Note: I was given the opportunity to write a short article for The Daily Reflector (Greenville, NC). While it’s hard to fit a 15 minute interview into a 600-800 word piece, I did my best and sent it on to the editor. Here it is: Mixer article.
However, here is the interview in its entirety, because it deserves to be shared!
Prior to tearing up the stage with a rowdy, boot stompin’ performance at this year’s Mountain Jam festival, Scott Avett (of The Avett Brothers) sat down with me to talk about the festival experience, staying “green” on tour, giving back, their next album, and surprisingly his love for John Oates. Scott began by talking fondly about his time at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC:
Scott: Greenville is really special to me. I learned a lot in Greenville…the hard way.
Me: You still have some connections there in the art department, right?
Scott: Yeah, I still go work in the printing department and still keep in touch with some of the professors.
Me: Well that’s nice. I am sure they appreciate that.
Scott: Yeah, me too, because with the painting and everything, that is still very much a part of what I do and I could use the inspiration.
Me: So in the last Crackerfarm video of you in the ECU print shop, what were those funny hats?
Scott: (laughs) Those were just pirate hats that somebody brought in and we just threw them on!
Me: That’s funny. So this is your second year at Mountain Jam?
Scott: It is, it is, yeah. It seems like no time passed at all.
Me: In planning your tour, what makes you decide to come back to the same festival year after year? Is it the feel of the festival or timing?
Scott: Timing is good. And you know, festivals are good because they add a lot of variety to the schedule. So, anything from stage, feel, to demographics. We really have been to a lot of places and it’s odd how different the festivals are. Sometimes that [demographic] reaction can sort of spawn an energy that’s good that you want to go recreate or take it to the next step.
(Side note: We were nicely interrupted by a massage therapist who was going around telling all of the artists about the free massage tent. Scott laughed and said, “Oh man, y’all must have heard about me…must of heard about how bad of shape I’m in.” He graciously thanked (of course) her and we continued on…)
Me: What was your first impression of Mountain Jam last year?
Scott: You know this is a raw festival. I think its placement and its area is so rich in history with Dylan and Levon Helm and everything. So that bodes well for it and adds to the energy. There’s no doubt about it. But last year our experience was very raw, very ruckus and fun…dusty…sweaty!
Me: That’s good! It’s a little different from playing somewhere like Bojangles Coliseum.
Scott: Yeah, well this time of year the festivals can get that way, and they are good. It’s good for us! I definitely prefer them at this point. I’ve gone through stages where the theaters are where you want to be in the presentation of what you are doing, but I am a little more fly by night right now in the way I feel a show should be. So these festivals are a little better and a little more spontaneous.
Me: Do you guys get to enjoy the other artists or is it all business?
Scott: No, but we have friends that will be here that we will perform with and interact with and get to see, but (leaning forward and looking out the tent) I see a band over there playing and that’s about as close as I’ll get.
Me: Grace Potter and Nicole Atkins will be here tomorrow, but you wont get to see them?
Scott: No, but Nicole will be around today (with a sheepish grin)
Me: Oh, so maybe we will get a little special treat for later!?
Scott: Yeah, maybe.
(Side note: Sadly Nicole’s guitarist was ill and she didn’t arrive in time to play with The Avett Brothers. I think all parties involved were sad!)
Me: So, I have been to a few festivals and they all seem to have a different feel. The feeling I get from Mountain Jam is geared towards educating the audience about environmental issues, and not necessarily picking artists because of their “environmental” message, but probably picking artists who feel that is important. Is that important to you and the rest of the band when you come to a music festival?
Scott: Yes, it is. It is important to keep “it” (being environmentally minded) right before you instead of getting too worldly to where it’s overwhelming. You know, you are going through the day and you could recycle one bottle, so it’s just one little step at a time. I think it’s important not to get too caught up with the “big picture” as this one fell swooping.
Me: Do you guys have rules on the tour bus for living “green”?
Scott: We all know that [being green] is the best way, but sometimes survival just can’t…if you let your principles get in the way of your product, your quality, your life, it might…it might be…suicide (chuckles).
Me: So is it difficult to take what you do at home out on the road?
Scott: Oh absolutely! It has gotta change, because those are very different lives.
Me: So, do you have recycling bins on the bus?
Scott: Yeah, we do recycle as much as we can. But, for example, if you fill the front lounge area with water bottles everybody’s agitated and angry because there are water bottles everywhere, so you have to be smart about it. Right, Dane? (Scott laughs and looks over to Dane who is sitting in the corner). Dane is our tour manager. He has to keep up with us, so he’s definitely aggravated (as he chuckles). No, but honestly, we all try to stay really aware about that kind of stuff.
