Reporting Shannon Carlin
“We don’t need to say we were up against Kanye,” bassist Bob Crawford said. “Because we would be crushed like a little grape if we were up against Kanye.”
“We were crushed like a little grape,” Scott Avett said, laughing.
Brothers Scott and Seth Avett, along with Crawford, headlined the last night of Governors Ball in New York City this past Sunday (June 9), but it was hard to ignore the hip-hop superstar playing a few stages over.
“His sound bled into our sound,” Crawford said. “So it was kind of like creating a new genre.”
It’s also fair to say that their crowd was a lot smaller than Kanye’s. Not that the Avetts minded. The guys have been trying to adopt a devil-may-care kind of attitude when it comes to things like this.
“For the fans of Kanye, they’re over there watching Kanye. They’re having a good time,” Crawford said. “The people that came to see us were strong and loud and happy to be there and thrilled with it. So it worked out well for everybody.”
Seth agreed, “If your taste leans more towards [Kanye], it’s there for you. If you’re more about us, we’re there for you too. So it’s just a testament to the quality of the festival.”
The day after their headlining gig, the guys sat down with Radio.com to discuss their festival experience, their next album (which is coming this fall), their sustained working relationship with super producer Rick Rubin, and what happens when they get bored musically.
What was it like headlining Governors Ball?
Bob Crawford: Everybody talked about the mud and the challenges everyone had all weekend, but when we got on the stage it felt very comfortable. The stage felt very small in a great way where we were all well connected.
Scott Avett: It wasn’t without its challenges, of course. It is a challenge when you’re playing against a massive star like [Kanye]. We were talking about how we did Coachella a few years ago and Rage Against The Machine was the major act and The Lemonheads, a band we love, were playing at the same time.
Seth Avett: It was the first time Rage played in many years and years and years. It was like, ‘Oh man, don’t book anything else at the same time Rage is reuniting!’
Scott: I’m big on this kick these days, I’m doing nothing but wasting my friends’ time as well as at my family’s expense to not embrace everything good about it. There was so much good to be embraced at last night’s show… Especially when there’s a crowd like last night, super enthusiastic and great to be with.
You mentioned how Kanye’s sound was sort of impeding on yours. Did this force you to change your set in any way?
Seth: There are logistical problems with festivals that have multiple stages and acts playing at the same time as you are. Kanye was playing the same time we were, it’s a big production. It’s a loud bass. You could probably here it in Connecticut. And so it doesn’t make as much sense to be like, ‘Let’s have a really intimate quiet moment.’ It’s more like, ‘Alright we have an hour and a half, we’re not only here to entertain and have a good time and connect with the people,’ but we need to compete with volume, really. And that’s alright, that’s part of the festival experience too.
Your summer schedule is packed with festivals. Why did you decide to spend the next three months on the road at almost exclusively festivals?
Scott: It’s really easy to get uptight in life. We talk about this a lot. Just throwing things away, letting things go. And the festival circuit is a professional way for us to do that. We put a lot of time into writing songs that we think are great, refining them and revising them, making them better. Making the shows better, the theater experience better. Making sweeter backdrops and better lighting. Then you get to the festival and it’s anything goes, everything goes. You have to be okay with a mess and that’s great. It’s really good for us to just say, ‘You know what? Maybe I can’t get transport from here to the bus. Maybe there’s mud everywhere and maybe the sounds messed up and the lighting isn’t what it’s supposed to be. And that’s OK.’
Seth: It really simplifies things down to just getting out there and throwing down, which is pretty much the kind of band we are. We want to be refined but in reality we’re a very ramshackle sort of band. The festival really compliments our way of performance.
It does seem like the festival scene isn’t too kind to acts that can’t roll with the punches.
Scott: The festival strips things down or it makes it harder for any smoke and mirrors. It’s more about: ‘Can you entertain the people with what you’ve got? ‘And we get that opportunity, like Seth said, to just throw down, to just give them what we got. It’s a very exciting thing. The variables make for a dramatic and exciting time.
With your busy touring schedule, when can fans expect the follow-up to last fall’s The Carpenter?
Scott: We should be releasing an album in September, maybe October. The Carpenter was the first installment and this is the other part. We initially thought of this as part two…but we realize it’s its own thing. It’s a very interesting occurrence we didn’t intend. It’s a nice surprise.
Were these songs all written at same time as The Carpenter?
Scott: Some of them are in the works for years — seven, eight years. Others, a year ago. It was all very different. We have a lot of places where songs are hiding within our homes, in our bus, in our bags, in our pockets they just end up here [points to his head]. They’re everywhere and we never know when they’ll come out of the shadows.
You’re working with Rick Rubin again [who produced 2009's I and Love and You and The Carpenter]. How was it different this time around?
Scott: After we worked with him we were inventorying our songs much differently, much quicker. When we brought them to him this time, there was a lot less to go through. A lot less. The songs weren’t distracted. They weren’t as jumbled up, if that makes sense. So the editing process was different. But we recorded more songs and took a lot longer to record because we decided to take them to the end with the mixing and mastering. Hopefully it will be different when we work with him again.
As far as the sound of this new album, is it in the same vein as the last one or something different?
Scott: I think when we were first at this, we thought of changes as atomic bombs. Like we needed to change everything from song to song, from set to set, show to show, day to day. I think we look at changes now — real changes, honest changes — as something subtle. So I think that the changes will be understood and natural from what we’ve done or how we’ve changed in the past two or three recordings that we put out. We’re trying to make plans to record again soon, within the next year, so there’s no telling what it will be like. I think we all know, and we haven’t actually said this, but I think that we may be bored in some ways. And I think it may be of interest to us to shake that boredom off because as creators and as musicians we need that. The fans need what they need and sometimes that’s different. But we need that. We’re all inspired by many things, but we don’t get the opportunity to let that be reflected in what we make. But we can’t stay bored for long.
(The interview has been edited and condensed from a longer video interview.)