Q & A With The Avett Brothers
The Avett Brothers are as rooted in North Carolina as red clay and barbecue. With Concord’s own Scott and Seth Avett as well as New Jersey transplant Bob Crawford, the band has been a staple of the NC music scene since 2000. Developing a loyal fan base through energetic live shows and near-constant touring, the Avetts have brought their unique blend of rock, folk, bluegrass and punk to ever-increasing numbers of music aficionados.
In the fall of 2009, the Avetts broke onto the national spotlight with the release of I And Love And You, which peaked at number 16 on the Billboard album chart and made many critics’ Top Ten lists for the year. Since then, the Avett Brothers have been back in “constant touring” mode, playing sold-out shows from Philadelphia to Santa Cruz, and they’re spending two months of 2010 on a tour of Europe and Australia.
But on Sunday, May 2, the Avett Brothers will make a triumphant return to their home turf when they close out Merlefest, an annual music festival in Wilkesboro that the band has made several appearances at in the past. Recently VisitNC caught up with Scott Avett and Bob Crawford of the Avett Brothers to discuss their big breakthrough, their return to Merlefest, and their connection to the state they proudly call home.
VNC: Let’s review the past year or so: signed to a major label, worked with producer Rick Rubin, releasing the critically acclaimed and commercially successful “I And Love And You”, appearing on Letterman & Craig Ferguson and Austin City Limits, a song anchoring an episode of One Tree Hill, a largely sold-out tour, Scott & Seth playing on the last Johnny Cash album. Did you ever picture this type of success years ago when you playing the bar circuit in Concord and Charlotte?
Bob Crawford: I never could picture any version of what success would look like and I have not been too good a defining what ultimate success is for myself or the group as whole. I guess anyway you choose to define it last year was very successful and we all feel fortunate for that. We just need to keep moving forward and continue seizing these opportunities as they present themselves.
Scott Avett: We surely didn't feel less successful. In fact we always felt successful because we were eager to learn and make the best of it when we weren't in the most comfortable situations. We were and are, as we all can choose to be, self-made people. This is, of course, understanding that the small amount that we have control of is but a minute percentage in our lives. The opportunities that we have accepted are great honors and we are thankful to live through them and do our best but they also come with the territory and none make us more or less successful.
VNC: You’re returning to Merlefest as the Sunday show-closers, but you’ve performed at the festival several times before. What is it about Merlefest that keeps bringing you back, and how does it feel to be one of the major headlining acts this year?
Scott Avett: This is a true honor and we are looking forward to putting on the show. Merlefest has been very good to us as fans and guest performers
Bob Crawford: For me, I would have never moved to the south from New Jersey if it were not for Merlefest. I was living in New Jersey and a friend of mine dragged me there in the early 90's. I had such a great time that I kept returning every year. When I graduated college in 1996, I decided the North Carolina was somewhere I might want to live. All the great things in my life were spawned from that decision; wife, child, career, etc. Performing at Merlefest is and always will be at dream come true. I will never get over awe of being there.
VNC: Scott, how did your upbringing in Concord influence your music?
Scott Avett: We were given room to make mistakes. Lots of room to make mistakes. The country and small towns are good for that and that is good for growing up, whether it’s as a farmer or a carpenter or an artist. We were also constantly reminded about love by the folks around us. I think that it also made us very sentimental, which makes recalling feelings natural, and recalling feelings is a big part of our songwriting.
VNC: The Avett Brothers spent several years tirelessly touring small NC music clubs. What do you remember most about those clubs and those shows?
Bob Crawford: It's surreal, that transition from small venue to larger venue occurred very slowly over the period of 3 or 4 years. Sometimes we still play them; there are markets we played in 2009 that held three to four hundred people. You are definitely closer to the crowd and the energy flows intensely in a smaller room. That never gets old, and I think the challenge and goal when you play a larger room is to create as much intimacy as possible.
Scott Avett: I remember most every night and have fond memories of most all of them, even the tough nights. I remember a constant battle with sound systems and looking back at an inadequate mixing board that we had just bought with our last dime as it was smoking and just singing louder to make up the difference. I remember spending time with the people that came to see us and late nights that became a challenge to remember as they went on. I remember car trouble and late night drives across the state. I remember very hot nights in Wilmington and very cold ones in Boone. I remember a lot and I like that.
VNC: How would you assess the state of independent music in North Carolina these days?
Scott Avett: Very healthy which is reflective of the rest of the world I believe. There is a lot of good music under the radar out there and I think we are living through an exciting time that will be remembered.
Bob Crawford: I don't think there has ever been as much talent and great music being made in North Carolina, or throughout the rest of the country, as there is today. It is a beautiful time to make and love music. The technology that exists really supports independent artists of all kinds.
VNC: Obviously, the success of “I And Love And You” has brought you a ton of new fans. How would you advise those newbies to approach your back catalogue?
Bob Crawford: Pick an album and dig in. It doesn't matter where you begin. There is a lot available to anyone who is so inclined as to investigate.
Scott Avett: I am not really sure. I think our growth through recording is predictable if you listen from beginning to end, so maybe one should start with I and Love and You and go backwards to listen to a band of guys undoing themselves. I hope that makes sense and is not too terribly offensive.
VNC: Judging from the Avett Brothers web site, it looks like you’re touring well into the summer months. Then what? Down time? More touring? Back to the studio?
Scott Avett: All of the above.
Bob Crawford: More touring, hopefully some studio time, but we need to get that family time in too.
VNC: OK, this is VisitNC, so I gotta ask: What are some of your favorite places to hang out when you’re at home or touring inside the state?
Bob Crawford: As the transplant of the group I have to admit that North Carolina took me in. Like I said earlier, this state has given me most of what I cherish in life. I have had the good fortune to live in several parts of the state and have loved them all. I have visited and worked in every corner of the state. It all has charm. I love the historic sites: Kings Mountain, Roanoke Island, Beaufort, Guilford Courthouse.
Scott Avett: I love driving through Stanly county and thinking. I love Greenville NC (home of ECU). I love Asheville and the NC Mountains. I think Crabtree Mall in Raleigh is great! The flea market at the state fairgrounds is the best… however, I like Metrolina Expo in Charlotte as well. The Rat’s Nest is my favorite vintage shop in NC. Charlotte. I love all Brixx Pizzas in NC. The North Carolina Museum of Art. Smiley’s Flea Market in Fletcher. I could go on.
VNC: Of course, one of the favorite places for your homegrown fans is the traditional Avett Brothers New Years’ Eve concert. Can we count on those to continue?
Scott Avett: I hope.
Bob Crawford: Stay tuned…
added: February 18, 2010
updated: February 18, 2010