The Avett Brothers song “The Ballad of Love and Hate”, at first glance, is a traditional and predictable love song. So why does the song invoke such frisson? It doesn’t abruptly grab you, but rather guides you along, drawing you in like the first deep breath as you awake in the morning. A deeper meaning peels up from the bottom of your lungs and just as you would exhale that breath, you are caught in the comfort of the sounds, a confused mellow-toned song with a neutral raspy voice dancing over a finger-pick-style acoustic guitar. Music to appeal to our inner critical thinker, these lyrics wash the listener in metaphors and dry them in tranquility. The song lectures on emotional challenges as a story of romance and as a metaphor for life. Effortlessly, the song relates to everyone with its lack of specificity, yet wraps itself in a particular story.
Line for line, the lyrics read more like a discussion, a conversation between two extremes unable to exist without one another. Love and hate are not only emotions but names, actions, and a description within the song – hate depicted as the male while love is the female descriptor, as is traditional. They are far from one another literally and figuratively. Love is on a beautiful vacation with images of serenity such as the blue sky and ocean. She is traveling back to Hate and during that time, the world around her becomes dreary while somehow maintaining positivity in her presence. Hate, being, emotionally unavailable, depressed, and pessimistic, walks city streets in a picture painted in shades of gray. Love wishes to do what her name implies and has that aura of beauty, not by physical characteristics but rather the possession of something alluring that can’t be seen or heard, just felt. She draws everyone to her while Hate pushes her away. He acts reckless and without regard to consequence. The lyrics highlight this in the lines, “Lazily killing the last of a jar, of the strongest stuff you can drink… Hate gets home lucky to still be alive, he screams o’er the sidewalk and into the drive.” Drinking heavily and with abandon is often seen in those with inner struggles, referencing his need for love. Without her, Hate would surely cease to exist, which would shatter Love in the process, an indication of the complications in a genuine relationship, and the yin and yang of life.
The music isn’t exactly the embodiment of the lyrical story at first. The only accompaniment to the vocalist is a single acoustic guitar setting a mood as if you were sitting in an empty coffee shop in winter, and someone turned off the heat, a middle-of-the-road content yet not happy mood. There is a waltzing slow-dance-style rhythmic guitar with vocals trailing in relatively the same style. He has a raspy light voice contributing to the music’s sedative nature. The song settles into itself and the storytelling style just after the vocals start. The passion in his voice enriches the experience of the listener as well as the message’s impact. The simplistic music gives calm to the mind while the lyrics bear down heavy thought, a nod to the concept of balance.
A live version of the song, accessible on youtube.com via user tweetdriver, is more layered with emotion and hints to the song’s undertones. Although, the Avett Brothers is a two-man duo for vocals, only one of them, Scott, sings on stage, paralleling the original song on the album Emotionalism. The artist dressed in all black, long hair to match, soft tired eyes, and a mellow soulful voice personifies the songs theme well. Scott proves his sensitivity in an interview posted online by Entertainment Weekly, when the interviewer asked if they were love-sick. To which he responded, “We’re ridiculously sentimental… I remember meeting girls at church retreats at Lake Junaluska and meeting them once or twice in a weekend – and going home crying the whole way home that I would never see that person again.”
The two most influential parts of the performance on the audience come at two separate parts. First, he sings of Hate drinking strong alcohol, which resonates with the audience in the celebration of debauchery, but also relating to the low points we all experience in our lives. Second, his voice goes from soft and mellow to powerful, singing, “As soon as he sees her hope fills his eyes,” as Love meets the young man in the taxi. The crowd goes wild with praise over the raw emotion spilled across a, no doubt, dark popcorn-like ceiling of audience heads. Toward the end, he animates the lyrics when he says, “The clock in the kitchen says 2:55, and the clock in the kitchen is slow,” by slowing down the song abruptly when approaching the word slow. This deliberate declaration sets the audience into the culminating event where love and hate meet.
In that moment, the message comes full circle. A relationship will always have its ups and downs full of complications, and we all need to be picked up by one another. Throughout the song Hate constantly shakes off what should be considered good with, “whatever.” This seemingly negative statement takes on a new meaning when Love at the end says, “I’m yours and that’s it, whatever”, indicating that she will stand by him even in moments that may not be romantic or beautiful, a simplistic metaphor for love itself. Inside ourselves, we see a struggle in wanting to be angry, to hate, and when love asks to come in we resist. This mindset is a comfortable yet unpleasant place to be. To care for others or even ourselves takes work and leaves us vulnerable, something we would like to naturally avoid. Sadly, fear of vulnerability defines all relationships whether with ourselves or our significant other.
From another perspective, offered in interview with Patricia Hollis, the culmination when Love responds in a reciprocal manner to Hate, could be similar to how we teach people to treat us. Thus, it creates a manner in which one’s personality is expressed yet the behaviors are exactly the same toward one another. Whether this is healthy or not is a relative notion, but if two extremes are averaged out, we meet directly in the middle in a less than harmonious compromise. With all the multimodal metaphors running amuck, why wouldn’t it reside side by side with another message?
“The Ballad of Love and Hate”, is an anthem to the primal struggle of human interaction, a soulful story of life. The brothers skillfully crafted this idea into a mellow acoustic song worth a listen. Appropriate for an early fall afternoon, with your drink of choice, on the porch with a mind ready to contemplate. Let the song invoke your thoughts and soothe your own hate with the love in your heart. Appreciate the ones in your life that suffer even your worst outbursts, as these people are your love.
As always I love you guys and thanks for reading!
The Avett Brothers. “The Ballad of Love and Hate.” Emotionalis. Ramseur Records, 2007.
“The Avett Brothers on ‘The Carpenter,’ Gap Ads, Faith, and How Cancer Has Shaped Their Songs.” Interview by Grady Smith. EW.com. 29 Sept. 2012. Web. 23 Sept. 2014. <http://music-mix.ew.com/2012/09/29/the-avett-brothers/>.
“Ballad of Love and Hate – The Avett Brothers Live.” YouTube. YouTube, 19 Feb. 2012. Web. 23 Sept. 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5c1WCd8Qefc>.
Hollis, Patricia, and Parran Hollis. “Informal Family Discussion.” Personal interview. 23 Sept. 2014.