The Avett Brothers: Masters of Understatement

Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.

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Avett Brothers "I and Love and You"The title track off The Avett Brothers’ newest album, “I and Love and You”, demonstrates an important principle: the climactic moment in a song is not necessarily the loudest or highest. In fact, as this song expertly shows, you can command the most attention during the quietest moments. Look for ways to make your music quieter, allowing listeners to hear an important lyric.

When I teach students how to teach, I use an expression: “Speak so quietly that everyone will hear you.” Sometimes the louder we are, the more people tune us out. “I and Love and You” is a textbook demonstration of how you can make your words more meaningful to the listener if you say them quieter. People hear them as being more introspective, more thoughtful.

First, let’s take a look at the formal design of the song:

"I and Love and You" Formal Design

The beauty is in the simplicity of the design. A simple verse-chorus format that would give many cause to worry: can a song this repetitious be too boring? The short answer is, “Yes,” but not in this case. In fact, you’ll find yourself completely drawn in, almost mesmerized by the simplicity of the song. You will in fact find that simplicity allows the highly appealing lyric to come forward.

The melody used is also tantalizingly simple: each verse and chorus plays with the various notes of the tonic triad, with only a few that stray from that chord. Moreover, except for the short instrumental break at 2’37”, the song rarely explores further than the tonic (I) and subdominant (IV) triads.

With such simple song components, it makes the contouring of the song crucial, but simple to do at the same time. They use very minimal instrumental changes throughout the song to achieve the nominal contouring that’s necessary: the addition of fiddle and percussion to lift song energy.

But the genius of the song is that the quietest moments are reserved for the most important message – the presentation of the song title. This technique usually only works if you’ve got a lyric that stands alone as solid poetry. If you’re primarily a lyricist, learn this important lesson: speak so softly that everyone will hear you.

You will love the songs on this album. They all exhibit the same careful but seemingly nonchalant songwriting craft. I have often said in this blog that in the battle between simplicity and complexity, simplicity usually wins. “I and Love and You” is a classic example of this important principle.

Gary Ewer is the author of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” suite of songwriting e-books.

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