He ain't heavy -- he's just one of the Avett Brothers.
Despite his reputation for tackling heavy emotional topics in song, Seth Avett of the celebrated North Carolina folk-rockers insists he is not a total killjoy.
"It does sound like I would be," the 32-year-old singer-guitarist chuckles down the line from his kitchen. "But I don't really feel like I am. It's definitely not my default setting. I'm positive. That's more of an undercurrent for me in terms of personality."
But even he admits their latest rustic release The Carpenter -- their seventh album and the followup to their 2009 breakthrough I and Love and You -- seems preoccupied with life and death.
"These themes on the record, they're just part of the conversation. When we make a record, we record all the songs that are part of our consciousness and then we try to recognize the album in that body of work. The Carpenter surfaced out of about 20 or 22 songs. They're just songs that made sense together. But they're not meant to be brooded over and they're not meant to bring anybody down. I hope they don't. Honestly, it didn't even occur to me that the album had a bunch of heavy topics on it until I began doing interviews."
With The Carpenter on shelves now, the polite and thoughtful Avett filled me in on the ups and downs of fame, working with famed producer Rick Rubin, being in a band with his banjo-picking brother Scott, and the long-overdue return of bassist Bob Crawford, whose infant daughter has been battling a brain tumour. Speaking of heavy topics.
New fame can be a double-edged sword. How have you dealt with the pressure and raised stakes?
I think I have compartmentalized it and kept it at bay. That's one of the primary benefits of having my brother with me. We keep each other grounded and keep our minds on the task, which is always art. So it's not that much of an issue. But things are different. When we made our first record, it was caution to the wind. We didn't know if anyone would ever hear it, and we didn't care. Now, it's reasonable to believe hundreds of thousands of people will hear this album. Granted, it's taken us 12 years to get to this, so we've had a gradual progression. That being said, it's still crazy. More and more people come up to me at the airport and at the store, asking for autographs and pictures. And then there's the Internet. I actively stay away from reading comments about me. I can't process it because there's too many people talking. If I look at a message board, I might read 50 things that are positive and one that's negative -- and that one will just dog me.
I know that the album was almost done before Bob's daughter got ill, but it still must have had an impact on things.
Absolutely. It was a life-changer, certainly for Bob and for all of us. We learned a lot about ourselves and about how to move forward when tragedy is right there upon you. A lot of lyrics on the record are made more true by this event. But it's not the only struggle we're aware of. The older you get, the more aware and familiar you become with the struggles in life. And at some point we have to become resolved to that -- and on some level be OK with it. But I'm happy to report that just three weeks ago, Bob came back full time. Of course, there will be times when it may be more challenging. But it's incredible to have him back. So we're moving forward little by little.
How was it working with Rick Rubin? He's notorious for reworking songs. I would suspect that can be tough for a songwriter.
You're hitting the nail on the head. For I and Love and You, that was a major thing. It made that experience kind of difficult at times. But we stepped into that with the idea that Scott and I have been holding on to this thing so tightly for so many years, maybe we're suffocating it. So we went in with an open mind, to learn something from someone we have a great respect for and take the ego out of the mix. That was harder for me because I bring more finished songs to the table. So I had to take a few steps back. And it was healthy. Fortunately or unfortunately, it hasn't changed the way I write. I still come in with five-minute songs that are complete -- at least in my mind. But it helped me be open if Rick says, 'Hey, this chorus happens twice here; what if it only happens once?' That's the way he works. He never says, 'This is how it's going to be.' He just likes to experiment and find out what works best. It's really just him pushing us further.
The woods are full of bands with battling brothers. How about you two?
I am happy to say we're the exact opposite. For the most part, it's always been that way. It's not that we don't have arguments. It's just such a small amount of time that we don't see eye to eye. We look out for each other. We know we're family. And if you know that, there's really no situation that you can't get through. That will take care of challenges that come with performing, with fame, with touring, whatever. Plus, we've learned over the years. We used to drink a lot on the road early on. And we fought more. So we've cut drinking out on the road for about two years.
There are a few songs on this album that rock. Is this a reaction to the prevalence of banjos and mandolins? Is a full-on rock album next?
Maybe. Maybe those songs are us dipping our toes in the pool. And if we write more songs like that, we will not hesitate to make a record that turns a lot of people off.
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