It’s rare that a band so deftly combines alt-country sounds with excitable indie rock, but that’s exactly what the Avett Brothers have done on their new disc, I and Love and You.
The trio, which includes Scott Avett on vocals and banjo, his brother Seth on guitar and Bob Crawford on bass, doesn’t so much combine the two genres together as shift from one sound to the next.
“We grew up on a dirt road away from the city, so country music was always on tap there.” says the North Carolina-raised Scott. “But Seth and I were rebelling constantly so we were playing different types of music.”
The brothers’ first band was a noise-rock group called Nemo, but it wasn’t long before Avett turned to the music they heard growing up for inspiration. “We picked up softer instruments so we could trim the fat,” says Seth. “Then we realized that we were hiding behind the distortion.”
But while the fuzz might be gone, the brash sounds aren’t. On Kick Drum Heart the threesome rip through the poppy, piano-based number like classic Ben Folds, while Tin Man’s acoustic rock vibe recalls Counting Crows mixed with CSNY.
The upbeat tracks are fun to say the least, but it’s the slower numbers that really drive the band. January Wedding is an infectious Americana tune; Darkness is a haunting, Will Oldham-like song with political undertones.
It’s the folk part of their sound that got legendary producer Rick Rubin to take notice. Rubin heard some of their previous work and invited the band to his house for a chat. “We talked about music and everyday things,” says Seth. “And about the possibilities of working together.”
Seth admits that while he was excited about working with Rubin he was skeptical. Bands get wooed all the time but nothing comes of it. But after their meeting, the Avett Brothers knew it was going to work out.
“When we met him he was just awesome. Very friendly and throughout the process, he maintained that with a lot of integrity and taste,” Seth explains.
Now that the album is done — and on Rubin’s label — the group has started to feel the effects of being on a major; they had previously released a few discs on an indie. The biggest difference is a bigger budget, and that marketing machine that comes with it.
But, while the trio are getting more attention than ever, they’re not letting it go to their heads. At 33, Seth’s days of wanting to be a rock star are behind him. Now he’s making music because he wants to.
“I can remember being 19 and saying to my friends if this doesn’t happen by 21 I’m going to quit. Same thing at 24 and 27,” he says. “But if I’m an artist and I choose the medium I’m working in what does age have to do with that?”
“I started to look up to Michelangelo, Tom Waits and Mozart — and they have nothing to do with pop stardom.”
• Toronto: The Avett Brothers play tonight at the Horseshoe Tavern