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When I first saw the Avett Brothers perform in 2005, I was smitten. The North Carolina- based trio, consisting of brothers Scott and Seth Avett plus bandmate Bob Crawford, put on the most original show I had ever seen, and it was clear that every word, every note, and every move came from the heart.

Their sound, often referred to as "folk-punk" or "Grungegrass" is unique, a combination of bluegrass & banjo with punk rock attitude, rock and roll riffs and glorious harmonies that would sound at home in church. They play a wild variety of instruments, from stand-up bass, to banjo, from piano to guitar, even cello, and a tiny foot drum that makes a lot of noise. But the most alluring aspect of their show is its physicality, with the brothers leaping around the stage, and Scott Avett in particular throwing himself around like a maniac. Fun to watch, and the band doesn’t miss a beat even with all the wild goings on.

The band has released several EP’s and records through the years, beginning with 2002’s Country Was, the expansive Mignonette in 2004, and the break-out Emotionalism in 2007, which earned them prestigious awards including the 2007 AMA Duo/Group of the Year and the AMA New/Emerging Artist Of The Year. 2008 has been their best year yet, with their latest record, as yet untitled, being produced by the legendary Rick Rubin, and released on American Recordings/Columbia Records label

In December, the Avett Brothers announced that they would be opening for Dave Matthews Band for a portion of their spring tour 2009 at select locations across the southern United States from Virginia to Arizona. The trio will also open for Widespread Panic at select locations in 2009.

Recently, Dish had the opportunity to speak by phone with Scott Avett, lead singer for the band, and also a serious artist and sculpture. He shared his ideas about music, creativity and even Jesus with us, in a thought-provoking interview that revealed much about how he feels and thinks:

Dish: Dolf[us Ramseur, manager] told me you guys are on vacation. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today.

Scott: A vacation is a loose term. We are definitely off the road, you know?

Dish: You told me when you’re off the road, it’s more work for you than when you’re on the road.  

Scott: It’s more occupation and time-clock oriented as far as getting work done. We go in the studio at 5 or 6 and work till about noon, and then eat and sleep for a little bit, and then go back in the evening.

Dish: Well, I don’t know. It’s really hard to be creative 24 hours a day.

Scott: Right, right, I think it’s about making yourself available to be creative when it comes about. There was a graduate student who was teaching a sculpting class that I had—a metal class—when I was in art school. She put it well. She said, "If I don’t have creative ideas flowing and the imagination isn’t there at any given time there’s always—always—the functional and structural work that needs to be done to prepare for the next time it comes." That applies to visual and music, both the same. If you’re not writing songs, then it’s always a good opportunity to sit at the piano and play scales or just play chord progressions. That’s just making yourself available for it, I do believe.

Dish: I’ve always had this impression of you Scott. You push yourself more than other people do.  

Scott: Maybe, maybe. I don’t know what other people do. I don’t know what to say to people when they tell me, "I would love to do that, but I just don’t have time." There is no doubt that laziness is the enemy for any of us who are trying to create anything, really. Just last week I had my wisdom teeth removed, and it was a real struggle for me trying to get my head wrapped around the idea of really, I need to really do nothing. And so it’s just like, ‘No, you need to just ‘veg’ and just watch Jeopardy and just eat milkshakes and chill.’ That was real hard the first day, and I was being really aggravated about it.

Once I got my head wrapped around the idea of do nothing, how to do nothing, I mean literally nothing for four days, which I can’t remember the last time I did that. Now I can’t help but be grateful that I did because it reminded me to slow down, let the creativeness come to me, because that’s how I started in the first place. I can sit and contemplate, but the contemplation sort of has a shelf life on it or a depth to it where it stops, and at that point I just have to start working. But the answer is maybe I am a little more active than some people.

Dish: How early do you remember that you started feeling this way? I mean, being productive and creative.

Scott: Absolutely. 22 years old. About a year before I left college, I took a trip to Italy with a painting and drawing class, and we studied. We had 3 weeks of solid work there, and it was every day, and it was a slap in the face to look at how much you can get done in a day. After that, everything changed. My eating habits changed. My exercise habits changed. My ideals changed in some ways. My eyes were opened up a lot.

