Avett Brothers endure personal challenges on road to success

Bob Crawford, Scott Avett and Seth Avett are the Avett Brothers. The band's latest album, The Carpenter, debuted last month at No. 4 on the Billboard album charts.

Bob Crawford, Scott Avett and Seth Avett are the Avett Brothers. The band's latest album, The Carpenter, debuted last month at No. 4 on the Billboard album charts.

Avett Brothers

8 p.m. Friday at Mud Island Amphitheatre, 125 N. Front. Tickets: $37, available at all Ticketmaster outlets, ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000

Eponymous brothers Scott Avett (left, and Seth Avett of The Avett Brothers perform last year at the CMT Artists of the Year television taping in Nashville. The band's latest album, The Carpenter, debuted last month at No. 4 on the Billboard album charts. (Mark Humphrey/Associated Press files)

Photo by Mark Humphrey

Eponymous brothers Scott Avett (left, and Seth Avett of The Avett Brothers perform last year at the CMT Artists of the Year television taping in Nashville. The band's latest album, The Carpenter, debuted last month at No. 4 on the Billboard album charts. (Mark Humphrey/Associated Press files)

Bob Crawford of the Avett Brothers has always understood the importance of family.

During its decade-plus career, the North Carolina combo — featuring Crawford and siblings Scott and Seth Avett — has rarely toured for long stretches. Instead, the band had built a successful career while keeping a balance between life on the road and life at home.

"The longer you're away from your family, there's no way to make up for that lost time," Crawford says. "That's the story of anyone who works and travels. If you're away, it gets hard to keep that bond."

For the Avett Brothers — who play Friday at Mud Island Amphitheatre — the bonds of family have been tested and strengthened over the past year.

In the fall of 2011, Crawford's 22-month old daughter, Hallie, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Crawford took a hiatus from the band, and his wife, Melanie, and their family relocated to Memphis last October so Hallie could undergo treatment at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

They remained in town until this past May, when Hallie completed six months of IV chemotherapy. The family has been returning for periodic checkups and treatments.

"We've come back every three months for scans," Crawford says. "We were back in July, and everything was stable. We'll be here for the week. And if everything is stable this time, we'll be back in January. If my daughter Hallie is doing good, then we're doing good."

Following his leave, Crawford has been back with the group since the release of the Avetts' seventh and latest album, The Carpenter, which debuted last month at No. 4 on the Billboard album charts.

The band's second effort for major label American Recordings and its second working with the company's head, über-producer Rick Rubin, it moves the group further in a pop direction, while retaining the sprite roots and bluegrass elements of their earlier work.

"With this one, we had the benefit of the prior experience of working with Rick, and of being on a bigger label," Crawford says. "So we were much more comfortable with the process and able to do some different things."

The material on The Carpenter is a result of much seasoning. "We do a lot of demoing — a lot of working on songs in sound checks and even playing the new songs live," Crawford says. "Some of the songs on The Carpenter are seven years old. They just took time to be completed."

He cites one of the album's standouts, the doo-wop flavored "Pretty Girl from Michigan," which had been recorded three different times over the years, until the band felt they'd finally captured the right arrangement. "We believe in taking time with the songs and testing them and making sure they're right," he says.

That kind of slow, solid determination has been a hallmark of the band since Crawford joined the fledgling Avett Brothers in April 2001.

During its first five years together, the band released five albums, toured the club circuit, and built a steady grassroots following. With the release of 2007's Emotionalism, critics and the industry began to take notice, with Rubin signing the group to his American Recordings label. The band's next record, I and Love and You in 2009, shot into Top 20, and saw the band make the rounds of late-night TV shows and become a favorite of the NPR set.

"Around 2009, things did ramp up; the pace quickened, if you will," Crawford says. "But for the most part, it's been a nice gradual climb and a lot of little things that led to bigger things. Or a lot of little things that piled on top of each other that made it easier to get to the bigger thing."

The band reached a new level last year, when the Avetts, along with fellow up-and-comers Mumford & Sons, were featured in a T Bone Burnett-produced segment on the Grammy Awards playing alongside Bob Dylan.

"What (Burnett) wanted to present was the idea of the old hootenannies of the '60s and the whole Greenwich Village folk scene," Crawford says. "He wanted that feel to it, with Dylan being the icon, and having us and Mumford & Sons as the other ends of the thread."

Since then, the Avetts' profile has continued to grow, as evidenced by the band's latest chart debut and a new national ad campaign for The Gap. The group will appear on an episode of CMT's "Crossroads" with country legend Randy Travis, that will air on Nov. 23. The band will finish touring for the year shortly after that, and plans to take a few months off and then begin prepping a new LP.

"We're already kicking around ideas of how to do the next record," Crawford says, "looking at what setting or environment we want to work in, and how we can maybe change things up a little bit."

In the meantime, Crawford's return to the Bluff City this week will offer a chance to gauge his daughter's medical progress and a bit of a second-homecoming. "We have connections and roots here now," Crawford says. "There's a lot of people that we love and care about here, who helped us in our worst days and hours."

© 2012 Go Memphis. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.