It’s been three years since The Avett Brothers last released an album. Magpie and the Dandelion saw the folk rock act dipping into spirited melodies in 2013, flaunting the type of energy the Grammy Award-nominated alternative folk collective are now known for. On June 24th, they will make their return with full-length True Sadness via American/Republic Records.
With the album’s announcement comes a personal letter penned by Seth Avett. In it, he discusses the band’s progression over the years ever since they formed in in 2000. It’s a heartfelt note that, as fans can attest to, shows Seth’s true feelings towards the band in articulate terms. As such, True Sadness is “a patchwork quilt, both thematically and stylistically,” where cornerstone influences such as Queen, Tom Petty, Nine Inch Nails, Gillian Welch, and more are cited as influencing their songwriting this time around. The full letter can be found below.
The album’s lead single, “Ain’t No Man”, will be released in the next few weeks. While the album title suggests The Avett Brothers are slowing things down, “Ain’t No Man” speeds ahead with vivacious tempos and clean production, showing the group have done anything but nap in the three years between LPs.
In anticipation of the release, bassist Bob Crawford talked to CoS over the phone about working on the album, the story behind “Ain’t No Man”, and why the band needed to inject a little sadness into their music.
“Ain’t No Man” has a fuller sound than I expected. What’s the story behind that, and why did you want it to be the lead single?
Well the story behind the creation of the song was early last year, January I guess, 2015, Scott and Seth went into the studio to kind of get some demos going, and to start our process. So they went in just the two of them in January, and then I went in with them in I think it was February/March, and then we began to build from there. As I recall, as I best recall, this was the last thing they did in that session and it was just something that Scott had these lyrics and had this idea in his head and he sang it, he was just singing it for Seth. And he sang the bassline, he had this bassline in his head, he sang the bass line for him, and that was literally, it was just kind of like smoke in a bottle. It was just a moment of complete inspiration, it was one of these moments when the song kind of comes together in one second. That was the genesis for the vibe and for basically what became that song.
Now, why it’s the lead single to the record, I feel it makes a statement and it kind of is something that we’ve kind of always, it’s the kind of thing where you begin to dissect it and define every aspect of it, it loses its power, you know what I’m saying? But I feel like if you take our body of work there’s a worldview behind that and I feel like it started out in the beginning where the songs were very personal and subjective, where it was a guy and a girl, or a guy wrestling with what he’s going to do in life or what the meaning of life is, and we’ve kind of moved on through the years and wrestled with mortality and dealing with death and divorce, you know things like that.
I feel like “Ain’t No Man” kind of, there is a higher level to it, I’m trying to avoid the word religion and spiritual but there is something about finding your place in the universe, or being able to put your finger on where you sit in this life, whatever your religion is or your worldview is. I feel like if you take the catalog of songs that we have from 2001 to the past 15 years, there is this, this song is almost like the star on top of the tree in a way. Does that make any sense at all?
Absolutely. You guys have been a band now for over 15 years. It seems like over that time, both individually and as a band, you have learned how to have your music life and your daily life come together to provide some kind of resolution. It feels natural.
Yea, it’s almost like, think about the character in “Headful of Doubt”, and some of the you know, and this is the one lyric in 15 years I really did get a lot of grief about like “your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected”. But if you take that character, um, then compare that with “Ain’t No Man” or put them side by side, and see what that guy figured out in “Ain’t No Man”. That guy, that’s a more mature “Aint No Man” is in some ways a more mature “Headful of Doubt” guy, because he’s realizing that his soul is free, it doesn’t matter what people think of you, it doesn’t matter what grief you’re getting from your boss, or maybe the struggles you’re having in your family life. If you live by love, it’s going to work itself out, it’s all going to be good, you’re going to, it’s almost like it’s okay to release even in the midst of struggle and crisis and heartache and pain and fear, it’s okay to let go. And kind of consider that, and consider that pain, and consider that fear, and by letting that go there can be peace, peace can be found. These are all my words, but you know sitting where I sit and seeing what I see on a daily basis I think that’s probably a pretty spot on analysis of “Ain’t No Man”.
Do you think this record as a whole is your way of relaxing and falling into things?
Yea, I think so. You know there were things about the coming together of this record – well first of all it was very easy. And not meaning that it wasn’t long days, and there weren’t periods of fatigue, and that kind of thing, but it was easy in the sense that we really the process, I talked about those initial demo sessions, which we did maybe three or four of them, which that was kind of a new thing for us, and we’ve been kind of moving toward that since I And Love And You. Where it was kind of a demo period, first it was home recordings, and then taking the home recordings to Rick, and getting his input and then going back. This was a more formal demo period, like we went into the studio and we really demoed these songs. There was more, what I would call, and this doesn’t demean it, writing on the fly. More like, Scott would write something, and we would be in the studio and Scott would be like okay I’ve got this, and we would kind of start hashing. And we’d start playing a little bit, and Seth would go like wait wait wait I think I’ve got something, I need 15 minutes or I need a half hour, and then everybody would disperse. And there were times where Scott and Seth would both go to their corners and just write for a little bit.
