Straddling that line between magic and reality, Americana and heavy-edged rock music, the polished vulnerability of their recorded material and the spirited sonic alchemy of their live shows, The Avett Brothers have spent the last seven albums perfecting their dichotomous amalgamation of sound, structure, and a serious reputation for beards. This life’s work has culminated in their latest album, Magpie and the Dandelion, a swollen-hearted mirror into something melancholic and delicate, yet infused with The Avett Brothers warm, down-to-earth positivity.
But the album wasn’t originally supposed to be that way. It was supposed to be a “little shallower.” Scott Avett said that the band had a rare conversation about what they were going to do with the album, rather than write instinctively as they usually do. They said, “I want to make a record that’s maybe not so on the surface thoughtful,” something that was “a little more digestible. ” But what transpired was something that was still intimate.
“Maybe it was more so than before which is, I guess, the way it was supposed to be,” conceded Scott.
They vaguely explained that some “very deep and painful” things as a sonic “family” led up to the album.
“I don’t know how that projection sort of works in the unknown and I’m not saying it was magic or anything, but I guess we were just entering times in our lives where that inward thinking and that inward journey—some would call it spiritual, some would call it whatever they want to call it—I think we were entering that part of our lives as a band.”
As much as The Avett Brothers only tentatively agree to the magic behind their album, Magpie and the Dandelion (complete with highly-symbolic title that points to the fragility of life and the temporality of wishes), they are not without their “baseball player” superstitions. Seth Avett went to the same restaurant, Café 101, for breakfast two days in a row because it helped him sing well the day before; Scott has worn the same shirt he got at the airport in Albuquerque since their tour began. They joke that it’s good you can’t smell through the camera (Scott says, “Thankfully, I have pheromones that are super sweet.”), but there is something to their superstitions—and the fact that they found a tiny dead bird right before the filming of their video for “Another is Waiting” points to something more going on beneath the surface.
Shown at the very end of the video, co-directed by Scott and written by Seth through his lyrics, the bird is brushed off the screen after a tongue-in-cheek jab at false ideals of beauty through model behavior and dancing skeletons luckily imagined to life by their puppeteer friend. Despite the comic take on the subject, their message of female empowerment imbued throughout the video is incredibly poignant; that same message is sprinkled through Magpie and the Dandelion and is something that Seth has thought about deeply. He said he thinks about “some of the imbalances of how women are looked at” and when asked if he has a specific message, the musician quietly replied,” Yeah, probably more than I have time for at the moment.”
His piece of advice: “There’s not a template for beauty. There’s not one answer for beauty. And there’s a lot of quote-unquote answers that are being shelled out that are more hurtful than helpful. That’s a main one, I would say.”
“Don’t waste your time with a zero,” interjected Scott. The father of a daughter who is almost five-years-old, Scott says his daughter has developed that star-like quality he thought he possessed when he was young, a spirit that is so “young and vibrant.” Scott hasn’t seemed to sacrifice that spirit, though. He tweeted in February, “I have always assumed that eventually someone would call me and say, “Scott Avett? You have been appointed president of the United States.” We brought that up and Scott said that it’s just an example of how he’s always thought he was a “star.” He always thought someone was watching and approving of what he did. For example, when his dad told him to dig a ditch, Scott would dig it thinking, “Man, someone is going to pull up and see how well I dig and I’m going to get hired and be like the star shovel trench-digging daddy-o, you know?”
“I think I was having one of those moments,” laughed Scott about his tweet. “I still have those moments. It’s so stupid.”
“You can see that in children.” Seth pointed out. “You can see the kids that have that chip in their head. Everything’s always a show…and for Scott it was always very high-octane. So Twitter is a great place for him because Twitter is a place where you can pretend where everyone is interested in what you’re doing. Which they’re not.”
Before the interview started, Scott and Seth told us a story about how when they were kids, they’d play a game called “Bully.” Scott would make Seth put a pillow in his shirt and he’d punch him. The guys have that sort of cocky fraternal energy now, even though they are intellectual and mostly soft-spoken. Recently, they performed on Jimmy Fallon and did an amazing montage of metal songs. They say all the songs were artists that touched them in their youth. “We were very into Iron Maiden; we were very into Black Sabbath. We were very into Metallica. So, I wouldn’t say that we have a great knowledge of metal but it’s definitely pat of the stew with us.”
“We, of course, grew up on grunge and being very much affected by Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, that whole movement. It was good for us in the Southeast. There was something that was kind of edgy in a rural way,” said the Brothers. “All the flannel was very relatable and understandable. Being in Southeast rural America we understood that and gravitated towards it. Metal is the same way. We grew up with quite a bit of that. And we grew up in the country so we were always rebelling against that and going towards metal and rock and something that was maybe a little less country. Maybe avoiding who we actually were.”
This might circle back to their original intent of making an album that was “shallow,” which became not that at all; it all plays into the dichotomous nature of the Avett Brothers.
When asked about the line from their song, “Open-Ended Life,” that says, “Let’s find something new to talk about, I’m tired of talking about myself,” The Avett Brothers said they’d rather the conversation they have be about something more superficial.
“I think Seth and I would both pretty much always would rather be talking about one of two things. Creation–creating art, which is just our little version of playing god,” said Scott. “And the other thing would be something like Ping-Pong or coffee or how his kid broke his tooth out riding a cardboard box down a hill and riding into his brother or something like that. Just topical, but very shallow everyday life fun things. Getting away from, ‘How good can we have it? And what can we get? And what gets better? How does it get better?’ Paying attention to creation and the fun things in life takes care of all that.”
Magpie and the Dandelion is available now via American.
–Nadia Noir, KROQ