The Avett Brothers On Feminism, Car Culture, David Lee Roth And More

North Carolina’s Scott and Seth Avett once said they didn’t see themselves ever releasing a socio-political album. But in 2019 they released the brilliant and very astute Closer Than Together.

A year after breaking the seal, the duo are back with the superb The Third Gleam, a powerful eight-song statement on a variety of topics. The band had the chance to play the new material recently in a special sold-out drive-in show at Charlotte Speedway, for 1500 cars, which went so well they just announced a second gig October 23 at the Speedway.

I spoke with Scott about the new music, the women like Bonnie Raitt and Brandi Carlile who have influenced them, mixing his music and painting and what playing a Speedway means to him.   

Steve Baltin: Are there things on the record that you didn’t realize you were thinking about until you go back and listen to the record?

Scott Avett: Seth and I were laughing about how in our journey together, in our growing up I would automatically be the character in the recording or on stage that was more rapid fire and erratic and just more beats per minute. And we were laughing, if you compare the four that he brought, and the four that I brought to the record and how the space was different in them, it sort of switched. And Seth’s four are very narrative, very story like. They would fit well into a protest song category. And mine are negative space, more personal reflection, psychological and spiritual reflection. They are all a type of protest, a type of reckoning with something. A reckoning with the circumstances that we all experience and live in, especially in this country. But we pulled back and realized there are definitely two modes to the unified character that we are on this record.

Baltin: When you go back and put those two together to see how much there is a cohesion in the eight songs?

Avett: Our differences are wide on some things, but for the most part our rhythms together are very unified and very connected. I don’t think there’s any going back on that at this point (laughs). We know somewhat the steps that we are taking and we are experiencing. And we try to lift up each other even when we have differences. And one of us approaches something differently, we try to lift up what the other one is doing. I think the involvement, once I get involved with his, that will bring it over into my court a little bit. And vice-versa.

Baltin: The song, “New Women’s World” was my favorite on the record. And then you follow it up with “Women Like You.” One of the reason BLM was so successful is that white people came out and were allies. Similarly with your songs, where do your songs come from in terms of how pro-feminist they are?

Avett: Well, we really look up to and respect many women in our lives. That’d be the most important thing to say there. We admire, we learn from, we have been raised by, we work with. And the idea that someone that looks different than us, or a different sex, that to me personally, doesn’t have a place. I look up to many women in my life. I look to them as elders, and coworkers, and family members. So for us to honor women in our lives, to me it’s a no-brainer. And I know that’s not the case for everybody around the world. We just have first-hand experience with great women. We’re all working together and I don’t see it any other way. At least in the little corner of the world that my life is, in that world, women are equals to the best ability they are. Sometimes they are above. In my marriage, my wife is the leader, then I’m the leader. She looks to me, she looks up to me, I look up to her. There’s different times. She does different things that I can’t do. I do things that she can’t do. Differences are key and we honor, respect, and love all of them.

Baltin: Are there any women musicians that inspirations or heroes to you? Or that you’ve been around and learned a lot from by watching?

Avett: My mom’s grace is incredible. Both Bonnie, my sister, and Tanya Elizabeth who perform with us in our band – I learn so much from them in how they carry themselves and how they operate onstage as well as offstage. And we guide each other. When it comes to legends, the little bit of time we spent with Bonnie Raitt has been incredible. A dear friend, Brandi Carlisle, who I‘ve worked with. I painted her album cover. And we did some songs with Brandi, we’ve known Brandi for years. Brandi is like a sister, and sometimes are connection is seamless and mind-boggling at times. Those are some women that I completely look up to and use as guides. That’s just a couple among many.

Baltin: I didn’t know you paint as well. I’m always interested in how the arts intersect each other.

Avett: I’m in my studio now. I just had a solo show and the North Carolina Museum of Art and the end of last year, and right after that there was one at SOCO gallery in Charlotte, NC. And I got a piece in Southampton right now at a show called 20/20 Vision. That’s what I went to school for and I’ve just maintained a studio my whole life, since 2000. I put a lot of time in to it (laughs).

Baltin: Having two creative outfits can influence each other, but on the other hand it’s nice to have a break from one and go to the other.

