This is the second story in a two-part series about Charlotte music photographer Daniel Coston. Read Part 1 here.
When Daniel Coston and I talked about some of his most interesting experiences photographing musicians over the years, it became clear that his work with Concord’s The Avett Brothers deserved a little more space.
He’s photographed the band more than 30 times over 16 years, in concert settings, posed sessions and during recording sessions. Several of his photos are in the documentary “May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers,” which is currently making the rounds at film festivals.
Here are some highlights from our conversations and emails.
On the first time he photographed The Avett Brothers at a show:
I actually saw Nemo (Scott and Seth’s pre-Avett Brothers band) play around 2000, but I didn’t really didn’t take any photos. I photographed Scott and Seth separately a couple of times, and then photographed the Avetts for the first time in October of 2001, at Fat City (the since-closed NoDa hangout.)
On the first time he was invited by The Avett Brothers to photograph them:
I was friends with (bass player) Bob Crawford. He’d been in another band. He started working with the Avetts, and the Avetts were kind of leery of working with anybody outside at first. Bob worked at them and I went to a couple shows and finally Scott emailed me and said, “Hey, can you come to our garage?” which was their parents’ garage.
On watching them write the song “Talk on Indolence,” which is on “Four Thieves Gone: The Robbinsville Sessions”:
This was in August of 2004. I showed up at Seth’s house to take some promotional photos of the band, and they were working on the song in Seth’s kitchen. They had the lyrics written out on a giant poster board, and were figuring out the cadences and speed of the song. Even then, they knew that it was a good song. A very cool process to watch.
On being a fly on the wall during the recording of three albums:
“Mignonette” was recorded in their dad’s garage, and allowed them to feel very much at home. Robbinsville (“Four Thieves Gone: The Robbinsville Sessions”) was recorded at a house in Robbinsville, N.C., that they rented for a week. Thirty-six songs were largely written and recorded on the spot during the week. Frenetic, but focused and fun.
I photographed them at Echo Mountain Studios the night they recorded “Go To Sleep” for the “Emotionalism” session. It was also (cellist) Joe Kwon’s first time recording with the band. The band decided to write and record a new song (note: it’s unreleased) that same night, before recording “Go To Sleep.” It was really something to see how their on-the-spot way of writing had progressed at that point.
On one of the most moving moments:
Five or six years ago I went to Greensboro. I hadn’t seen them in a few years and it was right at that point where Bob (Crawford) wasn’t on the road because Hallie was sick. (Note: Crawford’s daughter Hallie was battling cancer.) And Dolph (Ramseur), the manager, walked up to me and said “Bob’s playing here tonight, you’re our guy.” So pretty much they let me sit down front the whole show. It was the old days all over again except instead of being between 60 people and the Avett Brothers, now I’m in between 5,000 people and the Avett Brothers.
The last time he photographed them:
I photographed them at this most recent New Year’s Eve show, at Bojangles’ Coliseum. Many differences between that, and that first time at Fat City. There were about 60 people at Fat City, which was a lot in that place. Contrast that with a sold-out crowd at the Coliseum, all of whom sing every Avett song, word for word. The guys have also become much more accomplished musicians, and have become a full-blown seven-piece band. But I think that they still believe in every song that they sing, and still give it their all.
On the future, and what his work with The Avett Brothers means to him:
I consider my photos of The Avett Brothers to be an ongoing, unfinished painting. Any subject that I photograph for a number of years is part of a larger body of work that hopefully represents my documentation of that person and my own time around them. It’s a two-way conversation. And that evolves and changes over time, much like the subject, as well as, hopefully, the photographer. Where does the painting go from here? We’ll see. But I look forward to it, wherever it goes, and goes, and goes ….
You can follow Daniel Coston on his blog, danielcoston.blogspot.com, and see much of his music photography here. Also, Charlotte Museum of History has a continuing exhibition of his work, On the Way To Here: Adventures in Photography, Music, and Life.
Photos: Daniel Coston