Now going on two decades as a band, the Avett Brothers have been a leading force in Americana and folk/rock music since their emergence around 2007. They are known for their unique blend of rock, folk, country, bluegrass, punk and roots music, and they’re known for being a passionate, powerful live band that now headlines arenas and amphitheaters. Notably, the band has won four Americana Music Awards and have been nominated for three Grammy Awards.
The Avett Brothers—consisting of Scott Avett, Seth Avett, Bob Crawford & Joe Kwon—will be releasing their tenth album, called Closer Than Together, on October 4. This album is the follow-up to their acclaimed 2016 album True Sadness, which was nominated for Best Americana Album at the Grammy Awards. Also, the making of True Sadness was documented in the HBO film, May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers.
Interestingly, the band’s new album Closer Than Together, features songs that explore more sociopolitical themes. This summer, Seth Avett posted a mission statement about their new album. In part, he said, “The last thing the world needs is another piece of sociopolitical commentary…we didn’t make a record that was meant to comment on the sociopolitical landscape that we live in. We did, however, make an album that is obviously informed by what is happening now on a grander scale all around us…because we are a part of it and it is a part of us. The Avett Brothers will probably never make a sociopolitical record. But if we did, it might sound something like this.”
Closer Than Together contains 13 new songs, including the single “High Steppin’,” that was a hit on Billboard’s Adult Alternative Songs (AAA) chart. It also includes their new single “Bang Bang,” which is a song about how guns are depicted in movies and media. Other key songs on the album are the more sociopolitical “New Women’s World” and “We America,” the gentle, heartfelt ballads “Better Here” and “When You Learn,” the fun, rollicking “”Sections And Railway Trestles,” and the harder-edged rock cut, “Bleeding White.” Closer Than Together was produced by Scott & Seth Avett, with legendary record producer and label exec, Rick Rubin.
Here’s the video of the Avett Brothers’ single, “High Steppin’.”
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Scott Avett of the Avett Brothers. He discusses the making of their new album, and the band’s songwriting process. He also talks about the Avett Brothers’ strong live performances, and their close connection with their fans.
DK: I read the mission statement that your brother Seth wrote about your new album. He said “this may be the closest our band comes to making a sociopolitical record.” What inspired the band to come up with these themes for the album?
Scott Avett: I think important to this conversation, is that we don’t get together (in advance) and talk about what we’re gonna write about…ever (laughs). We write about things instinctually, and instantly. And we realize what an album is, after the collection has been realized. In hindsight, we can say, “Okay wait, these songs have some common themes and common threads.” And in hindsight looking at it, we realized it has those tones, over and under. I think it’s easy to look around, and see that we’re all affected by something in time and history in this country that we have a personal relationship with, whether it be ultra-active or not. Seth and I certainly have personal relationships with a lot of the conventional, mainstream topics, as well as intimate topics and personal topics that are very specific to us as well.
DK: Your new album is called Closer Than Together. Does that title mean, to be very unified?
Avett: Exactly. When we were working on the album artwork, I spent many hours [thinking about] the concepts of the songs. I spent a lot of time with images, and I knew that I wanted to make an image that had some group of us, some number of us within our group, blended, and I would hope, as I do with our songwriting, that whatever we do is reflective of our beliefs, our lifestyle, our love. And I kept coming back to these blended images of Seth and Bob and I. And when I did, I was thinking about being close, like we are all one body. If we see that, which is something that I’ve gathered from my own spiritual readings…if we live that way, we can’t go wrong, we can’t lose. I kept thinking…What’s closer than together? What’s better than together? That’s when I thought…Closer Than Together. So Seth and I threw it around, and it’s like you said—it’s about the unification of us, of all of us, which is our general mission. Our mission is to love and be part of something that is not divisive.
Here’s the video of the Avett Brothers’ song, “Bang Bang.”
DK: I like your single “High Steppin’,” which sounds fun and playful. I noticed that Seth has a spoken word part in the middle of the song. Can you talk about the making of this song?
