Someone's bound to call it an overnight success. But this ain't the first rodeo for The Avett Brothers.
For nearly a decade, much has been made of North Carolina siblings Scott and Seth. Along with stand-up bassist Bob Crawford and cellist Joe Kwon, they've already won two Americana Music Awards and just recorded their eighth album together.
But things for the biggest little country band under the radar are about to change.
Poised for some time now as “the next big thing,” this year looks to be when The Avett Brothers will grab their title. In August, they'll release their major-label debut, the Rick Rubin-produced, I & Love & You, and they're currently giving audiences a sneak preview of the songs while on tour with Dave Matthews.
“It's just a huge production compared to what we've ever been a part of,” Scott Avett says from his Concord home, on the outskirts of Charlotte. “But we're into doing the shows and really willing to learn what we can from them.” Even with good intentions in place, the up-until-now-indie band caught some flak from critics and fans for touring with an act as mainstream as Matthews. The brothers weren't surprised.
“I actually expected a little bit more of it,” Avett says. “I've been known to say things exactly like that. But when you're standing on the outside looking in, it's hard to see all of the inner workings. I mean, you can't fault the guy for success. Fan or not, Dave [Matthews] is a guy that can be looked up to in many ways and has a work ethic that's solid. But I give those people the benefit of the doubt. If they could see it from another perspective, they probably wouldn't say it.”
Politeness, honesty and optimism seem to be the Avetts' way. It's also part of the reason Rubin signed the band to his American Recordings label, a Columbia imprint, and personally oversaw their initial project for the label. While the bicoastal super-producer has worked with everyone from Slayer and Jay-Z to Shakira and Neil Diamond, his pairing with the small-town act ended up exceeding expectations for everyone involved.
“It was way more natural than you would imagine,” Avett says. “He is a high-profile man, but we were able to work together with confidence and respect each other's decisions. Disagreements were handled with a diplomatic approach, and I was so happy to have it go down like that. From the beginning, Rick spearheaded the charge to take the marketing hat off and choose the songs that had the most heart.”
The Avetts went into the sessions with Rubin armed with about 30 songs. The 17 that were recorded are primarily the ones on which both Rubin and the brothers initially saw eye-to-eye. It's unknown how many will make the final cut this summer, but they plan to do more editing before then. Regardless of the finished version, the whole thing has been a positive experience for the band.
“It really was next to perfect,” Avett says. “When something didn't work quite right, Rick's philosophy was try, try again. And there wasn't any pressure, because he really just wants to be part of the artistic process. But I think as long as we put the time and effort into the art and let it keep changing—when, where and who we play with will be nothing more than part of the story.”
While they like to downplay the importance of it, the move to a major label is a significant part of the story for the previously DIY band. The Avetts have retained the freedom and control they had in the past, but now they have more resources to expand everything from album packaging to their audience. For them, it's just the next chapter.
“Releasing an album on a major only means something when it happens,” says Avett. “But if it never happened, it wouldn't mean a thing. You can't let things like that stop your path. We've had other offers from majors, but it never made any sense other than for marketing. For us, working with Rick and a major label meant that we were going to learn something and take it to the next level.”
During the next few months, the band will introduce its unique brand of folk, rock and bluegrass-infused country to the mainstream, and if things continue the way they have, the next level may be the start of even bigger things to come. The brothers are just happy to be along for the ride.
“This thing just keeps rolling,” Avett says. “We never intended this at all. It was just kind of a gasp after the rock 'n' roll stuff. But it's just been so welcomed and taken in by so many people that we're truly amazed and have to keep on doing it.” The Avett Brothers play with Magnolia Electric Co. on Sunday, May 10, at Belly Up Tavern. www.myspace.com/theavettbrothers.