Tales of Rubin’s Mythology
The Avett Brothers’ Indie Handbook
Words by Martin Halo
St. Louis, Missouri — Scott Avett stands under a hot stoplight in Greenwood, South Carolina. His eyes focus down on the electronic guitar tuner under his tattered boot. It serves as Avett’s only private salvation from the thoughts racing through his head. A bead of sweat drips from his brow while the muffled screams of an adoring audience intrudes on the brief moment of comfort and absolute solitude.
His emotions and nerves had become accustomed to the gripping cocktail of anxiety and adrenaline from performing in-front of an audience, but he is about to dive head first into the most bizarre request the band had ever received from a club owner. Avett’s eyes look out into the sea of silhouettes before quickly returning to the floor. His mouth approaches the microphone.
The owner was a unicycle pro and was holding a contest in the club after the set. He asked the band if they wanted to participate, and if in-between songs they could keep pointing towards the sign-up booth.
“If you could successfully ride the unicycle across the room you would score $250 bucks”, laughs Bob Crawford, long-time Avett Brothers bassist. It was a moment of comic relief which grounded the band in a time of unhinged success after releasing their sixth LP, I and Love and You, on Columbia Records back in fall of 2009.
“We were confident we could weather any storm”, says Crawford on the decision to join Rick Rubin’s Columbia Records after a long-standing run at the independent North Carolina based Ramseur Recordings. “We were confident that if we made the worst record we had ever made in our lives that we could survive it to see another day — once again independent and once again up to the quality we believed. We got a call from an A&R rep on behalf of Rick Rubin. She mentioned he wanted to meet us and invited us to his house. That is how it all started.”
Led by brothers Scott and Seth Avett, the band recorded a string of regional albums, Mignonette  and Four Thieves Gone: The Robbinsville Sessions , before their breakthrough critical masterpiece Emotionalism .
“We went to Rick’s house in Malibu and talked about music for about an hour on his back porch. There was nothing negative about it”, he says. “Rick Rubin lives up to his mythology. I envisioned this zen, mellow vibe from a record producer with a really long beard. That is exactly what the experience was like. He is a guy who truly loves music and if you ever get the chance to watch him sit and work, there is no doubt he is constantly listening to new things.”
Coming off the critical success of Emotionalism, the band’s most poignant and cohesive release to date, Scott and Seth Avett retreated briefly between tour legs for their final Ramseur Records pressing, the EP Gleam II. Meanwhile, the wheels of the industry where changing. Rick Rubin made the move to head of Columbia Records in May of 2007 and the LA office was beginning to look at the sustained sales and growing success of established independent acts. At the time, the Avett Brothers and manager Dolphus Ramseur were finding rare success and were serving as the benchmark to the independent survival guide to the music industry.
“I remember at the time when we were negotiating with Columbia there was an article in Rolling Stone or SPIN about Nine Inch Nails leaving a major label and going independent”, explains Crawford. “We felt like we had so much success independently already and we were about to swim against the tide. Everyone was heading out on their own and here we were going to a major. That felt a little weird”, he admits. “We had accomplished what very few have done and here we were now trying to go the other way. The path we took to get to Columbia felt good to us. We were making the songs we wanted to make and we were making them the way we wanted to make them. Because of Columbia we can put out things like a deluxe box set, which we always wanted to do. We can make the records we want to make, we can shoot the videos we want to shoot…. because we can afford to do them.”
“Those were things that we couldn’t do at Ramseur, but now Dolphus is still our manager. We have the best of both possible worlds right now”, he offers.
“We never played a song 50 times in a row until we met Rick Rubin. He wanted us to be able to have that discipline and to be able to make subtle changes along the way. It was a process that made us better musicians. You don’t know what something will sound like, and that is something I think we will take with us forever.””
– Bob Crawford of The Avett Brothers
With contract negotiations finalized, the band convened at Rubin’s home in Malibu, California for what would become the sessions for I, and Love, and You.
“We did a record called Four Thieves Gone: The Robbinsville Sessions  and we were hauled up in this mountain house for like a week in western North Carolina. We didn’t leave the house and we worked 12 hours a day. It was exactly the same vibe with this record. We lived in the house that we worked in exactly one mile from the Pacific Ocean. It was very beautiful wherever you went and we spent 12 hours a day working on these songs”, Crawford explains.
“Rick encouraged us to play songs over and over again. He wanted us to rehearse a lot and try to find different approaches to playing songs. We never played a song 50 times in a row until we met Rick Rubin. He wanted us to be able to have that discipline and to be able to make subtle changes along the way. It was a process that made us better musicians. You don’t know what something will sound like and that is something I think we will take with us forever.”
The Avett Brothers released LIVE: Volume 3 back on October 5, 2010 a DVD/LP recorded at the Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte, NC. The commercial release comes in conjunction with a performance at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. But this time around, the Brothers won’t be bumming a pillow at Nicole Atkins’ place as the Jersey songstress is currently supporting West Coast dates with the Black Keys.
“Nicole Atkins and the Avetts are all from the same breed, and we are out in the world doing what we love to do. I’m from New Jersey”, explains Crawford, and during the Olympics in 1996 I ended up in Charlotte, North Carolina. I landed a job and was working as a production assistant on TV commercials. I needed somewhere to live. I went to the University of North Carolina and ripped an ad off the wall for $200 a month room and fell in with a bunch of kids who went to school there, one being Nicole Atkins. Nicole and I played in the same group of bands and she ended up graduating and moving back to New Jersey. When the Avett Brothers were booking their first tour on the internet, I called Nicole to see if she could help us get some gigs around New York. When we play gigs we stayed with her in her various apartments and continued to do so over the years.”
As far as future plans for the band, “It would be perfectly natural to think that we would probably start recording a new record next year. We are well on our way”, concludes Crawford.
TheWaster.com | Columbia