Seth Avett: “Not every song needs words, not every song needs a chorus, not every song needs a guitar.”

Originally Published in our Guitarist Issue

by Cliff Rhys James
Photos by Derek Brad

The Avett Brothers’ lyrics strike me, like they do most people, as pure heartfelt honesty. It’s because they’re conceived by unpretentious people who unwrap reality and let it shine in all it’s glorious imperfections. In fact, Seth told me something a few days prior to our interview that not only resonated with me at the time but has echoed in my head ever since. I’m not quoting directly here but it was something like: “you truly get to know some people in five minutes and others in five years, but once you do you instantly recognize that they are somehow wounded like the rest of us – just in their own unique way. and that recognition is what binds us together in a shared humanity.”

Here is what happened during our interview.

Guitar Connoisseur: This past year or so, we’ve lost David Bowie, Prince, Lemmy, B.B. King, Scott Weiland, Merle Haggard, and others. Did any of these folks have much of an influence on you and if so how?

Seth Avett: Each of the artists here had a significant influence on Scott and me, and the band as well. Some more directly than others, but each mentioned here made such a mark in their lives, that it would be nearly impossible (thankfully) to escape it. Bowie for his fearlessness and vivid color, Prince for his virtuosity and finesse and mystery, Lemmy for his power and humor and blue-collar approachability, B.B. King for his feel and tasteful sense of melody within the blues structures, Scott Weiland for his larger-than-life stage presence and soaring choruses, Merle Haggard for sincerity, and darkness, and honesty. The list goes on of course and we are grateful to have been in the world at the same time as these monumental talents…and we enjoy stealing whatever we can from them whenever the opportunity presents itself. Ha!

Musikfest SteelStacks Bethlehem, PA August 14,

GC: If I were to ask your brother Scott to name the three or four biggest musical influences in your life, who would he mention?

SA: I just asked him, off the top of his head, for 3 or 4, and he gave me this 10 plus: Hall and Oates, Tom T. Hall, Mike Patton, Faith No More, Townes Van Zant (and the entire Texas Songwriter contingent active in the 1970s), John Prine, Charlie Poole, John Hartford, String Bean

GC: If I were to ask you, which I am, to name the three or four biggest musical influences in Scott’s life, who would you mention?

SA: I would probably just add Michael Jackson, Doc Watson, Willie Nelson, and Van Halen.

Musikfest SteelStacks Bethlehem, PA August 14, 2016

GC: What can you tell us about any sibling rivalry that may exist between you and Scott and how that may help or hinder the band musically?

SA: Any sibling rivalry dissipated when we were teenagers. There are no disadvantages to being in a band together. The family dynamic only strengthens the nucleus of the whole group.

Musikfest SteelStacks Bethlehem, PA August 14, 2016

GC: Do you and Scott compose most of the band’s music and if so, do you have a preferred system/method/ process that works for you? ( example: Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote hundreds of great songs physically apart from each other. Elton would write the music and send it across town to Bernie who would compose lyrics – or — Bernie would pen original lyrics and send them off to Elton who would put them to music. )

SA: Scott and I do compose the songs. We try to keep any set formula at bay. Every idea is its own journey, so we try to be open to whatever approach will serve the idea best. Not every song needs words, not every song needs a chorus, not every song needs a guitar. They’re all different, so in effect, we are trying to learn how to write songs with every song we write.

GC: In “Smithsonian” I hear history’s haunting echoes from “The Band”. In “Satan Pulls the Strings” you’ve stirred up the spirit of the Grateful Dead. And yet these songs come across as genuinely and originally yours – which they are. When you write songs like these do you hear or feel the connection to various musical influences instantly? Or later? Or not at all?

SA: I feel that once you take in certain music or fall in love with a certain song, you absorb in some way that spirit or vibe or sentiment. The Band and The Grateful Dead are part of our fabric as a band and as writers. I don’t think I notice it while we are writing or recording a song, but it makes perfect sense that one might hear those echoes in our work.

Musikfest SteelStacks Bethlehem, PA August 14,

GC: What are your hopes and dreams for life ahead – musically – personally?

SA: I hope to remain connected with my family in a way that keeps me honest with them and to roll with whatever punches are coming. Musically I hope I can keep doing things that scare me and to make myself as open as possible to being a student of those who know more than me in any capacity.

GC: What will happen to the Avett Brothers if you or Scott go off in another direction? For example, I understand that Scott would like to act.

SA: I have no clue what will happen in the future, but I hope and feel confident that I can and will support Scott in anything he feels drawn to. I know I can enjoy the same freedom. As far as the band is concerned, we have no cause to stop any time soon.

GC: Were there one or two or several watershed events in your musical career that you guys instantly recognized as important to your success and if so what were they?

SA: Getting booked for Merlefest (a folk festival in Wilkesboro, NC that draws up to 80,000 people over a 4 day weekend each year). This was a significant moment for us…and real incentive to keep trying to get better and to offer something quality at an event for which we have a great history and respect for as fans.

Musikfest SteelStacks Bethlehem, PA August 14,

GC: When you’re not on the road, do you still live back in North Carolina and if so why?

SA: I do. North Carolina is my home. It is a beautiful place filled with all kinds of beautiful people. I’m five hours form the outer banks and three from the Blue Ridge mountains. I think that’s an answer anyone could appreciate.

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