Scott Avett of the Avett Brothers: On Punk Rock, Rick Rubin and Social Distortion

Categories: Q&As
avettchairshire photo cred - Crackerfarm.jpeg
One would be hard pressed to find more honest music than what the Avett Brothers are crafting these days. With songs about lost love, alcoholism, familial bonds and everything in between, the Avett Brothers have their collective finger on the pulse of the common man. Their lyrics are relatable and their delivery is genuine.

In speaking with Scott Avett his enthusiasm for his music and his appreciation for the continued support from the fans keep him and his brother, Seth, working at a high level. Reserved, humble and polite, Scott discusses inspiration, the significance of winning awards and gives his pick on who would win in a street fight between Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris.
OC Weekly: First off, congrats on your big Americana Music Association award for Duo/Group of the Year. What's the significance of winning something like that?

Scott Avett: Well, I guess there have been different perspectives for me throughout performing and getting into the realm where awards are even talked about or even around. I think that they need to be looked at as extremely unimportant unless you get one and then you need to be aware of how important that can be or how much it can mean, not just to you, but for people that support what you do and love what you do and really make an effort to see that sort of advancement...So it's kinda like any praise from anyone - you don't have to have that to carry on, by any means, but at the same time if that sort of thing if is to come to you there is all the room in the world to be gracious. Kinda like, [awards] only means something if they come to you, if they don't [the awards] don't mean a thing. We are careful to be extremely, extremely appreciative of when they come because it always seems to be a surprise when you get praise, especially in the form of an award for something you just were going to do regardless.

You guys have a show coming up Saturday here in Orange County and the bill is pretty punk heavy. While there may be punkish elements to parts of your catalog you guys certainly aren't a punk band. Speaking to that, what was your earliest exposure to punk rock when you were coming up?

Well, as far as early exposure, it wasn't as direct to what really great punk was. We got kind of an indirect draw...For me, guys like Mike Patton, later forms of Glenn Danzig were things that were turning me on. I wasn't aware of Black Flag. I don't even know if I can be specific with genres. We grew up in the country and we just got these tracks and were told 'This is hardcore, this is punk rock, this is metal." I didn't even really know, I just think you can kind of throw a lot of things into the punk realm. I remember going to a Jesus Lizard and Helmet show in the early 90's that was really inspiring to me. And once again, you know, Helmet, I don't think falls into punk rock nor Jesus Lizard. I know their attitude sure was as punk rock as it could be. They were just really, really abrasive and great.

How did this billing come about?

We had been invited to play some shows with Social Distortion that weren't on the West Coast maybe a couple of years ago and we couldn't make it happen because we couldn't afford to make it happen. We had been on tour and they were like isolated shows where we would have to take the whole group, fly out and get out there and we couldn't make it happen. It was really, really hard not to let it happen because it was such an honor and would've been amazing. So, when it came back around and this time it was like, 'Hey, we could swap off. You'll do a show in Nashville and we'll do a show in California.' It'll be kinda like flipping each others home turf and we jumped all over it.

Have you spoken or met with Mike Ness before?

I have not, but I know his solo record that came out years ago was an awesome presence for me and a couple of friends. These musicians friends of mine were big fans and we can relate to Mike because punk rock and early country have so many similarities. For us, goin' on the road with BR549 there were guys that were out on that tour that came to see the show and they really could have done without us for sure. They were rockabilly guys, punk rock guys and you know they weren't always pleasant and we'd just do our thing, put it out there and move on. I feel like with Mike Ness, his music and what he does out there seems to be in the same vein and in the same spirit that we and BR549 or many of the country/rockabilly/punk country and some even folk, these days, put out there.

The term "Punkgrass" has sometimes been used to describe the Avett Brothers sound. Where did this term come about?

I have no idea. It was more about early on when we were playing a lot more erratic and fast. We would do bluegrass tunes and we had some that were originals that we delivered with a lot of angst and a lot of speed. That was at a time that we were living with a lot more angst, I mean we are talking like seven or eight years ago and back then I think that term got thrown out a lot more. I think that there is a broader approach that we take now.

Up until the Autumn of 2001 you and your brother were in a band called Nemo which was described as a "neo-punk" band. With most everything out of print and no audio to be found online what can you tell us about the band's sound?

We were a five-piece, basically two big stacks, two guitars, a bass, a drummer and me singing. It was pretty straightforward. One guitar, a Gibson, was played with a really low, sludge-y sound and the other was more of a screaming sound that my brother played and we did do quite a bit of harmonies. There was a lot of melodic singing, but there was also lot of screaming. At some point, there will be an EP that will be re-released that we never got out. I hope it will be out in the next year or so. They are working on it now. [The EP] was the best example of what that sound was. I would say that if we would have kept going down that path we probably would have had a similar sound to that of someone like The Mars Volta. There were definitely a lot of changes throughout the music, but we also had a Southern rock feel to it that came out some.

I and Love and You was your first album on a major and marked your first time working with Rick Rubin. You are finishing up the sophomore effort and Rubin was back at the helm. What was round two like?

The biggest difference in this record is our trust with Rick has grown many, many steps to the point where we trust each other's judgment and work so we're left to work at our pace. The other difference is we brought well over 20 songs to the table and instead of just recording what we needed for an album we decided to record everything to its completion so all 23 or 24 songs were recorded. We are now finished and working in postproduction with basically well over an album's worth of work, probably two. Not to say there are going to be two albums, but to say there has been many more songs to come from it because of that efficiency, work and trust.

Any album name or release date in mind?

No album name yet and we don't have a release date, but my guess would be that it will be released sometime in the first half of 2012.

Final question: Who would win in a street fight - Chuck Norris or Charles Bronson?

Oh man. Umm...Charles Bronson. No doubt.


Because I think he would be willing to bite somebody's nose off or something. Charles Bronson is a dangerous man. You can just see it. You can see it in his eyes and you can see it in his mustache. No offense to Chuck Norris.

Avett Brothers at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, 8808 Irvine Center Dr., Irvine, CA. Saturday October 22, 6 P.M. $19-$48.25.

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