Like everyone across the globe, Seth Avett found his 2020 suddenly upended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For him, his brother, Scott, longtime bandmate Bob Crawford and the four other musicians in the Avett Brothers that meant announced concert dates in the spring and summer were cancelled and rescheduled for 2021.
An attempt at some degree of normalcy found the Avetts performing a drive-in concert on Aug. 29 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The sold-out show was considered a success — fan interest was engaged by the pared-down line up featuring Seth, Scott, Bob and Joe Kwon and safety protocols did not make it a super-spreader event.
That has led to the Victory Lap, another Avett concert to be held this Friday, October 23 at the Speedway. For those who cannot attend, a livestream will be available. Fans can pre-order on nugs.net or nugs.tv, and then tune in to watch live on Friday at 8:30 PM ET, or watch on-demand within 48 hours after the event (HD Pay-Per-View: $24.99, 4K Pay-Per-View: $34.99; Avett Guild members will receive a $5 discount code).
Like the concert, the brothers returned to their stripped-down roots when they recorded and released, after a 12-year gap, the next in their Gleam series. The Third Gleam touches upon emotional and philosophical ideas of freedom and dealing with society’s ills. Although it was recorded prior to the virus the new EP unintentionally became current for our times.
Our conversation touches upon Third Gleam and playing again as well as Seth’s love of all musical styles including his current obsession with Homeboy Sandman, life during COVID-19, songwriting and the musical, “Swept Away: Inspired By & Featuring The Music of The Avett Brothers.”
JPG: I’ve done a number of interviews recently and I always start with seeing how people are doing and how they’re dealing with the pandemic. I interviewed Wayne Coyne of Flaming Lips and the band would have had a very busy summertime playing concerts. It also delayed the album American Head from June to September. How did you deal with it initially? Were you freaked out? Bummed out? Moved on from there?
SA: It was a little bit of all of it. The feeling, I think, for everybody, at this point, it seems like we’ve all been in it long enough now that there have been multiple discernible stages. My initial stage was one of just a massive gear change, digging into the dirt figuratively and literally. Built a couple of raised beds, planted things. Checked in with my local farmers that I could work out buying directly from; really had a mindset change in terms of what home life looked like.
On top of that, my wife and our little son, we lived in New York City. We lived in Manhattan when this started. So, we left and came down to North Carolina. It was a massive shift. I have this little house that I bought when I was in my 20s that I’ve kept over the years. It’s on the same land as my parents and my brother. That was waiting for us. Thank heaven. That was a place we could go. So, we left Manhattan and started living that home life and digging in.
We didn’t have any COVID cases in our family. We were very lucky to hunker down early. So, what I was doing mainly was checking in with my relationships with my family and my marriage.
We had time spent with my little son and a lot of that was very beautiful. Economically, it’s not great in terms of our future because there’s really no end in sight. We don’t plan on pushing the envelope in a way that’s dicey in our estimation. So, economically not great. Spiritually, pretty healthy, to come up against something like this and in terms testing the strength and strengthening the relationships that are closest to us, there have been some advantages. But, on the whole. I would love for it to get back to a more normal kind of a template.
JPG: As far as taking a small step towards normalcy, the Avett Brothers played a drive-in concert back in August that was very successful and you’re having another one coming up on Oct. 23. So, you have that going for you artistically and even emotionally for you and your fans.
SA: Totally. And that show was a great experiment. We had a lot of luck on our side and we had a lot of people on our side. They did a great job. I’ve never experienced a performance where there had to be more teamwork. We were doing something that could be criticized by some as dangerous. We believe that if we did it and everybody followed the guidelines that it could be a success on all fronts. I think that’s what we all experienced. It was shown that it didn’t spread. There were no super-spreader event type cases after or anything like that.
So, we can all agree that it was a success. It was a success to me because it meant that we had something to prepare for. I got to get back in tune a little bit with Bob [Crawford] and Joe [Kwon], which is important to me. For us and for all the people that came I really feel like there was just as much value in having something on the calendar to look forward to as there was in the actual show. It’s really important. It’s that open-endedness that really plays on people’s psyche, and it plays on our happiness and fear. Knowing that date was out there added some buoyancy to our outlook to the future, and I think it did that for our fans as well. I really think there’s a lot of value in that.
So, yeah, it was great. I’m excited about this next one and who knows what the next step is? If nothing else, John, this whole thing is a big huge reminder — and I’m sure we’ll all forget it very quickly after this whole chapter ends — it’s just a great reminder on what we take for granted. Just count those blessings, and being able to get together and enjoy art and music together is something I take for granted all the time.
JPG: That’s true. As far as the concert itself, when you’re talking about teamwork, in some ways it was probably more DIY than your previous tour playing to packed arenas. Musically, with that show being just the four onstage, I’m sure it wasn’t done consciously but it corresponded with the Third Gleam.
SA: That’s true. That’s true. And that certainly wasn’t planned when we were making the “Third Gleam.” The process of getting back into the Gleam with Scott was really more or less like we both felt, “It’s time to do that.” It felt right. That was, of course, pre-pandemic. When the record was coming out in the midst of the pandemic, it all just seemed to fit very well into this time.
We are in an age of simplifying in a lot of ways and we’re not naturally given to simplifying but simplification is being forced upon us.
JPG: The first two from the Gleam series came out in 2006 and 2008. Then, there was such a big gap before the third one. Also, some of the reviews I read mentioned how this is back to your roots and pared down compared to your recent albums, which had more production and less simple arrangements. For you and Scott, was it a consideration in that sense? You’ve been doing these albums that have been fine-tuned. Now, it’s time to do something with two guys, two microphones, two guitars.
SA: Yeah, totally. You know John, I read at one point in one of my student piano books. At the beginning there’s an explanation. It always stuck with me. It said something about how all the great composers one of the things they have in common is that they really utilize the tool of contrasts. That always really stuck with me. Every time I hear some piece of music that has a lot of contrast in it like Dark Side of the Moon or Toxicity, that System of a Down record — that’s a super-wild, blaring example. Within a piece of music or within a record or within a career, if you look at Dylan or Tom Waits or somebody like that and you see these massive texture changes. I always feel that’s really effective. Mozart knew that. Beethoven knew that. Chopin knew that.
In the context of a canon of recorded work, it makes a lot of sense. In more of a short term consideration, yes, the benefit of making full-on full-length records with the entire seven-piece band with Rick Rubin in California or in North Carolina, it is experimentation and a hope for limitless following of inspiration regardless of genre, regardless of texture. If a horn section is what’s needed, “Let’s add a horn section.” If it’s more strings or whatever it is, it’s more synthetic sounds and we chase those things and we experiment, and it makes us really excited to find the best way to deliver a song or build it or deconstruct it. That’s the benefit of that world. There’s a lot of other benefits. The camaraderie, there’s a lot of benefits, but at the center of this entire project is me and Scott in a room sharing songs with each other.
Each in the Gleam series is a collaboration in terms of half the songs I bring to the table, half the songs Scott brings to the table. But it’s more or less an exercise in our brotherhood, of our trust. We don’t really tamper with each other’s work here. It’s really like, “Here’s three or four songs that are my newest and I feel excited about.” and I’m like, “Great! I’ll sing on the chorus.” And I do the same thing.
So, simplifying the process of recording with just one engineer and just me and him. Simplifying the process of the cover art because it’s the same cover with different colors. Simplifying the naming of it, the promotion of it. All of this stuff is like, “Let’s get this thing back to its basics and just enjoy it and not mess with it too much and try to make it the most pure example of the musical side of our brotherhood.”