They may be from Concord, North Carolina, but the Avett Brothers are an Augusta favorite since their earliest days playing Stillwater Taproom. Tickets for the Papa Joe’s Banjobeque at Evans Towne Center Park have quickly disappeared since the brothers announced they’d be headlining on Friday, May 23.
And it’s no wonder people love them and their work ethic so much; “Hard Worker,” from 2004’s “Mignonette,” could well be their theme song. Scott, Seth, Bob and Joe, along with the newer members of the band, have a near constant touring schedule, in between which they squeeze magazine interviews, Tonight Show appearances and fundraisers for the St. Jude Children’s Hospital. That’s the place bassist Bob Crawford credits much of his daughter Hallie’s recovery from a brain tumor doctors deemed “incurable.” Three years later (and a one-year break from the band for daddy), she’s doing well in recovery.
Touring in support of “Magpie and the Dandelion,” which came out last October, the Avetts will appear next week to a nearly sold-out crowd. In preparation for the show, founding member and literal brother Scott talked to the Metro Spirit about the creative process… in all its many forms.
Metro Spirit: What do you remember of your early days of playing in Augusta at places like The Mission and Stillwater Taproom?
Scott Avett: I think The Mission show was in 2006, March… maybe the beginning of March. Bob (bassist Bob Crawford) crushed my thumb with the bass during that show. I remember that so well. That was our last show (of the tour) and we capped it off with my thumb getting crushed and my fingernail coming off. I had to step out back and pull myself together because it was painful. At Stillwater, we were determined to sit down when we played there and the limitation of sitting down forced us to become better musicians.
MS: It seems like there’s a parallel between making music and the art you create, especially with the prints that you sometimes make for shows: You create the original, which is the first piece, then you do the relief, so that’s the second piece, and the prints are the third piece. It seems the same with music: you write and record, so that’s the first piece, and then you recreate it every time you perform. Do you see the similarities?
SA: That’s a great comparison. I’ve never put those together consciously. I’m actually in my studio painting right now. As an artist, I am more willing to draft, rough draft, transfer, rough draft, transfer, and it does all makes sense to me with the band. With the painting, it’s much more of a one of a kind, a different energy for making it. As substantial, as weighty as it is, it still feels kind of flighty. A painter doesn’t really need anyone else. If he does, it’s a minor thing like models, if you’re a figurative painter. But a painter really doesn’t need anyone else but himself. Whereas musicians, we need lots of people around us, we depend on other people, we’re kind of a unit of people. So in the art world I can kind of be flightier without anyone being affected by it. As for the redrafting and reprinting, I’ll probably be thinking about that now every time I do it.
MS: Do you need the validation of someone buying your artwork?
SA: Whatever I did, whatever I do for a living at any time, it doesn’t change the fact that I have to make things. And that’s one of the many, many forms of making things. If it’s not a print, it might be a stone walkway in front of my house. Even stacking firewood, I tend to make an ordeal out of that. I’ve been known to stack an entire pallet of firewood and then push it down and restack it because it was driving me nuts. Which is very anti my environment and upbringing but that’s just the way I am. With the prints being more mathematical, it’s really more of a contrast between art and business. The Andy Warhol sort of, hey this is a commodity. It is cheaper, less expensive to have, there are more of them, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the homework is done in the beginning. Even if it’s simple in its form, it’s well thought out or purposefully not well thought out — either way it’s intent. For the painting, I’ve never really gotten any satisfaction out of selling anything. I could never receive the amount of money that they’re probably worth and the money just kind of comes and goes. Whether you’re paying your bills or not, the money just kind of comes and goes. I’ve been both places in my life — where I could pay my bills and where I was digging deep into my overdraft and digging a hole for myself — I’ve been both places and neither one of them really affected too much of my happiness one way or the other.
MS: What medium do you usually work in. From your website, it looks like it’s mostly oil, but do you ever work in watercolors?
SA: I do some watercolor. I was forced to use watercolor for a class. I went to Italy with East Carolina in 2000 and, to travel, watercolor was the best (medium) so I kind of had a crash course in watercolor there and revisit it every now and then. I use whatever it (the work) calls for. Screen printing was my biggest last year. Silk screening. I’m kind of drifting back into the painting world, I kind of have to get away from it to remember that I can’t help but do it. I majored in art (at East Carolina) with a concentration in painting and a secondary concentration in printmaking. They equipped me with so many tools visually that I use in composing anything. I use a lot of the theories they (at East Carolina) instilled in us for art in writing a song: You have the rough sketch and you finish everything completely, overall, before you walk away from it, so you use the entire page, It’s definitely an approach that I use in songwriting as well.
MS: And how do you sell your art?
SA: The way that I’ve been working the past three or four years is I don’t take any consignments. I’ve disappointed enough people that I don’t do that anymore. I incubate in my studio until work is flowing out the doors and windows and then I call a couple of people. We have a show and the work is all available at once and that’s been the easiest way to do it for me. I can’t do and make work, so I just try and focus on making work. I’m certainly at a place now where I need to show. It’s just that my pieces are so large it’s tricky finding the right spot. Last time I did it I sold primarily paintings. I watched a lot of the smaller work go, some if it that I had made in college, and it felt great to get it gone. But then someone inquires about showing work and I say, “Well, I’ve got a 10 foot by 7 foot piece that I can show” and they say, “Well, we were thinking of something smaller” and I say, “Well, that’s all I’ve got right now.” I incubate and more of it is made and if it’s all going to be big pieces then so be it. I have no interest in deadlines because that kills every bit of the commodity. It just kills all the motivation to do it. I don’t want it in my studio at all.
MS: With someone as creative as you are, how do you survive on tour when you’re confined and have no outlet?
SA: There are times when it’s the bus to the backstage to the stage and that’s kind of all you got, but that’s not a 100 percent of the time. We do get out and we do recognize the need for activity, physical and mental. Examples will be when we’re in New York I’m going to go to some museums and galleries or just stroll and maybe visit people that I should and would like to. We were in Dallas last weekend and we spent the whole morning playing soccer at a soccer complex that we were performing at. We were at Bloomington, Illinois, earlier this year and they had an ice skating rink in the complex, so I went ice skating for two hours. You see and you feel these things and they affect you intellectually by and by. You’ve got to kind of carefully connect the dots with each opportunity and identifying it as an opportunity is key. There’s a tendency to want to get in your bunk and sleep all day or look at the computer screen. No one would know this, but the show would actually suffer from that if any of us are doing that too much. It kind of zaps us out. No one would ever know the difference because they’d have nothing to compare it to but, within, the performer knows.
MS: What’s life been like for the Avett Brothers lately and what can fans expect?
SA: Our band, since Bob’s daughter, her illness two years ago, I guess coming up on three years now, we had to restructure and we grew a couple of times and our band has seriously unified and come together over the past three years. I think one thing we’re seeing this year is that, last year was a long practice session with our six, now seven, folks on stage, and it’s interesting because it’s now taking flight. I think that’s one of the most awesome things about this year. We’re working on new material now, so it’s leading into the new recording so that’ll be interesting to see how that affects the recording process.