So that was unique, and that kind of fits where we are in life, being we are in family life. We are all in family life, and that the days of us all hanging out together and writing, that needs to be scheduled now. That time is scheduled, that gets on the books and then it’s almost like rather than Scott wandering over to Seth and them hanging out for a half hour it’s more a matter of okay we’ll meet you here, we’ll do this for these three days. That brings an intensity to it, but along with the intensity and the focus of it, it was still very relaxed and very enjoyable. We were very happy. We’ve been in the studio so much, and to this extent to the actual recording when you get down to the line and we’re dealing with this with Rick, we’ve been doing this with Rick for years now and there’s this relationship and this familiarity. Any of the preconceived ‘Oh my god I’m with Rick Rubin’ or ‘Oh my god this is a nice studio and there’s a lot of money on the line here’, whatever that can be is gone. It’s faded away, because we are in a familiar setting with a consciousness of the temporariness of it all, and with also a firm place in our hearts that we’re so lucky to do this and that this is a blessing and we’re very grateful. So, through all that, for me was the most relaxed recording period we’ve had.
True Sadness Artwork:
You’ve been working with Rick Rubin for a while now. Is this your fourth album working with him?
Well, technically I And Love And You and then Magpie and Carpenter were same session. And then, this would be technically the fourth, third session, fourth album.
So by now the band and Rubin have a pretty comfortable working relationship. Did he try anything new on this album?
You know I get the sense — and this is just observation that Rick is such a fan of music, or such an amazing listener — that he clearly takes every song as it comes. What was different about, I would say, and I’ve only worked with Rick on our sessions so I don’t know about any other sessions at other times, but we had seven people in the recording studio recording together for a period of this. Which was different for us, we had done something akin to that on “Go to Sleep” on “Emotionalism”, that recording that song we had Donny Herron from Bob Dylan’s band, we had us and it was our first foray with Joe Kwon, and we were all in the same room at Echo Mountain Studios in Nashville and we had to divide but were sometimes playing together.
We did a large part of the record like that this time, and you had all of us in the studio and on the other side of the glass you had Rick. And then Rick would come out, we would run a song a few times, and then Rick would come down and come into the studio and he’d go up to somebody and be like okay that sounds good let’s try it like this maybe think of this while you’re doing it. So he kind of gave notes, and it very much felt like he was, I kind of thought back to like a Bing Crosby recording from the 50’s or 60’s where you had everybody in the same room and the producer there. I think that was fun for Rick, you’d have to ask him but I think he enjoyed the interaction and everything as much as we did.
On Magpie I know you wanted to convey this sort of youthful wonder with the songs that album and the overall feeling. Based on the title, True Sadness sounds like it’s going to counteract that — but “Ain’t No Man” is full of a lot of life. How does this album act as a follow-up to Magpie? Does it actually kind of have that sadness to it or is that title separate from the sound?
No, I think there’s definitely a sadness to it, you know when you hear the full work the sadness is very evident and then a lot of lamenting is in it. You know, but it’s not negative, like I kind of said before what’s the best way to bear the sadness of life? It’s inevitable, and I think the title of record gives that its props, the concept of pain. There’s the joy of living and then there’s the pain of life, and there of the same and they need each other, I think, in a lot of ways. I’m trying to think of the best way to say this – the sadness, let me just go back to what specifically you’re asking, you’re saying that “Magpie” there was a sadness to it, and does it carry over into the next record. It’s honest. It’s laid bare. I think there’s a lot of sadness, pain laid bare in the new record but it’s anything but morose, and “Ain’t No Man” exhibits that. I think you’ll see in some of the other songs there’s a lifting up through that.
What do you mean by lifting up?
A lifting up meaning that it’s the other side of sadness, and the fact, I really think “Ain’t No Man” really exhibits or demonstrates this, that there’s a letting go that ultimately needs to happen, and that letting go in the midst of pain is a lot of way release. There’s enough room in the human heart for devastating pain and disappointment and fear AND love and joy and exuberance for life and hope, you don’t feel, and it’s possible I think that this comes with age this record is definitely, it’s a middle aged worldview no matter which way you wanna slice it because you know we’re all kind of middle aged now, you can’t go back to girls and cars and wild nights, you know you can’t go back.
What we’re finding in life as we’ve gone through some terrible, terrible things is that you can be grieving at the same time you’re joyful, and you can be joyful at the same time you’re nursing a broken heart. The human heart is big enough for all that at the same time, and if it wasn’t we’d be doomed. It would be a miserable life, but we are the creatures that we are, we have been endowed with the ability to kind of accomplish both at the same time. I’d make the argument that most of us are walking around every day and our hearts are full of joy and love while at the same time they’re also carrying great burdens and great fears, and we’re very complex creatures. But I think “True Sadness” will demonstrate that.
