NPR

The Avett Brothers: Matters Of Life And Death

The Avett Brothers are real-life siblings Scott (left) and Seth Avett (right), and bass player Bob Crawford. The band's newest album is The Carpenter. (Courtesy of the artist)

In 2009, The Avett Brothers became one of the surprise hits of the year. Paste Magazine considered their I and Love and You the best album of that year, calling it "an overpowering acoustic album brimming with sadness and soul."

That sadness took on new meaning recently. Bassist Bob Crawford took a temporary leave from the band to tend to his infant daughter, Hallie, after she developed a brain tumor.

Next month, The Avett Brothers release a new album, The Carpenter, which explores the delicate balance between life and death.

NPR's Laura Sullivan spoke with the band about the difficult period since their last album, starting out by asking Crawford about his daughter.

Bob Crawford: She presented on Aug. 28 of 2011. And by "presenting," we mean my wife found her in her bed having a seizure. She's still under treatment; she'll be under treatment until November of this year. She's on oral chemo, she's being treated through Saint Jude's Children Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. She's doing really well. I mean, it's astroblastoma glioma, which is a terrible, terrible thing. But she's ... a miracle.

Sullivan: How old is she?

Crawford: She's 2 and a half.

Sullivan: Are you touring with the band while this is going on, or are you mostly with your family?

Crawford: This is actually my first trip in a year. But I've gone out and done shows. You know, when things were going well, I would break off and play two or three shows at a time, as best I could. But I think what's important to understand with this is there's a lot of kids that are going through this, and there's a lot of families that go through this. What they face every day is unimaginable. I think you always need to have hope on these things.

In the music, you need the theme of death to celebrate life. And what you see at St. Jude, people are daily celebrating life while they're fighting off death.

Sullivan: Has it brought you guys, as a band, closer together?

Crawford: Incredibly, incredibly close together. My wife and I couldn't have faced this without these guys.

Sullivan: Seth, do you guys realize how often the theme of death appears on this album? At least half of these songs deal with it in some way. I'm wondering if maybe it's been something you guys have been thinking about because of what Bob has been going through.

Seth Avett: That certainly advanced it quite a bit. That certainly brought priorities into focus, sort of violently and very quickly. You know, the record basically was finished by the time that shift, that life-altering event, came down. But it's not the only tragedy that we're familiar with. The older you get, and this is a kind of a depressing thought, but in some ways you're just biding your time between tragedies. Anytime something's not going completely off the rails, you should be really thankful for it.

Sullivan: You guys have been recording for years, but you earned legions of new fans with your last record, I and Love and You. All of a sudden, there you were in the Top 20 on the Billboard charts. When something like that happens, do you try to analyze what you did differently? Do you try to repeat it?

Scott Avett: You really don't want to repeat it (laughs). We try not to repeat what we do. However, everything we've done has been from the ground up. We were so blessed with what I guess some would consider failure early on: We had a very slow increase in crowds, increase in notoriety. But we've never been all that surprised. We also were raised with huge amounts of [false] confidence, so I would imagine when we went into this we were more surprised that we weren't superstars on our first recording — which was a god-awful recording as far as quality. We were so urgent, so anxious and so fast-paced that we were just rushing through everything?

Sullivan: Why are you thankful for the slow growth?

Scott Avett: Because at 25, if I was sitting at this desk speaking with you, as pompous as the things I have to say are now, they would be millions of times more pompous and inappropriate.

Sullivan: You certainly get a lot of love for your music. What would you say is the greatest compliment that you guys have received?

Seth Avett: There's a certain nature of compliment that is easily the best one to receive, and that comes out of tragedies in the lives of our fans: when someone says to us, "Your music helped me though this hard time" — alcoholism, a death in a family, cancer news, whatever. Last night we played in Chico, Calif., and a family was there that recently had a tragedy with a fire taking their home. You could see in their faces that they had been through something very rattling and life-changing, but you could also see that they were there to have a good time and to find some joy. And being able to be a part of that or provide a forum for that — is there anything that could be better than that? I mean, we're just writing songs and playing them for people.

Scott Avett: I've also been very flattered and honored to see teenage kids picking up instruments under our inspiration. I think that's just amazing, because I remember being there. I understand that feeling, I recall it clearly. That, to me, is a very special thing.

Crawford: I think the best compliment is the way the people, our fans, how they support each other. If there's a death in the fan community, they all rally around that family. And the way that they've supported our family — as we've gone through the tragedy that we've gone through, we've gotten an amazing outpouring of support from the Avett fanbase. Like Seth said, we're just writing songs and playing them, and the love that's been generated by all that is just overwhelming.

Seth Avett: It's a weird sort of compliment, and a beautiful thing, to become peripheral to that and to see — you know, this cliche, "Music brings people together" — to actually see that in real life and only vaguely be aware of all the connections that are being made. We're just something they have in common.

Scott Avett: It also has become a responsibility of ours, an obligation that I think has taken time for us to accept and take on. Early on, you don't really imagine that sort of thing and you kind of wonder if it really happens. Once you see it really happening, you have to believe. If someone is telling you this is what you are to them, whether you believe it or not, you have the responsibility to respect that.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LAURA SULLIVAN, HOST:

If you're just tuning in, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan. And it's time now for music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I AND LOVE AND YOU")

THE AVETT BROTHERS: (Singing) Ah, Brooklyn, Brooklyn, take me in. Are you aware the shape I'm in?

SULLIVAN: These are The Avett Brothers, Scott and Seth, from Concord, North Carolina. In 2009, they became one of the surprise hits of the year. The music magazine Paste named their record "I and Love and You" the best of that year, calling it an overpowering acoustic album brimming with sadness and soul.