Avett: It is. I have a tendency, a bad habit to think one tends to cancel out the other. I’ve got at odds with it today because I have these weird windows of time. I’m in the middle of a large scale oil painting – if I’m going to set up for it, I need to have at minimum, really I want two or three hours of focused time. But there’s little windows of time today in the schedule and I was sitting down with a fiddle and a guitar in my studio, just playing to the paintings, being here. And it’s funny how I slip into this thing where the two are at odds with each other, way too much. And I act like it has to be one or the other, and it doesn’t. Once I settle in, once I’m sitting with a guitar in front of this painting, after fifteen minutes of them being at odds with each other, I start realizing that I’m in a river. Or a sequence that is good, it’s only my ego and my thoughts that get in the way to make it seem like it’s two different things. They do help and sometimes they are at odds with each other.

Baltin: Let’s talk about the Charlotte Speedway shows. Talk about how it went, getting to play these songs. Everyone has a history with the drive-in, as a kid. There’s something very cool about the drive-in.

Avett: Yeah, totally, car culture. I lived in that last little bit in the nineties. We were still cruising, we’d drive a car into town and meet people, drive the strip. It was so close to the movie American Graffiti, it’s so weird how long ago that is, but there was this little connection. I don’t see it as much. However, obviously in Nascar country, there’s a lot of car culture, just like in LA. There’s a lot of car culture in Charlotte. And so it’s kind of fun to dial into that. It is very American, it’s just fun. It’s kind of nice to see it revive itself. It was very important to us that we covered the template. Something that kept people distanced, separated enough to be safe. To know that we did our part. We weren’t trying to be impatient and pull people into an unsafe scenario too early. So we really waited and tried to make the timing perfect. It was a win-win really. Everyone did so well with it, the fans, we can’t thank them enough. They did an amazing job of following the guidelines. And for us it was pretty similar to a normal show. It was more similar than I was expecting. It’s very quiet because it’s all piping through an FM transmitter, boom boxes and car stereos. So you don’t hear it coming back like those big festival sound systems. But even that was a fun interaction and a different relationship. We hadn’t played in so long live it was a little more focused than it was fun, if you will. But it was super-enjoyable.

Baltin: So who would be your dream artist to see do a drive-in show?

Avett: I already saw this band, but if we had more tickets to see KISS and David Lee Roth again (laughs). Me and my kids, they’re young but they’re just crazy. And we went to see KISS in February, right before all this hit. And I didn’t know that David Lee Roth was opening. And David Lee Roth, I idolized him, well Darryl Hall was my first, but when I discovered David Lee Roth, before I went into a classic rock coma, I just worshipped him, and I’d never seen him live. I wonder if KISS could do it. They’d be cool to see, David Lee Roth and KISS. They could get back on the road and do some drive-in shows. But as far as dream, that’s about as good as it gets.

Baltin: I saw that tour at Staples Center. I forgot how good it was to hear him sing those songs. It was just amazing.

Avett: He killed it. Killed it. It blew my mind. The band held up their end of the deal. He’s 65 right? And he killed it. I was like, man this is cool. I did see Sammy Hagar, that was my very first concert, Van Halen with Sammy Hagar. But Diver Down was the first record I got introduced to. I was like, “What is this?” I was just hearing country music and pop music, but then I heard Diver Down and was like, this is edgy, this is off the rails a little bit, this is good. And looking west was what I did. Mike Patton, after that as I got older , he was my hero. How does he do what he does, why is he who he is, how does he sound like that? How does he shift direction on a dime like that? That blew my mind and I wanted to be a part of that.

Baltin: So what do you take from Third Gleam when you hear it?

Avett: It’s personal for me. I hear a moment in my life. I don’t hear 2020. But I have a tendency to say that because I like it. If we didn’t have to put 2019 to 2020 on a label. If time was marked and explained with different terminology, it would be encompassing of both of those, but that’s from a personal level because it’s not that socially descriptive and loud. But on a personal level it’s just a really small piece of Seth and I and I think that reflects on everyone else. Just like it does for you. I think that speaks to our connection and our oneness and I hope it’s just a little piece of all of that.

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