I switched my focus from kind of partying and not being interested in tomorrow at all, and I’m lucky to come out of that, really doing a lot of abusive things to myself, mentally, emotionally, physically. Coming out of that and realizing there’s so much work to be done. So much I’ll never get done, so I’ve got to focus and get to do what I can.

Dish: Did you hit the ground running?

Scott: It really switched fast. It was just about, "Oh my God, I’ve got to be creating." It was music and visually, both of them, hand in hand. I got really busy with all of them.

Dish: I was really impressed by the nature of the new album. It’s an enormous step from the last album.

Scott: It’s just where we are, and I know that we will change continually whether fans like it or not, whether you or I like it or not. If it’s changing in a positive way, I’ve just got to be grateful for it.

Dish: Has anything happened to make you more contemplative?

Scott: Gradually. I’ve grown older. I’ve seen more miles. Not any one quick thing. Not at all. Lots of things have happened. Some things you want to talk about and some you never will. Some you don’t remember and some you remember all too well.

Dish: Tell me about working with Rick Ruben as your producer…

Scott: We’re finished working with Rick as far as the recording of the new record, and right now we’re dealing with mixes and preparing a mix. We keep in contact with him, talking about what we all like and dislike. But I can’t wait for the next record to come out, and I’m very excited about it. The record is the obvious step beyond Emotionalism. It’s got much less of the specific instrumentation that we used in the past, more what we wrote the songs with, which were piano and drums or piano and guitar. We weren’t going to try to make the song be an Avett Brothers’ song. The song would be what the song called for. It was that sort of deal.

Dish: I have another question that I’d like to ask you. In your paintings and the way you often portray yourself, there’s a kind of clear reference to Jesus. Is that something you think about?

Scott: I look at a lot of old art and religious art. I’ve noticed when you start painting other people, you start seeing self portraits in those people. I often think about that term "What would Jesus do?" and being like someone and idolizing someone, that’s not a bad person to be like, whatever religion you follow. He’s kind of at the top, the perfect hero in so many ways, somebody like God. You’re portraying yourself like God, which is kind of one and the same. Still, I have never consciously tried to look like or even begin to pretend that I could act anything like someone as heroic as Jesus Christ would have been.

I thank you so much for giving me such a compliment or that you would even think to compare me with somebody like that, it’s a huge compliment.

Dish: I’m so impressed with this new record. That image of you specifically and the music all fits together. It’s not like here’s the art and here’s the music and they’re two separate things. I would say, being presumptuous, that with most records, that’s what you get. A photographer and an art director come up with an idea for a CD cover, and then the music might be completely unrelated to that, and the artist doesn’t have any real choice in what that art is going to be.

Scott: I agree. I totally detest—I cannot understand, I can’t relate to it. It’s the whole thing is the artwork, the whole persona, the visuals. We talk about it, and it’s absolutely important, and it sets the people who are doing it aside from the others. It’s just a spick and span work of art when it’s thoroughly gone through by the artist, not picked apart by a lot of people who aren’t artists who are in offices.

Dish: When I looked at the image of you in the package, when you are looking up [at heaven] and then when you listen to "The Ballad of Love and Hate," you can see that that’s the same person that created that.

Scott: Thank you very much… When we work we say, "Okay, this song, or this group of songs, what do they have in common?" We acknowledge what they have in common and what they relate to. Making sure that the art reflects that as well as giving hidden—not too well hidden—pieces in the art that could be symbolism-based. Hints in the artwork that link up to the past, that link up what may be to come, that you hope to come in your career or life. Instead of just acknowledging them and just wishing that you could make it happen, which has definitely been done, harnessing things and making them real, and linking them all together. That is very key to me.

There’s a code that can be built on what we’ve done so far that can lead us to the next step. It always does. Once you write one song, it kind of leads you to a hint of another one. Kind of like the visual stuff that I’ve kind of been like, "Well, I should do this now next time," and it will relate or react or play off of what I did last time.

Dish: I’m excited to hear this new project. I notice you joined a gallery in NYC. How’d that come about?

