When I first learned that The Avett Brothers would be making a pair of appearances in central and southwestern Ohio this year I was compelled to talk to them. With a decade+ long career that has produced some of the most raw and organic albums coupling bluegrass, folk and rock in modern music, and trips to Austin City Limits and the Grammys to perform with Bob Dylan, The Avetts are a undeniable force to be reckoned with. When seeing the band live, their onstage rapport tells of a group of friends whose comfort and confidence level is high, but it also hints at something stronger…
When I called Avett Brothers bassist Bob Crawford to talk about the band’s upcoming tour and forthcoming album I had no idea that I’d receive answers to questions about the band’s uncanny bond and brotherhood. Here’s what he told me…
Ghettoblaster: The trips to Ohio in May and June won’t be the Avetts first trips to Ohio. You guys played in Dayton at Elbo’s I recall, and you’ve played just south of the border in Newport at the Southgate House. Do you remember those previous trips with any degree of fondness?
Bob Crawford: I remember Elbo’s and Newport and Covington, KY. All those were great shows and we had a lot of good times at those.
Ghettoblaster: When you come here this Summer you’ll be doing a tour that is called “An Evening With The Avetts.” Does that mean that you won’t have support on the road and that you’ll be doing multiple sets?
Bob Crawford: We’ll be doing one long set. I think some of the nights we’ll have support, but I don’t know if we will in Ohio or not. We’re just trying to present more of a show. We’ve lengthened the set by several songs in comparison to our last tour. And we’re just trying to form more of a program.
Ghettoblaster: Do you have a family Bob?
Bob Crawford: I do. I have a wife, a two-year old daughter and a nine-month old son.
Ghettoblaster: Do you bring them on the road with you when you do these lengthy jaunts? I imagine it is tough to do a lengthy tour and to be away from them for an extended period of time…
Bob Crawford: To be honest with you, my daughter has cancer. She’s currently a patient at St. Jude’s Childrens’ Hospital in Tennessee. We discovered that she had a brain tumor on August 28 and right now we’re here in Memphis trying to save her. I haven’t played but four shows since August 28 to be honest with you. So no, my family isn’t coming with me.
It is hard for all the guys and our families. We just try to make sure that we do have some time off to balance family life and professional life. We’ve never been the kind of band that goes on the road for three-months straight, or six months straight. I think the most we do is a few weeks tops. This year we are trying to stretch it out where we’ll play a handful of shows, get a few days off to fly home, and then go back out and play a few more shows.
Ghettoblaster: Can I ask your daughter’s name so that I can pray for her Bob?
Bob Crawford: Yes you can. Her name is Hallie.
Ghettoblaster: I hope that she has a speedy recovery.
Bob Crawford: Thank you.
Ghettoblaster: The Avett Brothers sound has always been indicative of multiple genres – folk, rock, bluegrass, country, pop and punk. Are all those genres legitimate touchstones for you personally and also for the rest of the Avetts?
Bob Crawford: Yeah. I think the word legitimate is the right word. People spend a lot of time trying to put things into categories, which I think is a tricky thing to do because everything is so influenced by everything else. And the media – when I say that I mean books, film, music all that kind of stuff is very accessible. It’s not like the days where jazz or blues was known to emanate from a specific place. Things don’t emanate from one place anymore. A guy can do something today and put something on the internet and I can see what he did tonight and be into it. So when you talk about genres, I think to a large extent they’re breaking down or have been broken down. I think there are new genres, and non genres really. I think that fall into the new and non genre category. And I think everything you said are different touchstones for us in a lot of ways.
Ghettoblaster: You’ve been with the band since the early ‘00s. How did you meet Scott and Seth and how personally satisfying has it been to see the fruits of your labors start to pay off in such big ways?
Bob Crawford: It is really nice to be on stage with somebody that you’ve known and played with for ten years. That feels good. That adds confidence to the performance and comfort to the travel. This is a bond that…I tell you, we don’t need to talk about my situation with my daughter a whole lot, but in going through what my wife and I have been through and the wave of support that has come very personally from the guys in this organization…to have that sort of history with people makes what we do so satisfying.
It was satisfying before the tragedy that we suffered even happened. Scott, Seth and I have built what we do from nothing to where it is today. We had a lot of help along the way. But in the earliest years, the first three or four years, when it was the hardest to justify doing it, when we weren’t making a living, when we were making all those big sacrifices at the time, we were driven to do what we do. Once we began to do it, and were able to survive doing it, we knew that we couldn’t not do it until we couldn’t survive doing it. It has just gotten better from there. So yeah, you’re right, there’s a little satisfaction and comfort and the roots are very deep here. The roots are big and strong with us for sure.
Ghettoblaster: What a great testimony, not just for the love of your craft, but for the brotherly love that you have for each other. I think that is really conveyed on stage and in your recorded output…
Bob Crawford: When you go through something like this there is no roadmap for it. It is really difficult. And the longer it goes on, the more awkward it gets and the more challenging it is for friends and family members. The care and support – and I’m talking being there – that we’ve gotten is a strong testament. It is a strong testament to the honesty and integrity and love that we all share.
