Avenue Beat Loses a Member and Gains a 'Debut Farewell Album': 'Just the Perfect Way to Sum It Up'

As Sami Bearden exits, Savana Santos and Sam Backoff say goodbye to the irreverent band that was built on the trio's high school friendship and celebrate the release of their first and final record

avenue beat
Avenue Beat. Photo: Delaney Royer

Savana Santos, Sam Backoff and Sami Bearden played around with serious names for their first album. But in the end, these three merry masters of irreverence and irony — aka Avenue Beat — decided to go out true to form.

So please give a warm welcome to their first and final masterpiece, released on Friday: the debut farewell album.

"That was just the perfect way to sum it up," says Backoff, 23.

And perfection did seem to be in order, when you consider what's otherwise happened to the trio is so much less than perfect. Seven months ago, Bearden dropped a bombshell on her two bandmates: She wanted out.

"Sami just decided that a life in the public eye and doing music and that kind of thing just wasn't for her," explains Backoff.

"You can't blame her," Santos, 23, adds. "You have an idea of what being in the public eye will be like before you are, and then it happens, and it's completely different than what you think."

avenue beat
Avenue Beat. Courtesy Big Machine Label Group

The two remaining bandmates are remarkably sanguine about Bearden's situation, given the circumstances, but then they've had seven months to accept the blow and process what this departure means. Of course, they've also been doing what they do best, which is write music about it.

Most of the 12-track album features the trio's trademark tight harmonies, tart lyrics and equally shared co-writing credits, beginning with "F2020," their breakthrough blockbuster that gave pitch-perfect voice to the world's collective reaction to last year. But track 9 arrives abruptly: It's a 30-second conversation between Backoff and Santos.

"Um, Sami quit the band," Santos finally announces with a nervous giggle, "and these are songs about it."

What follows is a soul-baring trilogy of songs, co-written and sung by Santos and Backoff, that confronts the reality of the breakup. As with all of their other music, it's still a banquet of ear candy — just this time flavored with grief stages, beginning with the first lines of "different," which sardonically telegraph their shock: "Damn, now we gotta be one of those bands / that gotta make a post to all of their fans."

"Happy for you" follows with an exquisite description of their mixed feelings toward Bearden: "It's weird that both of these things can be true: / that I'm happy for you / and that I hate that I have to be happy for you."

Both women, with a vocal and writing assist from frequent collaborator Summer Overstreet, save most of the pain and sadness for the closing track, "this is goodbye": "Goodbye to what I thought was my future / goodbye to eight years of my past / to the nights with the band / lookin' out at the fans and the lights / thinkin' damn, what a view / This is goodbye to a lot more than you / it's been a delight and it sucks that it's through."

Santos acknowledges what anyone would assume — that "many, many tears" have been shed over the breakup — but none more than during the writing session for that final song.

"We usually just joke about things, and sometimes we have more serious moments, but that one was like, we were serious the whole time," says Backoff. "It was a really cool experience because the three of us definitely are closer after it, but it was also very hard."

As a body of work, the three songs sketch out the band's situation so explicitly that Backoff and Santos hope the album speaks for itself, so much so that the cover features a photo of the two, with Santos holding a sign that says, "Don't ask me about Avenue Beat just go listen to the album."

Already weary from answering questions from people they know, both women are now reluctant to do more than this one interview. (Bearden declined an interview request.)

"We were like, oh my God, we just have to put out this music and then everyone will know," says Backoff, "and then nobody will ever ask us about it ever again." But, she concedes, "It's probably just opening the door to more questions."

Such as, what's Bearden doing now?

"She works at a coffee shop in Nashville," Santos answers.

Backoff adds: "She's on her own journey with this. She's trying to figure out what she wants to do. She just knew it wasn't this."

And are the two women still keeping up with their former bandmate?

Absolutely, both say. "We were friends first," says Backoff, "and we're going to be friends at the end."

Avenue Beat.

The three originally started singing together as teens growing up in Quincy, Illinois. Santos and Backoff are childhood pals who enjoyed posting cover songs on YouTube, and they met Bearden at a high school theater camp when they were 14. She talked her way into their duo by saying she could play the piano (she couldn't), but the three quickly realized they shared the same cheeky sensibilities — they actually picked their band name from an online generator — and they soon were making their harmonic magic. They moved to Nashville in 2016 after graduation, honed their songwriting skills and signed as a country band with Big Machine Label Group three years later.

Ever since they've let their laissez-faire lives guide their music.

"We've always just written songs like, this is how we feel, and this is exactly how we're saying it, and here it is," says Backoff.

"A common theme has been not planning ahead," says Santos.

None of them, of course, could have masterminded the viral reaction to "F2020," which they first posted on TikTok in June 2020 simply to express their ennui over the pandemic quarantine. The song ended up at the top of The New York Times' Best Songs of 2020 list, and it pushed the trio to migrate to the pop genre. But all of the attention also pushed Bearden to question whether she even wanted her career.

"We had our success in the beginning of quarantine," Santos says, "and then we had the rest of quarantine to deal with the success. She just did a lot of thinking, for sure."

Says Backoff: "She had a lot of time to think about her life and what she wanted, and the life of a musician wasn't it. It was more just the grander picture and less what we were going through, because we honestly were kinda kicking it."

While both Santos and Backoff aren't quite ready to sign the death certificate for Avenue Beat, they understand they can't recapture its chemistry without one-third of the formula.

Both women say there was never any serious discussion to replace Bearden. "That would be weird because the whole band is just kind of our friendship," says Backoff. And there also are no plans to promote the album with a tour. "Get a cardboard cutout of Sami or something? Weird," says Backoff.

The one thing Bearden's departure hasn't done is drive either Santos or Backoff to question their own careers. Both are still in Nashville, working on new music.

"We'll definitely go do our own things and explore that, but we're always gonna make music together," says Santos.

Avenue Beat
Avenue Beat. Delaney Royer

Says Backoff: "I'm actually really excited to see what Savana does without me and what I do without her. We're just letting the music dictate and letting the universe take us where our next thing is. We're not thinking too much about it."

Both Backoff and Santos say the debut album means more to them than they had originally anticipated, its simultaneous hello and goodbye standing as testimony to what was and what never will be again.

"I keep describing it as a tangible closure, which I feel not everybody always gets in situations where things end," says Backoff.

"Now it's like a parting gift to everyone that supported us," says Santos, "and a little parting gift to ourselves after everything we've been through."

Avenue Beat's music, says Backoff, has always been "like a conversation with our fans and friends and all of the people that listen to our stuff. And we just felt like we couldn't go out without finishing the conversation. We thought that everyone deserved to hear the songs that we love so much. We don't want them to die. We want them to have a space to live. It was really cool and therapeutic to get to put it out in the world."

Santos agrees. "This," she says, "is the period to the conversation."

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