Seth Avett counts himself lucky that he's never written a big hit song. The co-frontman of folk rock group the Avett Brothers is making popular records, sure, but he's more than happy to "keep flying along just under the clouds," as he puts it.
"I'm in the position right now where my brother and I can make records, put them out, travel all over the country and the world in different scenarios, and perform songs for people without too much invasion of privacy, and we haven't been pigeonholed in any way," he says. "People don't think of us as a band that wrote that one hook that they know, and they come to the show just to hear that one hook."
Though they may not have one signature song that everyone knows, the Avett Brothers have spent the past decade-plus cultivating their audience and becoming more recognizable, even to just casual indie and folk music fans. The group's last two albums, 2012's The Carpenter and 2013's Magpie and the Dandelion have both charted in the Billboard top 5, and their tours now take them to prestigious gigs at the biggest festivals and headlining nights at amphitheaters and auditoriums.
The current trek they're on takes them through and around Michigan multiple times. After just last month playing the Summer Microbrew & Music Festival in Traverse City, the band plays Caesars Windsor on Tuesday, Sept. Later on, they hit Grand Rapids during Art Prize on Oct. 3, and Ann Arbor at Hill Auditorium on Nov. 6.
"Michigan's been great to us, so it definitely makes sense for us to get back to there often," Avett says.
All this touring comes at an especially hectic time for Avett, who recently welcomed his first child with his wife, actress Jennifer Carpenter. He's been looking at the calendar, he says, and "treating it like a really difficult math problem." The band has cut down its tour schedule in recent years now that most of its members have kids and families, but these extra complications are the kind that anyone would welcome. "It's all very obvious blessings, so I try not to complain too much about it," Avett says.
The Avett Brothers have a new record tentatively scheduled for late 2015 or early 2016, but talking to Seth, it doesn't seem like he writes music for the purpose of making albums. He practices and consistently works on his craft, but making a record only comes along when the band feels familiar enough with their last work and wants to share a new collection of songs with the public.
"Putting a record out, that's a man-made sort of institution," Avett says. "The idea of putting 10 songs on some medium and then putting it out there for sale, that's a man-made structure.
"It's more or less like we're always making a record, we're always making songs, we're always exploring songwriting and playing and learning songs and learning our instruments."
Though he says the record is close to finished, Avett couldn't really describe what it will sound like. The band is working with Rick Rubin for the fourth studio album in a row, but Seth said the band explored a lot of possibilities, and he doesn't yet know what exactly will appear on the album. "Until we're pressing the vinyl, until we turn all the artwork in and all that, it really could be anything," Seth says.
The relatively comfortable spot that the Avett Brothers find themselves in means that they have a pretty good idea of who their audience is and who's listening to their records (many of whom are families, he says). Though he keeps a certain separation between that and the writing process, allowing him to be as honest and real as possible with his songs before deciding whether to share them with the world, he says knowing people will listen to a record comes with its own set of responsibilities. "You're not going to hear me cursing. You're not going to hear a certain level of hopelessness or abject negativity," Avett says.
And even though he's avoided superstardom and huge songs, Avett seems happy that he and his brother Scott have found a community of people who connects to the music that they share. They sing about universal themes, like love, heartbreak, family, and mortality, and they have a great work ethic coupled with a craftsman's devotion to their art — all characteristics that inspire admiration from and intimacy with an audience. Even if he writes a hit song, Avett might not choose to share it, and I wouldn't blame him — he's in such a good place right now, why mess with it?
The Avett Brothers play Caesars Windsor on Tuesday, Sept. 15. 8 p.m.. 19 and up. Tickets range from $46.80 to $82.20 (CAN). The band also plays Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor on Friday, Nov., 6. All ages. Tickets are $45 - $59.50