Ghettoblaster: You guys had the opportunity to perform at the 53rd Grammy Awards, right?
Bob Crawford: It was great. It was a very surreal occasion. I’m not quite sure that it really happened. But they tell me it did. We couldn’t have had more fun doing it. It couldn’t have come off better when the actual performance came. It couldn’t have been more of an experience for me of being able to enjoy a moment and take it in. And then it was so weird to leave Los Angeles and come back to North Carolina. We got in, we did it, we had a great time doing it and then we came home where we belong. It was a tremendous moment that just kind of loomed there. I’m not sure that it really happened, but people keep telling me it did and I’m reminded of it. It was a wonderful occasion for something that can be so intimidating and stressful. The longer the week went on, the more relaxing it got and the ultimate performance was a lot of fun.
Ghettoblaster: Did you do some rehearsing with Bob Dylan then? What was that like?
Bob Crawford: I guess people rent out these big performance spaces, like a storage facility…kind of these outdoor pods or something like that. They were studios, not storage pods, but it reminded me of that. So we go in the gate and there was one and we went in to rehearse. For about an hour it was just us, T Bone Burnett and Mumford and Sons. T Bone Burnett had the ultimate vision of what it was supposed to be. He’s a wonderful guy. He was very comfortable to be around and very child-like in his enthusiasm. A really great guy. I would love to work with him again. He really puts you at ease.
So we were hanging out, everyone was talking. It was great to meet the Mumford and Sons guys finally. We are friends with a few guys from Dylan’s band. One of the guys playing with him was an old friend of ours who had played on several of our albums. So we’re hanging out, we’re all talking and Dylan walks in. And you could hear a pin drop. Everybody just shut up. Then Dylan and his band started working and T Bone got everyone up there and we are all just kind of rehearsing. Dylan was able to see it and hear it and it was apparent that Dylan trusted T Bone a whole lot.
We had that day and we had dress rehearsal day and then we had a blocking at the Forum or wherever they do the Grammy’s…I can’t remember what they call it. Then we had the actual dress rehearsal the day of the show and then we had the show. There were three rehearsals and then we had the performance. It was fun. The thing that first struck me and I think the thing I took away was hearing Dylan’s voice off of a mic. You know? Hearing Dylan’s voice and hearing him talking or something…it wasn’t a recording, it was his actual voice. There it is, it was right there in front of you. And to hear that voice with your own ears and to know who he is, you just never forget it.
It is kind of one of those things…we’re not going to hang our career on it for sure. It was just this thing that came up that we got to do. It was a lot of fun. We were very thankful for it. And then it was here and gone. We’ll never forget it.
Ghettoblaster: Have the Avetts been working on the follow up to I And Love And You then as of late?
Bob Crawford: It is actually done. I was finished recording before all this happened with my daughter. It is completely finished and it should be out by sometime near the end of the Summer.
Ghettoblaster: Will you be playing a lot of music from that new album at the Summer shows?
Bob Crawford: Sure, sure. Absolutely. We’ve been playing some of the songs live for four years. I think some of the songs, to the people who have been there for a while, for a lot of these songs the fans know them as well as we do. Then there is some other stuff that we’ll hold on to. Then as the Summer goes on, and the album gets closer, we’ll play more and more of those.
Ghettoblaster: What kind of producer role did Rick Rubin have in this record? This is the second one he’s produced for you guys, right?
Bob Crawford: He is great. We did this one mostly in North Carolina where we did the other on in California. He was actually physically present for the other one, but this one we’d go in and record for a few days, go and play some shows, have some time off, meanwhile he would get the recordings, go make some notes and then we’d get those back and they’d say Rick says this or that and we’d record some more, change some things. We made a lot of decisions, but Rick helped guide us in a certain direction on some songs.
It was nice for us to record in North Carolina where we were able to do…it was nice not to have to go away. We do really work hard to be home. We work hard at being home and being a part of our families. Even when what happened happened it had always been that way. You need to balance it. We aren’t going to be these guys who don’t know our families in five years. We’re going to do this, do it right, and do it our way. So to be…to go play a few shows, come home and work a couple days, go record for a few days, be home for a few days…it was nice. We did some shows in January, days in February, some days in April, some days in May. It gave us the chance to reflect on what we had done, to change things…this was really nice. It was the most fun I ever had recording a record. It was the most relaxed I’ve ever been and the most enjoyable and laid back. It was really good.
Ghettoblaster: Were you using a local studio or does one of the Avetts have a studio?
Bob Crawford: We were using a local studio.
Ghettoblaster: Did I read that the record is called The Once And Future Carpenter?
Bob Crawford: Um, not that I know of.
Ghettoblaster: Do you know what the title is?
Bob Crawford: Yes.
Ghettoblaster: Can you share that with us?
Bob Crawford: I cannot.