Scott: Our friend at the Cracker Farm has close ties with Jimmy Dans from Envoy Gallery. He’s a true believer that success is going to come to him in an organic and natural way and the networking allowed me to explore working with him. He’s really well educated in art history which is important to me. He’s led me to a couple books for art history purposes, and it’s turned into a good relationship that I hope will continue.

Dish: You can’t be painting and drawing and recording and writing songs all the time. Do you have any other activities?

Scott: I do much less direct exercising than I did when I was younger, but I’m very active anyway, so it cancels out the need for physical activities. I love dogs. I have a Doberman and a golden doodle that I really love to step out in the field and throw a Frisbee with them. I think dogs are pretty amazing machines. I think the same love that people have for horses, I get that from these machine-like dogs. As life goes on, I hope I can get more involved with them. It’s really rewarding the same way music and art are without a lot of the push and attention that the focus has to do with that. It’s more about patience and parenting.

Dish: You have a 3 month old daughter now, Scott. I can imagine that’s going to be fertile ground for your imagination.

Scott: I think it will be. At first, I was wondering about that. There’s a settling in of that, sort of a realization of this child, and that is starting to affect me in ways that produce that. It takes days and time to warm up to this thing. It’s kind of like a marriage. The longer it goes, the more you have to connect to it.

Dish: Tell me about Paranoia in B Flat Major, and that Avett-style falsetto at the end.  When you’re recording a song, how do you know how to be in sync with one another?

Scott: It kind of happens before. Seth and I went into the studio to start demos for the next record, that I imagine we’ll be recording by the end of this year. As we went in, we felt kind of deflated because we had overdone our work, and we were overworked, and we didn’t know what we were going to do. But by the end of two days in the studio, there were three new songs, two being non-existent the day before. And they’re valid songs. They’re songs we would put on the new record any day of the week once we stepped back and listened to them. And it purely happened in the studio. The new stuff is more like that. We’re not allowed the time we once were. We say, "Okay, we have all the tools. Let’s go into the studio and that’s what happens." It’s a glorious thing to watch it happen. It’s usually in hindsight. It’s very fun.

Dish: Is your show as physical as it used to be, you writhing on the floor, climbing on amps and all that? You told me once you couldn’t keep that up because you are getting exhausted. Are you still doing that?

Scott: Since I told you that, that was probably about the time I started saying it. And I’ve been saying it since then. Still, it’s hard to hold back. I was scheduled tonight to do a sit in with kind of a metal band called Valiant Boar. They’re some friends of ours. We do some backups with them. My mouth has not healed yet. I told myself ‘I don’t know how to hold back. I’ll go there and I’ll end up in the air, I’ll end up screaming, I’ll end up dancing, I’ll end up in trouble. I just got to not show up.’ I have to choose my battles.

There are some crowds—a smart performer will know if a crowd is really up for that or not. Sometimes, there are nights in certain rooms, you just know these people want to hear some words and they want to sit, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s a great thing sometimes. We have so many piano songs. There are songs we want to sit down and perform for people with our voices. There are some songs we want to perform with our entire persons. You want to jump and you want to move and I don’t think that’s going to change, but we are hopefully learning how to choose our battles. We are still doing it, but I think the idea is to do it at the right time and don’t do it when it’s not wanted.  

Dish: I have one more question. Do you have lots of hair on your face these days or are you shaven?  

Scott: The hair is coming back. It’s only half an inch, maybe an inch.

Dish: Can I draw some beards on your old pictures?

Scott: Bob loves nothing more than to shave his face. Everybody started showing up with their faces shaven because we were all like, "Man, I’ve got to start fresh." We are harvesting beards.

Dish: So it would be appropriate to draw beards on you and Seth, but not Bob. He has such a handsome face, why would he want to hide it?

Scott: You’re not lying. That is a handsome man. I’m telling you what. I think Seth and I will just get old and creepy. I think Bob is just going to get more handsome.

Dish: Actually, the three of you are all handsome. Don’t put yourself down.

Scott: Thank you. But that is a handsome man.

For more information about Scott, Seth, and Bob, go to http://www.theavettbrothers.com/.

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 95 - September 9294
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