The Avett Brothers have been on quite a musical journey of evolving their sound over the past decade, going from a trio playing acoustic guitar, banjo and stand-up bass to what is now a seven-member lineup that can build considerably on the group’s scrappy, stripped-back acoustic beginnings.
The big shift came with the 2009 album, I and Love and You. Produced by Rick Rubin, it found the Avett Brothers retaining their acoustic foundation, but broadened their instrumental and stylistic reach to the point that the group could no longer be considered simply folk nor acoustic.
The next two albums, 2012’s The Carpenter and 2014’s Magpie and the Dandelion, continued down that path. And now, Seth Avett, who started the group with his older brother, Scott, in 2000, feels the latest Avett Brothers album, True Sadness, represents another leap forward for the group.
“This one’s a major one in terms of me reframing what I think the Avett Brothers sound like,” Avett said in a recent phone interview. “I hope, what I feel like is happening is we are opening ourselves up further, further and further in the aesthetics, to have no boundaries while hopefully staying heavily rooted in what makes us us, which is by and large some version of storytelling, I think.”
True Sadness, which was released last June, is the most sonically adventurous, most instrumentally diverse – and arguably the most stylistically varied album yet from the group. Recorded with the current seven-member touring band (bassist/fiddle player Bob Crawford, drummer Mike Marsh, keyboardist Paul Defiglia, cellist Joe Kwon and fiddle player Tania Elizabeth), the songs touch on a myriad of styles.
Even with that variety, True Sadness sounds very much like an Avett Brothers album.
“You can’t change your beginning. You can’t go back and change where you’re from. It just is what it is,” he said. “Our skeleton is the acoustic guitar (played by Seth Avett) and the banjo (Scott Avett) and the stand-up bass (Crawford, who joined the Avetts in 2002), and our stories and our romanticism and me and Scott’s voices. That’s what we are at our core. So I think as long as we don’t disgrace that or completely turn our backs on that, I think it will come through.”
The two Avett brothers remained the songwriters on True Sadness, but Avett said the other band members, more than ever, brought their influences and ideas to the table.
“We have, I think, a very good, very natural sort of rhythm within our communication where Scott and I are able to present our visions for a song,” Avett said. “You just have faith in the players and you don’t have to micro-manage everything … I think we all have enough experience where we can come to a great agreement, normally without saying anything at all.”
That sort of musical chemistry and communication has been developed through four-plus years of touring, but Avett feels the group has plenty of room to grow as a live unit.
“We have not really fully embraced what is possible here with this band. I mean, seven people with more than a few that are multi-instrumentalists, there’s a lot that can be done,” he said.
The Avett Brothers are the headline act on May 27, day two of the Papa Joe’s Banjo-B-Que and Music Festival at Evans Towne Center Park. Single and multi-day tickets are available at banjobque.com.