On Saturday, March 17th, Birmingham welcomes back one of its favorite bands, The Avett Brothers. If you have never seen them live before, this is your chance to experience an incredible, high-energy performance. The show will start at 7 p.m. at Boutwell Auditorium and tickets range from $30-40 and can be purchased online at www.magiccitytix.com or www.ticketbiscuit.com or at the Boutwell Box Office by calling *(205) 254-7797. Check out the Avett Brothers on Facebook or on their main website at www.theavettbrothers.com.
Chris K. Davidson for Birmingham Weekly: Obviously, you guys have had a lot of success over the last few years. What have been some of the biggest lessons that you've learned from that?
Seth Avett: For us, it's been more gradual than it's seemed to others. You definitely become more aware of what you say and how you say it. This interview is a perfect example of how you become more aware of what you're saying and you start having your guard up more, which I think you need to keep an eye on because I think that can be a bad thing. It can turn you into a politician like having ready-made answers for every question. With more attention, a lot of people start looking at you more, so you start looking at yourself more and wondering if what you're saying and what you're feeling is worth looking at. I think a heightened criticism is there. Specifically, with becoming well-known as a band, you learn that a ton of people are relying on you, so the amount of effort needs to increase. As far as lessons about being more well-known, it comes down to wanting to be worth the popularity. Wanting to make sure you're bringing something quality to the table for all of the attention that you're getting because I look and see a lot of music that's well-known but not high quality. I don't want to be in that category. I think there's heightened awareness of what you're doing and how you're doing it.
BW: Do you think you'll be able to define your sound in four words or less or do you think the lack of a genre has helped you guys to get where you are?
SA: Chris, I've never been able to describe it. There's been some descriptions over the years that I've liked more than others, but genres are for record stores or iTunes promotions or categorizations so people can find stuff that they or something similar. For someone who loves music, you know that Zeppelin isn't metal and they're not blues. They're Zeppelin. Paul isn't just folk; he's something apart and separate from that. I don't know what we are. I know some of the elements that are a part of what we do. In typical musician fashion, you ask for a few words and I can talk for a few days about it. I don't know what it is. I trust you to describe it. That's why you're asking the questions.
BW: Next thing I want to do is transition over to lyrical content. Two songs that have always intrigued have been "Murder in the City" and "The Ballad of Love and Hate." I wondering if you could talk about the inspiration behind those.
SA: "Murder in the City," my brother, Scott, wrote that one. I know that it's a portrait of a moment of thinking about the big picture, of thinking about our eventual demise and eventual death. Everyone dies and that's part of life. It's just a portrait or snapshot of his desire to let his loved ones know that he does love them. That's one of the only things that matters. When you do die, a big part of that process...what matters to you the most is that you communicated love. I think "Murder in the City" is about trying to be aware of that before the end, to communicate that love before it's too late and before you lose your opportunity. "The Ballad of Love and Hate," I did write that one. That was kind of one of those weird songs that I wrote in ten minutes, which is bizarre. They're not normally like that. I have more of a studious approach to songwriting. I'll have the idea and I'll work on it diligently for a number of days or weeks or months or years and develop it as I can and it needs to be developed. That one came up quickly and it's a depiction of good and evil personified. Putting the evil in the male counterpart and putting the light and the good and the love in the female counterpart, comparing the good and the bad in a couple that are very clearly involved in activity that's either good or bad...drunk driving on the evil side and singing on the good side. It's about fighting the battle of those two things and acknowledging that they're part of life, but presenting that, in the end, the good and love is what endures and the dark is exposed the poisoned thing that it is.
BW: I noticed that in your lyrics that there is a balance between good and evil. Another examples is "Heart Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise."
SA: Every single one of us has positive and negative in us. Every single one of us are lying to ourselves if we say that we don't have either one. You can put a smile on your face for a time, but you're not always happy. You can be a jerk all the time and hurt people and take advantage of people, but you're burying something good in you. You're burying some kind of love that you could be offering and you probably would like to offer, but you've grown accustomed to burying it. I think that good and evil are part of every single person and the more that we can be aware of those two things, the more we can use them in the right ways. Our songs are reflections of us. I think the best songs are the reflection of the writer as their honest selves. I feel like our strongest songs will run the range of emotions because that's what's natural and songs are extensions of human emotions and that's a very complex thing.
