Tony Cummings reports on folk rockers THE AVETT BROTHERS and their forthcoming album 'True Sadness'
The Avett Bros from Mount Pleasant, North Carolina have achieved much since they first emerged onto the scene in 2000. The Grammy-nominated band combine bluegrass, Americana, folk, indie rock and more with their latest album, to be released in June, promising influences like Nine Inch Nails and Queen. Such eclecticism hasn't stopped them finding a big audience and their eight previous albums - 'Country Was' (2002), 'A Carolina Jubilee'(2003), 'Mignonette' (2004), 'Four Thieves Gone' (2006), 'Emotionalism'(2007), 'I And Love And You' (2009), 'The Carpenter' (2012) and 'Magpie And The Dandelion'(2013) have all been critically well-received with the last two making numbers four and five in America's mainstream album charts.
With all the success it's surprising how few followers of Christian involvement in music have picked up on the fact that singer and banjo player Scott Avett and guitarist Seth are believers. On the song "Life" found on 'The Carpenter' album Scott sings, "Faith and promise, keep me honest" while "Me And God" on the Brothers' 'A Carolina Jubilee' album portrays a Christian "Now I don't doubt that The Good Book is true/What's right for me may not be right for you/To church on Sunday I'll stand beside/All the hurtin' people with the fear in their eyes/And I thank the Lord for the country land/Just like Paul I thank him for my hands."
In recent times though the Avett Bros have rather slipped from Joe Public's radar. It's been three years since the group last released an album. On 24th June they will return with the release of 'True Sadness', produced by the incomparable Rick Rubin for American/Republic Records. When the album's announcement was made it came with a personal letter addressed to Seth's supporters. Here's what he said.
"In the years since my brother and I began singing together, the definitions of both life and artistry have changed dramatically. There used to be a line separating the two - a division between the pursuit of music and what we recognised as our daily lives. Intrinsically, one would have to pause in order for the other to continue. When this line was visible, in order for us to write, perform and chase a musically-driven livelihood, we would depart from our lives as we knew them, often abruptly and with some difficulty. Alternately, when we were present for the events of which our life is conventionally comprised (birthdays and weddings of family members, weekly grocery store trips, daytime jobs, et cetera) music would have to wait. It would stop so we could maintain a familiar momentum - one wherein bills were paid, goals were met, hometown relationships were maintained and the stability through being in one place was felt and appreciated. Our lives were fine. Our music was okay. In retrospect, I understand the two were bound together - the nourishment of each eventually benefiting both, though at the time it seemed as if neither could progress in the wake of the other.
"That was over 3000 shows ago. Eight albums ago. Hundreds of thousands of miles ago. One million albums have been sold and twice as many shared or given away. There have been high and low profile performances, television appearances, international tours, alliances made and strengthened, songs written and rehearsed - called complete and revised again anyway. Over time, we watched the celebratory frenzy once experienced only in the bars and restaurants of our early years erupt through the grand audiences of arenas, festivals and amphitheatres across the world. Our name, once an afterthought on a Xerox to restaurant calendar in Hoboken, now in lights on the marquee at Madison Square Garden.
"Something else happened in the 16 years that passed. Though we left home 1000 times, life continued. We finished college. We kept and made new and dear friendships. Lessons were learned, forgotten, repeated. The concepts of marriage, as well as divorce, became realities. Babies were born. Homes were built. We saw loved ones fight cancer in seemingly every form imaginable. We saw this battle won and lost - souls victorious in either outcome. We allowed these concepts to take root in our lives, and when they would allow it, we wrote songs with and for them. The stage and the instrumentation grew, matching our relatively unhurried and sometimes clumsy growth as people. We set upon a purposeful path of revision, attempting to embrace the changes we saw in ourselves as well as in our artistic endeavours. Somewhere along the way, the line between music and life faded. The change was imperceptible at first. Then, when we weren't paying attention, it evaporated altogether.
"With the disappearance of this division, the songs have become increasingly reflective in their nature. It could be argued that this has always been the case with us; our songs are open, honest and to some extent, autobiographicly accurate. I know this to be true. Though it does occur to me now, that in some regard, before any professional success, we were perhaps paradoxically more self-aware. The songs would show mere versions of ourselves - the heartbroken introvert, the frantic worker, the forlorn traveller, the philosopher, the romantic, the loner - all somehow imbued with a meaningful sheepishness of a James Dean character. We used to hope and vie for that attention, that perceived personality, that coolness. It was a safer way of showing ourselves, honesty filtered through the colourful lens of young men hoping not only to entertain, but to present themselves in the most favourable light possible. I believe we have, in the course of our artistic wanderings, methodically taken this lens away, to the betterment of our songs and to the conviction of our course. It is with this current focus on harmony between art and living that we pen our songs. And it is in this state of resolution we share our ninth full-length studio album.
"Scott and I lead different lives, but we are, as we have always been, fully invested in each other's story. Consequently, the variety of our authorship maintains a unity which otherwise would be unattainable. We write together and separately, but we are forever in fellowship through the music. Our ventures into narrative and poetry are always served best with the full support of each other - two sources, one voice. Every record we make is a testament to this, regardless of how it is executed or to what musical landscape it is released.
"'True Sadness' is a patchwork quilt, both thematically and stylistically. Wherein a myriad of contrasting fabrics make perfect sense on the same plane, this album draws upon countless resources from its writers and performers. To further propel the expansive colour and textural fields of the record, we are blessed to play and perform music with a group of musicians who possess not only great talent, but great interpretive ability. They are an extension of our family and their care for the work at hand (and the project at large) informs a dynamic musical contribution to any piece we proudly give our last name. Sonically, the album is as multidimensional as its makers. The same could be said of its long list of influences. So the quilt is sewn, in part, with the brightly coloured threads of Queen, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Jimmie Rodgers, Tom Petty, Nine Inch Nails, Gillian Welch, Aretha Franklin, Walt Disney, Pink Floyd, Kings Of Convenience, calypso of the 1950s and country of the 1930s. Rock and roll is here, as always. There are moments of undeniable celebration and camaraderie, others of quiet and lonely exhalation. Throughout the album, we stitch together the boldest red and the calmest green, polka dots and stripes, the roughest denim and the smoothest velveteen. They come together because they are the best patterns we have and because each of us brought our own fabric to the quilting frame."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.