The Avett Brothers: Life and Art, Ambition and Vision

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

That fearlessness occasionally arrests a fluttering muse. For example, Scott proactively disallowed “Swept Away,” an easy highlight of 2004’s Mignonette, from fading to ether. Aspiring writers, be advised: Purchase pen and pad. Rest on nightstand. Employ.

“I had a dream that Louis Armstrong was playing the ‘Swept Away’ melody,” Scott explains. “I have no idea where it came from. But Louis Armstrong was playing it and singing the song to me. I woke up-it’s a borrowed melody, no doubt-and wrote it down. If I hear a song and I choose not to put it down, that’s me neglecting to accept that song. I think there’s a very spiritual and godly-type thing that happens, and it happens to way more people than we know. It’s just that very few of us choose to engage it.”

You know the saying: Life reflects art reflects life.

The Avett Brothers, even after logging more than 200 road shows again last year, continue that loop at home. “I’m trying to find inexpensive pianos so I can have one in every corner of my life,” Scott says. “As my life gets spread out with family, I realize that if I need to go put some clothes in the wash, there needs to be a piano there. If I just have five minutes when something comes to me, I’d better hurry up and do it. At the same time, we’ve gotta cool it with concerns about being [prolific]. Wishful thinking. We’re pretty hyperactive songwriters.”

“We put as much thought and energy into music as any two people can,” Seth echoes, “without driving themselves completely mad. We’re thankful that our story from the beginning until now has been word of mouth, which can be the most valuable way to hear about music.” That grapevine bears fruit: The Avett Brothers have sold nearly 160,000 albums through 2008. They fill theaters from Boise to Birmingham. Still get along-not brothers, but best friends-and are peaking artistically. A case could’ve been made (and a case was) against signing with American Recordings.

There is, of course, no quotable saying about life rewarding art.

Fortunes fluctuate. Columbia can’t guarantee personal or professional riches. In fact, contemporary independent artists, as Crawford notes, are more empowered and more fashionable. Internet self-promotion alone fortifies the do-it-yourself argument. Not to mention that precious commodity: Artistic control. (Further viewing: Check out the Avetts’ “Murder in the City” video. It’s gutting, and sometimes pretty funny. “We shot it inside the house where we were working on the new record out in California,” Seth reports. “Very tender, very intimate.”)

“Scott and Seth are very protective of their work, and with good reason,” Crawford says. “Now we’re swimming against the tide, but it’s for something that might make us all stronger in the end. We really left ourselves open to at least try things because we trusted the people we worked with. Rick’s whole attitude was, ‘Let’s try everything. Even if it’s not going to work out, you don’t want to not get that idea down.’ My main fear was the classic VH1 Behind the Music: Producer and band power struggle. It never happened.”

Rubin might not be a foundry, but he does turn plenty to gold-and platinum. Variables notwithstanding, Vegas odds back major change on the Avetts’ horizon. “I hear that from everybody,” Scott says with a bemused laugh. “‘Things will be different,’ and ‘Things will change after this record.’ Some of it might be true, but some might just be people assuming. I might be foolishly thinking that things will be the same: I do believe in this record, and I believe we made a classic. I think it’s an important record and Rick feels the same way. It’ll either be heard or it’ll be missed.”

Bottom line: Time and timing grow reputation, but truth and trust cement legacy. “I remember crying over you,” Seth sings on “Tear Down the House.” “And I don’t mean like a couple of tears and I’m blue/I’m talking about collapsing and screaming at the moon.” Few songwriters own conviction to license integrity as timeless.

“They care so much about the art that they leave behind,” Ramseur says. “It’s not about the money or selling records. When I first talked to Scott about making records, we said whether this thing sells 20 copies or a million, down the road we want to hang our heads high on it.” “We aren’t looking to be everlasting by any means,” Seth continues, “but we do want to be proud of what we do as older men. God willing we make it that long, we want to look back and be proud. That certainly motivates us to give it our best every time.”

15 Comments

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  1. What a great article on a couple of great guys. I have always admired their songwriting and glad to see it getting well deserved recognition.
    They are all good people, writing great music and putting on one hell of a show. They ‘put thier hooks into you” the first time you see them live, it is an amazing thing, what these guys are doing! God bless ’em!

  2. It sucks these guys have gotten so big. It was so great to see them at smaller venues. I’m not wishing them failure or anything, they are just too talented to stay a small band. I can’t wait for the new record, if its anything as good as Emotionalism its going to be great.

  3. The Avetts success in their lives is inexplicably deserved. I have been to so many of their smaller NC shows from the Orange Peel to the Koka Booth Ampitheatre. Every show is a different experience and they allow a different emotion every single show. I am so excited to see the brothers take their talent and passion to their desired levels. It is a great thing when we get the opportunity to witness real, raw talent. I’m nothing less than greatful to feel like I got to witness this kind of excellence!

  4. What a great write up on a great band.
    The words they sing go right to your soul.
    They’re amazing and we’re with them all the way, from Tremont to Verizon Ampitheatre(this summer w/ Dave Matthews).
    Tin Man, More Of, Solomon and Laundry Room are already awesome.

  5. I miss the small venues too… BUT going to a bigger show for me is like catching a scent in the air that takes you back to the kiss of your first love. I will never forget my first show in Chapel Hill.

    Music that lasts forever is worth doing right.

    Thanks for the cosmic vibrations!

  6. I’ve been a fan of the Avett Brothers for many years. They only grow fonder to me as time passes. Their music grows right along with them and let me just say…its a fantastic ride to be able to go along with them! I’m looking forward to seeing them (again) soon at the beginning of the summer in their home state of North Carolina.

    My first show was seeing them in chico’s restaurant in rocky mount, nc. What a surprise it was to be swooned by music that night! I was amazed and continue to be. These three gentlemen deserve everything good that comes their way. They give music what it has been lacking for so long….substance.

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