After an Avett Brothers' Nashville showcase in 2003, band manager and label-head Dolphus Ramseur got a phone call the next day; could the Avetts drop by the RCA Records offices and play a brief set for the major label's major players? Already on the road, the band turned the van around and hot-footed back to Music Row, where they ripped through a quick three-song set in a palatial conference room.
According to Ramseur, the label A&R rep's first comment was, "'Do you think you'd be open to doing other people's songs?'" he chuckles. "I knew then this was a waste of time. The whole thing took 20 minutes."
In light of The Avett Brothers' recent signing with Rick Rubin's American Records Columbia imprint, it's worth a look back at how the fiercely independent band reached their decision to work with the man best known for his work with everyone from the Beastie Boys to Johnny Cash, a seven-time Grammy Award-winner who last year was named by Time one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.
In early 2007, Seth Avett told me the band had indeed been courted by major labels, but that "none of them have offered us anything yet that we feel like we can't turn down. Which is not to say that that's not coming."
According to Ramseur, last summer Rubin got hold of a copy of Emotionalism, the band's latest full-length, and expressed an interest in working with the Avetts. After preliminary meetings between the band and Rubin, Ramseur met with Rubin in the fall to "get a feel for what he expected."
"I told him, the main thing we want to make sure of is that looking back 30 years from now we never made any artistic compromises," he says. "He felt the same way, and assured me that he would not want anything to come out that was not up to their [aesthetic] standard."
That commitment to the artist's vision eventually sealed the Avetts' multirecord deal. As Rubin told the Washington Post in 2006, "I'm just trying to make my favorite music. That's how I work; I just do things based on the way they feel to me. I want to be touched by the music I'm making. Luckily, other people have shared that response to my work over the years. I don't even know what a traditional producer is or does. I feel like the job is like being a coach, building good work habits and building trust. You want to get to a point where you can say anything and talk about anything. There needs to be a real connection. My goal is to just get out of the way and let the people I'm working with be their best."
The band has already completed their initial recording session in June with Rubin at his L.A. home studio overlooking the Pacific Ocean, an eight-day stretch that resulted in 13 or 14 early tracks. Ramseur, who spent three days at the sessions, says they're shooting for a spring 2009 release. And everything he saw suggests the band made the right decision to wait, turning aside offers and interest from labels as wide-ranging as RCA and Sub Pop.
"It was a very, very difficult decision for all of us, it was a very big step," says Ramseur, who'll continue on in his managerial role with the Avetts. "We've kept things so in-house, and so independent, probably more so than anybody else doing it, that it was a big step. But it feels right and right in stride with what we've been doing. Those people at American and Columbia just want to put fuel on the fire. Keep the brothers doing what they're doing, and not mess with the artistic thing in any way, shape or form."
Funk Fest: Here's an idea whose time has come -- the inaugural Charlotte Funk Festival takes place Saturday, Aug. 2, beginning at 7 p.m., in the parking lot behind the SK Net Café near the downtown CPCC campus. The bill includes locals Bellyfull, Soulganic and headliners Audioform. Tickets are $8 in advance, $10 at the door. Call 704-334-1523 for more information.
White Trash: The latest Nasty/Shane production, White Trash #4, takes place Saturday, July 26 at the Visulite; Iron Cordoba will supply "an intensely trashy set," says co-host Tracie Nasta, and the night will also feature down-and-dirty staples like go-go dancers, DJs spinning white trash favorites, "redneck" games and prizes, a wet t-shirt contest (with trophies!), a best costume prize and all manner of other wonderfully tasteless shenanigans. Tickets are $8, and $10 at the door. You're asked to "dress to unimpress," and if your hair grows fast, it's a good time to go mullet.