Avett Brothers build American art in a bubble
Friday, August 24, 2012
If you go
What: The Avett Brothers, in concert
When: 7 p.m. Aug. 25-26.
Where: Edgefield Amphitheater, 2126 S.W. Halsey St., Troutdale, Ore.
Cost: $40 through Cascade Tickets, 855-227-8499 or http://cascadetickets.com.
Information: 503-669-8610 or http://mcmenamins.com/Edgefield.
The Avett Brothers know how to make a CD quickly and efficiently.
"We've done them in two weeks," Scott Avett said in an early July phone interview. "Surely, 'Emotionalism' was done in 11 days. I mean, we are quite aware of our ability to do that."
Now, the Avett Brothers also know the value of taking their time to finish an album.
"I guess I could compare it to when I was in one of my painting classes. It always comes back to me when I'm working on paintings, and I guess it's true of recordings, as well, and we're always reminded you need to be stepping back and seeing the canvas just as much as when you have a brush to the canvas. And when you think about the time recording versus the time listening and contemplating, you need to spend just as much or more time listening and contemplating as you do with the mike or the instrument to the mike."
That kind of care translated into 15 months of work on the next album, "The Carpenter," with work beginning in January 2011. The CD is set for release Sept. 11.
For most music acts, such an investment of time wouldn't be possible. There would be demands to get the CD out far more quickly and get back on tour to avoid having too long an absence from the public eye.
But the Avett Brothers were working with the man who also produced "I and Love and You" — Rick Rubin. One of music's most respected producers, Rubin is known to serve the artists before the bottom line — and doesn't like albums he produces to be released before he's confident they are everything they should be.
Avett credits Rubin with fostering an environment where creativity could thrive without any outside business pressures.
"Something we've understood and we're very thankful of is no deadlines and no budgets," Avett said. "The way I visualize it is this: There's a bubble, and within it is the artistic process. Outside of the bubble is entrepreneurship and marketing. And that never needs to make it inside that bubble. That has no place at all, the fine art bubble or the fine art of music bubble. It does not belong in there. And Rick, he's done a good job of creating the bubble and has utilized that with us," he said.
"So what we do is we kind of make, for grown men, we make this bubble, make that garden, make that area where (art) can happen and fend off the entrepreneurship because once the deadline comes, it's all over. There's no more making art for art's sake."
Being able to shut out any outside distractions or pressures had become more important than ever for the Avett Brothers. The trio were coming off a 2009 album, "I and Love and You," that had cracked the top 20 on the "Billboard" magazine album chart and had also been a huge hit with music critics. Until then, the Avett Brothers had operated under a much more limited spotlight. Brothers Scott (vocals, banjo, harmonica, guitar, piano) and Seth Avett (vocals, guitars, piano) self-released a self-titled EP in 2000. With bassist Bob Crawford joining in 2002, the group released more studio albums, a live release and a pair of EPs over the next five years before signing with Rubin's American Recordings and making "I and Love and You."
That CD retained the Avetts' acoustic foundation (particularly on songs like the folky "January Wedding" and "Ten Thousand Voices"), but broadened its instrumental and stylistic reach to the point that the group could no longer be placed in specific musical categories.
For instance, "Head Full Of Doubt/Road Full Of Promise" was a expansive mid-tempo track that used piano, drums, strings, organ and electric guitar to help create its beauty. "Kick Drum Heart" was a concise and catchy pop-rocker. "Perfect Square" covers considerable ground, opening as a lovely ballad before kicking into more of a poppy piano-centric rocker. The title track, meanwhile, was a strikingly elegant, piano-based ballad.
"The Carpenter," Avett said, builds on the stylistic growth the group attained on "I and Love and You."
"I think it's going in the same direction," he said of the new CD. "I think there's no possible way that this album can be considered a bluegrass album, not that any of our albums could have. But there's no possible way it can be considered a folk album. In a lot of ways, I just think, if Neil Young was put in the rock bin, I would imagine we would be put in the rock bin. It's got very loud electric guitars. It's got banjo on it. I think it's probably an American -- no pun intended for the record company -- but it's probably an American album."