Avett Brothers Take it Back to the Roots

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Whatever one calls it — “folk punk,” “grunge-grass,” or “indie roots music” — the Avett Brothers’ sound is like none other. Since forming the band eight years ago, brothers Scott and Seth Avett, along with their friend Bob Crawford, have earned a reputation as one of alternative country music’s most versatile acts. The North Carolina-based trio’s latest full-length album is titled “Emotionalism.” You can catch them in performance at Greenville’s Peace Center Concert Hall on Saturday, Nov. 1.

Russell Hall: How did the evolution occur from playing standard rock and roll to playing the style of music you play today?

Seth Avett: It was more or less a natural progression. Scott and I grew up hearing our Dad play country songs. When we were younger we bucked against that a bit — and formed lots of rock bands — but eventually we started to realize how great a lot of American roots music is. There’s more rock and roll thrown into what we do now, but when we first formed the Avett Brothers we were just playing old-time country songs — Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Jimmie Rodgers songs, things like that.

RH: Did the band go through a period of doing bluegrass standards as well?

SA: We did. We started out about eight years ago, and in the beginning we played some bluegrass songs, in addition to old-time country. It was a gradual process, where initially we played just one or two originals, whereas now we play all originals. We gradually replaced each cover with an original.

RH: You got the chance to spend some time with bluegrass legend Doc Watson when you were very young. Did that help set you on this path?

SA: That was a seminal experience. A good friend of my Dad had written a song about Doc’s son, Merle, who was killed in a tractor accident years ago. He sent the song to Doc, and Doc loved it, and they became fast friends. This friend, who’s since passed away, invited me to go with him when he went to visit Doc, when I was 14. I got to go to Doc’s house and hang out with him, and play his guitar and talk with him about music. That was a pivotal day for me, as far as my discovering American roots music.

RH: The Avett Brothers are known for their raucous live shows. Are there particular artists who’ve inspired the band’s approach to live performance?

SA: That would be Mike Patton, the singer for Faith No More. Everything Patton has been involved with has been done with artistic power and beauty, and with a serious air of professionalism. He has a way of getting lots of work done — he’s been part of a lot of projects — and any project you see him performing in is of a very high quality.

RH: Do you have any theories as to why roots music — and especially the type of music you play — creates such a communal vibe?

SA: This music is very “for the people.” It’s American roots music, and I think people readily connect to that. It’s very human. Folk music is called “folk” for a reason, in that it’s for the folks. The emotional content and the everyday content of the songs are easy to connect to, if you’ve experienced anything in life at all. There are songs about love, and about heartbreak, and about work — the things we all live with, and live through, and have to deal with.

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