By James Wood
It’s going to another big year for the Grammy-nominated, alternative folk collective the Avett Brothers.
Not only did they perform for the first time at New York's legendary Madison Square Garden, but they’re also about to unveil their new album, True Sadness, which will coincide with another summer of touring.
True Sadness, which is set for a June 24 release, was produced by longtime collaborator Rick Rubin. The album represents the next chapter in North Carolina brothers Scott and Seth Avett’s ever-evolving career. In a letter to fans, Seth described True Sadness as "a patchwork quilt of styles" where "a myriad of contrasting fabrics makes perfect sense."
I recently spoke to Seth about the new album and his signature Martin D-35 guitar.
How does True Sadness relate to some of the Avett Brothers’ previous albums?
I feel this record is probably the most dynamic one we’ve ever made. If you look at our previous records, you’ll find whispers an hints of our influences behind some of the music, but you only hear them in passing or small portions or perhaps. On this record, it’s more pronounced. When you apply that with our love for rhythm and gentle pieces of folk and rock, this record goes a lot of different places.
What was the writing process like?
We always try to be open-ended and without formula as much as possible. Generally, I lean toward musicality and am often led by a melody, where Scott is led more by a story or narrative. Eventually, we always find ourselves back wholly autobiographical viewpoint in a song. We draw just as much from our daily lives as we do from sitting around trying to write. When it comes to writing we stay open to all the sources, because there are an infinite number of them.
Let’s discuss a few tracks from True Sadness. What can you tell me about “Ain’t No Man”?
I jumped in after Scott had already planted the seed years before. I remember we were already in the studio working on demos when Scott came bursting through the door describing the idea. He came in bounding with so much inspiration that he could hardly contain himself. He started to reach for the guitar, but instead I told him not to and just sing the bass line to me and I’d transcribe it. We had never written a song like that before, so it was cool. So Scott sang me the bass line and it sprang out for there. It was a weird gestation of lightning in in a bottle.
That was one I started a few years ago and for a while was just a demo that was hidden away. I had written it from top to bottom and thought it was a full song, but never thought of it as something we’d work on because it was very slow and quiet. As we started working on demos, I threw it out there and we wound up doing it as a three-piece version (the way we would have done years ago). It worked out really well. That’s when we decided to see what would happen if we morphed in into a true rock and roll statement and take it away from our normal genre. For the longest time, it was established in my brain as a quiet song that would never see the light of day. Now here it is, the title track of our new album.
“Satan Pulls the Strings”
That one took the greatest journey of any song we’ve ever recorded. It started out in the realm of 1930s, old school, clawhammer banjo style. From there, it became this high-energy snare-kick combo with rocking American roots.
What’s it like working with Rick Rubin?
It’s about as natural as you can imagine. I remember in the early stages when we started with him, there was that moment of “Oh my god! We’re working with Rick Rubin!” But that moment faded quickly. Once we got in there and saw what was being asked of us and what we are asking of ourselves, Rick fit in like another member. Our relationship has really solidified over the years. He’s a dear friend and the songs and recording is only one of the many topics we talk about.
Let’s talk about your signature Martin D-35. How did your relationship with Martin come about?
I’ve always been a Martin fan and one day someone from the company reached out to our manager and asked if I’d be interested in being an ambassador for the company. The signature model came not too long after that. After I went to the factory and found out they were capable of anything, it then became a case of finding the happy medium between individuality and functionality. They made everything I wanted to see in a guitar, and it’s an honor to be connected with them.
What do you like most about your Signature model?
I’m a sucker for consistency and durability. My experience in sharing music with people is built on playing night after night after night. I used to have a lot of bad experiences in the early years—re-fretting guitars, braces coming unglued and breaking a bunch of strings every night. So it really means a lot when gear works like it should, and the thing I love about these guitars is that not only is there an element of eloquence to them, but they’re also made of durable and strong material.
What are you most looking forward to in this next phase of your career?
At this moment, I’m excited about being able to share the new music with people. Beyond that, I’m very fortunate to be with people I love and to have family members and other people in my life that want me to do well. Each day, I try to remember that and to not take anything for granted. As far as the band goes, I’m loving playing songs and knowing we’ll continue to do that for some time.
For more about Seth Avett and the Avett Brothers, visit theavettbrothers.com.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.