In listening to Bob Crawford's skilled indie-folk electric and upright lines on Magpie and the Dandelion, the new album by the Avett Brothers, it’s hard to imagine that he had never played the bass prior to joining the band in 2000 at age 30. “I went into a music store and bought an upright on a whim, so that people could jam with me while I played guitar, but then I instantly fell in love with playing it. Before I knew it, I got linked up with the Avett Brothers. It was just meant to be.”
Did you approach this album differently?
The difference between recording this album and our previous albums is night and day. Before our last two albums, we were not a band that focused on the pocket. If you go back and listen to any of our old records and put a metronome to it, you would see how much we slowed down and sped up. Now I’m playing with a metronome more than ever, and we record and practice to a click track now. Going into these sessions, we were a better band and I was a much better bass player.
It sounds as if your bass lines have a different feel.
We have more members in our band now, so my playing takes more of the traditional supportive bass role. When I look back on our earlier material when we had a small ensemble, my bass playing was so free-flowing; I would just walk or root–5 it, and there wasn’t much parameter to it. I was just learning bass at the time, and I was also in school studying jazz, and everything I was learning I would apply to the band. The kind of music that Scott and Seth Avett were writing really called for simple rhythmic lines, but I found myself walking all over them.
Bob Crawford with Avett brothers Seth and Scott. Do you prefer playing upright to electric bass?
I feel better writing on the upright. For years I just played the upright, and I was lugging it up stairs and carrying it around every night, and I realized how physical of an instrument it is. And then I started playing some electric bass and I was like, “This is nice—can’t I just keep doing more of this?” I realized after a while that I do my best writing on upright. It just feels a lot more like home to me.
You started playing bass later than most. How did you improve so quickly?
I’ve learned that you just have to put yourself out there and get to it. I first played electric bass during the I and Love and You sessions, when we were recording with Rick Rubin for the first time, and I was thrown into the fire so to speak. Nothing will help you learn how to play an instrument more than doing it in front of people. You can’t know an instrument unless you know it under duress. When you’re in a stressful situation and you find yourself in a jam and you have to get yourself out of that jam in front of an audience, then you will truly know your craft.
The Avett Brothers, Magpie and the Dandelion [American, 2013]
Basses 1950 American Standard Upright, 1983 Engelhardt C3 Upright, Fender Precision Bass
Amps Gallien-Krueger MB Fusion, Gallien- Krueger Neo 212, Ampeg SVT, Ampeg SVT-810
Pedals Electro- Harmonix Big Muff
Strings Thomastik Hybrid Upright Strings, Synthetic Gut Strings, Fender Flatwound Mediums