Singer/Songwriters Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield have combined their talents for the first time on record with the release of “Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliot Smith”. The album features 11 stripped down songs handpicked from singer/songwriter Elliot Smith’s diverse catalog. Media Mikes had the chance to speak with Seth recently about the creation of the album, the duo’s tour plans and other projects Seth has in the works for 2015.
Adam Lawton: Can you give us some background info on the album and what was about Elliot Smith’s work that initially appealed to you?
Seth Avett: Elliot Smith is one of those artists that I feel if you are meant to hear his work you will. I think what drew us to him is what draws people to most music. It’s sort of a cascade of beautiful melodies that we have attempted to follow in a very real way. The writing is very honest and it attempts to show you through the lyrics. I have always been drawn to music that does this and I think Elliot is one of the strongest examples of that over the last few decades. How this all sort of came together was that Jessica opened for the Avett Brothers at a show we were doing in Sun Valley, Idaho in 2011. We hung out with Jessica for a few days and on the last day that we were hanging out at the venue it was her and I in a small practice room with just a piano. I started plinking out the chords for the song “Twilight” and Jessica was very into it. I sort of had a moment where I thought everything just sounded amazing. I don’t think I thought of a record at that moment but I could sort of feel things aligning. I had a small hand held recorder with me and made a recording of what we were doing. I ended up listening to that over and over again which got me thinking about what it would be like to do a whole album like that.
AL: How did you go about choosing the tracks from Elliot’s diverse catalog?
SA: I try to always do my best and follow the path of least resistance. We sort of gravitated to songs from later in Elliot’s career with a big focus on songs off of “From a Basement on the Hill”. Jessica and I gravitated towards that album as it was a personal favorite of both of ours however we also wanted to make sure that we represented Elliot’s other works as well. Basically we each brought in 7 or 8 songs and then started to see how they would go together with us singing them. Pretty much what we ended up taking to the recording studio made the album with the exception of the song “L.A.”. That song almost made it. It had really great energy but ultimately we chose not to go the full way with it.
AL: How did you go about balancing your duties as both performer and producer?
SA: Any sort of conflict I might have had I think certainly came more from trying to do the material justice. My production style is more of a non-production type style. I like to let the music take shape and let it go with the flow a little bit. I don’t like thing to feel like I have to make a suggestion or plan for everything. I really enjoyed being able to produce this record and was extremely honored in the fact that Jessica trusted me enough to make those production related calls and to push her performances. Our trust for each other certainly was taken to another level with this project. From a performer stand point I sort of look at the two roles as one in the same. I love being very hands on and rolling up all of the roles into one and just running with it worked well for me.
SA: It changes entirely. When I am making music with my brother things tend to trickle down to the band. That process is much more laborious as there are more than just myself giving input or direction. There is a lot of passing back and forth during that creative process. When I am writing for just myself there is less of that back and forth collaboratively. I feel working from both sides’ benefits the overall process as a whole.
AL: Can you tell us about the shows you have planned in support of the release?
SA: The shows are going to have a very stripped down approach. The plan is to only have three performers on the stage. We will have a stand up bassist, acoustic guitar and a pianist/vocalist. The shows will be very intimate and I hope will provide a nice back and forth with the audience. We will be playing a lot of songs of the album as well as some of both mine and Jessica’s solo material. The tour is to support the record but the show its self will not read that like.
AL: Can you tell us about any other plans you have for this year?
SA: It’s going to be a busy year. The band is already chomping at the bit to get out there as the winter is generally our down time. We are fully into making a new record at this point though as couple months back we were in California working on new material. We have already played a few of the new songs which will be on the record live but there should be more new tings starting to surface here shortly. For live shows this is going to be a really great year. We won’t be doing as many shows this year however the shows that we are doing are going to be very special.