Ghettoblaster: My wife and I saw the Avetts in Orlando in the fall and met a couple from North Carolina. They were telling us about a New Year’s show that the Avetts do each year in Ashville. Is that annual, is it a benefit?
Bob Crawford: No it isn’t. We did two in a row in Asheville, but we had done them in Charlotte. This year it was Greenville. We like to mix it up. It isn’t exclusively Ashville. We did two in a row there so I understand how someone would think that, but it isn’t the case.
Ghettoblaster: When you guys performed on Austin City Limits you we’re coupled with some folks that I know, who are originally from our neck of the woods, Heartless Bastards. Have you done shows with them?
Bob Crawford: We did a few shows with them. They’re great. We really enjoyed spending time with them.
Ghettoblaster: I also noticed that the Avetts have done some benefit work and have supported finding a cure for breast cancer. I imagine that is near and dear to your heart now?
Bob Crawford: That is actually the Vickie S. Honeycutt Foundation. Our tour manager Dane Honeycutt’s mother was a school teacher who died from breast cancer a few years ago. He started that foundation. That foundation gives money to support teachers and their families while they are going through cancer. We did a record this year that had us and a bunch of bands that we’re friends with and proceeds from that went to the Vickie Honeycutt Foundation. And in fact, we met a little boy at St. Jude’s and his mother is from North Carolina and he has the same brain tumor that my daughter has. The Vickie Honeycutt foundation gave them money so that they can focus on their son’s battle against cancer.
We played here at St. Jude’s a couple of weeks ago and donated a nice amount of money this past year to St. Jude’s. We hope to continue that relationship and have it grow with St. Jude’s as the years go on. It is a lifetime thing. There are a number of things we hope to be fortunate enough to be able to capitalize on the fact that people come to see us play, spend money to see us play, and spend money on things that we make. We hope that we can make things that raise money and awareness for cancer, and ofcourse pediatric cancer, which you never hear anything about.
It seems like the breast cancer people have done a good job raising awareness. They’ve done a tremendous job with it. Credit needs to be given to them for the force that breast cancer awareness is. Unfortunately, with pediatric cancer, no one really knows about it. If 3,500 kids died in a bomb blast or some kind of unthinkable, horrible accident people would be horrified. But 3,500 kids each year die from pediatric cancer and no one seems to really know about it. It goes unheralded and know one knows about or focuses on it. No one knows that September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness month, but no one knows about that. Everybody knows about Breast Cancer Awareness. I hope that over the years my wife and I can alert people to some of these things.
My daughter has a tribute page for St. Jude’s. She has raised over $50,000 dollars for St. Jude’s over the past several months. Avett Brothers donated $10,000 of that. But we’re still in the thick of the fight here. Our lives are just a mess with all that we have going on. Someday when the smoke clears and when we can get Hallie to a good place we are going to approach this. I’ve talked to a lot of people going through this and there are things that these people need. St. Jude’s is an amazing place. No one pays a dime. They provide housing and support and there is nothing like St. Jude’s in the world. And I think right now there is no better thing I can do than to give my life to St. Jude’s. They’ve been doing this for 50 years. They brought the survival rates for most forms of pediatric leukemia from 20 percent in the 60s to 80 percent. They did the same thing with brain tumors. It is horrifying what the survival rates are for pediatric brain tumors. I think the most effective thing I can do in the short term is encourage people to donate money to St. Jude’s.
In the long term there are probably some things…I think the Vickie Honeycutt foundation has the right idea in giving money to the families to be able to fight and support them. I’ve been able to be here for the whole experience, which is an amazing help to my wife. We have a nine-month old son so we are fortunate to be able to do that. But there are families here where the mom is here and the dad is away working and is only able to come every couple of weeks or on the weekend. What these people need is money to be able to maintain their bills and homes while they are here fighting cancer. This is just a small thing, but I’ve been living it for the last six months.
Ghettoblaster: Well God bless your family and all the other families there dealing with this. I’ll be praying for you all and the doctors there that they can make the decisions they need to get everyone healed in the best ways they can.
Bob Crawford: Thank you.
Ghettoblaster: I appreciate your time. I didn’t realize you were going through all this when I requested the interview. I feel horrible keeping you from your family…
Bob Crawford: Thank you very much. Dolph asked me a couple weeks ago if I wanted to do interviews and I like doing some. I’ve been doing this for six months. I’ve only played four shows in six months. I’m hoping to play as many shows as I can this year, and be as much of a part of this big year that we’re about to have as I can. My first and most important priority is to my family. But to be able to do a couple interviews and talk to people like you allows me to feel like I’m working a little bit. It feels good. I need that. I need to be able to have a foot-in and to be working a little bit…to be talking about these things to keep my mind off of other things. Thank you for the opportunity to be able to talk about the things that I love.
(If you’d like to make a donation to St. Jude’s please visit Hallie Crawford’s fundraising site here: http://fundraising.stjude.org/site/TR?pxfid=27564&fr_id=1341&pg=fund&fl=en_US&et=TGGbsbnB64nA926UjwaDOw&s_tafId=4304.)