Me: Beyond the little things you do to stay “green” in your personal life, you all played two very cool shows last year that really helped out local farms in Portland, OR and the CFSA in NC. Those types of shows are obviously very important to The Avett Brothers. Do you have to search out those opportunities or are they typically just presented to you?
Scott: Yes, those are very important to us, and they typically come to us more so these days because there is more money generated with more fans. We don’t typically have to go searching for it, but if there is a specific cause we want to help with, we will go after it.
Me: You have done a lot with the tornado relief efforts recently. How have those experiences been for you all?
Scott: That is really the least we can do, and definitely have not done enough. There’s nothing that is going to change the terrible nature of that except for time. We are so lucky to be able to do something that we enjoy, and we don’t deserve it anymore than anybody else. To truly want to help people…to honestly want to do that, it can’t be taxed, not in the literal sense of the word taxed, but to order or direct someone to help people is not real, it’s not honest, and it’s not sustainable. If we are fortunate enough to have such an enjoyable life, these opportunities, and these great moments, we need to remember how grateful we should be without someone ordering us or demanding that we share that. We need to share that. The moment we stop doing that, than it’s all poisoned. We remind each other of that and try to keep that presence about us now that we are moving. The wheels are turning…there is a backlog now. There’s no turning back. There’s no stopping. So we have to just share, if it’s good feelings or a couple of bucks, it just has to be done.
Me: I think that you have a great influence on your fan base, who you really make feel like family. That feeling really spreads.
Scott: Well, we all are [family]. When people refer to us as “family oriented people” or “family matters”, to look at it thoroughly and in detail, it’s not about my brother and my dad and my mom and daughter. It’s beyond that, and it’s a much bigger unit, the family. It’s the world.
Me: From your perspective can you feel how powerful that is? Do you feel how much influence you have on making people happy and how that is passed on to others? If you go on and read the boards, it’s pretty amazing!
Scott: (big laugh) Well, I don’t read the boards, but I am told. But it has to be one step at a time. If I harness that as a big picture like you are saying, it’s dangerous for me. So, one day at a time and I will take your word for it. I am glad to hear that, and I hear it from other people. That is terrific. I just try to keep it in perspective. If there is something we can do today, that is great. If not, hopefully tomorrow there will be. There is always something it is just a matter of if you have the energy to go out and seek it.
Me: Does that ever feel like a burden?
Scott: (emphatically) No. No. We are not ministers or part of the Red Cross or anything, so we’re not burdened by that type of service. Even though it might end up translating into that eventually, indirectly. We get a lot of enjoyment out of it. Hopefully, it’s just in harmony with all of that.
Me: How did you all get paired up with John Oates for your Vermont show last night?
Scott: We worshiped Hall and Oates when we were kids. I mean I worshiped him! I mean that was as big as Bob Dylan any day of the week to me. Not to a lot of people, but their music when I was 8 years old was forming who I am right now. So he just asked if we wanted to do something. So we said let’s do it! He asked if we wanted to do one of our songs or their songs and we said neither, let’s just do a Bob Dylan tune!
Me: Cool! Well, besides maybe a guest appearance from Nicole Atkins today, any other surprises for today’s set?
Scott: Well…Simon Felice is around here somewhere but I’m not sure if he will make it on stage with us. He’s a terrific guy. He recorded with us on I and Love and You.
Me: Finally, I read a quote from Bob somewhere that the new album isn’t due out until the end of next year?
Scott: Oh no, no… I don’t know when it’s due. That would be pretty late. We are well in the process of it and well passed the halfway mark. If it maintains we would finish the record this year. It’s just a matter of when and how it will come out.
Me: Well we are all looking forward to hearing it.
Scott: Thank you. Thank you very much.
We finished the interview with a hand shake, some smiles, and well wishes. A few hours later the entire mountain, sprinkled with both old and new Avett fans, had the privilege of witnessing one of the most energetic and magnetic sets of the weekend. While their set featured several songs from their I and Love and You album, we did get a few old favorites from their albums Four Thieves Gone and Emotionalism, along with a guest appearance from their dear friend Simon Felice and an encore Dylan cover to top it off. The Avett Brothers continue their tour throughout the US and Europe well into the Fall, so check them if they come anywhere near you. Trust me, you will leave as one of the family, and it’s a pretty cool family to be a part of if I do say so myself.
For more information about the band, please pay a visit to their website. I must end with a huge “thank you” to Dane Honeycutt for arranging the interview, and to the gracious Scott Avett for taking the time to chat with me.