Avett Brothers Interview: Scott Explores Emotions in Songs on ‘The Carpenter,’ Shares Mainstream Country Influences
The Avett Brothers followed a path to fame and recognition rarely traced by today's young singers in country music. With the invent of reality TV -- and to a lesser degree, YouTube -- fewer stars are working their way out of small town music scenes to the big stages of Nashville, Los Angeles and New York City. 'I and Love and You' (2009) was the Concord, N.C. group's major label debut, but by then they were already a hit on independent radio stations and the festival circuit. Scott Avett admits some of the group's first circle of fans haven't liked how they evolved.
"We're in a movement. We're in motion, an ongoing journey that has to change," he tells Taste of Country. "It can't sit still or it ends." Scott and brother Seth Avett (with Joe Kwon, Jacob Edwards and Bob Crawford) fill the stage with a focused blend of rock, punk, bluegrass, folk and country sounds. Finding cohesion with that many influences is tricky. Maybe that's why it's taken nearly a decade before the mainstream caught scent of the Avett Bros.' unique and passionate songwriting. More likely, however, it's because like fine wine, good music needs time to ferment.
The older Avett says his band's new album 'The Carpenter' took a year and a half to assemble. He referenced a pace each member is aware of, but might not mention. Songs have to feel right to merit inclusion. If a story or emotion isn't ready to be shared, it's put on hold until next time. For this reason, 'The Carpenter' (released Sept. 11) includes a few cuts written years ago among the dozen mostly dark and melancholy folk-rockers.
"I like to think of it as kind of a hopeful darkness, or maybe an awareness," Avett says, reminding country fans that "Hank Williams was as dark as you wanted to be, in an ironic way. "
In addition to a tour to support the new release, the Avett Brothers will be in Charleston, S.C. as part of Zac Brown Band's Southern Ground Festival on Oct. 20 and 21. The show is a good fit, as much like Brown, the Avetts went deep into the woods before tracing their way back to country roots.
What influences from mainstream country can one find in the Avett Brothers' music?
I'm really glad to talk to you about that because I recently discovered 1410 AM (country legends) in Concord. My country influences go anywhere from the late '70s through the '80s up until the mid-90s. So I was by default really familiar with what I was hearing. And that would've been anything from Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard to John Conley, Tom T. Hall. Those were the earlier (artists), and then even things like Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, George Strait and those things through the '80s and 90s that were just playing all the time.
It's great that you bring that up because I drive this car that's got only an AM radio and that's the station I listen to. I'm just flooded with Ronnie Milsap and Randy Travis and all these terrific things.
As you've gotten bigger as a band, have you had a chance to play with or meet any of those guys you grew up listening to?
Yes, we spent some time with Tom T. Hall. We spent a day with him a couple of years ago. He had been very friendly, welcoming and inviting to us. Had us up at his house and we talked about music, and he had some very, very, very amazing things to say about where we were coming from and his relation to it and his understanding of it. It seemed like there was a connection between us and maybe where his generation came from.
We read in one interview you did recently how songs that make you feel the most vulnerable are those that resonate deepest. Which stories or songs from 'The Carpenter' do that best?
Both 'Through My Prayers' and 'A Father's First Spring.' I had both nervous tendencies and nervous feelings about both of those getting out there because they are to the root. Both about life and death in the most direct and personal way, and you kind of start to question yourself as an autobiographer I guess. You kind of wonder, 'Am I throwing my own blood under the bus? Am I exploiting them in a way that is dangerous?' In the end, I know where my intentions are from and Seth is aware of his.
Did you write 'A Father's First Spring' shortly after the birth of your daughter (Eleanor in 2008) a few years ago?
Yes. It's really the only song that came in the wake of that. There were several ideas, but most of them were songs that were kid songs -- things that wouldn't make it to an Avett Brothers album at this point in our lives.
From a songwriter's perspective, when you release a song, is that the start of the journey that gets you through a personal event, or is it the end game -- the last word?
Depending on what day you speak with me [laughs]. I said to Seth, I was like, 'It's really hard to record these songs, because they're DOA upon recording.' They're open-ended feelings and rapport with a memory or an emotion and once you stamp it with an a recording, in a lot of ways … you would say, 'That's it, it's over.'
On the other hand, you can look at it philosophically and spiritually, you can look at it as setting free something that needs to be set free. There is a thought that living is really the painful part and dying is the liberation of pain.