Concords the Avett Brothers band is up for a Grammy Award for the first time: Septembers The Carpenter is nominated for Best Americana Album.
But during a recent interview with the Observer, bassist Bob Crawford had much more to say about his 3-year-old daughter, Hallie, who was diagnosed with brain cancer two months before her second birthday. Crawford and his wife (who have a younger son, Sam) spent almost a year living in hospitals. After nearly a year off, Crawford rejoined the Avetts in time for the release of The Carpenter.
I can talk about the Avetts and playing shows, but the most important thing is Hallies story and the story of our family, said Crawford, who will be in Greensboro to usher in the new year with the Avetts Monday.
Q. Hows your little girl?
Shes good. She went off chemotherapy in October. With the removal of the tumor, she lost a lot of the right side of the brain. She cannot walk. She does not speak much, but shes beginning to take assisted left steps. We hold our hands above our hips and shes taking right footsteps and is beginning to take left footsteps. She uses her right arm. Well be doing restraint therapy in January, which forces attention to the left. Its a miserable process, but well do all we can do to get her to be as functional as possible. Shes going to a preschool. But everything is like walking a tightrope.
Q. How much were you able to participate in making The Carpenter?
I was done with my stuff when she got sick. I got to be a part of the whole process.
Q. What enabled you to come back?
We left St. Judes Childrens Research Hospital at the end of May and went to Charlotte to Levine Childrens Hospital for six weeks inpatient rehab. We moved home in the middle of June. I was home for a month and a half to be part of that transition. Hallie was doing good and it was time.
Q. Was it cathartic to get on stage sporadically during that time when she was hospitalized? (Crawford would appear at nearby shows.)
They became cathartic after a couple months. When I first started, I was scared I was going to get a phone call during a show. You leave this very stressful environment and go to another environment where people around you have no connection to the life youre living. The last thing you can think of is a party. Id look at the crowd and was thinking, Youre all a bunch of idiots. You dont know whats up. No one knows whats real in life. The bottom could fall out from under us any second and no one realizes that.
Its silly. You get in crisis mode. When Hallie first got sick, we were in Chapel Hill and it was life or death for 10 days. We would walk around the block and see people tailgating. Youre looking at this world youre no longer a part of.
I was always a part of the band. They came to see us. Still, Id walk out there and think, Do I even belong here anymore? These are all the things I went through. Over time, I felt like I was starting to come back and things were going well at the hospital. I began to reclaim myself and my position and my relationship with the audience. The days after something tragic, you go through (stages). The way we gauge happiness and success, aspirations, its all false scale when the floor falls out from under you by what happened with Hallie or losing your job. It makes you reassess your spiritual being and everything around you. I finally came to the end of it where I was like, Man, its good to worry about stupid things and to make silly plans.
Q. Whyd you decide to be so open with your story?
When you go to a place like St. Jude, you meet other families that are going through life-changing experiences. I kind of realized Im one of these guys now. I live in this neighborhood where all the kids have cancer and kids die on a regular basis and you pray a lot. People need to know this place exists and people need to know theyre doing good work there and they always need more money. I can be a window into a world that I hope no one else has to experience but I think everyone should know about.
Q. How did you find out about the Grammy nomination?
I was sitting in bed watching TV looking at my cellphone and texts started to roll in congratulating us. You put it all in perspective. You dont do it to get Grammy nominations. Its nice to be recognized. I hope we win. I remember thinking you can really denigrate an awards show. Plenty of (deserving) people have never been recognized, but its nice to get a compliment.
Q. Did this album take on a new meaning for you in the wake of Hallies illness?
Sure. I can really trace it back to being separated from everything for so long and then getting these mixed and mastered songs. I was so separated from them I could take myself out of it. In the past, Id get the finished album and listen to it twice. The first time I listened to The Carpenter, I got very teary-eyed. The emotion of the song overwhelmed me a bit. The whole album has a lot of perspective on it. Its my favorite album Ive ever done. A Fathers First Spring was emotional when Hallie was perfectly healthy. When I began to listen to the finished product, that was the song I was most afraid to hear. Hallie is different now, but it doesnt change the way I identify with that song.
Q. With bands like the Avetts and Mumford & Sons, acoustic music has become mainstream. Do you have any theories as to how it got there?
I see it like a historian would. When we started to travel in 2002, we saw a lot of bands like us. We all had our own sound. We saw those bands and banjos and upright basses and accordions being played at parties and sports bars. I remember living in Charlotte seeing Acoustic Syndicate, Snake Oil Medicine Show and the Blue Dogs at Jack Straws and Fat City. Maybe the Mumford people saw the same thing. They did it in a different country (England). I cant say for sure, but it probably came from the younger brothers and sisters of the people that were going to see Acoustic Syndicate or Dave Matthews Band when they were young. It took a long time for it to gain a wide-based acceptance like college radio in the 90s.
You had all these really great bands like Archers of Loaf. College radio was a powerhouse then. These people that were the deejays went off and got jobs at labels or were consumers and spent their money on the more underground kinds of music. It takes 10 to 15 years to come to the surface. I do think its a matter of somebody mightve been going to see Langhorne Slim in 2002 and now theyre making $50 to $60,000 a year. Maybe they work at an ad agency now.