An Interview With Bob Crawford of The Avett Brothers
By David Reiersgord
When I was first given the opportunity to speak with Bob Crawford, I thought of how interesting it would be to have a chance to speak to the opening band for an established act, while they were on a big rise of their own. And, similar to the act their playing in support of, they too, have a new album on the way. I and Love and You, slated for a July release, is helping produce a new direction based off a growing sense of maturity.
Bob Crawford is the bass player for The Avett Brothers. He's been with them since the beginning, back in the days of their four person van. They've now upgraded to a bus, and have even recorded an album with Rick Rubin.
However, this transition into the spotlight hasn't changed anything for Bob. During our conversation, he was extremely humble, and many times expressed his hopes for the fans and their enjoyment of the music. I was excited to see The Avett Brothers on May 2nd in Dallas, but after hearing Bob discuss their music, I'm even more. It's my hope that many new fans check out their music and live show. You won't be dissapointed.
The Avett Brothers are scheduled to open for the Dave Matthews Band beginning on April 22nd, and continuing to May 6th. Below are their scheduled dates:
- Wed 04/22/09 Raleigh, NC | Time Warner Cable Music Pavilion
- Fri 04/24/09 Charlotte, NC | Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
- Tue 04/28/09 Alpharetta, GA | Verizon Wireless Amph. At Encore Park
- Wed 04/29/09 Alpharetta, GA | Verizon Wireless Amph. At Encore Park
- Fri 05/01/09 The Woodlands, TX | The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
- Sat 05/02/09 Dallas, TX | Superpages.com Center
- Tue 05/05/09 Albuquerque, NM | Journal Pavilion
- Wed 05/06/09 Phoenix, AZ | Cricket Wireless Pavilion
Below is a transcript of my conversation with Bob.
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Bob Crawford: Hello?
Weekly Davespeak: Hey, Bob. How are ya?
BC: I’m well. How are you doing?
WDS: I’m doing fine. I’m battling some allergies, but I can’t complain.
BC: I hear you on that one. We’re fighting the same battle.
WDS: Oh, yeah. It’s that time of the year. So, you guys are in Kentucky right now playing a show.
BC: We’re on our way. We’re gettin’ out of Indianapolis today.
WDS: You guys are currently on tour right now playing songs off your upcoming CD, I and Love and You.
BC: We’re doin’ a few of ‘em.
WDS: How have those songs been translating live?
BC: Oh, they’ve been great. You know, we’ve always been – our traditional mode of operation is that we write songs, and then we get out playing them. It kind of normally evolves on the road. But, it’s changing a little; it changed a little bit it seems to me. I know I’m being all confusing here, but, we just – a song would be developed, and it would be 50% done. Then we would start rehearsing it in sound check, or when we had a moment. We have just begun to practice; we never had time to practice until recently. So the songs would be a bit more filled. Then, we would begin to mess around with them in sound check, and then we would go into the show, just confident or something. Then over a period of about six or seven months, they would just kind of fill themselves in. Then we would record them.
The negative is your not surprising anybody with what’s on the record, but we’ve always had a batch of songs that we are holding back, and then the night before we record, we learn them, then record them. So it’s kind of like these two different ways of putting a song on the record. But for I and Love and You, we had been playing the songs live; some of the songs for years. Up until we started recording, we were putting out an album a year. I mean, disciplined an album a year. It seems that the song has a period where it could be lost because other songs are going to come no matter what. This is what happened with The Gleam. We had to hold on a little bit you know, with so many songs playing, we kind of had to look in the notebook for songs because there are so many damn songs in the first place. So on really the first show of the year, except for South By Southwest, this is the beginning of our touring year, and our first live show, as we are moving towards the release of I and Love and You. I think we did 1 song maybe, off of that, and then we did – nope, sorry, we did two songs off the upcoming release. But we’ve been playing those songs for years; one of them for a couple months.
Then we did a song we’ve never done before – brand new. That may be on the next album, maybe it won’t. It seems unlikely that it will now. There may be 50 songs that come between now and then. So the song we played last night, because we’re so excited to play it, and we love it, and it’s brand new. Who knows what will happen with that. So when we talk about gearing up for I and Love and You, we've worked hard to hold back these songs, and not reveal them. It's also hard for us to not play things that are newer and excited about.
WDS: Have you found that in road testing these songs for a good chunk of time, and then going into the studio and recording, or saving them, that they go through any periods of change, throughout that time when they're sort of maturing?
