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Avett Brothers live it up

By Dan MacIntosh, October 2010

The Avett Brothers, as its name spells out, is a band comprised of brothers Scott and Seth Avett. In concert, this country-tinged group can go from singing a tender folk ballad, like I and Love and You, to a still-relevant Roger Miller or Tom T. Hall country song, then on to something that sounds a little like punk-bluegrass.

The Avetts just released "Live, Volume 3," a 16-track concert recording from August 2009 where music fans can hear the Avetts at their live-and-in-person best.

There are many stories about brothers not getting along in bands. The Louvin Brothers had more than their share of brotherly conflicts, and Oasis just broke up because guitarist Noel Gallagher couldn't coexist with his singing brother, Liam Gallagher. The Everly Brothers might create heavenly harmonies together now, but they've also had their share of fights. And while Ray Davies has probably made his best music with his guitar slinging brother Dave, The Kinks have been an on-again, off-again proposition for years - mainly because the state of the band is permanently linked to the fragile state of their relationship with each other.

The Avetts perform

But what do these North Carolina boys, The Avett Brothers, do to hold the family act together, both onstage and off?

"One reason is we don't drink like we used to," answers Scott Avett, from the road in Arizona. You could hardly blame this Avett if he had a good stiff drink right about now, however, because his vehicle just became disabled by a flat. Yet Avett is so friendly and good-natured, you wouldn't have guessed there was anything wrong from the tone in his voice.

"We definitely saw a pattern where there were many more arguments when we were intoxicated," he continues "than when we weren't. There are times we do that (drink) when we're celebrating. Not just on regular occasions or every day. I can't speak for other brothers because for some brothers, maybe that doesn't help at all. You can stay stark sober all you want, and still, you go at it. (But) that helped us quite a bit."

Another reason The Avett Brothers retain some semblance of brotherly love is that they do things together that they enjoy. And these enjoyable activities are usually not music-related.

"We took a jog with each other this morning," Avett explains. "And something about being away from work – and even away from the rest of family troubles and things that can always be topics, the priorities of the conversations that you have with family – it's kind of nice just to get away from it and just run and just do something that's relaxing in a strange way. I guess it's all about just doing things other than work together. So, we can be better friends."

These two brothers (the Avetts also includ bassist Bob Crawford) try and keep the alcohol under control. Check. They do their best to get enough exercise and leave time for fun activities. Check. And lastly, they try never to argue about money.

"With our business dealings," Avett says, "we are determined to keep the art driving the bus. We try to keep ourselves on the same level playing field with money, which means we try and keep money out of the equation. Nobody's pining or jockeying to take a lead role against each other because we are together the lead roles. That's been very healthy for us; to keep money out of the arguing realm."

Three volumes of "official" live music sure seems like a lot of it - especially so early in the group's career. Before this latest live offering, the also put out "Live at the Double Door Inn" in 2002, and "Live, Vol. 2" in 2005. Scott Avett is careful to make the distinction between planned live releases, and all the other live representations that get in their fans' hands.

"This - Live, Volume 3 – will actually be the third release that we've actually taken a part in releasing, but it seems like there's quite a bit of work out there, not to mention all the YouTube stuff that we definitely allow and invite and do ourselves," Avett says.

"It is true nonetheless that our live interaction and live performance is the heart of what we do and has been the fuel that has fed the fire all along. It's where we learned how to play our instruments. It's where we continue to learn how to play our instruments. It's where we learned how to write songs, as well. We've developed so much in front of people live as a band since we've existed, so I think it's very relevant in that regard."

Now, while the public is gobbling up this live release, the band is also busily cooking up new music in the studio. And although The Avett Brothers are fixing to go back in the studio again soon, it's hard to tell exactly where they are in that whole process. Instead of being at the end, they may well be starting from scratch.

"Well, I think it's hard to say," Avett says. "I think we just…I have a feeling we've just overstepped an entire 20 or so demos of songs, and that they've gone out of date for us. And I think we're starting to allow other efforts of new songs into the priority of what we want to record. So we're kind of at a point where we didn't want to rush to put out another record after 'I and Love and You.' We really intentionally stepped back and said, ‘Okay, let's let this record do what it wants to do. Let's let it be digested. Let's learn what these songs will do live. Let's see how they'll develop.' And that will kind of happen over time. So, as we let that happen, during that time, (new) songs have been written, recorded, demoed. And I don't know what they'll end up doing. Some of them will make it to record, some of them won't. So, I guess that tells you we're kind of at square one with another set of demos that are starting to grow. It's interesting. I really didn't think that I would say that because it seemed like we really focused on a batch of songs that we'd been looking at for about a year now to take into the studio. But new songs come, and they kind of push those songs that their shelf life has expired, if you will."

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