John Lamb, Published July 09 2013
Avett Brothers blend harmony, musicianship for winning recipe
“I’m just running around, going to the bank, paying bills, making soup for the road and just try to get everything knocked out,” the Avett Brothers singer/guitarist says from his home in Concord, N.C.
Sure, paying bills, taking care of business, but making soup? What kind of rock star preps for life on the road with fresh batches of vegetable soup?
Then again, the Avetts aren’t your standard rock band. Since they started getting national attention with their 2007 album, “Emotionalism,” fans, critics and music industry writers have tagged them as folk, country, rock, and the catch-all, Americana.
While people have struggled to categorize the act, it hasn’t been an obstacle to the Avett’s growing fan base.
The quartet – Seth, co-lead singer/banjo player, brother Scott, bassist Bob Crawford and cellist Joseph Kwon – makes its Fargo debut Thursday night at the Venue, a show expected to sell out.
The group’s basis for success is somewhat like Seth’s secret to a good soup: Take time with a solid foundation and add on from there.
“The secret is always start by caramelizing the onions and the garlic,” he says. “Always take that extra time to chop up fresh onions and garlic and caramelize that in a nice olive oil. After that, it’s no holds barred.”
The brothers started jamming together after their respective bands ended in the late 1990s. Crawford came on in 2002, the same year they released their debut. Four albums followed in five years before their masterpiece, “I and Love and You,” in 2009, a record that topped many critics’ best-of-the-year lists.
Last year’s “The Carpenter” followed suit, and the disc garnered a Grammy nomination for Best Americana recording.
While the band remained active performing between the two albums, the three years between releases were too long for Avett.
“I learned I definitely don’t want to wait three years to put a record out,” he says. “That’s too much for me. I like sharing the music so much.”
He’s even sharing new music on this tour. Saturday night at Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Morrison, Colo., he introduced “Skin and Bones” from the next disc, due out later this year.
Fargo fan Jill Nelson is looking forward to Thursday’s show, her sixth time seeing the act and the first time she won’t have to travel for the show.
“I liked their music when I listened to it, but the first time I saw them live I was just blown away,” she says. “They are such good showmen and such good musicians, and they have really high energy. After I saw them live once, I wanted to see them live again.”
While he and older brother Scott are constantly writing song parts, Seth says he can’t compose the whole song until he’s back home, where his parents and childhood friends still live.
Coming from North Carolina certainly helped shape the string-based sound of the Avett Brothers, but Seth doesn’t think of the group as a Southern band.
“I think the elements that make me feel that are pretty surface,” he says. “I can hear it in our accents. I can hear it in our treatments of some songs and our decision making as far as instruments.”
While fans appreciate the Avetts’ diverse influences, many were still thrown for a loop when the group teamed up with fellow North Carolinian, troubled country singer Randy Travis for an episode of CMT’s “Crossroads.”
“What a singer. My God, what a singer. He’s just one of the best country singers in the world, bar none. Randy Travis is a giant,” Avett says.
Travis’ spokesman announced Monday that the singer was hospitalized in critical condition because of a heart infection.
“To me he’s absolutely a significant country artist in the last 30 years,” Avett says. “There’s a lot of modern country music that personally doesn’t speak to me. So when I hear somebody commercially in that genre that speaks to me, I hold on to it. And Randy Travis I feel is a quality performer.”
His words carry extra weight when you consider the Avetts recorded with Johnny Cash. While the Man in Black had passed when the band was asked to lay down some backing tracks on his version of “Ain’t no Grave,” Seth said the recording process was just like having him in the room.
Cash had recorded the song before his death in 2003. When producer Rick Rubin, who was recording “I and Love and You,” was preparing Cash’s posthumous release, as a posthumous release, he asked Scott to play banjo and sing and Seth to rattle chains and sing.
“It was an incredible but eerie experience,” Seth says, explaining that after working on their album all day, Rubin would bring them back to the studio to add to the Cash track.
“It is late at night and the room is dark and hearing (Cash’s) voice come up in your headphones, it made him seem alive,” Avett says.
Like Cash, the Avetts openly address relationships with family, love, death and regret in a genuine fashion in their songs.
“The daily pursuit for us in music or in art is to purposefully create and craft a genuine comment on what we’re experiencing,” Avett explains.
Some of that suffering is sharpened by doing what they love to do – touring.
“We’re just a touring band. We just built our thing on the road,” he says.
While they’ve scaled back their time on the road from when they would play about 250 shows a year to about 100 now, Avett says it’s always a balance.
“What you really want is to be out long enough so when you get home it’s really amazing,” he says. “And then you’re home long enough so that when you go back out, you’re really excited about going back out and playing again.”
And in between dates on the road, he’s tending to his modest garden of basil, cilantro, habanero pepper plants and one tomato plant.
“It’s not realistic to have a good garden going, right now,” he says. “Hopefully one day, right?”
If You Go
WHAT: The Avett Brothers
WHEN: Doors open at 6 p.m., music at 7 p.m., Thursday, no opener.
where: The Venue at The Hub, 2525 9th Ave. S., Fargo
tickets: Tickets are $36.50 in advance, $41.50 day of show. (866) 300-8300.
Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533