The Avett Brothers' Seth Avett on Rick Rubin, political fans, and the band's legacy
|Courtesy of American Recordings|
Basilica Block Party 2012 lineup
The Avett Brothers are knuckle-scraping live performers, clever songwriters, and Southern charmers. Their record company wants you to know they'll unveil the highly anticipated The Carpenter, another carefully constructed affair with producer Rick Rubin, this fall.
But did you also know the North Carolina alt-country act are also decent meteorologists, and that merch sales can fluctuate depending on which political party is in the White House? Ahead of the Avetts' show at this weekend's Basilica Block Party, Gimme Noise confirmed these facts and more during a chat with the amiable Seth Avett, the younger bro of the two. He was candid and relaxed while enjoying a rare ten-day gap in the band's non-stop touring.
City Pages: Just thinking about it now, the Avett Brothers really are quite the festival band. You guys always seem prepared for just about anything that inevitably goes wrong at them.
SA: I don't think it's anything we've ever thought about or had a band meeting to figure out what to do when different obstacles come up. We just learn to roll with the punches, really. We try and do that in every situation, but in this outdoor situation, even the most professional, highly attended, highly regarded festivals are still, to some extent, kind of thrown together. Everything is really touch and go. The set up is really quick. The whole deal, we rarely get a sound check. Gear is always falling apart. We just learn that we need to have a good time. Period.
We play our songs and find the spirit and the joy of singing and playing songs for folks. If a guitar stops working, or the sound is terrible, or whatever, you just have to be able to look beyond it. And when you start tapping into the vibe of the people, the great thing about a festival is the vibe is so celebratory. It's not about you putting on the most perfect and refined set of your life. it's about being there and joining in the celebration -- enjoying it and not being stuck inside your own head or in your own annoyances about things not working. I think over the years, I've gotten better and better at immediately letting go of that kind of stuff. Sound is, again, never great but that's not what it's about. [laughs]
CP: When I saw you guys in Orlando, the sun was setting as you were playing "Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise." So like the lyric says, the darkness really was upon us. Do you guys plan that sort of stuff?
SA: It's never a plan, but it's staggering how often things like that do happen. It's a weird thing. We've definitely had a lot of experiences where maybe we mention "rain" in a song and during a song it starts raining. Or in "Love Like the Movies" there's a lyric about being in a moonlit field. We were playing at Wakarusa in Arkansas, and when I was singing that line, this guy told me later that the moon kind of came up from under the clouds. I guess you could make an argument that it's not all coincidental, but it sure is neat. It sure does have a sort of epic effect on the moment.
CP: It's great that those moments aren't lost on you.
SA: It is! And, again, that's part of the greatness of that festival atmosphere. Because within the controlled environment of a venue, you control the lights, you control the cues and when the light is supposed to be more dramatic or when there's supposed to be a spotlight on us. And all that's great. But the spontaneity and the wildness of an outdoor festival is pretty unbeatable.
CP: So on the flipside, playing indoors means a proper sound check and indoor plumbing.
SA: Yeah! Those are great! [laughs] Yeah. We're a big fan of variety. When we're in a stressful situation we love it, when we're in a theatre we love it, or if we're in an arena. You can present, sometimes especially in theatre situations, a much more tender approach, or a more fragile moment. Or gather around a good condenser microphone and get closer to the crowd and sing a song like "The Ballad of Love and Hate" where depending on the personality of the audience, you might really have a great quiet moment where you really connect with people on a very sensitive, tender level. Which is probably not going to happen at a festival.