avett major

the avett brothers: bob crawford, seth avett and scott avett. photo by crackerfarm.

the avett brothers perform at the kentucky theatre on tuesday. from left: bob crawford, seth avett and scott avett. photo by crackerfarm.

For years, the Avett Brothers operated as a sort of rootsy, indie antiquity in motion.

A banjo, stand up bass and guitar outfit from the bluegrass-rich regions of North Carolina, the band’s music was one part rustic, literate acoustic charm and two parts seething rock ‘n’ roll. And with every album cut for the independent Ramseur Records label, the band’s fanbase grew.

Well, a growth spurt was bound happen sooner or later. The trio of guitarist Seth Avett, banjoist Scott Avett and unofficial sibling but fully indoctrinated “brother” bassist Bob Crawford have caught the ears of the major labels – specifically, American/Columbia Records. Not only that, their first non-indie project, a new album set for release later this summer called I and Love and You, teamed the band with one of the record industry’s most esteemed producers, Rick Rubin.

So how does the change sit with the Avetts? Will jumping from the indie ranks to cutting an American album with Rubin puncture the intimacy and organic energy of the brothers’ rambunctious string band sound?

“We’re a major label act now,” Johnson said. “We can’t deny that at this moment. But we’re kind of dancing with the one that brung us, you know what I’m saying? That said we haven’t really changed our attitudes about what we’re doing since the days when me, Seth and Scott we’re touring around in a pick up truck.

“What’s happening now is simply the next step on the ladder for us. If you listen to each album, you will see a maturing process even though you will not notice any great change in the music. We have learned what works and what doesn’t. And then we simply modified.”

Many might argue that making a record with Rubin – whose client list has included Metallica, Tom Petty, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Johnny Cash – isn’t merely a step up on a ladder. It’s more like an express move to the penthouse.

“Rick is very patient, very thoughtful and very mellow,” Crawford said. “He’s a meticulous note-taker with an eye for detail. He can hear a song and break down the parts like the workings of a clock. And he is very aware, as we are, of the importance of each word in a lyric.

“It was a really nice collaboration. As someone who has been playing music for a long time, I can tell you there are perceptions that go with making a major label album – things like people being difficult and demanding. None of that materialized. None of the nightmare scenarios ever materialized.

“The thing is you can’t dwell on any of this. I mean, working with Rick Rubin? Who could have fathomed that? But then it happens, it is what it is and you keep moving. We just have to keep moving.”

One could have sensed the majors would eventually call on the Avetts. The leap in visibility between the band’s 2005 concert recording, Live, Vol. 2, and its briskly selling 2007 studio album Emotionalism was considerable. In fact, the trio’s Lexington fanbase was essentially established in full during that time through shows at The Dame. And as the popularity grew so did the size of the venues the Avetts played.

This week, in fact, the band is graduating to its first headlining show at the Kentucky Theatre. And the shows and stages are getting even bigger. Already this summer, the Avetts have opened performances by the Dave Matthews Band at sold out arenas. But with that comes another challenge – playing in front of a huge audience that paid to hear someone else.

“It comes back to just doing what we do,” Crawford said. “It takes a show or two to get acclimated to that environment. But I’ll tell you what… it was really pretty cozy up there opening for Dave.

“Still, we do our thing no matter what stage we’re on. The idea of the live show for us has always been ‘pull the cord and let ‘er rip.’ It’s always been like that. So there is a sense of comfort and security that comes with that no matter what environment we’re playing in, whether it’s a festival, a punk club, a theatre or an amphitheatre with Dave in front of 18,000 people. Of course, it’s more like 8,000 when we start our set.

“But empty room, full room, board room, class room – we’ve played just about all of them. The sound systems change. The environments change. We stay the same.”

The Avett Brothers performs at 7 p.m. June 23 at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main. Tickets are $24.50. Call (859) 231-7924.

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