The Avett Brothers have been described as “grunge grass,” “punk grass” and “Roert E. Lee playing with the Ramones.” Their high-energy performances have scandalized bluegrass purists but delighted fans: they were identified by Rolling Stone as a band to watch in 2009 and have appeared this year on David Letterman’s and Jimmy Kimmel’s shows.
The four-man ensemble includes the two actual Avett brothers, Scott and Seth, as well as bassist Bob Crawford and cellist Joe Kwon.Kwon and the Avetts all grew up in small United Methodist churches in North Carolina. Clegg Avett, the Avetts’ grandfather, was a Methodist minister in western North Carolina.
In live performances they throw themselves around the stage, as Esquire magazine says, “in the best campfire, hootenanny sing-along tradition.” Yet their songwriting has the delicacy and truth of the very best sermons. Faith & Leadership’s Jason Byassee interviewed Seth Avett by e-mail about tradition and innovation, handling success, being both playful and serious, and the church. The following is an edited version of the interview.