While I was at SXSW last month, I had the opportunity to attend the premiere of the new documentary May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers, which will screen on HBO later in the year. The North Carolina band were in attendance and so I got to sit down with groups three original members, Scott Avett, Seth Avett and Bob Crawford, to talk about working with Directors Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio on the project, which documents the band making their latest record, True Sadness.
What an exciting day for you guys
Seth: No doubt
Are you nervous at all to show a different part of yourselves to your fans and potentially some new audiences too?
Seth: I don’t know. Maybe a little bit. It’s definitely an honest portrait, there’s nothing sensationalized about it at all. We’re in it so it’s hard to gauge how entertaining or boring it might be to someone who doesn’t know who we are. I hear it’s entertaining, I’ve seen it once, I think it’s a great film, and I think that regardless of my nerves around it, which there are a little bit, it’s just good. It’s a good thing to share. And I don’t know how well you know our music, but we’re pretty good at sharing.
You always have been. But you don’t always have multiple cameras in your face while you’re making a new record.
Seth: That’s true. Plus, when you release a record, no matter how vulnerable it is, or no matter how honest it is, you’re the one that gets to pick what gets released. This one was out of our hands, this was Judd (Apatow) and Mike (Bonfiglio)’s thing. They share whatever they want to from it, and we got into a really comfortable position with those cameras on us, but I don’t know. It’s honest. Whether it shines a good or bad light, I think it’s good.
Do you think it impacted the process of making the record at all?
Seth: Oddly I don’t think it did. I think that if we had tried to have cameras there even two years before we did, I don’t think that we would have been ready. But at this point in our lives I feel that Scott and I are finally in a place where we can do our work in front of people, and do whatever we’ve got to do and not have it be too much of a factor. So yeah I don’t feel like it did. If anything it affected it positively, because we liked the guys in the film crew. We ended up having a great comradery with them, so it ended up being a great experience.
Bob: No, and that’s great, we were making a record and they were making a documentary about us making a record. And not one moment did one thing inhibit the other. The making of the record was paramount. That’s what we were there to do. So that was really great. We were easily able to separate those things.
Scott: You know I wish I could say there was this shock and we fell apart for a moment and came back, but I’m watching the film and it’s pretty obvious I forgot the cameras were there. I’m seeing how I’m acting, I’m like “yep, I had definitely forgotten”. I am definitely embarrassed by my real self. Which is a good feeling. Because whenever we’re writing songs we’re trying to get to that. We’re trying to forget that we’re writing a song for an audience, we’re trying to write from a real place. We’re trying to worry about the end product, just trying to live and be real, sincere with ourselves. It’s the real us up there on screen. And if that’s sensational, then great, if it’s not, then great. It is what it is. I’m excited to be a part of exemplifying that.
What started the process of bringing this film to the screen?
Bob: Scott (Avett) and Judd (Apatow) were communicating and we had just begun that demo process for the new record. There’s a cycle that begins with Scott and Seth, and Judd said, why don’t we just come out and film that. Let’s see how it goes and take it one step at a time. And there was never a point in the process where we felt like we shouldn’t be doing it. So we didn’t know what the story was going to be. You never know as you’re making a documentary. That’s the beauty of it. The themes make themselves apparent through the process. So that’s how it started. Then it was two more years and it played itself out.
Did anything surprise you during that two year process?
Bob: I mean it was different for us. We’ve had a guy following us around for almost the whole time we’ve been together. 16 years. We have footage going back to the very beginning. And we have a full time videographer that works with us. So we’re used to the filming process. But it’s always on our terms. Like, we’re going to cover this song and film it. SO this was a different process with it being a crew we didn’t know, and being there all the time.
Did the trust have to develop over time?
Bob: I think Scott and Seth did a lot better with it than I did. Some people are more natural to that. Some days you wake up and you’re not in a great mood and you really don’t want cameras. But they’re there, and you just try to do the best you can with it.
Scott, what was it like for you working with Judd, Mike and the crew.
Scott: Just super nice, easy, seamless… we had become friends before (with Judd), and he’d wanted to do it as a labour of love, so it was all good all the way around.
Judd was a big fan then?
Scott: I like to think he was a massive fan. That security was trying to keep him away from us. But no, he’s just a serious music fan. The first couple of conversations we had, he introduced me to musicians, like Loudon Wainwright III. That changed my life. I just hadn’t committed myself to listening to Loudon yet, that was just food for me. So he cares.
We’ve got to get you back down here! It’s been too long since we’ve seen you down in Australia!
Scott: It’s time.
New record. New documentary…
Scott: Yep. It’s high time.
How are the songs from True Sadness shaping up live?
Bob: You know we’re not the kind of band who records a new record and then goes out and just plays the new record, and a couple of old songs. These songs though have naturally made their way into the setlist and… you know when we start playing songs live off a record, they don’t stop growing, they don’t stop changing as they age. And the True Sadness songs are doing that as we speak. Think about all the albums we made as a three piece, and now we’re a seven piece band, we’re not going to lose those (early) songs, and we’re not going to play them without the great band we have. So that takes rearranging.
Well congratulations on the film, and the record… I can’t wait to learn more about it here.
Scott: I’m so glad you’re here, and hopefully we’ll get to see you down in Australia soon!
May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers will screen on HBO in the US later this year. Australian release details are to be confirmed. The latest Avett Brothers record True Sadness is out now.
Photo by Crackerfarm