The Sound of Evolution

The Avett Brothers make their own musical genre, documentariesView all events this week »


by Lisa Slade

Looking at a picture of The Avett Brothers is deceiving. Theyâ’re three bearded guys. They wear flannel. They appear to be so salt-of-the-earth, even your mom would like them. They donâ’t seem like a group capable of creating such an eclectic musical catalog. But donâ’t let their rugged good looks deceive you, because the three are producing rich, diverse music that belies their down-home appearance.

When the members of The Avett Brothers started out, they didnâ’t intend to create anything special. They were just playing music. Rock music, mostly. Singer and banjo player Scott Avett started playing in rock bands when he was 12 years old. He eventually collaborated with brother Seth on several projects, the most popular of which was hard rock band Nemo. Then Scott and Seth Avett started experimenting with a few friends, and playing bluegrass, drawing influences from their countrified North Carolina background and making acoustic music that was the antithesis of the heavy tunes Nemo churned out. Eventually the brothers gave up Nemo, and in 2002, Scott, along with brother Seth and long-time friend Bob Crawford started their first tour as The Avett Brothers.

At first it was traditional bluegrass and folk. Scott was on the banjo, Crawford was on upright bass and Seth played the guitar. All three sang, harmonizing together. But the clever threesome wasnâ’t content with remaining within a single genre. Soon there were elements of many styles contained within their songs, bluegrass, punk, honky-tonk and pop. Scott Avett says, â“Itâ’s gotta keep moving. If it doesnâ’t I have no interest, personally and selfishly, in it. Someone once said, â‘A mediocre man is the only one at the top of his game,â’ and I think thatâ’s absolutely true.â”

Their latest album, Emotionalism, released in May of 2007, sounds like another step forward. The tracks alternate between the kinetic and the temperamental, the spirited and the tender. Itâ’s all the rebellion of teenagers welded beautifully with the maturity of old-time musicians.

Recently, theyâ’ve been called everything from a non-traditional bluegrass band to grungegrass to punk/old-time. But to Scott Avett, the most important thing is the music, and not the label behind it. â“Honestly, Iâ’m a little blown out on the whole idea of categorizing our sound. People always want to put it into a category, and Iâ’ve never wanted that. Refusing to be labeled means itâ’s taken us a little longer to get where we are, but in the long run it pays off,â” says Avett.

The Avett Brothers will also talk at length about their various influences, as well as their musical past. â“Right now Iâ’m listening to the new Weedeater record, the new Baroness record and the new Daxx Riggs. Iâ’m hoping that theyâ’ll all influence what weâ’re doing. We find of lots of little places to reach and pull for influences. Like, the other day I was watching TV in the motel and there was this movie with Fred Astaire on. I was just watching them dance and it was so light and so easy. I think thatâ’s really important: keeping it digestible and tangible. You donâ’t always want it to be heavy and deep. But sometimes you do. You just have to find a good mixture.â”

Though the band still calls Concord, N.C. home, they donâ’t spend much time there. â“Weâ’ve been touring almost nonstop,â” says Scott, â“recently, we did 14 shows in 15 days, and there was another run of 13 shows in 14 days.â” Their current tour extends from Birmingham, Ala. all the way to Hanford, Calif.

While on the road, The Avett Brothers keep busy by filming their own documentary. Scott says, â“Weâ’ve been working on it since the beginning of the band, but weâ’ve started getting a little more serious about it lately. Itâ’s turned into a really lengthy thing. Itâ’s great, because I look at it and I see things that we used to be, and the way I used to be, and itâ’s really alien to myself.â” They hope to release the documentary with their next album. In the meantime, theyâ’ll keep expanding on their distinctive sound and forging their own path around the sludge of most pop music.

â“Defining your style is a huge mistake,â” says Scott, â“Itâ’s gotta keep moving. Itâ’s going to be whatever we want it to be.â”

WHO: The Avett Brothers with Cutthroat Shamrock WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 29, 8 p.m. WHERE: Bijou Theatre


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