The Avett Brothers.
Photo by Steve Jennings
Real bands become bands on the road, and it takes less than one song to realize that the Avett Brothers are a real band, one that has spent a good part of their adult lives in the back of vans and buses, night after night after night, playing off the energy of the crowd and crafting their new material at the same time they belt out fan favorites.
In the midst of an eight-month tour that has crisscrossed America more than once, stopping in at festivals and benefits along the way, the Avett Brothers will release their seventh full-length, The Carpenter, on September 11 (American Recordings; produced by Rick Rubin, engineered by Ryan Hewitt). Mix caught the band—brothers Seth and Scott Avett on banjo, guitar, accordion, piano, standing kick drum, standing hi-hat and about everything else; stand-up bassist Bob Crawford; cellist Joe Kwon; and drummer Jacob Edwards—on June 23 at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, Calif.
FOH Engineer Justin Glanville
Photo by Steve Jennings
“With how dynamic and energetic these guys are, I guess my mix philosophy is just to hang on with both hands!” laughs FOH engineer Justin Glanville, who has been with them for the past seven years. “It’s a very active mix, and I have to use at least some compression on just about everything. I try to use as little as possible, and I try to mainly ride faders from song to song. But, for example, I have to crush Seth’s hi-hat downstage. There are no sticks involved, as his hands are busy playing guitar, but there are a couple of songs where he kicking the cymbals, not stepping on the pedal.”
Despite the success of 2010’s I and Love and You, and a sometimes back-to-back-to-back tour schedule in venues ranging from sheds to arenas to festival stages to Art Deco theaters, the band carries very little on the road—instruments, mics, DIs and a “stick/show” for Glanville’s settings. “I use the plug-ins from board to board,” says Glanville, “and I mostly request Avids now to be consistent. That said, my old live rack is gathering dust—a few dbx 160s, two dbx 166XLs, an ART VLA PROII, T.C M-ONE, T.C. D-TWO, and a Lexicon MX300. I miss using that gear, but not dragging it around.
“I really do enjoy delays, especially tape delays, though I use them very lightly,” he continues. “And multiband compressors/limiters have become my favorite tool. They can help with everything from a singer constantly grabbing the mic and screaming into it, to a banjo that’s being attacked by metal finger picks as Scott repeatedly stomps his foot through his kick drum pedal. I recently got a tip from an engineer friend who showed me parallel compression by way of auxes. Very handy on drum kits and multiple electric guitar mics.”
The Avett Brothers live at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, Calif.
Photo by Steve Jennings
Though they win awards in the Americana category, the roots for both Scott and Seth in their North Carolina youth bands was punk and rock. The brothers sing into SM58s, sometimes wailing and often in resonant, soulful harmonies. Glanville adds a touch of Bomb Factory 76 compression and slight EQ. “I try to keep the vocals in your face for most of the songs,” he adds, “as their lyrics are the most powerful part of an extremely dynamic show. I grade myself on crowd movement and attentiveness. The crowd at the Greek moved a lot and sang really loud, so that makes me feel like I got the job done well. I was very comfortable there from the start. It was a great mix position.”
Sound system services at the Greek, as they have been for most every show there since the late ’70s, was provided by Sound On Stage of Hayward, Calif. The Avett package included an L-Acoustics rig: 18 VDosc and six dVDosc for the mains; six Arcs for outfill; four 8XT for frontfill; and 16 SB-218 subs. All powered by 24 Crown Macro Tech 5000VZ and six Macro Tech 5000i amps. Onstage were 12 115XT speakers powered by eight Lab.gruppen fp6400s (there were also four Sennheiser EW 300 IEM systems) The FOH console was an Avid Venue SC48; monitor console a Yamaha PM5D, manned by Bob Paiz, of SOS (For years, especially during the bar/club days, Glanville mixed monitors from FOH, back in the club days; now they pick one up in each town; Seth Avett, he says, usually walks the guest engineer through soundcheck). Crew chief/systems tech for SOS was John Neilson, with the company since 1990. He knows the Greek as well as anybody.
“The Greek is such an amazing venue,” Neilson says. “I’m from Berkeley, and I started going to shows here as a kid in the early ‘80s. This is where I found out I loved audio engineering. I think it’s one of the best-sounding venues anywhere. It’s more than 100 years old, and obviously it’s modeled after a Greek amphitheater, so you really do have the acoustics working for you. But it’s a lot of concrete, so the space does change pretty dramatically from soundcheck to show, when you have bodies in there.”
“John was great and really helped me at soundcheck, showing me what to anticipate,” Glanville says, “With any venue where I think the crowd will make a drastic difference, I try to make very small, if any, adjustments on the stereo bus’s graphic EQ. Then I use the first few songs of the set as measurement. When it’s show time, the energy is 100% different as they just tear into their instruments.
“I’ve been with them coming up on seven years, in so many no-soundcheck situations, that I’ve developed a distinct focus on the first few songs to try and rope in the mix quickly and efficiently,” he concludes. “I mainly ride faders from song to song. and I usually have a rough mix to start with. After I quickly slide the vocal faders into position, I’ll move a few VCAs and await the next big change in the song. There are a few songs where the energy of the songs builds and builds until a breaking point, where I’ll just bump the Master up a couple dB at the right time. I can see and feel the difference from the crowd. And that’s what it’s all about.”