BW: One of your most viral videos is your Grammy performance with Bob Dylan. I was wondering if you could talk about that experience.
SA: Sure. The folks at the Grammy foundation and the folks who produce the Grammys are big fans. They came to a show at a place in Los Angeles called the Nokia Theatre. We got a chance to go over and say hello backstage. We stayed in touch with them and they were nice folks. We ended up playing another show for the Grammy Foundation in Los Angeles a few months later. When it came time to start playing in the award ceremony, they just let us know that they wanted us to be a part of it. We didn't know that Dylan would be involved in it until a couple of months before the actual performance. We were very excited, all of us being major Dylan fans for our whole lives. We went out there for six or seven days for rehearsals and preparation for the show. You'll spend six days preparing for about six minutes of performance, but it was great. It was just as surreal as you would expect. Talking with Dylan and working a song out with Dylan is once-in-a-lifetime type of experience. We definitely had a good time and it's a story for the grandkids.
BW: I saw this on the website bio and it was something you said: "We'll just keep writing our songs and making our records and how it goes is how it goes." Are you still able to live by that statement even in the "big leagues?"
SA: I think so. I don't see why not. I think that being in the big time and being famous or kind of famous or whatever the heck we are, a lot of that stuff is peripheral. It's only as big as you let it be. I think if you think too much about yourself and think too much about your own thing that it will distract you from the work at hand. We have been at this for awhile and we're very clear on what we're supposed to be doing and that's writing songs and playing for people. That sounds very simple, but it can be very complicated with working with labels and playing big shows and doing things on a higher level. I think that it's completely within our power to keep it at bay and to keep it what it is and to not think that we're more important than we are or bigger than we are. I think that's what would get in the way of us developing our artistry, which is what it's about anyway. Whether it's making our art or performing our art, whether you're doing it at a local coffeeshop or doing it at the Grammys. There are still similarities between the two and it still comes down to you writing your songs and performing your songs as well as you can, and I don't see any reason why we can't continue to do that no matter how many folks are watching.
BW: You've been coming to Birmingham for a good number of years. As a fan of the music scene here, one thing I've noticed is that when some bands get bigger, they start skipping Birmingham and head straight to Atlanta. I was just wondering what keeps you guys coming back to Birmingham or Alabama in general. You were here three times last year.
SA: Birmingham is a great place. It's a beautiful place with a lot of history. The people are fantastic. The people have a lot of love in them, and they show us a lot of love. We're from Concord, North Carolina. We would love for a band to come through Concord. Concord is another place people will skip a lot of times and we know what that feels like. We have developed relationships with "off the beaten path" type cities and I don't even of Birmingham in that way. It's just a great place that we've always gone and we'll continue to go. Atlanta is a great place too, but it doesn't take the place of Birmingham. I think that it's important to thank the people in Birmingham for welcoming us into their culture and into their city and into their venues, and there's no reason to turn our backs on that. It just doesn't make sense. It just comes down to being treated very well and paying that back as much as we can by performing for the folks of Birmingham and the folks of Alabama.
BW: So what does 2012 look like for Avett Brothers? Is there another record in the mix?
SA: Absolutely. Our new record is basically finished. If I'm not mistaken, we're done with tracking. I believe that this last weekend is when we finished tracking the record. Now it just comes down to mixing and mastering, getting the art together. There's also a few months of turnaround for getting the thing made and any kind of revisions. I would love to see the record come out in the summer. We'll see if that happens. I would like for that to happen, but you never know. Every job in the whole world takes longer than you would hope. 2012, we're definitely looking to have a new record out there. Getting the year started sort of gradually as far as touring. Three performances in February, maybe seven in March, twelve in April. We'll work our way into the year gradually being on the road and getting out there singing for folks and connecting with the people and getting that record out.
BW: Awesome. Looking forward to it. What five albums do you think you can listen to from start to finish at any point?
SA: Alice by Tom Waits, Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan, the soundtrack to Honeysuckle Rose by Willie Nelson, a centennial compilation of Louie Armstrong and How It Feels To Be Something On by Sunny Day Real Estate.