one lightning strike of inspiration. I’m more studious. I’ll sit for a couple of hours with hot tea or a beer, open my computer, sketchbooks or journals—and just write ideas with my guitar, see what happens. Scott tends to write words first and then finds the chords behind them, whereas I’m more on the kick of melody and possibly a first line, and then try to find the theme after the melody presents itself.

SCOTT: “A Father’s First Spring” was written in an instant, and so was “Through My Prayers.” It’s funny how those extremely intimate, heavy songs can be written quickly like that.

SETH: Over the past couple of years, we have also increasingly written apart more than together. But there are a few songs on this record that are meet-in-the-middle, absolute collaborations.

SCOTT: More of the songs were written apart because we don’t see each other as much when we’re home, where a lot of writing takes place. Ownership of the songs disappears as soon as we start working on it. They become our creation.


What’s it like to work with Rick?

SETH: We felt very comfortable with him. There’s a great mutual respect. He doesn’t say, “It should be like this” or “I’m the producer, it should go like this.” That would never come out of Rick’s mouth. He’s more likely to say, “I’ve got an idea and it might be terrible, but let’s try it.” He’s very diplomatic, and his interest is always the art. When we recorded I and Love and You, Rick was in the studio with us all day, every day, to help us deconstruct and reconstruct things. We recorded The Carpenter in a local studio in the mountains of North Carolina. Rick wasn’t physically there, but he felt completely comfortable with us doing our thing. Whenever we were in California, we’d go to his house, listen to the tracks and talk about them. Plus, there were emails and phone calls.

What was the recording process like?

SCOTT: We recorded over an entire year—January 2011 to January 2012—because of our tour schedule. We would go in and work, then go back on tour, where we’d listen to what we recorded, and eventually come back and adjust. A lot more listening happened with this album.

SETH: I think we did two or three 10-day sessions. One of the more simple songs to record was “Through My Prayers.” Scott and I were sitting facing each other in the main tracking room. I don’t remember how many takes we did, but it wasn’t superfluous. We did a few, and then left it. We try to do as much as we can live. There’s sort of a bell curve where it gets better and better and better for 10 takes, and on the 11th it’s a little worse. And it keeps getting worse. We try to be aware of that.


How has the band evolved?

SCOTT: We’ve gone from a group of pieces into a single whole, and we’ve gotten better at knowing what we are, what we are capable of and what we’re not capable of—knowing what to delegate.

SETH: Our sound is more refined. Between each record, you’re looking at a couple hundred shows, so you’re bound to make revisions. And being sharp or flat or not knowing how to breathe correctly onstage—technically speaking, you’re going to get closer to what you’ve always heard in your mind. I’m proud of the records we’ve made. I love Mignonette, but when I listen to it I hear things that I wish I’d done differently. But that’s who I was at that time. I couldn’t be who I am now then. So I can appreciate it for what it was, and it’s charming.


Does a larger following add pressure?

SETH: We made those first recordings not knowing if 50 people would hear them. Now it’s relatively safe to say that a couple hundred thousand will hear The Carpenter. You try to ignore that but you can’t completely. We try to make that a strength. You could say “Oh, God, there’s going to be a lot of people listening so it needs to be completely perfect,” but we try to say “Let’s just make sure we’re proud of it.” It doesn’t have to be pristine, but it does need to be us, and it needs to feel like we’re presenting what we want in the way we want.

The bottom line is, can we stand behind these songs for years to come? Are we OK with playing “The Once and Future Carpenter” thousands of times in the future? We’re maturing as people, and that’s going to change some of the message. When I was 20, I had different things on my mind than I do at 31. I think that’s part of the natural progression of an artist.

–Juli Thanki

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