Brothers' sound continues to evolve

By Craig Harris

Special to Reminder Publications

The Avett Brothers

Pearl Street, Northampton, MA

Aug. 2, 8:30 PM

For further information, call 413-584-7771

Newport Folk Festival

Aug. 1-3

For further information, call 877-655-4TIX

Bluegrass, country and southern gospel provide the roots for the Avett (pronounced: Ay-vett) Brothers, but a healthy influx of rock, punk-rock and grunge influences give the Concord, North Carolina-based band one of the most exciting sounds to hit the folk music circuit in a long time.

"We sound like we do because we have guys playing their instruments to the best of their ability," bassist Bob Crawford said, who joined the Avett Brothers in 2001, by telephone. "When you're sixteen years old and you get a guitar, your buddy gets a bass and your other buddy gets a set of drums, you get together in somebody's garage and start playing music. That's pretty much where our sound developed."

Formed in 1998 by brothers, Seth and Scott Avett, the Avett Brothers, who perform at Northampton's Pearl Street on Aug. 2 and the Newport Folk Festival, in Newport, R.I., on Aug. 3, have continued to push the traditions even further. "I used to say that we were a rock band that delivered it on acoustic instruments," Crawford said, "but, that's becoming less true. We're still a rock band but we're delivering it forty percent of the time on traditional rock instruments, nowadays."

The recent addition of cellist Joe Kwan expands the Avett Brothers' sound even further. "I did a solo project, 'New Jersey Transient,'" Crawford said, "and he started playing with me. Scott and Seth saw him and it was pretty much over. We moved him into the band. It adds depth. When you add a cello, the sound becomes another dimension, a little deeper."

While their shows are propelled by the foot-stomping intensity of Seth Avett on guitar and hi-hat cymbal and his brother, Scott on banjo, guitar and kick drum, the Avett Brothers have increasingly used a full drum set, played by Scott Avett, in the recording studio.

"I've had to learn how to play with a drummer," New Jersey-born Crawford said. "I had only started to play the bass when I met them. I was a guitar player who was playing bass. I never learned how to play with a drummer and I didn't do it enough to get all of the nuances. I was bass and drums in a lot of ways."

"Playing with a drummer," Crawford continued, "has been a new experience. I don't do the same things on the same songs twice. I just do whatever it is that I'm feeling. Now that we're playing with a drum kit, it's become a matter of hitting fewer notes to keep the harmonic progression moving along in the song."

The increased attention to detail has been reflected in the Avett Brothers' diversifying sound. "The first five years that we were doing this," Crawford said, "everything was erratic. If we weren't doing a slow song, the fast songs and the mid-tempo songs were like a hurricane. There was a lot of liberty for emotion to come through. Now, things are maturing."

Emotion, though, remains a key to the Avett Brothers' approach as their most recent CD, "Emotionalism," made clear. The group's first album co-produced by outside producers Reynolds (Blue Rags) and Danny Kadar (My Morning Jacket, Cheap Trick) it was their most successful, reaching the thirteenth slot on Billboard's independent artist chart the first week of its release in May 2007.

"'Emotionalism' garnered the kind of attention," Crawford said, "that more people heard about us. There've been more places for people to hear our music."