The Avett Brothers have been busy. Following the commercial success of their 2009 release, I and Love and You, the band has been touring nonstop through the U.S. and Europe, including a stop at the Grammys with fellow banjo aficionados Mumford & Sons and, oh yeah, Bob Dylan. Touted for its brand of raucous, punk-tinged bluegrass music, the band's widespread success was a long time coming -- its 2009 album was number 13. But these North Carolina natives have built quite the following over the years.
The Brothers, anchored by Scott and Seth Avett and upright bass player Bob Crawford, have been hard at work on album number 14 (their second with famed producer Rick Rubin for his American Recordings label). Following a show in Salt Lake City, Scott Avett spoke to us about the new album, his connection with San Francisco audiences, and how Home Depot can be a balm for his homesickness on the road. The Avett Brothers are playing at the Fox Theater on July 19 and 20.
You've been working on a new album with Rick Rubin. How's it been coming?
It's moving along quite a bit. In fact, it's about three-quarters of the way done. It's a lot of songs from kind of a lot of different times. Some of the songs that we're doing now were maybe written, or started to be written, years ago. Which is interesting. There's a lot of songs that we had to live through more of our lives for them to be finished, you know? But, the recording process has been really terrific, and Rick has been just great as usual.
You and your brother, Seth, share songwriting responsibilities. What's your process for that? Do you write songs together, or is it a really separate process and then you come together after the fact?
Well, I think it's changed over the years. Now that we've grown older, we work separate quite a bit. Then we bring our efforts in and get together and that becomes the songs on our albums. Sometimes there are songs that are just sort of an effort from me and an effort from Seth, and the rest of us work around it ... but overall what that recording process does is cause any of songs to be completely given to the group.
On I and Love and You, a number of the songs are enormously personal, and your style of singing causes the lyrics to be pretty bold and direct. Is that kind of vulnerability difficult to put out there -- to your band, or to an audience?
Yeah. But it's just what we do. It's just what we've identified as kind of the route to our hearts and if you're being honest about that sort of direct approach then it's going to translate. Though that's something that I should admit that I work harder at that than I used to.
Is having an audience react positively to something that honest cathartic?
It's good. It's good to just have that be over.
On this new album, is there any kind of theme, or different direction from your albums previously that we can expect?
I don't really have a good, articulate answer to that question. It's really hard to identify that when we're still recording; it might be kind of contrived. Sometimes it changes so much.
When are you expecting this to be released?
Well, I think that if we were really urgent about it, we could release it possibly at the end of this year. But I can almost guarantee that won't happen. We are taking our time, we want to go through it a bit. So, earlier than later next year.
I saw you guys play at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass last year -- the band and the audience all seemed to be having a blast. Are you excited to get back to the Bay Area? Where else have you played here?
Let's see. Slim's, we've done the Great American Music Hall, we've done the Fillmore a couple times, and the Fox, been there before. We've done Hardly Strictly, we've done Outside Lands. We've played a lot of times in San Francisco. We have a certain relationship with San Francisco as well as Seattle. Crowds of people coming to see us there probably grew faster than any place -- people there just really responded to what we do. I don't think a lot of people put those two together, but there are a lot of similarities between Northern California and North Carolina.
Do you have favorite spots in the Bay Area that you make a point to go to when you're in town?
We have family in Sacramento ... been going there since we were children. They've been taking us around showing us places for years, so California's become familiar to us.
That's nice that you have family to see when you're in town, especially since you have a pretty lengthy tour going on this summer. What do you do on your long bus rides to entertain yourselves?
We all read quite a bit, and we all listen to music. Sometimes we just do really, really normal things like go to a mall and walk around. Sometimes you just have to do that. Once, I just walked into Home Depot and just watched people live their lives, you know? Made me feel at home ... but it sounds kinda creepy!