The Avett Brothers are gearing up to release their 7th full length studio album this summer. After 11 years together as a band, Rick Rubin is returning, making sure the group reaches its full potential. They seem on top of the world right now, but they started with humble beginnings. Before there was the banjo, there were fuzz guitars and screaming. Before they were the folk-rock band, The Avett Brothers, they were the 90’s grunge group, Nemo.

Nemo eventually transformed and gave way to the band we all know and love today, but to the members and fans, it was a project they will never forget. I had the pleasure of talking to Kenny Graham and John Twomey who were ready to spill the secrets and memories they have from when they played with the Avett’s.

A wild Nemo show

John Twomey and Scott Avett were studying together at East Carolina University. The two came together to form an early Nemo. Seth was living back at home in Mt. Pleasant, a small town outside of Concord, North Carolina with his band, Margo, which was composed of Seth, Kenny Graham, and Noah Warner. The brothers sent their music back and forth between each other and each liked what the other had to bring to the table. Naturally, as the two bands collaborated, they combined. The lineup consisted of Scott singing, Seth and John on guitar, Kenny on bass, and Noah playing the drums.

Twomey cites the band’s influences from “Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Blind Melon, Soundgarden, The Black Crowes, etc.”

“We were just a hard rocking band,” Graham says, “We were a part of music form that died with the change of the decade. There are times in our music where it seemed like it was about to fall apart, but that’s was rock and roll is and that is what it should be!”

As the band continued playing, the live shows set them apart from their competitors. “When we played live, we were unstoppable” Twomey exclaimed. “The energy and emotion behind the music was very similar to what can be seen today at an Avett Brothers show, just on a more aggressive format.”

According to Twomey, after each show, the band would get together and play some soft, slower acoustic jams to settle down. Scott began learning the banjo and started to bring it into these night-time jams. Seth and Scott were brought up playing music on the porch with their father Jim, so this style of playing came natural to the two of them.

Eventually they started playing shows as a three piece and called themselves Nemo Downstairs or The Back Porch Project. “The instruments were easier to travel with and the shows were more up close and personal. It was just a different feeling than playing a rock show and it came natural for the three of us to go in that direction while we were still doing the rock stuff,” Twomey says.

An early Avett Brothers show

As time went on The Back Porch Project gave way to The Avett Brothers and in 2001, Twomey and the brothers released a self-titled EP. To fill the missing void of the bass, Bob Crawford joined. According to Twomey, “for about 3 shows we were a four piece.”

Nemo began to fall apart and the Avett Brothers took off, but without Twomey.  He found his time in bands was over for a while. “For a long time after I left, I didn’t listen to or play any music at all,” he says, “I’m gradually getting the itch back for it again though and picking the guitar up more.”

While Twomey’s musical career ended, Graham’s time was not over. He continued to play in a couple of bands, but he soon returned to the Avett’s once again. “Seth and I wrote and recorded songs in a little studio in his dad’s garage on a 4 track. I actually played lead guitar on the first and third Timothy Seth Avett as Darling1 records, which we recorded in the same studio” he shares.

The Darling series brought Graham back to the stage with Seth as well. “About four years ago we played two consecutive sold out shows in the Concord Courthouse with Nicole Atkins.” he recalls.  “There is some talk of more Darling records in the future, assuming Seth has time, and I will be a part of those as well.”

Graham also was brought back to the Avetts to play in another rock band in late 2003 called Oh What a Nightmare. It brought back some of the sound heard during the Nemo days. “We wrote all of the songs and played about four shows,” Graham says.

Today Graham is in a new band called Lions to Lambs. “I play guitar and Mike Crim plays the drums. Derek Young (Oh What a Nightmare) played bass for us for the album, but has left. Seth heard about the recordings and wanted to help out, so I sent him some tapes. He happened to be touring with Jessica Lea Mayfield at the time, so the two of them recorded some backup vocals and guitar for us. The album will be out very soon and we will actually have something to sell at our shows. I really can’t thank Seth enough for his help!” Graham shares.

The two former band mates don’t see the brothers as much as they used to since they are always away on tour. “I try to go to some of the shows in North Carolina, but in the end, I’d rather just hang out with my friends without all the people around. When they are home Seth and I often grab some food or hang out in Starbucks. The two of us have been best friends since I was 13, so I really miss those guys when they are gone,” Graham states.

Twomey shares similar sentiments. “I go to as many of the Avett North Carolina shows as I can, but mostly to catch up with them before they go on. I’ve always considered Seth and Scott my brothers. We went through so much together as a band and even after I left, they were there for me (by phone) at every major event in my life. I miss them a great deal.”

Readers be ready:  the final Nemo album Vol. 1, is being remastered and will be re-released with a live DVD in late 2012 or 2013, depending on when the next Avett album is finally released.

Timothy Seth Avett as Darling is the name Seth goes under when releasing his solo work