The Avett Brothers have played enough festivals and high-profile shows that you’d think they’d be hard to impress.
But when the Americana band opened for The Rolling Stones in Raleigh, North Carolina, on July 1, the significance wasn’t lost on them.
“I don’t imagine that it gets any bigger than them,” Avett Brothers’ bassist Bob Crawford said recently in a phone interview. “These are situations that you’re blessed to find yourself in, and you have to own that moment. They’re something special you get to do along the way. You can’t open for The Beatles anymore. You can’t see Led Zeppelin.”
On Saturday night, The Avett Brothers will come to New Orleans, where they’ll play Champions Square.
For more than a decade, The Avett Brothers have worked to balance their home and creative lives. Scott and Seth Avett have played together since 1998, and Crawford joined them on bass in 2002. There were years when they toured constantly, but now the band is bigger and more established.
Its touring schedule is less relentless. The Avett Brothers play roughly 80 dates a year, but they space them out so that they have three or four days at home, then go play for a weekend. Take a week off, then tour for a week.
They spend December and the dead of winter at home, and they work hardest in the summer. The tour that brings them to New Orleans will last through October with a few two-week breaks dotted throughout.
That schedule has allowed the band valuable balance, which is even more important since Scott and Seth Avett both became fathers recently.
And they work on new music in a similarly off-and-on manner instead of locking themselves into the studio for weeks to bash out an album.
“We’re working on a record that we started in November,” Crawford said. “We’ve been coming back to it ever since periodically.”
Recording for The Avett Brothers is a process of discovering songs, then deciding which of those belong on the album.
“We always do twice as much as we need to do,” Crawford said. They will try songs a number of different ways to figure out which works best, and record more parts than songs might finally need.
“We have learned that if you have a good song, that it’s worth it to take it to that final stage and then decide,” Crawford said. “So we don’t leave anything un-fleshed out. This is as much a Scott and Seth thing as it is a (producer) Rick Rubin thing, but someone will say, ‘I’ve got this idea.’ Then you get halfway through it and say, ‘I don’t know if it should go this way or that way.’ ”
Nine times out of ten, they try it both ways and see which they like better.
“You have to mock things up,” Crawford said. “We need to hear the idea to understand the idea.”
Working with Rubin has coincided with a growth in The Avett Brothers’ popularity.
Previously their records could be nakedly emotional, but a rowdy, punk rock sensibility also filtered in, and their enthusiasm could make the finest instruments sound like thrift shop cast-offs. Onstage, there was no instrument that they couldn’t batter into scrubby submission.
Rubin started as a hip-hop producer working with Def Jam artists LL Cool J, Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys, but went on to produce a broad range of artists including Slayer, The Black Crowes and Johnny Cash at the end of his career.
Rubin first produced The Avett Brothers’ major label debut, 2009’s “I and Love and You,” which smoothed out some of the rough edges and fleshed out the songs to better support the Avetts’ emotionally present songwriting.
“He’s a fine-tooth comb guy,” Crawford said of Rubin, who encouraged them to take the time to make their music what it should be. “It’s ready when it’s ready.”
Working with Rubin reshaped the band’s process, but it wasn’t an easy adjustment. “We were overly confident in the beginning,” Crawford said, but they were open to what they could learn from him.
Until those sessions, when the largely acoustic Avett Brothers needed a drum, either Seth or Scott Avett would play a kick drum with more enthusiasm than precision.
They brought in a drummer at Rubin’s insistence. Some fans felt like something essential had been lost in the more refined “I and Love and You,” but not Crawford.
“We were heading in that direction,” he said. “We were ready for him. We were trying to be as refined as possible musically while maintaining a wildness and an innocence. It took ‘We’re working with Rick Rubin’ to make us really discipline ourselves.”