BC: Sure. They definitely do; absolutely do. Working with Rick Rubin, that was a big thing. There were songs that we were going to record, and put on I and Love and You. When we got into the studio, they were so developed. Rick would suggest changes, like, lets do something else because it got to the point where the songs - we had evolved the songs for so long that it was complicated and it became so concrete. So where a change could have been great, some suggestions didn't feel right. You know, this thing doesn't need another part, it is what has become. It's gone past that point, so lets just move on to something else that we maybe have not added or developed.
But there's always changes. You know, even songs that we recorded years ago, that we've been playing for 8 years, they'll change. They're going to change when a whole 'nother part is written. They'll change as far as composition and maybe arrangement. Maybe signatures. A song always changes over time, no matter what.
WDS: You mentioned that Rick Rubin was producing I and Love and You. I'm wondering if you could elaborate on what is was like to go into the studio with such an accomplised producer.
BC: It was more relaxing than you think it would be. It was more amicable. He would suggest things for songs. He sees songs in a linear format. His suggestions were very, "try this," and it would work or it won't. Sometimes he would say something like, "I think something needs to go here, but I don't know what it is. What do you think?" Then were times where he was like, "wow, that part is really good. Lets put that in another part of a song too. Or, these verses could maybe be shifted around. Can we do that?"
He was very conscious of how and if it would work. In that aspect, he would say, "could we include the chorus here? Could we include the chorus there?" His suggestions worked very well, and it was pleasent to hear. You know, you sign with a major label, and you kind of expect the worst in some ways. But, the worst never came. It wasn't there. It wasn't a reality.
WDS: I'd imagine it'd be intimidating to step in there and have someone say, "this is what we're going to do with what you've got, and here are my suggestions." It'd be intimidating to have someone else --
BC: And it wasn't that. That's what was so great about it. It was very - kind of like making it as great as it can be. This things great. You know, is it living to its potential? So that's why it was an experience, and why we've seen many great songs come and go. You've gotta be open to suggestions. You can't be so sure of yourself; so cocky. But, as you get older - you know when you're younger, you're always about compromise, compromise. That's how the world works.
WDS: I've read in a past interview that one of you guys did, that there's been a more - with each record that you guys have recorded, whether its been The Gleam series, or your last record, Emotionalism, that there's been a more mature approach with each record, you've learned more about your musical expression. I was wondering if you could talk about how you guys were more ready to approach I and Love and You in a big way.
BC: Well, when you said a big way, it's kind of the natural progression of things. Every recording process we've done, we've learned more, and we've implemented some things that we've learned. We've learned from our mistakes. We started out on the road with a tent, and a 4-person dooley truck, then a conversion van. Then we started staying in hotels in one room. Then we got a passenger van. Then we got a trailer, and we added another person, so we would get 2 rooms. Now we're in a bus, you know. It's like everything you do, there's an evolution of it. Time goes on and you learn, and you keep the money where it needs to be, so you do what you do, and all that stuff. You do it well, and you keep yourself healthy while you're doing it.
Musically, it's the same thing. We recorded the first couple albums in [Seth and Scott Avett's] dad's shop, in the back of their farm, with a local guy who came with his own equipment. The next step was recording with Doug Williams. It moved on to recording in Asheville, and giving up a little of that control.
With our friends, they would make suggestions. When I first started playing with Scott and Seth, it was, "here's how it's going to be." As long as we changed it, it was ok. They weren't too hip on an outsider making a suggestion. With Mill, we were more open to it, so there was that moment of maturity. That moment of, "I don't know everything, and I know I don't know everything. There's no possible way I could know everything."
So then when this step came with Rick Rubin and Colombia - it's funny. We've done very well for ourselves being completely independent. We've got a 5 to 6 man operation, and we've done really, really well from being on the road, to making a record, to distributing a record, to promoting a record - you know, every aspect. We cover all the bases. We do all our stuff, and we have a great time doing it.
It seems to me, musically, that people that have been on labels their whole careers, are jumping off the ship, and going independent. However, we're jumping on the ship, and you know, making that decision, was all opportunity at the right time. Being on the road, and learning from mistakes, and maturing on the road, to making records, you learn from mistakes. In every aspect of it, there's maturity. I guess as you get older, that makes it easier, I guess.
WDS: What is your favorite part of being on tour? You least favorite part?
