The Avett Brothers

Sep 1, 2012 9:00 AM, Mix, By Blair Jackson



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The Avett Brothers album cover for The Carpenter

The Avett Brothers album cover for The Carpenter.

“If everything is dirty, it doesn’t sound dirty anymore, it just sounds bad,” Hewitt adds. “And if everything is clean, it can sound a little boring. But when you have one or two elements in an otherwise pretty picture that are f—d up, it makes those things stand out more and it makes those elements more precious. It lets them play a cool role and hold things together as sort of textural glue.”

The album is full of those touches—unobtrusive background parts that add much to the overall richness of the album. There are subtle drone cello and organ parts that contrast nicely with crisply articulated acoustic guitars and banjo, fuzzed electric guitars that sit in reverberant fields far removed from the lead vocals, and treated piano that sounds completely different one track to the next.

“One of the main things I learned from Rick,” Hewitt says, “is to decide what the dominant factor of a given song is—what’s leading the song, what gets the spotlight. So, if it’s the acoustic guitar and vocal, then that’s what it is and everything more or less supports that. The vocal is always king. If there’s anything in the way of the vocal, it either goes away completely or gets ducked, so when you see the faders dancing on my console there’s some pretty big moves sometimes, all in the spirit of keeping the vocal in the front and not necessarily having to push it over other things. It’s more sculpting space out via panning and level and EQ and all the other things we have available to us to make that be the center of attention.

“When it comes time for cello or organ or some of these other things, everybody plays a role, and sometimes the role is to not really be heard and for the listener to not necessarily know what that thing is down there in the mud—but if you take it away, there’s this spirit or something missing from the mix. So it becomes this delicate balance of who comes in at what point in the song, and how loud they are and where they are—are they forward, are they reverb’d? I wind up recording a lot more than I need to and then taking it away even before it gets to Rick, because having been through this rodeo once before, I now have a better idea of where things should go.”

Recording the Avetts in Asheville was relatively straightforward, Hewitt says. To cut the all-important lead vocals, he used a Shure SM7 on Seth, an Electro-Voice RE20 on Scott, “and then if there were overdubs that didn’t have to match anything, I would go with a [Neumann] U47.” In each case, the mic chain also included a Neve 1073 pre and a vintage Black Face 1176.

Bob Crawford’s bass was miked with “a 47 wherever it sounded good that day. It changed depending on the song. I took a DI but I barely used it. I also ran him through an Ampeg B-15 with a 47 FET on it, because you can add more sustain to the instrument. When I mixed it, I would try to bus the mic and the amp and maybe even some DI, if I needed more attack from the fingers, through one compressor and squeeze them all together.” For banjo, he miked the instrument about a foot away with a Coles ribbon, but also ran the banjo through a Fender Twin and miked that for more sustain or aggression in certain places.

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