It’s been more than four years since Concord’s Avett Brothers headlined a full-on, big-venue show in the Triangle. That was October 2010, when the Avetts’ live set still focused on their 2009 commercial breakthrough “I and Love and You.”
Since then, the Avetts have released another two albums (with a third in the works), earned a Grammy nomination and a gold record, expanded their lineup from quartet to seven-piece and kept a relentless touring schedule that, aside from a few down-bill appearances at nightclub benefit shows, somehow has come no closer to the Triangle than Greensboro. But that drought finally ends this week.
At long last, the Avetts will end their Triangle hiatus with Wednesday’s New Year’s Eve show at Raleigh’s PNC Arena. It should be every bit as raucous since their show that rang in 2013 at Greensboro Coliseum.
We talked with Scott Avett recently by phone from his home in Charlotte.
Q: Since it’s been more than a year past 2013’s “Magpie and the Dandelion,” what’s the latest on the new album?
A: We’re right in the middle of that and trying to get back to it before it gets stalled because a couple of us have kids coming next year. In the past, we’ve been happy being patient and letting things happen nice and slow. This album, we’re excited and trying to ride that wave and complete it within that energy.
Q: And this one is with the expanded seven-piece lineup?
A: Yes, and that brings a lot of layers to the problem at hand. There’s a lot more power now, and we’re still learning how not to overuse that to make it most impactful. For contrast, we’ve done two versions of each song. First we went in just the three of us, Seth (Avett) and me and Bob (Crawford), to see what each song would sound like from a trio. Then we pull from that and push each one farther along to a different treatment with more players. That’s the process we’re in the middle of right now and it’s very touchy. There is truly no doubt that we are a two-faced band – upside-down, inside-out, 180. It’s never been clearer. As many things as Seth and I have alike, a lot of very different things drive us. We are both each other’s advocates at the end of the day, but there are clearly different sensibilities to get through first. It’s useful for us, but how do you make room for everything, and which approach is best? Yes, all this over-thinking is exhausting, but it’s all part of the crazy, dumb process.
Q: How would you describe the differences between you?
A: When we’re contemplating songs, 90 percent of what I bring to the table is written on the spot, while 90 percent of what Seth brings is mostly complete. Each of us will pull the other in our different directions, and sometimes we flip to opposite roles. So we both need each other for a composed sequence of songs. For me, dynamics are what I don’t want to see lost. There’s struggle and conflict to put it together. But if you’re not expressing that, it feels dishonest.
Q: There’s a joke going around that Mumford & Sons are an Avett Brothers tribute band – they’ve even told that one themselves. Has there ever been any tension between you and them?
A: Nah. Those guys just love music and playing. I remember being in my 20s, where they are now, and the energy level I put into music and art. Just like they’ve been influenced by us and others, when I really got serious about writing songs, I couldn’t help but be affected by Will Oldham, Ryan Adams, Neil Young, Bob Dylan.
Q: Would it be good or bad for you to have a hit as big as Mumford & Sons?
A: As fast as they got huge, Mumford & Sons have done an amazing job of adjusting to it. They could’ve made a huge mess of it, and they didn’t. For us, having a hit like that would have been unhealthy and we probably would have imploded on ourselves. We were doing some shows with John Mayer once and he told us, “I hope you one day have a hit and it ruins your life. Isn’t that what everybody wants?” And it was funny but true. So Seth and I would like to express our gratitude to the world that we have NOT had a No. 1 single. That has allowed us the freedom to make music and art as we want to, without life changing too drastically at any given time. We just want to make classic, timeless records, and I think we’re poised and capable.
Q: And of course, you actually got a gold record recently, for “I and Love and You” selling 500,000 copies.
A: Yeah, speaking of things not changing drastically. It took a little while, but that just made it all the better. (Producer) Rick (Rubin) told us, “You’ll never forget this one. You’ll get another and it won’t be as special.”
Q: Given how contentious North Carolina politics have become, do you ever regret having played Gov. McCrory’s inauguration?
A: Politics are really touchy, and we’re in such a heated-up time. You never have all the facts and there’s so much room for lies. I remember a time when there was loyalty to the so-called leader of your country and the idea that you might not agree with him, but now that he was there in office you’d stand by him and do your best. It’s a patriotic perspective and it’s gone out the door, probably for good reason. Whoever is in office, Democrat or Republican, my whole thing is that each issue is separate and it’s hard for me to be absolute. I can’t really play either side of the aisle because there are issues where I’m completely to the left, and issues where I’m completely to the right. So I have a hard time finding myself on either team. Maybe there’s a need for a few more teams. At the end of the day, what unifies us is what’s important. So for us to play the inauguration came from an American, not political, point of view. We would have played President Obama’s inauguration, too, if we’d been invited and had the time.