After playing for a few years, particularly around Church, people got to know a bit about what we were doing. A member of our church approached us: his son was taking “violin” and was interested in possibly playing with us. He was “only 12”, and as the person that already worked with youth, and the only non-professional, I was designated to go screen him – to see if he could play with us. I brought a guitar and a tape of a song that we did regularly. We were sitting in the front room of his parent’s house, and I started in…
…as the song started, he immediately picked up the melody of the song, and played along with the “fiddle” player, and by the end of the song, was right with him. I smiled, and suggested we do it again: this pass he played harmonies with the “professional” fiddle player… and on the third pass, was soloing on his own and I turned off the tape player. He looked at me, and I said “You’re in. Show up Tuesday at 7:30 at my house”. He arrived that evening with his Dad (who brought root beer), who I am sure thought this was very odd, and within 10 minutes he was a part of the band. After 20 minutes he turned to me and said, “Mr. House, this is the same song.” I said, “Andrew – they are all the same song….”
Rick Rubin is a “producer”, but I see him as a “music coach”… the similarities to what I have seen him do with Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, and now the Avett’s is strikingly similar to what I do with leaders at all levels. There is a voice inside that has been drowned out by the aspirations, dreams, expectations, and direction… of others. It is there, but finding the volume knob is hard to do by yourself. The stance of being outside, and yet fully supportive, while it seems natural, is not as easy as it looks, and very different from most “management” or “leadership” stances. When I am on my game, there is often lots of silence and this perplexed look when they realize – “Wait.. so…I can choose differently?” That is the hard question – Can you?
From their first lunch meeting, Rick Rubin saw something even the brothers hadn’t seen. Here is what he had to say: “‘I and Love and You’ is the first song on the first album we worked on together. I found early on that the Avett Brothers wrote these great parts but then put them together into songs where the individual parts didn’t sound the best where they were placed. So a lot of our work together was simplifying and distilling the songs down to the essence of them. Once the essence was established, we expanded on that instead of making a left turn.”
“We all worked on the arrangement together, and I would usually talk about it in a more architectural way, thinking, “OK, an event needs to happen at this point.” Then they would say, “Oh, what about backup vocals?” And they would come up with a part to go there. Or I’d say, “This section needs to grow more and sound fuller.” And they would say, “We could try strings, we could try piano.” They would try different things to fill it out and make it build the way that it does. I love the way that song works; it’s a beautiful song. And every time I hear it, it hits me in an emotional way. It’s the beauty of their lyrics that does that.”
What Rick noticed in his “music coaching” was what we observed with AJ as he is now known… it is what you DON’T play that makes a difference. “Laying out” is what is called as a musician – letting others have the spotlight, and supporting them. Like leadership, you have a part – and it is… a part. Not the whole, not the center of the stage for the whole performance. It is supporting the others as they take their turn, and noticing what they need in order to be at their best.
It was a fun few years, and eventually, he grew up, and headed off. His violin teacher hated us – we gave him really bad habits – switching him over to “fiddle”… and mandolin that is the same fingering. I donated one of my many guitars to him early on which he quickly mastered and it sounded much better in his hands. Like the song, he headed north to Brooklyn.. and is chasing the dream of being a musician, which, in our current world is complex. Who in your circle do you need to reach out to … and Thank for the gift they were in your life? Like Leadership, Thanks is a contact sport – it is not abstract. It is real, and requires ACTUALLY doing it… like the song says, is hard to execute. In this case, easy to say to a young man off to change the world, and music. Thanks, AJ… I and Love And You.