Interview | The Avett Brothers: “For a band, there should be some room to change every night.”

Photo by Katie Guymon

You and I, we’re the same
Live and die, we’re the same

These days, there are a few songs by The Avett Brothers that are hard for me to listen to, only because they hit too close to home. “I and Love and You” is one of those, and their new album, The Carpenter, features another: “Live and Die.”

It’s not because it’s emotionally suffocating. No, I know enough of those. It’s because it asks for more. To be more of yourself. To be more for someone else. And I’ve come to realize that I’m a person who always wants more, and sometimes, it’s hard to slow down.

Let’s have a listen.

The Avett Brothers will be bringing their new songs from The Carpenter to a sold-out Fox Theatre in Saint Louis on Saturday night. We recently had the good fortune of talking to Seth Avett over the phone.

So, you’re going to be here Saturday at The Fox. You’ve sort of moved up the ranks here in St. Louis rather quickly. Do you remember any of your previous shows here?

Oh, I remember plenty. I remember plenty. We’ve been playing there for years. We played many shows at Off Broadway. Played at the City Museum. We’ve been all over town. St. Louis has always been really good to us, and I’ve heard nothing but great things about the Fox Theatre, so I’m really looking forward to that.

Should be a great venue for you. Can you talk about these new songs from The Carpenter and how they’re doing in the live setting?

Sure. Probably about half, well, maybe a little less than half, we’ve been playing live. One of them, “Down With the Shine,” we’ve been playing that for over two years. We’ve been playing “The Once and Future Carpenter” for probably a year now on stage. A little less than half the record has been road-tested. We left about half of them as kind of a surprise for our fans, so when the record comes out, there are songs that no one has heard. But the downside of that is that you don’t get to practice them on stage and get them in the pocket, so to speak. But, yeah, a lot of them are new to us as well as far as sharing them on stage. A couple of them — we haven’t dealt with those yet, but they’ll get there.

Is that a tough decision to make — because these days, once you play it, it’s out there.

Yeah, it is. When we first started, that wasn’t that much of an issue. We started the band in 2001, and to go out and play in a club, it’s not like someone was going to tape it and put it on YouTube. But, a lot of that — it wouldn’t even matter, you know? Even if we did share new songs, there are still a lot of folks that count on actual recordings, actual records. But yeah, it is something that we’ve had to change and adapt to the new world where everything is shared immediately.

Is it hard to record a song that you haven’t played live yet? Is there a worry that maybe you haven’t given this one enough room to grow?

Yeah, yeah. It’s not so much of a concern as we’re doing it — we take a very short-sighted approach, like, “what’s the very best we can make the song right now?” Whether we have experience of doing it or not. Even some songs that we’ve been playing on the road for two years, we go into the studio, and the way we do them live — it doesn’t work in that setting. But, we just do the best we can with the studio setting and the live setting. And songs — we just leave them open to change. Even after we record them — we try to take that Bob Dylan approach where a song doesn’t always have to be in the key you wrote it in, it doesn’t always have to be in the same tempo – it can change as you change. So, we try to embrace that.

And when I’ve seen you live — any one of your songs can explode at any given moment. Is that one of your favorite parts of playing live?

How do you mean explode, as far as the energy of the audience?

I’m referring to the first time I saw you guys live — I was a litte overwhelmed at a certain point — the energy just took off at one certain moment, and I wasn’t expecting it.


Is that planned? Or are you always surprised when it happens?

Well, I think with songs, we build them after playing them time and time again to get to the soul of them, and never phone it in and never play them like we did the night before or whatever. Always kind of be receptive to what the song should be tonight with the people who are experiencing them right now. We’ve had a couple recently where they’ve been big surprises, and that’s been great. We just let that happen, and if it does happen, great. But we don’t force it; if you try to plan for a climax of a show, a lot of the time, you will fall flat on your face. You have to realize that you’re timing that moment together with an audience, and it can’t be contrived.

And your set changes every night, right?

Every night. Never the same set. We actually only started writing setlists about three years ago, about eight years into the band. Before that, we always called it on stage. And really, we write them a couple hours before the show every night. And they’re very malleable when we get on stage.

I think that’s one of the great things about live music.

Yeah. That spontaneity is a lot of the fun of it. If an act is going to do the exact same thing every night, then you could just listen to the record. That’s what theatre is for, which is a great thing for what that is, but for a band, there should be some room to change every night.

Have you ever paired “Live and Die” with “Die Die Die”? (laughing)

We have not yet. (laughs) We have not yet. It seems more and more there’s all these songs with the theme of death, so I’m sure at some point there’s a possibility.

When I first heard “Live and Die,” it hit me that you’re now more sure of what you’re singing about. Am I on target there?

Maybe. I feel like we’re defnitely more aware that we really need to be behind the themes of the songs and the words out there. We’re the ones who have to sing them, we’re the ones who have to stand behind them, so by the time we’re ready to say, “yes, this is our record,” there’s got to be weight behind the messages. So, I think that is fair.

I guess, to me, it’s just nice to see the evolution of your work and your words.

Thanks so much. That really means a lot. It’s awesome to hear, it really is.

You’re welcome. Okay, finally, you just played Grace Potter’s festival, Grand Point North, in Vermont. How was that?

Oh, it was great, it was great, Incredible landscape, beautiful landscape. Grace is a good friend of ours, it’s always good to see her and her band — they’re all a lot of fun. We were able to catch up a little after her set. Actually, Scott and I, as well as Joe, sang “All You Need Is Love,” that Beatles song, at the end of her set.


Yeah, yeah. It was a celebratory vibe. You can always count on Grace.

I connect you guys with her, because the last time you were in St. Louis, she opened for you.

She’s a good friend. We’ve done quite a few shows together, and there’s talk of more to come. Her festival was so much fun. The landscape was gorgeous, and it was the perfect size. A really nice group of people out there enjoying music.

So, when is the Avett Brothers festival coming?

Oh, man. That’s a good question. We did do a festival in 2006 or 2007 called The Essex in Charlotte. We meant it for something that we were going to do yearly, but our plates have been pretty full. But, it’s in our minds. We just want to make sure if we do it, we do it really well — we don’t want to just throw it together. But, it’s definitely been talked about.

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