If The Avett Brothers were Huckleberry Finn, then legendary record producer Rick Rubin is its successful Widow Douglas.
The North Carolina-based band has been creating its unrefined folk-punk for the last nine years, but after signing to Columbia imprint American Recordings and heading into the studio with Rubin, the band’s core members finally learned to play in time and in tune.
“When we first started, it was very raw,” stand-up bass player Bob Crawford said, “but that was the appeal. We were doing the best we could with what we had.”
Raised on everything from Nirvana to Bruce Springsteen, The Avett Brothers’ three core members — including band-namesakes Seth and Scott Avett who play acoustic guitar and banjo, respectively — infused their rock roots with the Southern sounds of bluegrass and folk.
A heavy punk influence is also evident, not only in their grassroots beginnings, but also in The Avett Brothers’ live shows where members often end up jumping into the crowd or writhing on the floor with their instruments.
After meeting through a mutual friend and playing acoustic bluegrass together during a late night parking lot rendezvous in Charlotte, N.C. Crawford and the Avetts started writing songs. For several years, they played in local bars and toured East Coast colleges, giving string-snapping, banjo-shredding shows to anyone who would watch, eventually taking their romanticized lyrics about pretty girls and cars on self-booked national tours.
But after releasing 10 albums and one EP in under a decade, the The Avett Brothers’ upcoming major label debut is its most mature yet, thanks to producer Rubin whose experience in the industry helped the band spruce up its self-described guerilla recording tactics — 2006’s Four Thieves Gone was made in a rented house — and create songs cleaner than they had ever considered possible.
“There are sonic and aural things that we don’t understand about making a record,” Crawford said. “You think you know a song when you decide to record it and you think that what you’ve been doing will read well on a record, but it may not. And so working with Rick [Rubin] was amazing to teach us about that.”
The Avett Brothers have also matured in other ways, straying more and more from their bluegrass roots by “building up,” “expanding” and “electrifying,” according to Crawford. This includes adding members — a cellist and a drummer now tour with them — and embracing a more rock-inspired sound that will add versatility to an already multifaceted band.
“We’d like to be able to record work that displays and represents several different aspects of the dynamic spectrum,” Crawford said. “After working with Rick it’s hard to think of going back to [how we used to make records]. Now we have the means to make a well thought out sonically intelligent album and we need to embrace that.”
The Avett Brothers play at the Orpheum Theatre Saturday, 8 p.m.