The lead single from True Sadness is a stomping, soul-inspired song with empowering lyrics. "I think of 'Ain't No Man' as a self-motivating anthem... a kind of currency to buy a little courage when you're having trouble feeling courageous on your own," said co-frontman Seth Avett.
The song also touches on otherworldly matters. "I feel like 'Ain't No Man,' kind of, there is a higher level to it," Avett Brothers bassist Bob Crawford said. "I'm trying to avoid the word 'religion' and 'spiritual,' but there is something about finding your place in the universe, or being able to put your finger on where you sit in this life, whatever your religion is or your worldview is."
The Avett Brothers premiered the song at the McDowell Mountain Music Festival in Phoenix, Arizona on March 13, 2016.
The music clip was directed by and co-stars Scott Avett and was shot mainly in Asheville and Charlotte, North Carolina. Scott Avett noted, "The video for "Ain't No Man" is about a character who is dealing with fear and his journey to do what he was born to do."
The video features a cameo from NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson, who plays the role of the airplane pilot on the flight that Scott Avett takes. "I've been friends with the guys for a few years now and thought it was really cool of them to ask me. I don't think I've actually 'acted' in a music video before, so growing up in the MTV and VH1 era, it's definitely something I've had on my bucket list. Hopefully all of the time I spend behind the wheel of my race car translates into me being a believable pilot," Johnson said.
"It was such a neat experience, and I had a blast just hanging out with Scott and Seth [Avett] and the band that afternoon; it was just a lot of fun," he added. "Hopefully all of our fans get a kick out of it and enjoy it as much as I did."
This became The Avett Brothers' first #1 on a Billboard chart when it climbed to the top of the Adult Alternative Songs airplay tally (dated July 2, 2016).
Readers of The Boot
voted the clip Music Video of the Year in the 2017 Golden Boot Awards.
The song developed over a 10-year period, so by the time the band recorded it, it didn't need any extra frills. "It's all spirit. It's all vibe," Seth Avett explained during a Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon's "How I Wrote That Song" segment. "We didn't spend really any time building it, building layers, adding to it, finding out what worked, which is an extremely rare scenario for us. It's always about, 'Let's find out what can make this better, what can make it fuller, have more depth,' and all that. It was just like bass drums, everybody sing together, everyone stomp their feet, mix it, put it on the record. It was a nice kind of freeing experience and the song lent itself to that."
The melody and lyrics were mostly written in Asheville, which contributed to the spirit and groove of the song. But it was recorded in Malibu, where the sandy beaches and laid-back vibe didn't exactly fit the concept. "The song is about overcoming these challenges in daily life, and Malibu doesn't feel like daily life," says Seth. "It feels like another planet, almost, so we kind of had to be in our own heads and think about... bringing victory to the table. Because the song really is about when you're in tougher circumstances, not at a beautiful beach."