It’s been nearly a decade and a half since brothers Scott and Seth Avett and Bob Crawford came together as The Avett Brothers. In the years between, the trio has grown in size (they added cellist Joe Kwon in 2007, and later touring members Paul Defiglia, Mike Marsh, and Tania Elizabeth), as well as in scope. The band, which calls North Carolina home, has paired up with mega-producer Rick Rubin for its last three albums and sold more than 200,000 records in the process. All the while, the brothers have managed to stay utterly true to their folk and bluegrass roots. This month, the band appears on a tribute album to western swing legend Bob Wills. They’ll also head back on the road for a new string of live dates, which includes a stop at the Arlington Theatre on Tuesday, February 10.
For Crawford, the return to touring is especially bittersweet. For the past five years, the bassist has been balancing work with his young daughter Hallie’s harrowing battle with brain cancer. On and off the road, Crawford is a diligent and vocal advocate for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and a model for celebrities looking to use their power for good. In anticipation of the Avetts’ S.B. concert, I spoke to Crawford about home life, band life, and the group’s long-awaited new album.
I’ve been reading about a new record since last summer. Where is that at? [Laughs.] Well, keep reading. I think we’re looking at next year. It was going to be maybe late 2015, but when reality hits, I think it’s probably going to be coming out in 2016. But that’s good, right? These things are flexible for us. And we’re lucky to be that way because that gives us the freedom to complete it the way we want it to be completed and to present it in the way we feel like it deserves to be presented and not feel rushed. We’re not going to cut any corners. We’ve recorded a bunch of songs, but if a new song comes up, we’re gonna record it. We aren’t tied down to a certain day and time that we need to be finished, and we’re going to take advantage of that.
But you guys have started recording? Oh, yeah. Without the finishing touches, we’ve recorded a whole record, but there’s more to do. I’d say 10 years ago, the record would be finished. But we’re not there now, and it doesn’t have to be, so we’re going to keep working.
It’s been a year or two since you guys played Santa Barbara. What’s changed? Well, since then we’ve added three people, so that changes things for the better. Along with that, life just moves on, and everyone gets a little bit older. We’re very fortunate to keep the core of this group together; the roots are strong, and they go far back. The new people who have come on board have come on board in the most natural, organic way possible. They’ve all been people we were very familiar with and that we had a past with. Looking back to 2001 — that’s a long time to have had a job. [Laughs.] The fact that we’ve kept everything together gives me a great sense of satisfaction in the best possible way.
Since starting this band, you’ve gotten married, had children. Has that affected your relationship to music? Absolutely. My personal relationship with music has changed in a few ways: I love it more than ever, and I take it less seriously than ever. And when I say “take it less seriously,” I don’t mean it’s not important. For me, the gravity and power of song and music hits me at the weirdest times. But you also start to think like a tradesman, and Scott [Avett] and I have talked about this for many years — the idea of thinking about the bass the way a plumber thinks about a wrench. This is a trade, I am a tradesman, and this is the tool I need to get the job done, to accomplish the task. When you’re young and you’re starting out and you’re getting your friends to come to your shows, it’s a very glorious time, but there’s this other thought about what it means to be in a band and play music, and that’s good for the age. But then you have a family, and life gives you tragedy, and you live long enough, and you see some awful, horrible things. You process and put all that into perspective, and you get to the point where you can love the music like a 16-year-old but also think about it realistically and practically like a 44-year-old. To have those come together for me personally, I feel like I’m in a good place.
How’s Hallie doing? She’s doing really well. She’s doing super-duper. But it’s a day-to-day situation. We just went to St. Jude last week, and she had an MRI, and she’s all clean and clear, and we’ll go back in April and do it all over again. We live in three-month cycles. But she’s doing great in school, and she’s a super joyful little girl. When she got sick, there were all these expectations and hopes and dreams that we completely lost for our daughter and for what our life with our daughter would be, and slowly over the last year and a half, we’ve been able to reclaim them. They’re coming back to us, and we’re doing things with her and her brother that we never thought would be possible. My wife and I tell each other all the time that these are the salad days, and we’re just trying to soak it in.
UCSB Arts & Lectures presents The Avett Brothers in concert at the Arlington Theatre (1317 State St.) on Tuesday, February 10, 8 p.m. Call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu for tickets and info.