That sadness took on new meaning recently. Bassist Bob Crawford left the band temporarily to tend to his infant daughter, Hallie, after she developed a brain tumor. In a few weeks, The Avett Brothers release a new album, one that explores the delicate balance between life and death. It's called "The Carpenter."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BROTHERS: (Singing) My dream of all dreams and my hope of all hopes is only to tell you and make sure you know how much I love you and how much I always did.

SULLIVAN: I recently spoke with Scott, Seth and Bob about the difficult period since their last album. And first, I asked Bob about Hallie's condition.

BOB CRAWFORD: She presented on August 28, 2011. And by presenting, we mean that my wife found her in her crib having a seizure. And she's still under treatment. She'll be under treatment until November of this year. She's on oral chemo. She's being treated through Saint Jude Children Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. She's doing really well. I mean, it's astrocytoma glioma, which is a terrible, terrible thing. But she's, you know, she's a miracle.

SULLIVAN: How old is she?

CRAWFORD: She's 2 1/2.

SULLIVAN: Oh, goodness.

CRAWFORD: But I think what's important to understand with this is there's a lot of kids that are going through this, and there's a lot of families that go through this. What they face every day is unimaginable. And I think, you know, you always need to have hope on these things. In the music, you need the theme of death to celebrate life. And what you see at St. Jude, people are daily celebrating life while they're fighting off death.

SULLIVAN: Hmm. Has it brought you guys as a band closer together?

CRAWFORD: Incredibly. Incredibly close together. My wife and I couldn't have faced this without these guys.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BROTHERS: (Singing) One comes of it, love is love. And let go of it love comes from and we're not of this world for long. Faith and promise keep me honest when starvation falls upon us. Daylight told me he would be...

SULLIVAN: Seth, do you guys realize how often the theme of death appears on this album? You know, I'm wondering if maybe it's been something you guys have been thinking about because of what Bob Crawford, your bassist, has been going through.

SETH AVETT: Oh, that certainly advanced it quite a bit. That certainly brought priorities into focus, sort of violently. You know, the record basically was finished - all the tracking was finished by the time that life-altering event came down. But it's not the only tragedy that we're familiar with.

You know, the older you get, you just - there's - it's kind of a depressing thought, but in some ways, you know, you're just biding your time in between tragedies. You know, anytime something's not going completely off the rails, you should be really thankful for it, I think.

SULLIVAN: My guests are Scott and Seth Avett and their bassist, Bob Crawford from The Avett Brothers. And their new album is called "The Carpenter." Scott, you guys have been recording for years, and you've earned legions of new fans with your last record, "I and Love and You." All of a sudden, there you were in the Top 20 in the Billboard charts. When something like that happens, do you try to analyze what you did differently in that album? I mean, do you try to repeat it?

SCOTT AVETT: You really don't want to repeat it.

(LAUGHTER)

AVETT: We try not to repeat what we do.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DOWN WITH THE SHINE")

BROTHERS: (Singing) It's in with the new, and it's out with the old...

AVETT: However, everything we've done has been from the ground up. And we were so blessed with what would be, I guess, some would consider failure early on. So we had a very slow increase in crowds and increase in notoriety. And so we also were raised with huge amounts of disillunsional confidence, so I would imagine that when we went into this, we kind of were more surprised that we weren't superstars on our first recording, which was, you know, a god-awful recording as far as quality.

SULLIVAN: Why are you thankful for the slow growth?

AVETT: Because at 25, if I was sitting at this desk speaking with you now, the things that I would have to say to you would be - and as pompous as the things that I have to say are now, they would be millions times more pompous.

(LAUGHTER)

AVETT: And inappropriate.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DOWN WITH THE SHINE")

BROTHERS: (Singing) Down with the shine, the perfect shine that poisons the well and ruins my mind. I get took for a ride every time down with the glistening shine.

SULLIVAN: You certainly get a lot of love for your music. What would you say is the greatest compliment that you guys have received? Seth?

AVETT: Well, there's a certain nature of compliment that is easily the best one received, and that comes out of tragedies in the lives of our fans. When someone says to us, you know, your music has helped me through this hard time, alcoholism, recovery or a death in a family or cancer news or whatever.

Last night, we played in Chico, California, and a family was there that recently had a tragedy with fire taking their home. You know, you could see in their faces that they had been through something very rattling and something that was life changing. And being able to, in some part, be a part of that or provide a forum of that is - is there anything that could be better than that? I mean, we're just writing songs and playing for people, you know? That's about as good as it could get.

SULLIVAN: What about you, Bob?

CRAWFORD: I think the best compliment is the way our fans, how they support each other. If there's a death in the fan community, they all rally around that family, and the way they supported our family as we've gone through the tragedy that we've gone through. We've gotten an amazing outpouring of support from the Avett fan basin.

It's just amazing. Like Seth said, we're just writing songs and playing them, you know? And the love that's been generated by all that is just - it's overwhelming.

SULLIVAN: That's Scott and Seth Avett and Bob Crawford from The Avett Brothers. Their new album is "The Carpenter." You can hear every track from the record at NPR's exclusive First Listen. That goes live on Thursday at nprmusic.org. Scott, Seth and Bob, thank you so much for joining us.

AVETT: Thank you.

CRAWFORD: Thank you.

AVETT: Thanks so much, Laura.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIVE AND DIE")

BROTHERS: (Singing) All it'll take is just one moment and you can say goodbye to how we had it planned. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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