Avett: I wrote the original draft of those lyrics, and then Seth—as it is common for us to do—I brought it to the table and Seth edited it and improved upon it. Originally, the song was much more of a conventionally country, sort of ‘70s Texas country sound. With the spoken word part, I was thinking about how Johnny Cash read Revelation (from the Bible)–I had this CD, and I listened to that and it was incredible. I kept thinking about the power and authority of that spoken word. And we’re there…we’re in a place in our lives and “careers” that I feel very comfortable doing that, and Seth feels very comfortable doing that. So it’s kind of our version, dropping a little of our own personal wisdom that we put on ourselves. And then the silliness of the whole thing, to undercut it and say “you know, really, that might all just be total BS.” That really, simplifying is the key. So you know, it’s meant to be silly and contradictory.
DK: Two other songs that I like on your new album are “Bang Bang” and “New Woman’s World.” First, can you tell me about “Bang Bang”?
Avett: “Bang Bang” is about gun violence in movies and in the media…about the ludicrous imagery and how it feeds our minds. It has nothing to do directly with gun control, but of course indirectly it does. I probably agree that about guns, we should have good laws, and we should abide by the laws that are in place. And we should always be interested in improving them. But this song is about gun violence on the screen.
DK: “New Woman’s World” is a song that says how men have messed up the world, and maybe it’s the women’s turn to fix it. What inspired you and Seth to write this song?
Avett: It’s kind of an apocalyptic look, poking fun at the demise of our planet, with it being this “man’s world.” James Brown had the song “It’s a Man’s World,” and it’s a parody on all that. Just think—if it had been a woman’s world since the beginning of time, would that be better than a man’s world? Maybe we should give it a shot (laughs).
Here’s the video trailer of the 2018 documentary film: May It
Last: A Portrait of The Avett Brothers.
DK: I heard the humor in the song as I was listening to it, for sure.
Avett: Absolutely. Both “New Woman’s World,” “Bang Bang,” and all of the songs on the record are really important to us…they’re our personal relationships with things. And we were raised with nothing but admiration and respect towards any of the women in our lives—moms, sisters, wives, girlfriends—that it was a human respect that was mutual. That’s important to us.
DK: With you and Seth, what’s your general songwriting process? Would you and Seth bring your own ideas to a writing session, and then you and the band would flesh out the ideas?
Avett: Yes…once we’re together, that’s happening. For instance, the two songs you just mentioned, were brought basically done from Seth. They’re not in my language necessarily, but once they’re in the circulation of the band, Seth and I take full ownership of them and work with them. And we sort out how something goes past that, from Seth or me, to the Avett Brothers. We definitely discern and separate those entities along the way. And hopefully, that separation ultimately leads to the opposite—it’s a bringing together so that we unify those distinctions.
Once we’re in the studio, we have fragments that we’re writing. It’s always a lot of fun to discover together what may be worth saying. It’s nice to have a partnership. The partnership is really eye-opening and it can do great things.
DK: Your band is known for its strong live shows, and you sell out arenas across the country. What does that mean to you, to be able to build a large following and passionately connect with fans at your shows?
Avett: I was talking to Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, talking about projection (live), and how we deliver songs, and we talked about about [how Anthony Kiedis and Flea perform]. And he made a point about them and him, that was very reflective and I understood very well, that a lot of times, I’ll tell myself, “Okay, I’m going into this, and I’m gonna calm it down and focus on my vocal, my tone and everything.” However, there is a way that I deliver and that I project, that’s it’s one machine and it’s one motion. And I’ve certainly learned how to dial it back or how to warm up into it, but not be too concise or deliberate. I like to follow what’s natural with it, and a lot of times I find myself projecting in very energetic ways (laughs). And that’s because it’s just my delivery. I don’t think that I can break from it.
It’s very different than writing songs and recording. You know, the writing is so not like playing live (laughs). It’s so much more of a still interaction with contemplation and meditation, and it’s just much more receiving for me, and less kinetic and explosive energy. So it’s such a different thing. And I think that’s relatable…it’s reflective. I think it’s exciting. I don’t know that for sure…I can only trust what I hear, and I can just keep trying to do what I do naturally (laughs). But it’s a blast, and to this day, we truly enjoy that interaction and that connection.