With three shows under their belts at Smith’s Olde Bar in the early 2000s, folk-rock band the Avett Brothers were starting to gain some notice around Atlanta, but it was a show at the Drunken Unicorn to celebrate the grand opening of the Poncey-Highland tattoo shop 13 Roses that sticks out for singer-banjo player Scott Avett.
“That was a night I’ll never forget,” Avett says. “The whole thing was kind of bizarre but beautiful. (Tattoo artist) Watson Atkinson’s got a knack for putting on an event. He was very instrumental in bringing us to more people in Atlanta.”
The North Carolina-based group – which also consists of Scott’s brother Seth on guitar, bassist Bob Crawford and cellist Joe Kwon – has certainly come a long way since then. They’re touring behind their eighth full-length album, the Rick Rubin-produced “Magpie and the Dandelion,” including two dates in Atlanta this Friday and Saturday, with openers Emmylou Harris and Gov’t Mule.
Scott Avett discussed his take on success, his relationship with his brother and his passion for creative outlets other than music from his art studio in North Carolina.
Q: You have a degree in painting and you’re a pretty serious artist. With the success you’ve found in music, why is it still important to you to continue to paint?
A: To me, “making it” or success as far as in the creative world, that to me is complete baloney. Everything that I do, from songwriting to writing poetry to painting, each thing leads me to the next. It’s all part of the package. The way we were coming up around the time we played in Atlanta, we looked at it as being as much of a visual experience as a musical experience. I still think of it that way. There’s always room for development and progress and really just creation. I’m trying to create as many things as I can
Q: You’ve tried out for a couple of movies recently, including a role in the Coen Brothers movie “Inside Llewyn Davis.” How did you decide to pursue acting?
A: That came to me. It’s not something I have any knowledge in, it’s not my business. The opportunities I’ve had as far as auditioning for certain roles have come to me, and I thought what’s the difference? It’s just another form of creation. Also, the acting completely informs the writing. Whether it’s poetry or books or something else, one thing informs the next thing.
It’s bizarre, you just find yourself in positions where you’re reading with somewhere and you’re like, “How did I get here? What in the world am I doing?” I read with Anne Hathaway, and that woman is brilliant, while I have zero experience. I have no idea what I’m doing. It was very thought-provoking. The next time I do it, I will have learned things the hard way. It’s quite a blessing. It’s different for a musician. Musicians and visual artists, they promote themselves. They make something that’s an expression of themselves. And an actor – their selves are in there, but what they’re doing is promoting a character that’s outside. It’s a completely different craft. You can’t just rely on who you are, you have to get outside of who you are.
Q: You’ve been playing with your brother in bands for more than a decade. How has your dynamic evolved over the years?
A: Seth and I are very different people, we have very different ideals. People might not know that part of what we do relies on those differences, they might think it’s all in harmony. But I think our differences are as much a tool in what we do as anything. Early on, we had the little brother-big brother dynamic. I was older, and I bullied him around and told him what to do, just big brother things. But as we got out into the world, I was very protective of him. We had some big arguments, because he had to make it clear that he was going to do this or that. If he was going to stay out all night in some strange city in Europe, he was going to do that. He wasn’t going to do what I told him to do – I wasn’t his boss. I was his partner, but not his boss. Working that out took years for us. Now, we’ve grown up, and we know that’s a younger man’s battle. That doesn’t change the fact that we have these differences, but we have to just let go. We’re really intent on surrendering to the other and letting each other take the lead. Sometimes, if fans are really observant, they’ll notice a fight happen on stage, but it’s really subtle. It might be a look, it might be a gesture, and it can mean a lot of things to us, but other people might not notice.
Q: You have a fairly active Twitter account. A few months ago, you tweeted, “If you are good...it's best not to know it.” What did you mean by that?
A: I can’t remember what drove me to write that specifically, I want to say it was an interaction with a younger artist. I immediately reflect on myself and put it on me. I try my best not to judge anything. Judgment of other people is completely limiting and paralyzing. So I try to judge myself, and I was thinking how damaging self-gratitude can be. We will come to Atlanta this weekend, and we will do our best, and that will lead us to the next place. That moment in time is a time to reflect, and it catapults you to the next stop, whatever that is.
The older I get, the more I see that celebrating oneself is just complete poison. It’s a waste of time for me to entertain those thoughts. You owe it to the people around you to care about what you do. Don’t stop. If people love what you do, and support you, that’s what you can do for them, is to say “thank you” and continue to work to make it even better. It’s never good enough.
The Avett Brothers, with Emmylou Harris and Gov’t Mule. 8 p.m. Friday (Emmylou Harris opens) and Saturday (Gov’t Mule opens). $47.80-$61.55. Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park, 2200 Encore Parkway, Alpharetta. 1-800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com.