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Scott Avett on the upcoming album, art and fatherhood

A week before The Avett Brothers set out on a run of dates up the West Coast (which include three nights in Oregon), Scott Avett took the time to chat with EW about their upcoming album The Carpenter, art and fatherhood. 

First, I’d like to say congrats on The Carpenter. Loving the album.

Thank you, man. I appreciate that.

Are you guys working in a lot of the new songs live?

Yeah, we are. We’re actually in the process now of practicing them daily for working them in. I don’t know how many of them we’ll be playing at Edgefield. There’ll probably be a couple that will be held off until the actual release of the album but there’s certainly going to be a couple added since we last played a couple weeks ago. We’re working on getting more in.

A Father’s First Spring” is a really beautiful song. As a dad, that song really got to me.

Me too. [Laughs]

I bet! Do you ever get choked up playing songs like that? I understand why you’ve held off on putting songs like that out there. Definitely feels private.

Sure. I do, man. As a father, anybody that ... Well, I guess I can just speak for myself on that. I just know that I was affected by it. You know, everybody’s telling you how you are gonna be affected by it but you don’t really buy into until it happens and then you’re kinda in this new club of people that understand the weight of that. And that song’s obviously just a product of that. 

There’s a couple of songs that were in the other group of recorded songs from this album’s sessions that really get me choked up because of our bass player, Bob, and his scenario with his daughter. There were some lyrics that were written that pertain to her and her life — not as direct as “A Father’s First Spring” but more encoded. They were very hard to listen to ... but in a very hopeful way, in a good way. I certainly get a little choked up listening to them, which is odd to get choked up listening to something that you had a part in making, but I also think that it’s a testament for the validity and the need to be released. You know, I’m not special, nor my brother, nor you from anybody else. So when you get affected by something you know that it’s probably going to affect someone else too. You know what I mean? It’s not like I’m a special case. So, yeah, it’s a good sign even though it does choke you up a bit.

Does your daughter have a favorite Avetts song?

Right now, she likes “Live and Die.” She calls it “Sing Like A Sparrow.” And I have to listened to it more than I ever dreamed I would have to listen to a song that I will probably play more times than I ever dreamed of. [Laughs.] So yeah, man. That’s a crazy dynamic. She’s almost four. She asks if she can get up on stage and stand with me and help sing “Like A Sparrow” or “Slight Figure of Speech.” Those are the two she’ll sing.

That’s awesome man.

Yeah, a blessing and a curse. [Laughs.]

Lyrically speaking, I noticed that on The Carpenter, there seems to be a vibe or theme of comfort with the temporary nature of life, the idea of change and embracing the now. This could be the most spiritual Avetts album to date. Does that seem fair to say?

I think it seems fair to say. And I think for me, I’m kind of learning that in speaking to people that have heard the record from a different point of view than mine. I think you are kind of saying what others have tried to say. I think that it might be. I just didn’t realize that while we were making it.

Some of the lyrics, to me, sort of came off as little proverbs in a way ... or just good advice on life, you know?

Yeah, I agree. I feel very lucky to have been a part in putting it together. Absolutely, man. And I’m glad that it comes off to you that way. 

Primarily, I’m a graphic designer and photographer. I know that you designed all the previous album art. Did you do this one as well?

I chose to collaborate with an artist that I have admired for some time. Seth and I are huge fans of Martin Kvamme from Oslo, who I understand has done most all of Mike Patton’s recordings with Ipecac. I’ve been in amazement and just admired all his visuals for that company and for Mike Patton’s projects as well as other projects that Martin has done. And so, in thinking about this project and thinking in terms of producers and the work being the focus and not necessarily our practice but making sure that it’s as good as it can be, I decided to start an initial vision and pass it to Martin if he was ok with that. He was 100% good with that. So I passed an image to him and said this is what I’m thinking. This was before he had full reins of the direction. And that was it. We didn’t need to guide any more. He’s got a great instinct. His intuition, visually, is amazing. So we shared, we collaborated on this one because we felt like it was time. We felt like the work would benefit from it. I didn’t not want to do it on my own out of principle. At first I was like “I’ve done all of them. How can I not do this one?” And then, I was like “That’s ridiculous!” That’s a ridiculous concept. That’s where tradition can be dangerous to the work. I’ve worked to let go of that and it’s felt good so far.

The art has always been an integral part for me. Seems to go hand in hand with the music. 

It is. And we maintained that with this. I do believe that. 

That’s actually what first drew me to you guys before I ever heard your music. You were coming through Oregon and I was creating an ad for our paper for the show. The promo for the show, the elements that they gave us was one of your artworks. It was one of your really vertical, art nouveau-influenced drawings. And that got my attention. That in itself made me to go out and buy an album.

Nice, man. Yeah, I’m the same way. I think the visuals go hand in hand. I think that when they’re not, when they’re done in a lazy way, it’s really kind of a bummer. I’m drawing as we’re speaking right now. Actually tracing but ...

I was actually going to ask if you get a lot of work done on the road?

I do. What I try to do while I’m home is cut and prepare the linoleum blocks to make it so that the work that I do on the road is a little more mindless. Right now, I can’t engage with myself and draw a form but I can trace and transfer drawings to blocks in a way that I work. So right now, I’m working on one that will possibly be an Avett Brothers linoleum cut. You know, it’s a matter of using the time as best I can. 

Who are some of your other influences as a visual artist?

I’ve been hung up in painting by Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro lighting for years. Odd Nerdrum, from Norway, even though he doesn’t really call himself an artist, he calls himself a storyteller and a revealer of self. That’s just a couple to mention, not even really scratching the surface. There’s an artist that was a professor of mine, Michael Ehlbeck, who is a printmaker. I’ve printed with him for years. He’s worked on many of the Avett Brothers prints with me. He’s kind of the Rick Rubin to my visuals. He as well as a painting professor named Leland Wallin. They’ve both helped me slow down. I watched the way that they work and they both sit down and enjoy the drawing process. They don’t put unrealistic deadlines on their work. Their work is ongoing until it’s finished. The painting professor that I had, Leland, he actually told me that he’s spent 10 or 11 years on paintings or drawings sometimes. And from a young artist point of view, hearing an older artist say that is good advice and good direction.

Anything else that you want to mention about The Carpenter? Or any certain songs that stand out to you?

Well, I’m practicing the songs now and still learning about them. I’ll take this angle with that question. Live, a song that’s been very, very interesting to play and we’ve played it a lot is “Down With The Shine.” I bring that up because we’ve watched that song turn from what it was originally to something else live, to something different when we recorded it, and then on to something else live and it was different than it was before. We’ve been steadily watching this song mutate. It’s super sensitive to different crowds and moods we’re in. I really enjoy discovering what sort of tempo we’re in with that song each night. And I believe in the theme of the song enough that I enjoy playing it all the time. The theme being, mainly, caution of material wants, the need to keep youth and the need to hold on to this physical state. It’s a pretty silly attempt to talk about it because it’s such a big concept. We think about those things a lot. They’re just attempts to explain to people that we’re trying to figure these things out. Most of the songs on the album that are in that realm, conceptually and lyrically, are really just revealing weaknesses about ourselves. I think sometimes people may misread that but that’s really what it is — just revealing things that we struggle with.

The Avett Brothers play the Britt Festival (Jacksonville, OR) Friday, August 24 and Edgefield (Troutdale, OR) Saturday, August 25 and Sunday, August 26.

The Carpenter is out September 11th on American Recordings/Universal Republic.