Sometimes You Just Gotta Avett
If you pull up The Avett Brothers’ Web site, go under bio. You’d expect to see band members’ names, official dates or the like, but what you’ll find are words that speak volumes. Even the opening statement reads,
“It costs nothing to be honest, loyal and true.”
I was lucky enough to chat with Bob Crawford, stand-up bassist for The Avett Brothers, who are coming to The V Club in Huntington March 2.
Graffiti: The Washington Post calls your music “post civil war modern rock.” Now, I don’t know what that means, but I do know a lot of different kinds of music fans love your sound. Maybe that’s a testament to the universal language of music, but I think it’s more about how you blend genres together. Is this blending a purposeful action or mainly a natural reaction to music?
Bob Crawford: (Laughing) We’ve always done what we do. There’s nothing premeditated. Nothing about this band is that way. We try to be honest and true. You know, Mark Twain once said to write what you know. It’s that thing. What we’ve equated to us is the most simple and real thing. We just do what we do. Simple and true and honest, no pretension, no hidden motives, what you see is what you get and we enjoy it. We’re thankful to be doing what we love. We’re thankful. And it touches people and we feel like we walk out on stage every night and everyone’s in our corner. How many opportunities do you get to go out a week? People take that time seriously. I know I do. When they choose to spend that time with us, I just feel really grateful.
Graffiti: I wish more bands shared that sentiment.
Crawford: Yea, you know, I listen to a lot of bands who aren’t grateful and it almost turns me off. I’ve listened to music my whole life. I’ve always loved it and always been carried to different kinds of music. Now music is getting wider appeal, these are the times we live in — everything is hybrid. There’s diversity all around us and it’s easy to travel — you can live in West Virginia for a year and you can live in New York City or Arizona. These days I find myself personally gravitating toward classical and opera and old jazz
But occasionally my wife and I will watch MTV and you see some of these bands and sometimes I see band interviews and I don’t like it anymore. I start to not like the industry of music. I’m thankful for what we do and we just do it our way. No egos. We’ve been doing this for six years and a lot of acclaim has been thrust upon us, and a lot of personalities and attitudes for me and Scott and Seth and everyone else have never changed. There’s a democracy and it’s very fair.
Graffiti: Speaking of which, how does the writing process take place? Are there words first? Are there stories first? Or do you create melodies as your top priority?
Crawford: The process is very trusting. A lot of that is done because of one person’s idea. One person may direct the others, and lead the others. This might fit with that, we would say. All suggestions are always welcome. You know, Seth and Scott, they have such a clear vision — a lot of times they help each other finish a song or something like that. It’s like someone who makes cabinets; it’s crafted and finished. It’s an art. These songs also get time to develop and we’ll sit down at sound checks and keep adding and perfecting and adding and perfecting.
Graffiti: It sounds like a great work environment for creativity. What happens on show night, how do you transform this process into the passionate energetic shows we keep hearing about?
Crawford: I try to stay in shape (laughs). Being the oldest and all. Excersise keeps me up. Those boys just have it and Scott will say he feels really tired and he ain’t got it in him tonight, but he’ll get up there and go nuts. I mean, you try running in place for 90 minutes. I look over and he’s flailing about and I’m getting my inhaler between songs.
Graffiti: Does that ever burn you out?
Crawford: Sure absolutely. We’ve been doing this for six years and things become routine and you get to know your body and you can read yourself. The most tired time of the day is right before you go onstage. You might wake up refreshed and then dinner and then you crash. The most awake time of the day is after the show and you feel like you can lift the building over your head.
Graffiti: What do you guys do to unwind when you’re doing show after show?
Crawford: Normally we can’t get out of there after the show – we can’t but not get out of there. We use the immediate time to sign autographs. The unwinding after the show is in the hotel room where you can hopefully fall asleep within half an hour.
Graffiti: Do you have favorite songs you like to play live?
Crawford: It shifts. There’s always a few. When I was young going to concerts all the time, I hated it a lot when bands do all their new songs. But now I find that I love playing the new songs and they recharge the battery and it’s always pushing you forward a little bit.
Graffiti: What’s with all the pretty girl songs, Raleigh and the like. Are they narratives for real events?
Crawford: It’s a little bit of everything. Protecting the innocent. You can’t put every name in every song. It’s not about beauty. It comes in every form and many different forms and I think a lot are based on respect. We’ve known people and it’s changed us.
Graffiti: What inspired the song “Salina?”
Crawford: I know some of these events and I know them well. It’s kind of like a chronology for us and there’s always a feeling of home somewhere. You know the road and home becomes a pretty big word — sometimes I feel at home on the road like that. We’ve been pretty much home for a while and I’ve been home for months — coming home to where my wife is, that’s a greater home.
Graffiti: That leads me to ask about the narrative feel to a lot of your songs. I personally enjoy the sound because I feel like I can relate to an emotion in a story, even though sometimes I can’t relate to it exactly. Where does this narrative quality come from?
Crawford: I think there’s real truth but I know for me, music is kind of an interpretive thing — it doesn’t matter what makes us write a line and a word — it’s an emotional and historical connection. People own music — those are yours. Albums that have meant at lot to people are theirs and nothing can take that away. The songs become bigger than what they were.
Graffiti: When you look back, after all of this, what’s going to be your favorite part of this run?
Crawford: The fact that we get to do it. I’m 36 years old, and I’ve been on this path since 15 to when I was 30 when I actually got on this. The more important thing is that at first, it was nothing. It didn’t exist. We independently made it to this moment and the fact that we did this is amazing. If nothing else happens and we were to disband tomorrow, the fact that it happened and took something that didn’t exist and created it would be an ultimate triumph. When we were doing “Four Thieves Gone,” Seth wrote one morning and recorded it two hours later. We’ve never done that.
That song could not exist and now it existed. The band, the road, everything we’ve done didn’t exist and we worked really hard and we made something — the camaraderie and the love and the family and the good time and the bad times.
Contact Ben at firstname.lastname@example.org