“I’m very grateful for the process. I’m glad I didn’t get what I was asking for when I was younger. I now see the fortune in our failures and our limits we found along the way. It forced us to stay hungry,” says Scott Avett reflecting over The Avett Brothers’ storied journey that has led to commercial success and their upcoming album, The Carpenter, out September 11.
We listened to the new project and talked to Scott about The Carpenter, their home state of North Carolina, and what they’ve discovered over their career.
How was the process of creating this new album different from others?
The main differences were two things: a lot more space and time. We didn’t know it, but we were actually starting to write these songs seven or eight years ago, and we waited till it was right to record. Then once we did record it, we took more time to listen between recording sessions. That was key to allow this album to be what it is and for the layers to be very rich. We just didn’t feel any rush to release something that wasn’t seen through.
How would you describe the progression of your sound as it developed over the years?
There are obviously more band members and people involved in the process than there were at the beginning. It’s been a natural progression so none of the changes seemed sudden for us, but they are different from when it was just me and Seth in 2000 playing on street corners and recording in our garage. I think it forces us to know when to be quiet, know when to listen. What that amounts to is orchestrating the entire record in all ways – we try to do what needs to be done to illustrate what we are hearing with each song. A lot of the time we will use instrumentation live that we can’t make happen in the studio or vice-versa. So the banjo, although it’s the instrument I feel like I’m most akin to, it’s not always appropriate for the song. We are very much interested in making records that have variety and aren’t just a level plane of sounds.
Do you feel this album is more personal lyrically?
I’ve assumed that as we’ve gotten older and seen more things, our perspective, approach and articulation would broadened as we talk about how to paint our vision with a broader stroke. But I’ve started to wonder, maybe not – maybe we’ve become more personal and been more sharp in the way that we articulate and write. I do think that in some ways this is much more intimate, private and personal than albums have been in the past. The heaviest thing happened after we tracked the entire album and then everything after that had that feeling and umbrella of seriousness – it seems like it was fated to be and that’s very surreal – it feels in a way, very spiritual. [Bass player Bob Crawford’s daughter is undergoing cancer treatment at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.]
You’ve mentioned you’re in the second chapter of the life of the band. How would you describe those two chapters?
In chapter one we did about seven or eight years of free roaming. We allowed our tendencies to go wild and just followed our nose. We had very little involvement from anybody else about what we were going to do and when we were going to do it. And we spent a lot of energy and made a lot of mistakes. Now the second part is where we take what we’ve learned as a collective – and we will hopefully continue to learn – and we utilize that. Instead of just discovering and acting on a whim, we are much more aware and in tune with what we are going to make.
Your live performance is so dynamic, have you ever struggled with trying to capture that live experience and put it on a studio album?
We made the mistake early on of listening to the wishes of others who said, “We like the album, but live is where you really get us going.” We tried to buy into that, but over time, I’m convinced it’s not physically possible to fight against what needs to happen in the studio. To surrender to the reality that recording is different than live was a good thing for us. We need to make them both the best they can be on their own.
Why did you choose to record this album in Asheville?
It’s our home court, we know the terrain. We just wanted to go and let these songs live – to be as comfortable and as familiar as it could be. We have a very strong tie to our families and our home, and we know that’s where the art is made and that’s where life is lived. It’s not lived on the highway.
You’re clearly passionate about North Carolina; what makes it so unique to you?
I think it’s a subtle beauty that also is extremely vibrant. In the western part of the state you have the Blue Ridge Mountains – thick with trees and fog – there is this mystique that is very settling and calming. The landscape is an essence. It’s powerful in a way that no other place in the world has. The eastern part of the state and the coast is even more subtle and has a whole different story. I just came back from the Outer Banks, and when you see the dunes and the grass blowing in the wind – it has this inviting, warm feeling. I’m too in love with North Carolina. I hold it so dear to my heart – its mystery pulls on me and keeps me here.
Who is someone in the South who has been an inspiration?
Musically, Doc Watson is a superhero to us. Then there are lots of heroes in other realms of music like John Coltrane and Charlie Poole, Ben Folds and a band called Weedeater – they are in a different world than we are, but very special. Andy Griffith is someone that I’m really proud to say is from here. With Richard Petty, I have a tie to seeing his car on TV on Sunday afternoons, knowing that he was a guy who went from a small town to world fame. The racing is secondary; it’s the fact that he had to face those big fears that we all have when we are taking a plunge into a bigger world.