story / Lydia Hyslop
photo / Volker Neumann
In my opinion, The Avett Brothers are one of the best bands to emerge from the post-modern “country” and maintain an authentic, old-time country sweetness in their music that other bands lack. It’s what makes some of their lyrics so poignant and true. I don’t know too many bands who could sing lyrics like, ”Love arrives safely with suitcase in tow/ Carrying with her the things we know/ A reason to live and a reason to grow/ To trust, to hold, to care,” without sounding too precious. They manage to pull it off brilliantly, and I believe they do because they mean what they say. The Avett Brothers value morals, truth, simplicity, and innocence, as per their website band bio. So, being a fan of their music and fellow North Carolinian, of course I was thrilled to have confirmed an interview with them on the Monday following their show at the El Rey,
And what a disappointment when the interview kept getting postponed, then cancelled, and then the guys were whisked away from LA on the next leg of their tour. An effort at getting a phone interview proved thankless, and I was informed that the guys were losing their voices from all the intense performances, so I ended up e-mailing them my interview.
I received my response a week later with a message from their manager, stating that Bob Crawford, the bassist had answered some of the questions, and that “the guys do not like to answer fun type questions. So he did not respond to those.” Whattya have against a little old-fashioned fun, huh guys?
In all honesty, I do appreciate the effort that was put forth, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed, not only as a writer, but as a fan and as a musician.
The following is the verbatim, raw, unedited response to my interview.
First of all, I’m honored to be interviewing you guys for Ladygunn. We’re pretty much a direct product of Greensboro, NC! All of our editors are scattered around the country now, but we started off in good ‘ole Carolina.
So let’s talk about your tour so far. I caught the show in LA at the El Rey. You guys put on such a great sort of nouveau-good-old fashioned country show. And on top of that, you shred. I was with a friend who was an Avett Brothers virgin, and she turned to me at one point and was like, “this is a bluegrass freakout!” How did you evolve from simply playing to shredding?
B : To be honest we have always just done what we do. It is really as simple as that. The first time we ever played together it sounded like it sounds and that has never changed. It is the most natural thing there is.
At your show, I think I broke a heel bone just stomping my boot to your songs. I’ve heard you guys break a lot of strings during shows. What’s the average string breakage total per show?
B: The all time record is something like 32. That was long ago. We have matured in lots of way over the years and I think that is partly reflected in our playing and in turn has led to fewer broken strings.
How would you classify your music? Would you say it fits into a specific genre or stands alone as a fusion of several?
B: I think the latter is more accurate. That is the oldest, most common question we get and I mean everyone asks it. The truth is we have no answer for it, and I am not sure there is an answer to that question. Lately, I have been explaining it in terms of classic rock. For example, think of Pink Floyd, how would you classify them? They are considered classic rock. How would you classify Led Zepplin, they are also considered classic rock. How about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, or the Beatles. I guess what I’m getting at is perhaps there is a broader genre, as yet to be defined, which several very individual sounding groups will be lumped together by their times or some kind of movement. We may be apart of something much bigger than ourselves, but only time will tell.
A lot of people I know in NC love your band. Over Christmas, one of my favorite memories was an impromptu dance party with about ten people to “Paranoia” in my sister’s living room. In fact, the first time I heard that song was on her callerback ringtone thingy. I was like, who is this? It’s amazing. In my opinion, “Paranoia in B Major” is your anthem song. Was it inspired by a specific event?
B: you’ll have to ask Scott about that.
Do you find yourself singing about a particular thing often?
B: I think our subject matter varies, but there are a few essential themes in life and to oversimplify them, they are love and mortality. I think we delve into those themes quite often in varying ways.
At your show, everyone was singing along to pretty much every song. People love your music. There’s something so accessible about it, and now you’re obviously “blowing up,” as it were. When do you feel like you guys started really getting “big,” or do you feel any different at all?
B: We are conscious that something is happening, and it is great to see the new people who are coming to the shows. However, I don’t think too much as changed with us, and the way we approach what we do. We are in the middle of it, sometimes it is difficult to objectively view your own growth.
Congratulations on headlining Friday night at Merlefest! That’s really exciting. Have you guys played Merlefest before?
B: 3 times. We are very proud to be apart of that event, it holds a very special place in our hearts.
Where exactly in NC are you guys from?
I think being from the south is a super important element of your band, and it’s something that rings true in the simplicity and sweetness of your songs. Your music and lyrics have echoes of that old-fashioned genteel South (but the banjo-shredding-genteel South…). Did you guys grow up playing music, or was it something you picked up by choice?
B: Jim Avett was always playing music around his sons. In fact he toured with a band for awhile but gave it up to support his family.
I was always kind of around and very natural for Scott and Seth to pick up on it.
I have been playing guitar since I was 15. I was a hobbyist most of my life, but went back to school to study music when I was 30 and that is when I began to play upright bass and met Scott and Seth.
How did growing up in the South influence your music and ideals?
B: That is another Scott and Seth question. I can tell you I grew up in New Jersey for the first 25 years of my life and it was the romanticism of southern music that brought me here, and here to stay.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up? I’m not talking about your band’s current influences, but rather what were your favorite bands growing up?
B: Like I said I’m from New Jersey so I love Bruce Springsteen. However, it was Tom Waits, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Ramblin Jack Elliot, and Woody Guthrie that connect me to Scott and Seth. We all have a very wide range of musical influences.
I have to ask: What inspired the cover of “Greensboro Woman?” It’s sung so passionately.
B: I can speak for Scott when I say our love for Townes Van Zant.
What’s the main difference between southern girls and other girls you meet?
B: People are people. Male or female, rich or poor, most people we meet are inherently good-natured and are doing the best they can in this world. We don’ t favor one sex over another, besides we are all happily married men.
What do you guys do back in NC on a typical day when you’re not touring or playing a show?
B: Spend time with our families.
What’s your favorite BBQ place in NC?
B: B’s barbecue in Greenville, NC
Ever been to Stamey’s???
I’m also a musician, and I just have to reiterate how fantastic I thought your show was. I was truly inspired, and I’m NOT just saying this to stroke your ego. It’s the truth… it was the best live show I’ve seen in a while. My heart was just swelling at certain points, and I think a lot of people felt connected to you in one way or another. Really inspiring. So thank you so much.
Avett Brothers: I challenge you to finish the interview. There are questions left unanswered! Inquiring minds must know! For the love and integrity of Ladygunn!!!
Or maybe just don’t and fine. To quote “The Ballad of Love and Hate,” “Whatever.”
I guess I should’ve paid closer attention when they sung to me so sweetly, so clearly:
“Gypsy hang up the telephone/ I won’t answer your phonecalls no more/ New York quit callin’/ New York leave me be/ Changing the plans that I’ve been setting on/ I’m scared by the way that my life’s getting gone/ Carolina, one day I’ll, someday I’ll come home.”