Modern, groundbreaking, cosmopolitan – three words not often used when describing bluegrass music. Running strong since 2002, The Avett Brothers supply these attributes and more throughout their albums and live shows. Whether they are breaking numerous guitar/banjo strings or belting out a three-part vocal line with raw passion, this band delivers a fantastic bluegrass show by fusing various elements of musical history into their songs.
Seth and Scott Avett have their roots in rock music, and Seth isn’t afraid to take a mind-numbing acoustic solo. When their rock band, Nemo, broke up, the brothers decided to take their dabbling in acoustic bluegrass up a notch. Along with bassist Bob Crawford, the bluegrass trio was born. Bluegrass tunes are traditionally stories set to music. The Avett Brothers have plenty of engaging, realistic tales of life’s trials and tribulations, which they convey by pouring their lives into the music.
“I think that we try to do our best to write about things that we know about. We feel that in a song, it doesn’t work if you’re faking it. We want to sing songs that we believe in; it’s easier to do that when we write about our own feelings. Everyone has stories.”
The song “Backwards In Time” off their 2006 release The Gleam is a good example of their lyricism. Seth takes a deep look at the journey through life and asks, “Some say with age that our purpose comes clear. / I see the opposite happening here. / Are we losing the fight? / Are we growing backwards in time?”
The Gleam consists of just the two brothers, in a self-proclaimed “stripped down and tender” effort. “It was a simple project, really,” said Seth. “It’s a natural setting for Scott and I to sit down together and sing. It was very enjoyable, because we feel comfortable in that set up.”
Their most recent album, Emotionalism, embodies the spirit of being true to oneself. The collection of songs, recorded in less than two weeks, presents the many sides to human feelings. Some of these songs are intended to inspire the downtrodden to express themselves; others point out the follies of our irrational, emotional nature. Too often artists set out to write emotional music and wind up with something cliché or insipid, but The Avett Brothers hit the nail on the head with this album.
“With Emotionalism, we wanted it to get recorded efficiently,” according to Seth. “We had a lot of songs written, so we recorded them the best they could be. Through the process, it became clear to us what it was and what we would call it.”
The Avett Brothers tour all over the country to energetic audiences, and they have embraced their fans all over, as indicated by the top of their website – an amalgamated skyline, complete with Golden Gate Bridge, Gateway Arch, Hancock and Empire State buildings. When their upcoming tour kicks off right here at Canopy Club in Urbana, they will be booked to head off to West Virginia, Florida, Arizona and California among other states.
“We’ve been fortunate with very kind people and friendly people everywhere we’ve been. The crowds keep getting bigger in Chicago and New York, and it’s always good to play at home in North Carolina. We meet a lot of good people in every region of the country.”
There are two great opportunities to see The Avett Brothers in the coming months. Head out to Canopy Club Thursday, February 28th. Also, head out to central Illinois to check out the brothers at Summer Camp Festival. Seth mentioned, “I love festivals because of the inherent feeling of celebration,” so expect a superb live performance wherever they play.