Success has fractured many brotherly relationships. Just ask Oasis, the Kinks, or the Black Crowes. But acoustic rockers the Avett Brothers are not stressing over their recent mammoth achievements. There were the spring tour dates with the Dave Matthews Band, the recent recording sessions produced by Rick Rubin, and the scheduling of the release of their major-label debut, due out September 29. It's huge stuff, but Seth and big brother Scott Avett refuse to let it alter their relationship as co-bandleaders — or siblings.
"We've had this understanding from our parents since childhood that your greatest ally is your family," Seth says by phone. "That's how we treat each other, and that's how we function as an organization. We all look out for each other." It's the same sentiment Scott Avett shared when I spoke with him shortly after the release of the band's 2007 breakthrough full-length, Emotionalism. A heady meld of melodic folk and mellow bluegrass marked by close, sweet vocal harmonies, it's the album that finally made people take notice of the brothers, who have been making music together for some ten years from their home base in North Carolina.
Issued on the Tar Heel state boutique label Ramseur Records, Emotionalism was the band's first disc to chart on the Billboard 200. High-profile club and festival performances found the trio bringing an invigorating punk attitude to its uptempo numbers while maintaining the intimate urgency of the record on more somber songs. And in late 2007, the Avett Brothers capped the year by being named Best Duo/Group and New/Emerging Artist of the Year by the American Music Association.
After spending 2008 touring behind a follow-up EP, The Second Gleam, the band joined super-producer Rubin at his studio in Malibu. Another session took place closer to the brothers' home in Asheville, North Carolina. Sony will release the resulting full-length, I and Love and You.
Seth sounds excited yet guarded when asked to compare it to Emotionalism. "I would liken it to what's the difference in a person who you know if you haven't talked to them in two years," he says. "Not everything has changed. It's the same person, but they're a newer person, smarter person." Pressed for details, he describes the new record as being more piano-based, with the drums also playing a greater role. His brother's gentle banjo picking is, this time, confined to just three tracks. "But the main difference between the two records is two years of growing, two years of developing, two years of writing songs, and getting to know our art better."
When the Avett Brothers perform Sunday at the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale, attendees can expect to hear I and Love and You's title track — and a number called "The Perfect Space," Seth's favorite fresh cut to play live. "It's easily the most complex," he says. "It's the only one where I play electric guitar and Scott goes from piano to drums and then back to piano. It keeps us moving!"