Three Words That Became Easy to Say
By Arrissia Owen Turner
Bob Crawford longed for one last hurrah. The bassist for roots rockers The Avett Brothers was preparing for the next chapter of his life—grad school—leaving behind his persona as a bar-band musician.
But he couldn’t ignore one nagging urge. Crawford wanted to settle into his years as a teacher or professor without any should-haves or what-ifs. He wanted to go on tour with his band one time, heading past their comfort zone of Charlotte, Greenville and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It went well.
After returning from that first tour with a little money in their pockets, the band members—then just Crawford and Seth and Scott Avett—gained the confidence to believe they could actually make a run of it. Crawford and Scott scrapped grad school and all three got down to music business.
That was nearly a decade ago. “It extended the life of the band,” Crawford says. “And it extended the reach of the band.” They had people to please, newfound fans but also themselves.
“We’ve never felt any pressure to make anything of this,” Crawford says. They’ve never harbored big dreams of conquering the world, which may just be why they are having such a successful run at it.
“It’s always about, ‘What are we doing today,’” Crawford says. “We’ve never talked about having to make it, or what it means to make it.” The band members are very much in the moment. When you don’t expect too much, you are rarely let down. “Once you define what something should be, it’s ruined,” he says.
Fast forward six years, two EPs and five full lengths later, and the band found themselves in a Malibu recording studio with none other than producer extraordinaire Rick Rubin, mixing their major label debut I and Love and You.
The band was a little intimidated at first. The man on the other side of the soundboard was the same who made the careers of bands they grew up listening to, like the Beastie Boys and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Rubin even put his indelible touch on Johnny Cash’s chilling codas American III: Solitary Man and American IV: Ain’t No Grave.
“All I could think of was, ‘I’m just a schmuck,” Crawford recalls. “‘What am I doing here?’” But after about two to three days of that, the musicians let their guards down. They acclimated themselves to the idea of Rubin as a great audience, period, Crawford says.
“He was not there to throw around his resume,” Crawford says. “It was about the art. We were living in the moment. It was about creating something that is lasting.”
Rubin was sneakily hands off, Crawford says. For the first time, the band wasn’t in a rush to record. Rubin put them at ease, giving permission to explore every possible idea and even fail a bit in the process. “He taught us that every idea is worth exploring,” Crawford says.
The result was the band’s most polished offering yet, turning The Avett Brothers’ self-coined “punkgrass” into solemn, earnestly-crafted tunes exploring the feelings that go along with commitment, maturity and moving on to the next chapter of life.
The album was named Paste Magazine’s best album of the year for 2009, whisking them into mainstream exposure through live performances like The David Letterman Show. They’ve ruled famed stages like Denver’s Red Rocks Amphitheater, Coachella and toured Europe.
There’s no turning back now to the simple life of a North Carolina trio. Once known for their sloppily-raucous, banjo-fueled live shows that captivated their early audiences, the band hasn’t escaped the laments of some, including some music reviewers. But Crawford isn’t looking back.
“I don’t know where we are going or how long it will last,” Crawford says. “We are accumulating new experiences, new knowledge. It’s just like life.” Life without what-ifs.
The Avett Brothers with the David Mayfield Parade at Pechanga Resort and Casino, 45000 Pechanga Pkwy., Temecula; www.pechanga.com. Sat, July 23. 8PM. $30-$50.