Avett Brothers weathering changes
A couple of things strike you when you see the Avett Brothers in concert a few times: Brothers Seth and Scott and the band are hard-working, energetic musicians, and no two shows are alike. It’s about spontaneity and change.
“Our general attitude is not to put restrictions on ourselves,” Seth Avett says by phone from his North Carolina home. “The show will change as we go along, as long as we don’t unnaturally force it to be the same. We don’t think like that. It’s just like in life — if you start putting labels on who you are, you box yourself in. You make it impossible to have that path of change.”
So expect Thursday and Friday’s shows at the Fillmore Detroit to differ from the last few times the North Carolina brothers performed at Michigan venues. Not only are they promoting a new record, “True Sadness,” but the pair and their band members have experienced a lot of life changes: marriage, divorce, children and illness in recent years.
That’s not to say fans should not expect some Avett Brothers staples, which could include “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise,” “Laundry Room,” or their signature, “I and Love and You,” from their 2009 album of the same name. There’s bluegrass, rock and folk favorites from “The Carpenter” and other albums. And given their affinity for other musical genres, random covers of country, Americana or gospel standards are possibilities.
“The show is all about being enjoyable. Every night is totally different,” Seth says, noting the band recently played successive nights in beautiful old-school theaters in two Midwest cities and each show was unique. “We’re always looking for the balance between playing songs that are appropriate for the night, to what’s expected of us, to what’s sparking us right now. It makes us nervous but it’s exciting.”
The changes are evident on “True Sadness,” their ninth full-length album; they’re not only thematic but also aesthetic. “There are some synthetic textures on the record that have never been present in our records before. Again, that’s part of the process of changing. It’s imperative to embrace that,” Seth says.
Some songs from “True Sadness” performed at recent tour stops have included “Divorce Separation Blues,” a humorous but also serious number with yodeling, the catchy “Smithsonian,” as well as the album’s title track.
“It was kind of a bizarre moment in my life where I was just far enough away from that internal turmoil and the pain and the beginning of the next chapter, that I could write a song about it,” says Seth, whose divorce inspired “Divorce Separation Blues.” “Any tragedy you experience, it’s not that you think about how can I turn this into a song. That doesn’t feel right. It took quite a while before I could even entertain the idea of answering that sort of inspiration.”
“Smithsonian,” mostly penned by Scott, “is a comment about getting old. It’s the absurdity of thinking that you’re on a singular journey, that everything you experience is brand new,” Seth says. In the playful chorus, Scott rejoices, “Call the Smithsonian. I made a discovery. Life ain’t forever, and lunch isn’t free.”
If the record’s title track suggests songs solely of sadness, they’re far from it. “We’re producers of art and music. I’ve always loved early American roots music and blues — in that music you hear the sad nature of the subject, but it doesn’t always match up to what the song is. Some of the music sounds incredibly uplifting and feels really good, but if you study the lyrics, you find yourself going down a darker path. That’s intriguing to me.”
“If you grow into adult and you survive long enough, you will be overwhelmed by the pain of living a life,” he says. “We have found that that’s all right. It’s got to be all right ... you’ll experience great joy and immense sadness simultaneously and that’s a theme that doesn’t go away. That’s the idea behind the record. It’s not mean to be dark or macabre and it does have a brightness to it. It’s one more example of the contrasts we like.”
Greg Tasker is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.
The Avett Brothers
7 p.m. Thursday and Friday
2115 Woodward, Detroit