The Avetts - brothers banjoist/vocalist Scott and guitarist/vocalist Seth, with stand-up bassist Bob Crawford - are closing the book on a calendar year that has been the most rewarding since the band officially began six years ago. 2007 has seen the Avetts sell more albums, log more road time and mileage and score more industry accolades than ever before, and it's clearly a great feeling.
The year began, naturally enough with roadwork, but not until The Avetts had put the finishing touches on their 10th release, "Emotionalism," which hit the streets back in May. In the midst of a grueling touring cycle that saw them spend nearly two-thirds of the year away from home, The Avetts took time off in November to collect a pair of Americana Music Association awards, one for Best Duo/Group and the other for Best New/Emerging Artist (they were also nominated for Album of the Year, but lost to Patty Griffin - as did Lucinda Williams and Bob Dylan).
Avett says he and the band were surprised and extremely grateful for the awards.
"You can't help but be surprised when there's some sort of validation for something you've been trying to convince so many people of anyway," says Avett with a laugh. "You take the time to be rewarded and pat everybody on the back and then move on to the next thing. We're always a step or two ahead."
Avett suspects that the band's AMA awards may have spiked sales and raised their profile, but he doesn't necessarily have any empirical evidence to prove it.
"I'm sure it was more powerful than I'm aware of because I don't see all the reactions, sales wise, until well after," says Avett. "And anything, like Christmas, will effect sales and people coming out to shows and whatnot. I'm extremely guilty of looking ahead too far. We're doing demos for the next record, and it gets harder to settle down and think about 'Emotionalism' at this point. It's hard to balance that when you're a songwriter or an artist and you're thinking ahead all the time, and there's a responsibility to promote what you've done, and it's still new to many many people."
Even as The Avetts move further into the process of creating their new album, it's hard not to reflect on 'Emotionalism,' the biggest critical and commercial success the band has had to date. Upon its mid-May release, 'Emotionalism' debuted at number one on Billboard's Heatseekers Albums chart and interest in the album has remained consistently high over the subsequent seven months.
"It has been better than any other record we've put out," says Avett of the response to 'Emotionalism.' "It's sold more copies. It's given us more opportunities to play before people who are familiar with the album. The distribution and the coverage on it was a step up."
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons that 'Emotionalism' specifically and The Avett Brothers in general have been getting so much attention is that they represent a new way of thinking about old time bluegrass music.
The Avetts are bringing a 21st century mindset about the creation and dissemination of music to a genre whose roots were planted before the beginning of the last century, and that fresh approach has captured the imagination of fans and critics alike.
"A lot of the appeal and the writing (of 'Emotionalism') was possible because we had stepped up our ability to promote ourselves and promote the promotion for other people," says Avett. "That helped hugely. It wasn't just a learning process of what we were recording, and it's not all because the record was a step forward for us. It's also because our business sense and our musical marketing sense is much stronger now. It's very interesting and very relevant in today's world of music, especially if you're independent and there are more and more people who are."
Avett sees a lot of parallels between the advances made by older and more accomplished musical peers and what he and the Avett Brothers are attempting with bluegrass. In his mind, they're all building from a similar foundation, but sees The Avetts as benefiting from their later start.
"Tom Waits was doing it with blues and jazz, and Bob Dylan was doing it with folk and country, and we're doing it with some of those things as well, but we just have a lot more to work with since those guys," says Avett. "Punk rock has lived and heavy metal has lived and hip hop has lived to its fullest. There's so many new things to pull from, it's almost like a reassessment of that - I've obviously got a lot of time to think about this - and going at it again so the wheel can be turned again, and there can be new blood, and we're not the only ones doing this."