How do you think True Sadness fits into The Avett Brothers’ entire catalog that you’ve put out so far?
Well I think I said it earlier, but I think it’s the star on top of the tree. It’s always got to be the newest thing, always has to reflect where you are today? You know, like we were kind of saying this after Magpie, which you know it’s been like four or five years since we recorded Magpie in 2010/2011. 2016. For five years, we didn’t have anything that reflected where we are today, where we’ve been. So I look at all the records as kind of mile markers, you know, we were at mile marker wherever when “A Carolina Jubilee” came out and now we’re down that road, wherever. So where does it, how do you want to look at it, abstract conceptually I think what I just said fits that, but if you want to look at it technically and musically I hope this is a more musically coherent and I know True Sadness is a more musically coherent and better executed and sonically more pleasing than the ones that came before it.
I read that you guys recorded with a seven piece band for this; is that true?
We were in the studio with Rick and we recorded with our live band. Now it’s seven people on stage, so that was new, that was a new thing. I think that is gonna come through in the recording.
Absolutely. Now that the whole record is done and ready to start promoting, what do you find that you’re most proud of?
The fact that we did it, you know, I’m proud that we’ve been together for 15 years, which is really hard to do. These days whose worked in the same place for 15 years, let alone being a musical group? That’s a real, really exciting and kind of amazing that we’ve been able to accomplish that.
Additionally, The Avett Brothers have released a new series of never-before-seen photos chronicling the band’s growth from a few members to their now seven-piece touring band. Their evolution of the band is something that Seth Avett touches on in his fan letter in detail and goes on to say, “(on the album) they came together because they are the best patterns we have and because each of us brought our own fabric to the quilting frame … We made this record as people who have made records together before – with experienced hands, appreciative hearts, renewed focus, and the knowledge of our good fortune to make music once again.’”
Scott Avett, Seth Avett, Bob Crawford. Location: New York City 2005
Joe Kwon, Seth Avett, Scott Avett, and Bob Crawford. Location: Concord 2009
Paul Defiglia, Mike Marsh, Joe Kwon, Scott Avett, Bob Crawford, Seth Avett, Tania Elizabeth. Location: Concord 2016
The Avett Brothers 2016 Tour Dates:
03/16 – Austin, TX @ JW Marriot Austin (South by Southwest)
03/17 – Austin, TX @ The Scoot Inn (South by Southwest)
04/07 – Wilmington, NC @ Azalea Festival
04/08 – New York, NY @ Madison Square Garden *
04/09 – Port Chester, NY @ The Capitol Theatre
04/10 – Worcester, MA @ DCU Arena *
04/19 – Ft. Wayne, IN @ Embassy Theatre
04/21 – Chicago, IL @ Chicago Theater
04/22 – Chicago, IL @ Chicago Theater
04/23 – Chicago, IL @ Chicago Theater
04/29 – Los Angeles, CA @ Greek Theatre #
04/30 – Berkeley, CA @ Greek Theatre #
05/05 – Tuscaloosa, AL @ Tuscaloosa Amphitheater *
05/06 – Nashville, TN @ Bridgestone Arena ^
05/07 – Alpharetta, GA @ Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre ^
05/12 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Stage AE Outdoors
05/14 – Philadelphia, PA @ Mann Center
05/15 – Fairfax, VA @ Eagle Bank Arena ^
06/02-05 – Hunter, NY @ Mountain Jam
06/03 – Baltimore, MD @ Pier Six Concert Pavilion
06/04 – Baltimore, MD @ Pier Six Concert Pavilion
06/09 – St. Louis, MO @ Chaifetz Arena *
06/10 – Milwaukee, WI @ BMO Harris Arena
06/11 – Minneapolis, MN @ Target Center *
06/14 – Deadwood, SD @ Deadwood Mountain Grand Event Center
06/16 – Muskogee, OK @ G Fest
06/18 – Dallas, TX @ Gexa Energy Pavilion
06/19 – Austin, TX @ Austin City Limits Live at The Moody Theater
07/04 – Portland, ME @ Thompson’s Point
07/07 – Syracuse, NY @ Landmark Theatre
07/08 – Chautauqua, NY @ Chautauqua Amphitheater
07/09 – Toledo, OH @ Toledo Zoo Amphitheater
07/15-17 – Louisville, KY @ Forecastle Festival
07/21-22 – Troutdale, OR @ Edgefield
07/23 – Kenta, WA @ ShoWare Arena
07/25 – Nampa, ID @ Ford Idaho Center Amphitheater
07/28 – Morrison, CO @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre &
07/29 – Morrison, CO @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre %
07/30 – Morrison, CO @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre !
09/16 – Lincoln, CA @ Thunder Valley Casino Resort ^
09/17-18 – Del Mar, CA @ Kaaboo Del Mar
* = w/ Brandi Carlile
# = w/ Milk Carton Kids
^ = w/ Brett Dennen
& = w/ Nahko and Medicine for the People
% = w/ Gary Clark Jr.
! = w/ J Mascis