If it seems like the Avett Brothers were taking a break after the double whammy of 2013’s “Magpie and the Dandelion” and 2012’s “The Carpenter,” don’t be fooled: They’ve been working just as hard as ever. The quick album release schedule was the result of a marathon recording session that resulted in two albums’ worth of material, but Seth Avett says, given the choice between a marathon session and spreading the work out a bit more, the choice is clear.
“I’m going to go with door number two on that one,” he says with a laugh. “It’s funny, you get away from an experience, and more or less, the hardship of it, or the work, the labor of it gets smaller in your rearview. I remember at the end of that whole thing being just absolutely done, just so exhausted.”
But that doesn’t mean the band hasn’t been working on new material. They’ve been hard at work recording. “I think it seems like we took a longer break than we did, where in actuality we kept doing what we always do, which is just tour pretty much nonstop. There’s no specific tour for a record. We just always go go go, lay low in the winter time, then hit it hard in the summer and get into the studio whenever we can,” says Avett.
While he was unwilling to promise any release dates, he says the group is hoping that new material will be available for fans next March. And it sounds like the trademark Avett Brothers heartbreak ballads will be as much a part of that as ever.
“When you get old enough, when you survive long enough, you learn what [heartbreak] is. You learn what it is to have your heart broken, romantically and otherwise,” says Avett. “If you go through something intense enough, on the negative or positive side, the lucky thing is that if you’re an artist, a songwriter, if it hits you hard enough, you’ll still be able to draw on that thing 20 years later.”
He says that he and brother Scott tend to write autobiographically, and “heartbreak is part of it. So is love, and so is survival, and so is mortality and resolve, and all kinds of things.”
Writing about their own heartbreak can be an odd experience for the families, though. “It’s a weird thing for my parents,” he admits. “They might like the song, they like hearing my voice, but they love me, and if I’m singing about something difficult that I went through, it’s this weird kind of bittersweet for them.”
Avett did step away from his core project to work with singer Jessica Lea Mayfield on an album of Elliott Smith covers. While he’s always happy to get back to it, he says, “There was a lot of value in stepping away from the Avett Brothers for a minute, if for nothing else than just to enjoy playing small theaters, more intimate rooms, with less production, less bodies, less spectacle, in a way.”
As to what inspired him to work specifically on Elliott Smith songs, Avett says, “I’ve always been drawn to music that has a very catchy aspect, like a pop sensibility, but lyrically is almost painfully honest and can go to a very dark place, but also sort of make you sing along. When you listen to Elliott Smith, it’s pretty clear that there is no wall between you and him.”