Miles of Conversation on the Road with the Avetts
The low, steady rumble of tour-bus tires on the highway is white noise, a smooth and steady backdrop to Seth Avett’s easy laugh and languid Southern drawl. The Avett Brothers are headed to New York, traversing a route from West Coast to East Coast, miles away from the red clay of their stomping grounds in Concord.
On Tuesday the Avett Brothers released their new EP, The Second Gleam, a glittering gem with slow, meandering songs that tumble through a stream of nostalgia, sentimentality and most of all, love. The Second Gleam supersedes its older sibling, The Gleam, released in 2006, in the compelling nature of the songs, solid and thoughtful hallmarks to the men who’ve experienced both joy and sorrow. Though, like brothers, they are each special in their own way, The Second Gleam and The Gleam are perfect bookends. The first song, “Tear Down the House,” is one Seth says is “about seeing changes around you.” The lyrics exclaim: “Tear down the house that I grew up in/ I’ll never be the same again.”
Though the house where the Avett children — Bonnie, Scott and Seth — grew up in still stands, Seth says the song “is more about how the older you get the landscape of your life changes, history come undone.” Seth’s older brother, Scott, sings the second track, “Murdered in the City,” a song about how much Scott would want his family to know he loves them if he should die. “I wonder which brother is better,” Scott sings. “Which one my parents loved the most. I sure did get in lots of trouble; they seemed to let the other go.” Seth laughs about being the baby in the family, saying, “Well you learn a lot from those who come before you. You learn what to do and not do.” “Bella Donna,” a poignant love song sung in Seth’s high, lonesome voice, “was definitely inspired by someone. It was definitely written from experience. You have a better chance of clarity because it’s something you’ve been through. It’s rooted in personal experience.” “Bella Donna” was originally released in 2005 as “Darling,” on one of three CDs Seth recorded, on a cassette player in his bedroom. Seth says the decision to include it on The Second Gleam is “because we try not to put songs in shackles. We try to allow the songs to become what they’re supposed to be without us being in the way.” Seth adds that there are plans to re release the “Darling” CDs in a “more masterful way.” Scott sings the fourth song, “The Greatest Sum,” his voice gravelly with emotion as he vows, “Not even the clouds, not even the past, not even the hands of God can hold me back from you.” Five out of six songs on The Second Gleam are about love. In “Tear Down the House,” Seth sings about crying over a girl who broke his heart, “not just crying but collapsing and screaming at the moon.
“Love is very obviously the most important thing,” Seth explains. “Hopefully it comes from some sort of blessing of clarity. Love is the good side, where the light comes from. We try to appreciate that and communicate it as well as we can, There are enough facets of love to write it in a number of songs. We feel it should be championed to the fullest extent possible.” The last song on the EP, “Souls on Wheels,” is sung by Seth. “Souls like wheels/ turning, taking us with wind at our heels/ turning, making us decide on what we’re giving/ changing this way we’re living.” Seth says this song’s “aim is to be presented as a transition song, a desire for rebirth, a major chance to put your old self away and allow your new self to come in. It considers experiences that are fiery and very intense that make you question what you’re made of, who you want to be, and how you’re going to change.” The Avett Brothers are in a prolific period of songwriting, like cauldrons of hot water, spilling songs faster than the heat can be turned down. “We have a lot to draw from the well,”
Sethsays. “At the moment there are a lot of songs occurring. That may notalways be the case and we want to take advantage of it while we can.It’s important to have the tools to finish an idea. You have to writeit down then record it or you’ll forget it. We try our best to dedicatethe time to our ideas. All three of us write anywhere and everywhere.We always carry sketchbooks and journal recordings.” Seth says he was talking to his wife on the phone one day and “a melody came
tome in the middle of the conversation. I asked my wife if I could callher back. She said that would be fine. So I wrote it down real quickand called her back.” All three Avett Brothers are married and spendabout a hundred days on the road. “We’re doing well with it now, but inthe future we’d like to get it down to about sixty days away,” he says.“We spent the first seven years on the road in very uncomfortable carsor riding in vans with trailers hitched to the back,” Seth says. “We’reglad and proud to ride in this lifestyle.”