When the southern folk rock sound of the Avett Brothers seeps out of the speakers, the group’s influences come with it. Merle Haggard. Willie Nelson. Neil Young. Tom Waits. They all ring clear. And then, of course, there’s the huge hip-hop influence.
No, really. “The hip-hop would be an interesting choice for a lot of people because I don’t think it comes through when you’re speaking genres,” says front man Scott Avett. “But that’s definitely a huge inspiration.”
The idea of rigid divisions between genres strikes Scott as a ridiculous notion for someone who draws heavily from both Townes Van Zandt and the Pixies. While much of the Avett Brothers’ music reverberates with slow back-roads pacing and an easy molasses sweetness, occasionally the unexpected sounds buried deeper in the group’s psyche rise to the top.
An example: on the single “Slight Figure Of Speech” from the band’s latest record I and Love and You, the band creates a power-pop ode that’s structured around Scott’s love for ‘90s pop rock groups.
But then the breakdown arrives, and Scott is spitting out lyrics with a speed that screams hip-hop. The shift is unexpected, but the song feels distinctly Avett Brothers.
It’s a combination that represents the band’s commitment to being themselves (not to mention a combination that is only enhanced by their killer live energy). Much of the band’s initial success came via word-of-mouth raves about their concerts, which led to a wide swath of people — rock fans, folk fans, hip-hop fans — jumping on the Avett Brothers’ band-wagon. The band has a hyper-devoted fan base — some of which even follow the band around from gig to gig The fact that people with starkly different musical tastes can be brought together by his band is a point of pride for Scott. He thinks it makes for a better community atmosphere when people can leave their biases at the door and just enjoy the tunes. As the band has toured the country playing festivals with indie, folk and country themes, the genre distinctions seem to grow more and more trivial anyway, he says.
“Let’s bring up Neil Young.
Where would you put Neil Young in a record store? In the country? In the rock? In the folk? You know, which one is it?” he says. “It’s all of them. And I think we’re in a time in music where that is happening quite a bit now.”
What is clear is that the Avett Brothers are — first and foremost — rooted in a folk songwriting tradition. But he says the core mission of the band is to tell truthful stories to connect with people from all walks of life and bring them together. And despite the band’s inclination toward genre blending, that commitment towards being honest is what Scott says produces the most authentic and honest music that they can make. It helps them to know what limits them — but also helps them learn which rules they want to break.
“Musically and artistically, I think that [authenticity is] relying on your natural ability and your natural instruments, and knowing your range and knowing your limitations and knowing when to push them,” he says. “You know, knowing when to try and break through them.”
The Avett Brothers play the Bing Crosby Theater on Tuesday, July 20, at 8 pm. Tickets: $30 - $35. All-ages. Visit ticketswest.com or call (800) 325-SEAT.