Long Route to Bluegrass: The Avett Brothers

NPR's John Ydstie speaks with members of the Avett Brothers band about their new album, Emotionalism. The three Avett Brothers, Seth Avett, Scott Avett and Bob Crawford, combine their early love of pop music and heavy metal with their newfound interest in bluegrass; the results are quite unique.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.

Coming up: Boys will be boys. But first…

(Soundbite of song, "Living of Love")

YDSTIE: The song we're listening to - "Living of Love" - is by The Avett Brothers and it's from their new album, "Emotionalism". The Avett Brothers are Seth Avett, Scott Avett and the non-genetic brother Bob Crawford. They play guitar, banjo and upright bass. At first, they sound like a classic string band in the bluegrass tradition, but keep listening and you get…

(Soundbite of song "Living of Love")

Mr. SETH AVETT (Vocalist; Acoustic Guitarist, The Avett Brothers): (Singing) Say love, say for me love. Say love, say for me love.

YDSTIE: "Living of Love" is one of 14 songs on "Emotionalism" that range from country-sounding ditties to Brazilian sambas to classical, cabaret, heavy metal, pop and back again, often within three minutes of music. The Avett Brothers are on tour and join us now from the studios of Cincinnati Public Radio in Cincinnati. Welcome.

Mr. SETH AVETT: Thank you, John.

Mr. SCOTT AVETT (Vocalist; Banjo Player, The Avett Brothers): Hello.

Mr. BOB CRAWFORD (Vocalist; Upright Bass, The Avett Brothers): Thanks for having us.

YDSTIE: Scott and Seth, you grew up in North Carolina and the band is still based there. What kind of music did you grow up with?

Mr. SETH AVETT: Kind of whatever was around with our dad. There was a lot of country music, a lot of good, older country music.

YDSTIE: Is that Seth or Scott?

Mr. SETH AVETT: This is Seth. And then, our very cool cousins that we looked up to introduced us to a lot of what's known as classic right now like Led Zeppelin and Rush, and Black Sabbath, Van Halen.

Mr. SCOTT AVETT: It was - we were, you could say victims, but we were very much in the - just mainstream pop as well. Country was the last thing I ever wanted to claim, ever.

Mr. SETH AVETT: Right.

Mr. SCOTT AVETT: Hall & Oates was the…

Mr. SETH AVETT: Hall & Oates…

Mr. SCOTT AVETT: …more on for a huge, huge inspiration.

YDSTIE: And no bluegrass. No Bill Monroe or anything like that.

Mr. SETH AVETT: No.

Mr. SCOTT AVETT: No. None of it when we were young.

YDSTIE: You guys, as I understand, began as a heavy metal, kind of, band - a real hard rocking band. What moved you in this direction?

Mr. SCOTT AVETT: Possibly age. I'm not really sure. I - we talk about this quite a bit and Seth and I were in a hard rock band. And the turn to the banjo for me, to play the banjo was more out of irony. Nobody around me played the banjo. It was all screaming and electric guitars and drums.

And it was, kind of, refreshing to bring a banjo into a house party and play for kids that didn't really see a lot of banjos and listen to banjos. And they liked it in the beginning. I started - I attempt to be a good banjo player and then I realized this is a tool for the songs more so than like the guiding light to what is (unintelligible).

Mr. SETH AVETT: Was there - I wasn't ever going to be good at decisions, right. Go back to weight problems.

Mr. SCOTT AVETT: Again, my digression.

Mr. SETH AVETT: Right.

YDSTIE: I spoke in the introduction about all the different styles that this album evokes, and I'd like to give folks a taste of that right off the bat. So let's listen to a bit of "Will You Return?"

(Soundbite of song, "Will You Return?")

Mr. SETH AVETT: (Singing) One, two, three, four. I open my door and here's what occurs. A pretty little gal with pretty little curls leans to the side, leans on my mind. I don't want to live.

YDSTIE: Now that sounds a lot like the early Beatles' sweet harmonies. Who wrote this one?

Mr. SCOTT AVETT: Seth wrote this one.

YDSTIE: So was it - were you thinking Beatles when you wrote it?

Mr. SETH AVETT: Not initially. I'll say something that I've said before where it seems like The Beatles were so good and had so many good melodies that if you come across the good melody or a catchy melody, a lot of times you're going to get a Beatles comparison just because it's catchy.

