“Savannah is awesome,” Seth Avett told Do Savannah recently. “I remember being surprised by some of the variety [at Savannah Music Festival]. I am excited to check it out.”
The Avett Brothers shot to fame as one of the vanguard groups of the folk rock revival of the 2010s. Along with acts like Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers and The Civil Wars, Scott and Seth Avett’s high-energy folk rock has helped revive a love of roots music for a new generation.
Building their compositions on a foundation of traditional folk but adding a rock edge, the Concord, N.C., natives appealed to a miscellany of fans, both young and old alike.
Through the years and nine studio albums, the Avett Brothers have held true to the traditions of Americana music, but always with a spirit of exploration. Over the years, the brothers have grown from writing music with each other to adding two full-time band members in double bassist Bob Crawford and cellist Joe Kwon. They tour with three additional musicians now.
The Avett Brothers are simply a product of their environment. At the base of Appalachia region, in the northern rim of the Bible Belt, there is a melting pot of musical styles. For those raised there, like the Avetts, there is a host of musical styles ever present, from bluegrass on every corner to classic rock on the radio and Top 40 pop on the rim of everything.
“We’re a product, definitely, of where we’re from,” Avett said. “Musically, we are like a lot of other bands and musicians of this time — we’re a mixed pot. We’re the product of being exposed to not only Louie Armstrong and Hank Williams, but to the Beastie Boys and Sex Pistols and so many other things. We love a lot of music.
“We’re sort of an example of a band that takes a lot in and puts it back out through a filter of our North Carolina raising.”
The group’s fifth studio album, 2007’s “Emotionalism,” was the catalyst for a thrust into the national spotlight. It was the first album to feature Kwon and caught the ear of legendary music producer Rick Rubin, which marked a new era for the band. Since 1982, Rubin has won eight Grammy Awards and worked with artists including the Beastie Boys, Jay Z, Public Enemy, Johnny Cash, Slayer, Eminem, Adele and Frank Ocean.
His work with the Avett Brothers began rather simply. Rubin invited the brothers to his home, catching them off guard, after he heard “Emotionalism.”
“Oh my god, Rick Rubin wants us to come to his house to talk,” Avett recalled. “What does that even mean? We didn’t understand what that meant. Is this how Rick works? We were just like OK, Rick Rubin has invited us to his home. That’s the first contact we had with him, was him just inviting us to his house. That’s how it starts.”
The three began a conversation in Rubin’s house that has over the subsequent years blossomed into a highly personal relationship and four Avett Brothers records, including the latest, 2016’s “True Sadness.”
“What’s transpired since that initial meeting is just a really special friendship has grown between us and Rick,” Avett said. “Music is kind of the engine, the medium, that we speak through. But it’s really just a part of the communication. We’re very much aware of what’s going on in each other’s lives. We talked about music and a lot of things.”
Rubin’s exceptional ear has rooted the Avett Brothers’ songwriting and compositional structure over the years in a construction type that is organic and free, yet organized and polished. In the band’s early material, the bedrock of their unique style existed, but with harsher, rough edges. A clear evolution has taken place over the eight-year relationship with Rubin, setting their own growth as musicians on a natural course.
“He guided us, initially, by sort of setting the example in terms of taking your ego out of the process a little bit,” Avett said. “Slowing down and trying to be open to whatever the best answers are in terms of making a song the best it could be, whether it goes the way you think it’s going to or not.
“It’s clear why he’s like that straightaway. He has a great energy in the studio. He’s not heavy handed. He just loves music to death. He could talk about it for hours, and we do. Rick has just become another member of the group, really, and a part of the process.”
For live shows these days, the Avett Brothers pull from their own extensive discography each night, daring to mix it up as much as possible to keep it interesting for themselves and fans. For the Savannah Music Festival shows on March 23 and 24, the brothers will play tunes from their latest album, and reach into their cavernous quiver for something interesting to mix it up for patrons. Seth admitted he’ll know the exact playlist an hour before hitting the stage at Johnny Mercer Theatre.
“We always try to get a few things in there that scare us,” Avett said. “God knows what it will be. But there will be something in there. We’re very much students of the Dylan approach. A song doesn’t always have to be in one certain form. Maybe when it was written, it worked as a simple acoustic, vocal song. Fifteen years later, maybe it makes sense as a rock song, or a polka, or whatever. We try not to limit ourselves on the newest interruption of a song. We definitely want to keep it interesting.”
THE AVETT BROTHERS
When: 8 p.m. March 23 and March 24
Where: Savannah Civic Center, 301 W. Oglethorpe Ave.