It’s true that Jim Avett’s best-known contribution to the world of music is his offspringâ€”namely, Seth and Scott Avett of bestselling folk-rock outfit The Avett Brothers. But the elder Avett, who performs at the Melting Point this Wednesday, is a hell of a songwriter in his own right. He spoke with Flagpole about his most recent album, Second Chance, and the North Carolina life that inspired it.
Flagpole: What prepared you to be a musical parent?
Jim Avett: My daddy was a Baptist preacher and my mother was a concert pianist.
FP: How did music contribute to your early life?
JA: Early on in my life, there was always music around, alwaysâ€¦ I think to be a well-rounded person, like my mother and father thought, you need to know something about music, the way it fits together, the way that it is exact and the creativity that you can [experience] with music.
FP: How did you introduce music to your children?
JA: If youâ€™re gonna start a child out, piano is probably where you need to start, because you learn music theory there, and little hands can play keys, but little hands donâ€™t do very well with a great big guitar. If you start out with something you canâ€™t handleâ€”in music or art or anything else, if you donâ€™t have success with it, youâ€™re not going to like it. You do the best, with things you like.
“People ask me about being proud of the boys. Iâ€™m most proud of them when they help me with the cows, when theyâ€™ll help me with the hay.”
FP: How does music influence your household now?
JA: Music has been around all the time. I probably have about 7,000 to 8,000 albums. There was, in our house, always a piano, always guitars, always banjos, and if anybody wanted to pick ’em up, pick ’em up, play ’em.
FP: Does your wife also contribute to the family band?
JA: Susan, my wife of 44 years come May, doesnâ€™t hum a tune worth anything. She canâ€™t sing. The kids would say, “Hey come on mom, sing!” and she would say “Well, Iâ€™m gonna try, but everybody has to sing,” because she needed to be drowned out. She doesnâ€™t play music, but she is such a wonderful person otherwise. There are so many things that she does so well. She is such a great supporter of the family. She is the heart of our family.
FP: What inspired the title of your album Second Chance?
JA: My son said something in an interview that â€œDad gave up a career in music so we could have one,â€ but if I had had one, it wouldnâ€™t have been much, because I was coming up with Tom T. Hall and George Jones and Waylon Jennings, and those guys were getting to Nashville, and I would have had to compete with those guys, and I donâ€™t think that Iâ€™ve gotten very far. And thatâ€™s why [my album] is called Second Chance.
FP: Has life at your farm in Concord changed as a result of your familyâ€™s success?
JA: Life around the farm hasnâ€™t changed much because of popularity. People ask me about being proud of the boys. Iâ€™m most proud of them when they help me with the cows, when theyâ€™ll help me with the hay.
FP: Are you enjoying retirement on the farm?
JA: I still get up way early in the morningâ€”about five oâ€™clock. I still have stuff to do; Iâ€™m not bored. I broke enough stuff in my first life that, God, I couldnâ€™t get it all fixed in another lifetime. But I do have time to do the things that I want to do, and Iâ€™m not forced to spend much of my time working.
FP: Where do you imagine your musical career will go from here?
JA: I think I have one more record in me. Iâ€™ve got about eight or nine songs already. And Iâ€™ve got ambition to do maybe one more gospel CD with my daughterâ€”sheâ€™s a talented, talented voice.
“Sometimes ignorance is bliss. I used to think that that was pitiful, but the older I get I think that sometimes for some folks, thatâ€™s the best way to go. Thatâ€™s the closest Iâ€™ve come to being able to understand it.”
FP: How has your songwriting changed with age?
JA: A lot of times for an older guy, songs come from experiences. The older you get, the more you can look back and say, this is how the puzzle pieces fit together. I think when youâ€™re born, God gives you maybe a 50,000 or 100,000 piece puzzle with little bitty pieces, and says here, put this together, and the more you get put together, the more youâ€™ll understand how the rest of it goes together. Nobody gets all the puzzle together, nobody. Some people donâ€™t ever get the first damn piece put together, and they go through life without a clue. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. I used to think that that was pitiful, but the older I get I think that sometimes for some folks, thatâ€™s the best way to go. Thatâ€™s the closest Iâ€™ve come to being able to understand it.
FP: What do you hope your contribution to music will be?
JA: My daddy used to say, “If you canâ€™t make it better, just get out of the way. Donâ€™t make it worse. If you canâ€™t make it better, just get out of the way and let somebody else try it.” Thatâ€™s my philosophy of the way people need to do things. So, I may be wrong, but thatâ€™s the way it works to meâ€¦ To be a singer-songwriter, you need to agree to thisâ€”that the whole point in being a singer-songwriter is to affect peopleâ€™s lives. Itâ€™s not about money and itâ€™s not about popularity. If those things come, fine; if they donâ€™t, fine. But it is about affecting peopleâ€™s lives. Itâ€™s about sharing that experience. Itâ€™s about being truthfulâ€”itâ€™s about being brutally truthful.
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