In the days following the death of their bandmate Craig Strickland, Backroad Anthem said that they planned to continue their career without their sixth member, one of the group's two lead singers. In a new interview with the Tennessean, the Fayetteville, Ark.-based band opens up about that decision, and shares what they were going through after their friend disappeared.

Backroad Anthem began their career in October of 2012. Without Strickland, the band consists of Toby Freeman on vocals and electric guitar, fiddler Eric Dysart, guitarist Josh Bryant, bassist and vocalist Brandon Robold and drummer Isaac Senty. The group has opened for country artists including Chris Young, Gary Allan and Tyler Farr and has been in talks to sign with a major label. They have officially released their song "Torn" as a single; they shot a music video for the tune prior to Strickland's death.

“Not one moment was there ever a thought to any of us [to end the band]," Dysart says. "Knowing the person Craig was, that’s what he lived and breathed was the band, and his passion was something that none of us had seen before when we met him. We’ll forever be changed by that, and pushing forward is the only way to do it."

Adds Freeman, "He would want us to move on more than anything. Once we get past this stage, we’re going to dig down really deep as a band, in writing and musically, and we’re going to make this happen.”

Twenty-nine-year-old Craig Strickland died after he, his 22-year-old friend Chase Morland and Strickland’s dog Sam went for a duck hunt early on Dec. 27, despite severe weather conditions. When Strickland and Morland failed to make contact with their families for 24 hours, a search began for the two missing men.

“At that point, we kind of thought this was normal behavior for Craig: His phone would die a lot. We thought he probably didn’t charge his phone, or he dropped it in the water. It’s not out of the ordinary," Senty recalls. "It got weird for all of us when we heard that Chase hadn’t responded to any texts, either.”

Senty and his wife were the ones who drove Strickland's wife Helen to Tulsa, Okla., so that she could be closer to the search area. It was during that drive, through sleet and on icy roads, that Senty realized that the situation was serious.

“You don’t think that anything like this could happen, so you’re still holding onto hope,” Dysart adds. “But there’s something that’s telling you that everything is different.”

The band, along with Strickland's other loved ones, also had to deal with the national attention -- and criticism -- the incident received. They say that, although going out hunting in such terrible weather may seem dangerous, it's not uncommon.

"That’s the kind of stuff you like to hunt in. A lot of people are making it like they shouldn’t have gone in that weather. The reality is, an accident happened, and the water was really high," Bryant explains. "Going hunting in that kind of weather isn’t unheard of. There were other people that were hunting.”

Teams — including members in the air, on land and in sonar-equipped boats — searched a two-mile area of Kaw Lake in Kay County, Okla., before recovering Strickland’s body on Jan. 4. Morland’s body was recovered on the afternoon of Dec. 28, with Sam found, alive, next to his body. On Dec. 31, search crews discovered footprints, boat marks and dog prints that helped them narrow their search area and find Strickland. He was buried in a private service on Jan. 12; a memorial service was held that evening.

Listen to Backroad Anthem, "Torn":

Country Artists Who Have Suffered Terrible Tragedies