By Kevin Alan Lamb
Some months after interviewing Bob Crawford, adopted brother and bass player of The Avett Brothers, I find myself sitting in a coffee shop just footsteps away from where a burned CD playing on an old stereo, in my tree fort apartment, changed my life. From their sixth album, I and Love and You (2009) came the song “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise,” and the lyrics which served as a foundation for a man, mission, and movement with effects beyond measure or conception. I spent 18 years of my life believing that I would pitch a baseball for a living, but fate intertwined when I tore my rotator cuff and insisted the opportunity of utilizing my gifts to pursue a dream I hadn’t yet considered.
“Decide what to be, and go be it.”
No matter our gifts it is the inability to choose and commit which transforms the strength and will of a dreamer, into weariness and doubt on a road long and uncertain. The words of others helped me find words of my own, but most of all, they gave me permission to believe in irrational dreams made possible with choice and commitment over time. No matter the distances I travel, festivals I cover, and bands I fall in love with, it is the words of the humblest, most grateful and ever-evolving students of music which carry me, tattooed on my left and right wrist to perpetuate my gratitude, and always ensure I return to my greatest gifts, words, and ability to imprint inspiration upon others.
If you haven’t heard of them, you haven’t been listening; If the luminosity of love and purpose in your life is wavering, it’s time to start; And if your soul seeks solace in the form of ballads, rhythm, and harmony, I recommend traveling through time with Emotionalism (2007), Four Thieves Gone (2006), A Carolina Jubilee (2003), and I and Love And You (2009) to discover yourself and your passion in the foundation of themselves and their music. Then, with an understanding of the roads they’ve traveled, use your “breathing time machine” to return to the present, and come full circle with True Sadness (2016).
With the completion of your crash course on The Avett Brothers, I ask you to close your eyes, take a deep breath, and think of those you love most in this life, and what it would feel like to lose them. I ask you to internalize the greatest struggle you’ve experienced, the strength it required to endure, and those by your side throughout the journey.
Your head and heart are now appropriately tuned to be moved by Bob Crawford, and his daughter Hallie.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today. How was your show in Toledo?
Toledo was great, I really love that zoo, it’s a great place to play. We played their two years ago. We’ve actually over our career played in many zoos. The zoo is nothing new to us.
It has gotta be something with all the animals as added fans in the audience?
That’s right [laughing]. We played zoos in Minnesota, Seattle, Portland.
Alright, now I’m going to dive in a little heavier because you guys are one of my favorite bands. I’ve seen you nine or ten times over the years, and I really dig everything you have going, because you mean a lot to me.
To experience True Sadness, you must experience true love. And while it isn’t easy, it is the capacity to love which enables us to heal. Share with us your gratitude for making music as medicine to heal your wounds.
Yeah, I think it’s important when you’re suffering through something very traumatic and painful to be able to… you know something that I had to take into account, it’s partial to me and may not be how everybody deals with these sorta things, but when I went through my daughter’s (Hallie) illness I had trouble understanding that it was okay for other people to celebrate, you know? I felt that the veil of ignorance had been stripped from my eyes, and the veil was the suffering that people go through first hand and for me I felt like I was refuted and ignorant. We fill up our days when we are in good health and everything is going well, and everyone we know and love is healthy, and everything is good, the last thing we think about is the fragility of life, the shortness of our time here, the shortness in our quality of time here. We don’t tend to think about the suffering of others if we don’t have to. And for me, suffering was put front and center; so, when I began to rejoin the world, be it an occasional gig with the band over the year that my daughter was undergoing chemotherapy and surgery, or even after, it took me about a year to get back. To feel like I was part of the group again. To feel like I was able to go out with a clear conscience and feel confident, and feel that it was okay to play music after what I had seen and now knew. The way I got to this point were a few letters that people wrote saying that they were at a show of ours and they were about to go under or were about to go under surgery to remove a brain tumor and they came to a show a couple days before. And got to meet us there and that gave them confidence, and strength, and pride, and the people who would share their stories of their children who battled with cancer or their own battles with cancer or even the suffering of someone who lost a loved one. You begin to believe that your role, the reason why you’re up there is to help, is to represent for those people, those are the people, those are my people, those are the people when I stand on stage, I’m representing for, and that’s kind of how I got to that point. We get a lot of letters from people, all the time, and they talk about how our music guided them through a particularly dark time in their life, be it because of illness, or addict, or depression. And no matter what we do, we always try to keep in mind, that is why we’re here. For whatever reason, something we do touches those people, and touched someone and has the capability to reach out and lift someone up. I don’t believe it’s because of us individually. I think there’s something beyond us that we can’t understand, but we need to keep it front and center, and when we don’t keep it front and center we have issues.
Beautiful, thank you. Blaise Pascal said, “Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much.” Your commitment to being good and serving others is why I fell in love with your music.
It goes beyond what we do on the stage. Our interactions with a person at the gas station, at a coffee shop, on an ambulance on the way to the hospital… a little kindness goes a long way. When we share kindness we turn it around and share that kindness with others. It is self-facing and leaves us unguarded.
Can you elaborate on the notion of music as providence?
Music goes beyond our understanding. It gives a window to another world. Depending on a person’s faith, if they have it, you have to keep a temporary state of everything. There’s going to be change, though it feels like it’s never going to end. Living faithfully day-to-day, music can be the love people hang onto, even if it’s for a couple of hours at a time. When I was in the ER, I’d look at the clock and tell myself, “If she can make it two hours, she will make it.”
Talking about your leadership roles and band dynamic, Rick Rubin says Scott writes most of the darker songs, while Seth plays the role of the optimist.
I don’t see it that way, though it may be true. I’ve been with these guys for 15 years. The leadership is balanced. We are here to do whatever’s going to help. It doesn’t feel like a dominating force. It’s important to give that over. Sometimes I’m happy to give that to Scott, he has a big personality and can talk for hours and hours. He likes to do that and it shows trust when you give that power over.
I recently interviewed Nahko & Medicine for the People, who after seeing Scott play at Pickathon couldn’t believe anyone could rock so hard on an acoustic guitar. Tell us about the role Doc Watson played in your collective ability to do all things with strings and an acoustic guitar.
Doc’s songs and presence always played a role subconsciously, but now 16 years in we really study musicians, and he has more influence now.
If you could be on a ship, for one month, recording an album with any band, who would it be?
Two of my all-time favorites… Many I love, many I love, many I love, but certain bands I tell my wife I don’t like the way it sounds. It doesn’t move me, but more music I appreciate than I don’t. Bruce Springsteen grew up in New Jersey and the Grateful Dead.
What’s song would you like to accompany your first dance with Hallie?
You know I’ve kind of given that up. If we get there it will be a beautiful day. I don’t really care. It could be zippity-doo-da or Justin Beiber and I’d be just fine with it.
Passion-filled-purpose may flood your neurotransmitters, igniting the phenomena of chills in your spine: if you find yourself moved, This is a Good Sign.
Catch The Avett Brothers on consecutive nights this week at The Fillmore, Detroit. Fathers, bring your daughters; mothers, bring your sons; If you have a heavy heart, I assure its bell will be rung.
Just in case you were looking for one, This is a Good Sound.