YDSTIE: But the harmony is also a very Beatles-esque.

Mr. SETH AVETT: Yeah. We actually had the engineer and the partial(ph) producer on the record "Emotionalism", Danny Kadar, he made a comparison with the Beatles because he says that we're perfectly in tune with their harmony, but our notes just slightly flat, which is that, kind of, hits a sweet spot, which he said that's the (unintelligible) the Beatles, though, I've never heard that before.

YDSTIE: I didn't know that. Okay. I'd like to compare that lyrical sweet sound with this.

(Soundbite of song "Paranoia in Bflat Major")

Mr. SETH AVETT: (Singing) I keep having this dream; I'm at a party. There's people throwing drinks and screaming telling me that I don't belong. Lately life's been the same, I find this comfortable place with all my friends. And then my friends start telling me that I've always been wrong.

Mr. SCOTT AVETT: (Singing) I'm so tired of being wrong.

Mr. SETH AVETT: (Singing) Lately life's been the same I find this comfortable place with all my friends then my friends start telling me that I've always been wrong. And I'm so tired of being wrong.

YDSTIE: That's a tune called "Paranoia in Bflat Major". And, you know, that sounds to me like a show tune. Which one of you guys want to talk about that?

Mr. SCOTT AVETT: I guess, Scott, being me. I think I can talk about that one.

YDSTIE: Were you thinking cabaret or something like that when you wrote that?

Mr. SCOTT AVETT: Not at all. I don't really recall what I was thinking. I -what was I thinking? It was definitely based around the idea lyrically before the music.

YDSTIE: Bob Crawford, you're an Avett Brother but you're not an Avett brother. It's going to be like attending another family's Thanksgiving dinner every day or something like that.

Mr. CRAWFORD: Yeah, family reunions and such. But it's great. I still get my fill of pimiento cheese sandwiches and macaroni salads. It's all right. They are a great family to be a de facto, a part of.

YDSTIE: Any particular song on this album that you really like and you feel that speaks for you?

Mr. CRAWFORD: Well, Chile, definitely "Pretty Girl from Chile".

Mr. SCOTT AVETT: Well, Bob, actually we're in Chicago and I had my normal - all the lyrics in the first two lyrical placement done, finished and I was like Bob, where can we go with this? And Bob is much more well versed in different kinds of movements within songs in theory. And he's like well, you know, this balsa.

Mr. CRAWFORD: Scott, looked at me and said come up with something for this right now. Seriously.

Mr. SCOTT AVETT: Right now. (unintelligible) lose your job.

Mr. SETH AVETT: Something will happen.

Mr. CRAWFORD: When there's (unintelligible) has happened. I loved it because it starts out with, you could say, for us, traditional Avett Brothers, and then we go into something we had never done before, the bass of samba. And then it goes to the rocking part and that's kind of like, you know, especially Scott and Seth came from this hard rock background with their old band, Nemo, and this is kind of like all of the cycles of the Avett Brothers all in one and that's why I have a great affinity for that song.

YDSTIE: Let's take a listen to that.

(Soundbite of song, "Pretty Girl from Chile")

YDSTIE: Bob, do you ever have to break up any brotherly fights? Are you the peacemaker or a troublemaker?

Mr. SETH AVETT: Instigator.

Mr. CRAWFORD: I'm the trouble - I'm the instigator in most situations and I have to be honest with you. I've known Brothers throughout my life and these guys fight the least of any brothers I've ever seen in my life. In fact, I could think of very, I mean, I'm talking about one or two occasions where there was any trouble and never - it never escalated to violence as you could say.

Mr. SCOTT AVETT: Bob, you should have.

Mr. CRAWFORD: You know, I think I could take them both if I had to. But the truth is that their father - they've said a couple of times that when they were young, their father said, you know, life is hard. It's a tough world out there. You guys have to be each other's best friend. And they really stuck to that. It's kind of all for one, one for all, more than you would even think and they get along remarkably. And that's (unintelligible).

YDSTIE: Well, it's a wonderful album. Thanks very much for talking to us.

Mr. SCOTT AVETT: Thank you so much.

Mr. CRAWFORD: Thanks for having us, John.

YDSTIE: The Avett Brother's new release is "Emotionalism". They spoke with us from the studios of Cincinnati Public Radio.

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  • Album: Emotionalism
  • Artist: The Avett Brothers
  • Label: Ramseur
  • Released: 2007
 

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