THE AVETT BROTHERS
“The Carpenter” is a telling name for the new album by the Avett Brothers. For the past decade, the rootsy North Carolina trio has taken a workmanlike approach to growing both its music and its fanbase. Like a good carpenter, the Avetts have invested a lot of time, precision, and love in what they’ve built through a breakneck schedule.
“We’ve never been good at the idea of not being on the road,” Bob Crawford, the band’s bassist, says recently from a tour stop on the West Coast. “We’ve always got something going on. It’s almost like we’re traveling salesmen — or maybe we’re like politicians.”
Ostensibly the band, which brothers Seth and Scott Avett formed in the late 1990s, is an Americana act. The core dynamic centers on the interplay of banjo, guitar, and upright bass. But even that umbrella genre doesn’t quite contain the Avett Brothers, who come to the Bank of America Pavilion on Sept. 16.
Their songs veer from heart-on-sleeve acoustic ballads to unhinged country-rockers that burn bright with a punk energy. Band members have been known to crowd-surf while playing their instruments; likewise, moshing at an Avetts show is common.
They’d be far too humble to admit it, but the Avetts essentially set the stage for fellow Americana bands such as Mumford & Sons to rise so prominently. (The two shared a stage at last year’s Grammys ceremony, backing Bob Dylan on “Maggie’s Farm.”)
Crawford and the Avetts are the public faces of the band, the three dashing Southern gents who appear in the press photos, but they flesh out the touring lineup with Joe Kwon on cello and Jacob Edwards on drums.
On Tuesday, the group will release “The Carpenter,” its seventh full-length album in 10 years. It marks the second time they’ve worked with Rick Rubin at the production helm, following 2009’s “I and Love and You.” Rubin, who most recently has been fabled for extracting the essence of lions in heart like Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond, had a light touch with the Avetts.
“Rick was really hands-off on this recording, especially compared to ‘I and Love and You.’ With that album, he was there every day,” Crawford says. “This time we were separated for most of it, but his notes were no less helpful. Rick really wanted us to be ourselves and be comfortable. He’s told us many times, ‘Don’t ever think about a hit or listenability. Just think about making each song good.’ And within each song, he’s big on each part and whether they work together.”
Crawford says Rubin taught the band an important lesson, one that might seem antithetical to anyone who has seen the ferocious force and spontaneity the Avetts unleash in concert.
“We’ve learned a lot from Rick, and a lot of it had to do with the idea that you do a song with as many takes as necessary to get the right take,” Crawford says. “The goal is to do it 100 times, because you want to get it right. There was no pressure from Rick to put out another record. He for us has been a guiding hand, a great mentor.”
You hear Rubin’s penchant for drilling down to the core throughout “The Carpenter.” “Winter in My Heart” has a chamber-folk ambience, soft and delicate with strings and a devastating first line: “It must be winter in my heart/ There’s nothing warm in there at all/ I miss the summer and the spring/ The floating yellow leaves of fall.”
There are the usual tropes — I’m in love, I never want to be in love again, please love me — but several songs address death and other life changes. Album reviews have already noted that Crawford’s 2-year-old daughter is battling a brain tumor, but he’s quick to make sure that doesn’t unfairly color the back story of “The Carpenter.”
“The album was finished when my daughter got sick,” Crawford says. “All of the writing was done before she got sick. She presented with a brain tumor on Aug. 28, 2011. She’s doing very well right now. One day at a time. We can never predict where this stuff is going. We always pray for complete and total healing.”
Crawford says initially he was reluctant to discuss the matter but then realized he had an opportunity to raise awareness of pediatric cancer. “My feeling is that it’s important to talk about, and there are so many families going through this.”
Even when the songs are heavy with heartache, the Avetts find catharsis in the power of playing them in front of an audience. No matter how a song sounds on the album, the Avetts typically blow it wide open onstage.
“It’s changed over the years,” Crawford says, referring to the transformation that happens in a live setting. “It used to be a matter of going out there and releasing yourself to the frenzy of the moment. Now we want to be musicians. We want to be good at what we do. We want people to hear things clearly.”