The Avery Set was formed back in 2003 in the town of Frankenmuth by long-time high school friends Chris Zehnder and Jake Bartlett. They are now a Nashville-based Folk Rock/Americana band consisting of Chris on vocals & guitar, Jake on drums & mandolin, and newest member Jacob Johnson on upright bass, electric bass, vocals, piano, and guitar.
Throughout the years The Avery Set have released two prior original CDs and toured throughout numerous Midwestern and Southern states. Throughout that span of time they have created a musical alchemy possessing a wisdom and sense of maturity that belies their physical age, which is readily apparent on their newest release of original material, From a Guest House.
This past summer they spent writing and recording their newest song cycle within the comforting reinforcement of Chris' living room. About a mile south of downtown Nashville, somebody built a guesthouse that ended up in the hands of the band. Truly a 'homemade' record, even though it was recorded in this small, unassuming, cabin-like bungalow, the dynamic texture and evolutionary flow of their newly minted original material is both personal and pastoral, perhaps one of their most fully realized musical endeavors to date.
While the underlying feel to this new release has a decidedly 'Nashville' context & flavor to it, the music and direction seems to be more distinct and singular in the sense that the shadings to the songs are all relatively understated, forming a firm yet fluid musical bed that serves to support the lyrical context of each song.
“It wasn't the production value that was so pleasing, but a sound that started coming out that represented the band in its most basic form - a group of friends who enjoy playing music together,” notes Jake.
When asked what the band was seeking to achieve with this new release in terms of shaping or evolving their sound, coupled with how being based in Nashville has contributed to the evolution and growth of the band, Jake focuses directly upon how the bonds of friendship opened the door for new experimentation.
“This record started off as an experiment. The three of us are best friends, enjoy each others company, and share a passion for playing music. Our goal was to do just that, and to make something that was purely us.”
“Jacob and Chris started writing and bringing things to the table and we soon had this vision of making a new record and recording it ourselves, in our own space, on our own time. It was a very freeing, creative experience. We spent the summer tracking all of the parts, and in August, we took the tracks to Brian Carter here in Nashville and spent 3 very long days in his studio mixing them.” Once the mixing was complete, the group took everything to Andy Reed at Reed Recording Company to master the disc.
“Being in Nashville, we've been surrounded by great musicians. Without being here, we wouldn't have met Jacob, who plays a big role in what The Avery Set is today. We also wouldn't have met Brian, who we feel was the perfect guy to mix this record. He did a really good job of bringing out clarity in each part, and focusing on the purpose and strength of each song.”
The crystallization of The Avery Set's current sound is perhaps best epitomized on the opening track of their new release, Just Another Stone. Opening with Chris whistling a simple melody line, Jacob accents the song with a low weeping classically bowed bass line, while simple yet poignant and lush instrumentation reinforces each syllable of sentiment that Chris vocally deploys.
How would Jake describe the song cycle on From a Guest House, especially given the feeling that the musicianship is crafted to reinforce the tonal architecture of each song's strengths and shape.
“Each string part was actually recorded on an upright bass,” Jake relates. “Jacob is a classically trained musician and has a good ear for arranging those parts. It was fun to dig into that skill set of his and use his strengths. I played mandolin on a couple songs, which is not my strength, but seemed to work out alright where it was used.”
“One of my favorite songs on the record is one that is only Chris performing solo - Slow Dance. The vocals and guitar were actually recorded at the same time, and he did this cool slide thing with a whistle layered in the background. I think that is a really strong, authentic song.”
Indeed, the very breath that each lyric is sung with and musical tone and care that each note is shaped upon leads to a fundamental musical core tracked upon an intensely personal journey that becomes a universal odyssey to the listener. Songs such as Consolation and Welcome Signs speak of the powerful salvation music harbors to heal all wounds; while Big Great Lakes harbor a longing that lifts one's spirits through the comfort of permanence.
Jackson Browne achieved a similar feat on his first debut solo album, only it lacked that broken bedrock of heartache that both lingers in the air that is breathed and permeates the legacy of Nashville that in turn feeds into the national arteries. Indeed, I venture to wage that this album could not have been recorded anywhere else and sounded the same.
But beautiful music aside, has the growth and acceptance of the band evolved? Does Jake feel the band is building a stronger reputation and fan base each year?
“We played out a lot in 2010/2011 in support of our last record, which brought our music and live show to a lot of new people in a lot of different places. It was a great experience and we learned a lot from traveling the Midwest and Southeast. But it was also hard to do financially, and rough on our bodies. We aren't playing out as much now, but honestly, that wasn't the goal. We wanted to make a record that was our own, and share it with others.”
“In making this record, we learned a lot about each other and how to record, plus we had a lot of fun along the way. We're thankful for our fans, friends, family and industry folks who have supported us.”
The Avery Set will be performing at The State Theatre in Bay City on Saturday, November 26th with a set including songs from all three of their original releases. Also featured will be Brent James & the ContraBand. The show starts at 7 PM and tickets are only $10.00. Digital downloads are available on iTunes, Amazon, and BandCamp and physical copies of their CD's can be purchased from their website: theaveryset.com/music