BC: I think its been 8 years now, and it's almost something unique. You know, we had 4 months off, and it was great. It's nice to have that home life. We're all married. Scott's got a child, you know. I've got one on the way. That part of life is so precious, and so important that we're working towards having more of that. But I think the travel aspect of it, and seeing the country gets compulsive. Also, when you're home, we're all working on our own things at home, and we all keep ourselves busy. But, this is work. This is our job, and I think there's something psychological about doing your job. A man needs to work, everyone needs to work. You need work because you need money to live, but I think people work to keep themselves busy.
When I hear people say, "if I won the lottery, I could go live on a beach for the rest of my life," or whatever. I think that'd be fun for a month, but I don't think anybody would be healthy if they didn't work forever. It doesn't matter what kind of work you're doing. I think you need to feel valuable and important by having a task. Being able to play music is pretty much the best case scenario for me.
The best thing about being on the road is being on the road. The worst thing about being on the road is being on the road.
WDS: With each of your live shows being almost a unique experience in their own right, what do you hope fans - say a newer fan, for the first time, they attend one of your shows. What do you hope they take away from the show?
BC: Well, I'm glad that they came. I hope that - I know that people don't have a lot of free time, and I know that they don't have a lot of money to spend on free time. So, when they come to our shows, I hope that after spending 4 hours of their time, I'm glad they spent it with The Avett Brothers. I can't set something up for them; I don't want to set up an unreasonable expectation of what our shows will be like, but if they've never come to see us before, I hope they get a thrill out of it, a chuckle, and I hope they feel like it was time well spent.
WDS: I've read that recently, that you picked up the trumpet a few years ago.
BC: Ah, yeah. It's become the bane of my existence. I love it so much. It's such a hard thing, you know, at 38 years old, to try to do something like that, and try to get fluent at it. I love the process of learning it. I'm doing a record right now with a guy named David down in Charlotte. He's an amazing singer/songwriter. Him and his son Robet have a project that we're calling The Oval Mountain Men. We're finishing up a recording right now, and I got to play a little trumpet on that. I played a little trumpet on Emotionalism. I just keep working on it, trying to get it better. Hopefully it's something that I can do fluently.
WDS: You mention that you're working on a side project in Charlotte. When you go off, and you've got those times away from The Avett Brothers, what do you hope to learn, or what do you hope to gain from those side experiences, away from your main gig?
BC: Well, I think what I learned on this most recent one working with David and Robert was how much fun it is to work with David and Robert. David and I talked about doing this for years, and for two years, we've been kind of back and forth. It's been a pure joyful experience. It's fun to collaborate, and hanging out with those guys, and working together, and bouncing ideas off of each other. It's been relaxing.
So, I know I've learned something. I've applied a lot of what I've learned with them, but I think a lot of what it is - there's always little musical things that you learn, and how to be efficient in the studio. But I think the most important thing is to be able to relax and have fun, and be patient, and enjoy the company that you're being able to share.
WDS: What do you hope to accomplish with The Avett Brothers in the summer of 2009?
BC: We're just going to continue on touring and getting it better. You know, we just wanna enjoy ourselves out here and introduce this record to the entire country to play those songs, and to enjoy those simple -- we played Indianpolis last night, and there were these people that have seen us for 8 years. They've become our friends. We've built up really genuine, and personal relationships with them. We get treated really well by the people that come to see us. They really treat us better than we deserve; they're just sweet, caring, and having a good time and they provide energy for us.
I know it's cliche, but the energy transfers back and forth from the crowd to the stage, to the crowd to the stage. It truley is a very communal thing, and just to be able to be apart of that; it feels -- no words can describe how that feels. We're just thankful to be out here doing this.
WDS: You're slated to open for Widespread Panic, and Dave Matthews Band. What are you hoping to get out of the experience of opening for the Dave Matthews Band.
BC: I'm thankful that they'll have us aboard, first of all. We just want to enjoy the experience. If somebody who hasn't heard us, and is seeing the Dave Matthews Band, or Widespread Panic, see us, they'll hopefully like us, and go out and search for themselves and enjoy the experience. You know, it's really tough to be the opening slot for such a big group. I mean, I've been going to a lot of bigger shows and the opening band doesn't get their shake from the crowd. If you're a fan at that level, you know wanna see what you paid to see. You don't want to see these guys from North Carolina, what do you care, you know? We're just going to do the best we can and have a good time doing it. Hopefully people will like what we do. It'll be a fun 45 minutes for them, instead of being a painful one.
WDS: Well, Bob, I appreciate you sitting down and spending some time with me, I'm really looking forward to seeing you guys perform in a couple weeks in Dallas. And I just really do appreciate you sittin down and spending some time.
BC: Man, I'm happy to do it. Anytime, man.
all photos by Crackerfarm