Avett Brothers — New HBO Documentary Captures Their Folk Sound & Spirit

I’ve been familiar for the past decade or so with the Avett Brothers, a North Carolina-based folk band centered around two brothers. But after watching the new HBO Judd Apatow documentary on them, consider me a full-fledged fan. Apatow filmed the documentary May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers over more than two years, which coincided with the recording of their most recent (and biggest hit) record True Sadness.

A few things stood out to me in watching the documentary:

  • The brothers initially rejected their North Carolina musical roots in favor of bands like Nirvana and Prince. But they got tired of playing more amped up music and instead focused on acoustic guitar and banjo southern folk traditions — essentially returning to their roots.
  • Their grandfather was a prominent minister, and from him they took the advice that people may actually care what they think and feel about things. While that might sound arrogant, that guidance gives them the courage to share some deeply personal lyrics and stories through their music, and is probably an essential mindset for any compelling artist to have.
  • They view music and songwriting as essentially putting their diaries on public display. Again, it’s that kind of courage and honesty that makes their music compelling and at times inspiring.

The documentary is filled with some fascinating moments, particularly around the brothers’ deeply supportive and close relationship. It also focuses on their humility, both through their personalities, actions to help their bandmates, and their living circumstances in their hometown near their parents and sister.

One particularly revealing moment came after they recorded the waltz “No Hard Feelings” (video below), where the brothers had difficulty processing their emotions while professionals in the studio discordantly celebrated their new “hit.”

It’s that kind of sensitivity that helps make their music passionate, personal, and sometimes toe-tappingly enjoyable.