The Weekly Interview: Avett Brothers bassist Bob Crawford

Bob Crawford, second from right, and the rest of The Avett Brothers will perform a three-night set at Brooklyn Bowl from August 29-31.
Chris Bitonti

You guys played Lollapalooza earlier this month. How did that go? It was awesome. It was raining, and whereas in a lot of situations rain kind of spoils the day, I think at a festival or an outdoor concert rain amps up the day. It kind of added this little extra excitement. It definitely intensified our energy a little bit.

Having seen a bunch of your shows, I’ve never thought you needed more intensity. It may not look like it to the crowd, but sometimes we definitely could use an extra jolt. But I think our level of medium intensity is everybody else’s level of high intensity (laughs). It’s gonna help us as we get older.

You’ll be playing three nights in a row at Brooklyn Bowl. Do you plan on switching it up much? This is our third attempt this year at doing something like that. We did three nights in St. Louis, three nights in Red Rocks and now we’re doing three nights in Vegas. What it allows us to do is to put a lot of songs into the setlist that maybe don’t get showcased, or to set up the run as one whole story. The second night in St. Louis we brought out a lot of rarities, old, old songs we were able to reinvent for the experience.

I think for the people that go all three nights it makes for an exciting chance to see songs that longtime fans may not have seen or heard in six or seven years. And of course that also allows us to play a lot of new songs, too. So we try to repeat as few songs as possible through the three nights. There are inevitably some repeats that work out as you’re working on a setlist for flow purposes and to create the dynamic variation that we seek to get out of every show. Sometimes repeating a song, if you’re doing multiple-night runs, just kind of make sense in the context of the show. But it gives us a lot of opportunity to try out new things. You have three shows right next to each other and as you’re crafting each show you’re just trying to make it very different from the one that came before. Each show kind of takes on its own personality, as we saw with Red Rocks and St. Louis, so it’s very exciting for us to be able to work in this medium of the multiple-night stand. It’s a direction we’d like to move towards more in the future.

So you’re saying I should get tickets to all three nights? (Laughs) That would be prime, yes, to get the full experience, go all three nights.

I read that all of the songs for 2012’s The Carpenter and last year’s Magpie and the Dandelion were recorded in the same sessions. Was it always your plan to release two full records or was Magpie more of an outtakes album that became a full record? We didn’t know. We had all these songs, and we went in the studio and the decision was made between ourselves and Rick Rubin to finish every song, rather than weed through, to finish every song to its natural end. We were going to completely record them, nothing was going to be a demo, we had, like, 30 songs and we were going to give our all to every song. So after we recorded every song we began to sequence and see what took shape.

Once we had the narrative that became The Carpenter, we didn’t want to do a double album—that narrative made sense to us, and we knew these other songs at some point would be something. A year-plus later, we began to revisit those songs, and I believe Rick Rubin said, “There’s something here that stands on its own.” And we spent some time with it and it indeed did. I think it’s a completely different vibe than The Carpenter, and they contrast each other very well.

There’s a recurring theme of winter and questioning life and death on The Carpenter, whereas Magpie and the Dandelion has a tinge of hope to it, and the name suggests summer. I agree, and the artwork even coincides with that. Looking at it from this point down the road, we recorded The Carpenter, and then we experienced these life changes that very much reflected The Carpenter. Turning that page through Magpie you can look back and think, this kind of corresponds with the changing of the chapter from that period of our lives to a different period filled with new hopes and new dreams that come out of the heartbreak of the winter and the hope that springs eternal.

I assume you’re speaking about your daughter’s illness [brain cancer] and recovery. Yes. When I look at the inner workings of the event that occurred with us individually during that period, there was this death of dreams, and then a year or two later there was a new dream. It’s very hopeful, and it wasn’t consciously meant to be like that. We didn’t prewrite all these songs that were on both of these records and say, “We’re gonna release this record that’s going to be very contemplative of mortality, and then we’re gonna have these crazy things happen in our lives and release this other record of these song that reflect this new day.” But the way things work in this synergistic world, this is the way it happened.

Do you plan to work with Rick Rubin again? Yes, we’re currently working with him on another record.

That’s four in a row with him. Any fear of it getting same-y? No, we have put safeguards in place that will ensure that this record will not follow the pattern of previous records.

Such as? We’ve already demo’d many songs, and these demos have already been taken farther than demos for I and Love and You or The Carpenter or Magpie. Plus we have three new members in the band.

I know. Every time I see you live it seems like you’ve picked up another member. (Laughs) Right. So there can be no possible way, this new record will be like the other ones. The whole impetus to do another record is to show artistic growth and creative movement, so that’s our goal. Whether it’s accepted commercially, critically, whatever, that’s all after the fact. But our goal, throughout the creative process, is that we’re going to create something that’s different naturally, just because we’re at a different point in our lives.

We’ve had the experience of, “Oh my gosh, we’re working with Rick Rubin; this is all so new.” Then we had the experience of, “Okay, we’re doing this again, and we feel pretty good about it.” And now we have a new experience that is going to be different from both of those but hopefully as positive. Everybody is really excited about it.

You’re the original non-brother member of The Avett Brothers. Have you ever had to referee any sibling fights? Yeah, but not like Kinks or Oasis fights. More like disagreements about a song. We kind of have this two-vote rule and it comes up where I’m the third vote. That can be a tough place to be, but it’s pretty peaceful around these parts.

The Avett Brothers with Nicole Atkins. August 29-31, 8 p.m., $59. Brooklyn Bowl, 702-862-2695.

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