"We're right at the finish line," singer-guitarist Seth Avett says of his band's seventh album. "It's just the formalities now." The folk-rock crew recorded more than 20 tunes in Asheville, North Carolina, last year for the follow-up to 2009's breakthrough album, I and Love and You, once again working with producer Rick Rubin. "Before the last album, the demos were the album," says Avett. "This time, we put a lot more thought into them." Though Rubin never visited the band members in their home state, he sent notes on the new material and later met them in L.A. to give them more feedback. "I and Love and You was the first step to opening the door to our relationship with Rick," adds banjo player Scott Avett. "This record is a step further."
The new songs include several of the Avetts' signature harmony-rich acoustic ballads, including "The Once and Future Carpenter," about life on the road, and the waltzing singalong "Down With the Shine." But they also get loud on tunes like "Paul Newman Versus the Demons," an ode to their favorite actor. "Newman is a prime example of that really talented, good-looking guy that had every opportunity to be vain and selfish but didn't," says Seth. "It has an aggressive riff, and the instruments are very Nineties rock – what you could call grunge. It's certainly a major departure."
The Avetts hope to build on the success of their last disc, which cracked the Top 20 – but they're not too worried. "It was interesting to see it gain some mainstream momentum, but trends change quickly," Seth says. "I'm sure if anyone considers us cool, give it a year or two and we'll be the most uncool thing on the block."
This story is from the January 19th, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.