How "Shame" Changed Everything: My Love for the Avett Brothers

"Okay so I was wrong about / My reasons for us fallin' out / Of love I want to fall back in / My life is different now I swear / I know now what it means to care / About somebody other than myself" - The Avett Brothers “Shame”

By the time you reach a certain age, exploring “new” music just becomes less of a priority then it used to. When Rich had me listen to the Avett Brothers’ song “Shame” in 2009, I hadn’t really listened to any “new” music in a long time. What I heard affected me in a way I hadn’t experienced since I first heard Pearl Jam in my teens.

“Shame,” like many other Avett Brothers’ songs, is really grounded in the past. The song begins with Scott Avett’s singular raw voice over some very slight strumming and leads into harmonies with brother Seth, polished like a dime, all reminiscent of early 60’s rock 'n' roll vis-a-vis the Everly Brothers. Combined with a country bend, they created a sound that eerily felt like something I have always known, while simultaneously sounding like nothing I had ever heard before. I couldn’t place it.

The lyrics in "Shame" speak to how we think we have it all together, especially when we find ourselves thinking we're better than other people and making what we think are all the right decisions, only to find out our decisions are shameful and causing others heartache. Once we humble ourselves, we are able to better relate to others and their struggles: "And everyone they have a heart / And when they break and fall apart / And need somebody's helping hand / I used to say just let 'em fall / It wouldn't bother me at all / I couldn't help them, now I can."

I wanted to listen to “Shame” over and over and share it with everyone I knew. I felt like I had discovered a rare gem and once the world knew about the Avett Brothers things would never be the same. 

We lucked into seeing the Avett Brothers live at the Westcott Theater in Syracuse that same year. I didn’t know any other songs but their performance was one of the best live experiences I’ve ever had (this after 15 years of concert-going). Their songs fuse bluegrass foot-stomping passion and intensity, indie-folk poetry, early 60’s rock harmonies, and beautiful pop-punk simplicity. How many modern rock bands can get away with playing songs only with string instruments: Cello, stand up bass, banjo, guitar, and sometimes piano… and rocking out at the same time? Once in a while they’ll throw some drums in.

The thing that really captures and almost paralyzes me, when combined with their haunting harmonies, is the sincerity in their lyrics. The Avett Brothers have an innate ability to capture the emotions of love, heartache, relationships, life experiences, the journey towards self-worth and spiritual understanding in ways that make you relate and reflect about your own life. The music and the words do a dance around each other. They ebb and flow magically to create a picture only possible through their connection. 

The Avett Brothers live in Lewiston, NY 5/24/13. Photo by Marcus Smith.

The Avett Brothers live in Lewiston, NY 5/24/13. Photo by Marcus Smith.

I also find their lyrics to be inspiring and thought-provoking on issues I’m passionate about, particularly people finding value in who they are as a person and building loving relationships with those in their life. 

We just saw our fifth show in Lewiston, NY and our sixth show is coming up in July in Canandaigua. They are the only band I can imagine following around tour after tour, year after year, like we have done with Pearl Jam for so long (31 shows and counting). Every show is different, every song is played with that specific audience in mind, and it’s an interactive experience. I’m so thankful for the beautiful music the Avett Brothers have provided us and can’t wait to see what they will be doing next. 

They have a catalogue of more than 100 songs. I want to share a few examples, including snippets of lyrics, that are very dear to my heart.

The Once and Future Carpenter

Forever I will move like the world that turns beneath me

And when I lose my direction I'll look up to the sky

And when the black cloak drags upon the ground

I'll be ready to surrender, and remember

Well we're all in this together

If I live the life I'm given, I wont be scared to die

February Seven

There's no fortune at the end of the road that has no end.

There's no returning to the spoils

Once you've spoiled the thought of them.

There's no falling back asleep 

Once you've wakened from the dream.

Now I'm rested and I'm ready

I'm rested and I'm ready

I’m ready to begin

November Blue

If I weren’t leaving, would I catch you dreamin’

And if I weren’t gonna be gone now, could I take you home

And if I told you I loved you, would it change what you see

And if I was staying, would you stay with me

And if I had money, would it all look good

And if I had a job now, like a good man should

And if I came to you tomorrow, and said let’s run away

Would you roll like the wind does, baby, would you stay

January Wedding

And I was sick with heartache

And she was sick like Audrey Hepburn when I met her

But we would both surrender

True love is not the kind of thing you should turn down

Don’t ever turn it down

Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promises

There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light

In the fine print, they tell me what’s wrong and what’s right

And it comes in black, and it comes in white

And I’m frightened by those who don’t see it

Where nothing is owed, deserved or expected

And your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected

If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected

Decide what to be, and go be it

The Perfect Space

I wanna have friends that I can trust,

that love me for the man I’ve become not the man I was.

I wanna have friends that will let me be

all alone when being alone is all that I need.

I wanna fit in to the perfect space,

feel natural and safe in a volatile place.

And I wanna grow old without the pain,

give my body back to the earth and not complain.

Murder in the City

If I get murdered in the city

Go read the letter in my desk

Don’t bother with all my belongings

But pay attention to the list

Make sure my sister knows I loved her

Make sure my mother knows the same

Always remember there was nothing worth sharing

like the love that let us share our name

Salvation Song

I would give up everything

If you were to come up clean

And see you shine so bright

In a world of woe

And they may pay us off in fame

But that is not why we came

And if it compromises truth

Then we will go

We came for salvation

We came for family

We came for all that’s good

That’s how we’ll walk away

We came to break the bad

We came to cheer the sad

We came to leave behind

The world a better way

Here is Scott Avett covering "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," even though his daughter had other plans for his performance. Probably one of the cutest things I've ever seen. Enjoy!

What band or artist has made an impact on your life? What songs have affected you to the point that you want to share them with everyone you know?