The Avett Brothers will ring in 2018 at Raleigh’s PNC Arena with their annual North Carolina New Year’s Eve show.
While the Americana group hasn’t released a new album in more than a year, the Avetts have nevertheless had an eventful stretch. That includes the 2017 release of their first big-screen venture, “May It Last,” the documentary produced and co-directed by Judd Apatow. After playing theaters this fall, it will be screened on HBO in January. An air date hasn’t been scheduled.
If you’re going to the concert (there aren’t many tickets left), Scott Avett shared what you should know about this year’s New Year’s Eve show. He also reflected on the past year and spoke about the band’s plans for 2018.
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1. Father Time will be there
Once again, Valient Himself (Herbie Abernathy, leather-lunged frontman of the interstellar punk-metal band Valient Thorr) returns as Father Time to lead the onstage festivities as the clock ticks down to midnight.
“He’ll be back in very stylish fashion,” said Scott Avett in an interview. “Let’s just say that it will seem as though Father Time has been doing some space travel. Herbie was born to own a room, so this is the perfect role for him. (Valient Thorr bassist) Tyler Wolf is involved this year doing stage design and merch, too.
“North Carolina is at the heart of all we do, so this is a great reunion,” he said. “We all studied together at ECU, learning a lot together onstage in Greenville at places like the Percolator Coffee House. That was the very beginning of the Avett Brothers, when it was just (brother) Seth and I.”
2. Expect cool cover songs
Past New Year’s Eve shows have featured covers of songs by everyone from Jim Croce to Thin Lizzy, plus well-chosen opening acts. Both will be in effect this time around, too.
“We will carry on with the tradition of covers, definitely,” said Avett. “Father Time will bring in a great moment. Well, whether it’s great or not, it will be fun regardless.”
Felice Brothers and Mandolin Orange are the opening acts.
“I’m such a fan, love that band so much,” he said of Felice Brothers. “And then Mandolin Orange! We heard them at MerleFest and Newport and said, ‘This is one of North Carolina’s greats right now. Let’s see if they can do it.’ When they said yes, it completed the show perfectly.”
3. “May It Last” exposure
Avett still has lingering misgivings about just how revealing the “May It Last” documentary turned out. The film’s most striking moment comes toward the end, when Avett has a bit of an emotional meltdown immediately after the group records the ballad “No Hard Feelings” for their 2016 album, “True Sadness.” It’s presented in unsparing detail.
“Sitting down to screen it for the first time, I was thinking, ‘Please, I hope that’s not in it,’ ” he said. “I’m still embarrassed about that moment, the vulnerability that comes from weak moments while we’re recording. It’s a roller coaster, and something like that always happens. It’s part of my process. Those moments are dangerous because they can cause rifts that are hard to come back from.
“But it was also kind of a relief to be exposed in that way. I get curmudgeonly and don’t take the time often enough to congratulate myself or the people around me. I’m always thinking, ‘What’s next? No pat on the back because there’s this straight ahead.’ I came off as not nice when I should have been saying, ‘Thank you, great work everybody!’ But…that was how I felt.”
4. The Avetts are more of a family group than ever
And it came about unexpectedly, in the wake of keyboardist/bassist Paul Defiglia’s amicable departure in September.
“When Paul left, we decided, ‘This is a good opportunity to leave a space, to contract instead of expand,’ ” Avett said. “Instantly we saw the return of some nice things. I mean, it’s so much fun to have seven people in a band, even if that drives you toward always having more when what some songs want is less.
“Then our sister Bonnie started playing more piano with us. She’s always longed to play more music, so we told her to come out and do a few shows. A couple of weekends turned into more shows, and she’ll be with us New Year’s Eve and also next year in some capacity, probably a lot.”
5. They’re still bi-partisan
Having played North Carolina’s last two gubernatorial inaugurations, for Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper this year as well as Republican Pat McCrory’s event in 2013, the Avetts have managed to thread the needle in a hyper-polarized political era.
“Within the family and the group, there are so many beliefs and viewpoints falling on both sides,” Avett said. “It’s never everybody on one side all the time. Certain people in our group are Democrats, and I think there’s some Republicans, too.
“I think we’re all looking for some unifying element, a common denominator. We all have the same governor, and when we perform at the inaugurations, it’s for North Carolina and the hope that some good can come from whoever. We’re there to be present, share a little hope that someone might see the light during their term. Look for the good and brace for bad when something is questionable. We’re in historical times right now, without a doubt.”
6. They’ve got talent
In February, singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile will release her new album “By the Way, I Forgive You,” featuring a Scott Avett portrait of her on the cover. He’s an accomplished painter who earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at East Carolina University. (Carlile plays at Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium May 12.)
“I’ve never stopped painting,” Avett said. “It’s as important a part of my life as music. As much as they don’t seen to interact, painting is still instrumental in me finding my way. At this point, I can’t paint on the road the way I do, which is large-scale. But I’ve still painted quite a bit this year.”
7. A new album is coming
It will be the Avetts’ first since 2016’s “True Sadness,” with Rick Rubin again producing. Sessions are scheduled to begin in February. Right now, they’re hard at work writing songs.
“We’ve already completed about 12 songs we talked with Rick about, and we’re trying to double that up with what’s going on now,” Avett said. “We’re trying to do more recording of demos at home in hopes of finding a more natural beginning, a tone that’s more calm with no travel involved.
“Once we go off to Malibu or wherever, our families aren’t there, so it’s a different approach and mentality. The emotional work needs to be done before the mechanical work of making something great. So we roll out of bed, do the normal things at home and then wander over to the table or the studio and let it flow as naturally as possible.”