Q&A with Bob Crawford of the Avett Brothers

Categories: Interviews
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Arena rock is making a comeback. Thanks to bands like My Morning Jacket, Wilco and North Carolina's the Avett Brothers, the spirit and tradition of the '70s is swelling and helping to conjure up images of rock and roll when it was at it's purest, most visceral and most likely bearded. We recently spoke with Bob Crawford, bass player for the Avett Brothers, and discussed how the band's humble beginnings transformed into music being produced by the legendary Rick Rubin. Read the full interview after the jump.

Westword (Andy Thomas): The sound you have is considered a throwback; is that a compliment?

Bob Crawford: I don't think that anyone has ever done visual art, music, literature or anything without building on what's already been done. This may be a weak example, but, Bob Dylan built what he did on something from the past and I think that, although we are stretching forward, I think our foundation is built in the past. It's built on rambling Jack Elliot, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Neil Young. I think we've stretched into an individual realm, and I think we've grown as musicians, but I don't think you can do any art without reaching back, whether you know you're doing it or not.

WW:
What advantages are there to signing to a major label?

BC: You got a lot of push power. You got Columbia behind you and that opens some doors with media outlets that you didn't have before. Whether this is good or not it gives you credibility in some circles that you didn't have before. It's a double edged sword. No matter what type of art you create, you are going to draw from the past. This is another statement like that. Even the ones that pretend they don't want to extend their art to as many people as possible. When you have the power of Columbia and American, it's going to increase that for us and we're excited about it.

WW: Another advantage of being on a major is getting to work with producer Rick Rubin. How is he different from other producers?

BC: Rick Rubin has the biggest past and is the most notable person that we have worked with. We had a lot of perceptions of what we thought it was going to be like; there was some hesitation. Scott even said, 'we may make the worst album in the history of music, but we're gonna learn a lot doing it.' We went in there with a very flexible attitude and he was a very mellow character. You see where his brilliance is! He's a copious note taker, I've said that a million times. He's a very thoughtful and active listener. He's got his ear to the ground. He's on Youtube looking at bands, he's out there. He knows who these bands are that are just below the surface. I think what he did was give us that extra push. He knew (these songs) were raw and he gave them new potential. He was great; he was very kind and a very mellowing presence.

WW: The sound you have is considered a throwback, is that a compliment?

BC:  I don't think that anyone has ever done visual art, music, literature or anything without building on what's already been done. This may be a weak example, but, Bob Dylan built what he did on something from the past and I think that, although we are stretching forward, I think our foundation is built in the past. It's built on rambling Jack Elliot, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Neil Young. I think we've stretched into an individual realm and I think we've grown as musicians, but, I don't think you can do any art without reaching back, whether you know you're doing it or not.

WW: Seth and Scott were originally in a "grunge" band called Nemo. They picked up you because they had heard you played stand up bass. How much do you think you have to do with the Avett Brothers sound?

BC: I think I have a considerable amount to do with the sound, especially when we first started playing. It was just the three of us, it was a very organic thing. It was literally like, 'we're gonna get together and play a song.' There was no rehearsal and there was no planning or crafting a sound. There was a guy who could play banjo a little bit, which was Scott, there was a guy who could play guitar a little bit which was Seth and a guy who could play bass a little bit which was me and these brotherly vocals. I was just learning how to play the upright bass which gave me a lot of freedom. When I listen back I think I played a lot more notes than most bass players play. Over the years I've been cutting down the notes I play. When we started, I was the drums and  the bass and all we had was that high hat going. I think back then the bass fulfilled a lot of duties and still does. It was great for me because I didn't have anything else to draw on and I was learning it with these guys who were still learning what they were doing. It was cool how we were all learning our instruments at the same time and hashing it out the best we could.

WW: Were there any artists you turned the other two on to that they weren't familiar with before?

BC: Towns Van Zandt, like five years later. Everybody kinda comes to these things on their own time. There were artists that they turned me on to for sure and likewise I gave a heads up to people I was listening to at the time. Normally we were all on the same wave length. We all like Bob Dylan and Rambin Jack Elliot, Tom Wait and Neil Young. Back then I was listening to a lot of Gram Parsons. We didn't hang out together; we were just playing in this band together. They had their friend group and I had my friend group and various things would filter in. (Scott and Seth) are more in tune with a lot of (current music). I get fed a lot of music from the friends I have. Someone will be like 'you gotta listen to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club!' My friends feed me music which is really nice. I grew up in Jersey and I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing if it wasn't for him. When we first started getting together I would try to get the band to listen to him and they were never too sure about him. Then a couple years later they had gotten into him on their own. I think everyone can share music but I think people need to be in that right position and need the time and attention to get into certain music.

WW: What advantages are there to signing to a major label?

BC: You got a lot of push power. You got Columbia behind you and that opens some doors with media outlets that you didn't have before. Whether this is good or not it gives you credibility in some circles that you didn't have before. It's a double edged sword. No matter what type of art you create, you are going to draw from the past. This is another statement like that. Even the ones that pretend they don't want to extend their art to as many people as possible. When you have the power of Columbia and American, it's going to increase that for us and we're excited about it.

WW: Another advantage of being on a major is getting to work with producer Rick Rubin. How is he different from other producers?

BC: I don't have a lot of people to compare him to, but luckily I have a few. We got to work with Joel Dorn a number of years ago on a couple songs and he worked with Roberta Flack and worked with a lot of great Jazz Albums, his list goes on and on. We got to record three songs with him and that was our first taste of working with a producer who was like a big-time guy. When we began, we were real protective of the vision of the songs. It was encouraging because we could let our guard down a bit, be flexible and let him know if we didn't like something. Working with him was this first door to see what that world was like. On "Emotionalism" we worked with Danny Kadar and Bill Reynolds.

 Bill is now the bass player for Band of Horses and Danny is an amazing engineer who has worked with numerous people, most notably, My Morning Jacket. They were kinda a team, but we were friends with them, so it was more of a collaborative effort. It was a great experience and a lot of fun, very relaxed and mellow. Rick Rubin has the biggest past and is the most notable person that we have worked with. We had a lot of perceptions of what we thought it was going to be like; there was some hesitation. Scott even said, 'We may make the worst album in the history of music, but we're gonna learn a lot doing it.'

We went in there with a very flexible attitude and he was a very mellow character. You see where his brilliance is! He's a copious note taker, I've said that a million times. He's a very thoughtful and active listener. He's got his ear to the ground. He's on Youtube looking at bands, he's out there. He knows who these bands are that are just below the surface. I think what he did was give us that extra push. He knew (these songs) were raw and he gave them new potential. He was great; he was very kind and a very mellowing presence.

WW: When you step back from all of this and see you're on a major and being produced by Rick Ruben, did you ever expect any of this?

BC: There was always a sense that this thing could continue to go. Maybe we weren't looking twenty years down the road, but I knew that walking away from this just would not feel right, because something feels very good about this. Personally I've exceeded all I've ever hoped and dreamed about music, I'm in extra innings right now. If it were to end tomorrow I wouldn't have many regrets. We feel we've got another good year or two in us.

The Avett Brothers perform at the Boulder Theater on Friday, August 21, and the Ogden Theatre on Saturday, August 22.



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