Q&A: Christian Rocker David Crowder On Being Like Jimmy Buffet, Collaborating With Ted Nugent and Openly Crying On An Airplane
Even well into the new millennium, the term "Christian Rock" is still a practical oxymoron to some folks. But, for the fans of modern Christian music who don't see it that way, Texarkana native David Crowder's name is likely a familiar one.
For 15 years, the wild-haired and goateed Crowder and his band -- who met and began performing while attending Baylor University -- have looked for inventive and relatable ways to spread their message of hope, faith and relevance. And, over the course of several well-received albums that have effectively broadened the sonic horizons of the Contemporary Christian Music scene, the Grammy-nominated David Crowder Band have become inspirational, arena-filling stars
With this weekend's Winter Jam 2011 show coming to the American Airlines Center on Friday night, and Crowder's group is co-headlining, we thought it appropriate to chat Crowder up about a few things -- like how he avoided a life of selling insurance, the common preconceived notions of Christian rock, and, uh, Ted Nugent.
Read our Q&A in full after the jump.
There's a common perception that Christian rock artists are merely failed rock artists that decided to try something else after they failed at the so-called "real thing." But your band actually began in a church, So, I guess that doesn't apply to you?
That's part of what I love about what we're doing. It's fulfilling and it doesn't feel self-absorbed. It's very purposeful to us and we're making music as a vehicle to allow people to sing to God, which is maybe a bizarre concept, in and of itself. But when that's the point and purpose of a band, I think it's difficult to have an aspiration to be the next, great superstar. There's a level of satisfaction we get because we feel like we connect people with divine, true music, and that, to me, is a totally different jumping-off point than saying, "Man, I want to hit it big as a rock star." We all have different paths -- I was supposed to sell insurance for my dad back home in Texarkana -- so I feel like there's motivation behind what we do that's bigger than self. Or at least that's what I hope. When we're on stage, we feel like we connect the fans to something worth living for -- and that's not usually the case with many acts playing a place like the AAC.
But you didn't start as a typical rock band because you and your group started out by creating a church in Waco, right?
Yeah, that's right. Baylor had done a survey that found 50 percent of students there weren't stepping into a church for the entire time they attended the university. That was kind of mind-boggling to me, and it wasn't a localized trend, by any means, because it really seemed as if there was an exodus of college-age kids from the church. It was our belief that this wasn't a reflection of the person of Jesus Christ that you read about in scripture -- that wasn't the issue -- but more of the previous church experiences of so many students with the institutional church. So, we decided to carve out our own little space where we could have an approach that allowed a lot of room for questions and a lot of room for the journey, in hopes that we could just be in the moment with our peers. We wanted to explore faith and see how it fit into the cultural surroundings we were in. And how it was different than what comprised much of the baggage people brought in with them. And to see how what we saw was more in-line with the person we read about in scripture. We felt like faith needed to make a difference to the people we lived around. Also, of course, music had a lot to do with it. We wanted to find a musical approach that was authentic and in line with who we were, and that was a big attraction to a lot of students. We were speaking the vocabulary that other college students were speaking. That's the core of who we are as a band, really. We're still in that collegiate environment. And we're shaped by college radio because that's what's in our ears, and in the ears of so many students.
"Praise and Worship music" is pretty much about one thing. There isn't exactly a massive range of topics to be covered in that realm. I imagine that it's tough for you as a songwriter, regardless of your beliefs.
Oh, yeah, definitely. It's like being Jimmy Buffett, really. All Jimmy Buffett can do is write and sing about the ocean and the beach. I mean, how many times can you write a song so that it feels like "Margaritaville" over and over again, you know? It's difficult, but at the same time, that's been the challenge of anyone who has tried to tell the story of God in a way that's compelling. It's a really good story, so it's not as hard, but you have to create a new way to be engaging and that's part of what I love about it. It's simple, but it's hard. The vocabulary that's typically used in the liturgical arts is a pretty select group of words and phrases, so we've tried to get out of that set of rules a bit, but leave enough there for people to hold onto.
How do you personally overcome those challenges of creating a fresh and engaging song about a familiar topic?
I'd love to say we're really clever about it, but I'm actually a poor inspirationally driven songwriter. I don't feel like I'm in control when I'm writing, necessarily, but my real job as a writer is to take control after that spark of inspiration has hit. I read a lot. I'm a student of song and I pay attention to how stories are told. I'm also aware of how art affects you and that's really what I want to do with my music. I want it to be more than just passive. I collect things that will spill out of myself later when the time hits.
The Contemporary Christian Music industry has had to deal with the reputation that it, as an entity, appears to have a pretty closed mind when it comes to new sounds and styles. Have you ever been made to feel unwelcome?
Not really. I've never really worried about that part, I guess. For the most part, you know a country song when you hear it, even if it gets played on pop radio. No one is confusing Lady Antebellum with Eminem or Lady Gaga, you know? There's a tonality that's present within each genre and the consumer really helps drive what is accepted. I had the same perception about the CCM industry and "the man" and stuff like that going in, but all I've found are people just trying to get through life, just like I am. A lot of my stereotypes have been crushed in a fantastic manner.
On your most recent album, Church Music, which was nominated for a Grammy, the lead single was "How He Loves" by John Mark McMillian. Given that he's still not a widely known artist, what was it that drew you to the song?
His writing is great because he uses metaphors that are common to a lot of us. It's sort of related to what we just talked about as far as the language of Christian music is concerned. I mean, in church, there's a lot of singing about blood sacrifice, but hopefully, none of us have ever actually participated in a blood sacrifice. I think people understand it, but don't fully relate to it. John Mark finds language that's colloquial, and can still push his point across, and that's a hard thing to get right. As for the song itself, when I first heard the tune, I was on a flight from Denver to Dallas, listening to a friend's CD and I didn't know that John Mark had written the song. Again, the unique metaphors that he used really caught me off-guard. As I was listening to the song, I began to weep uncontrollably right there on the plane, which is a very confined social situation. I listen to a ton of music, and I'm rarely moved like that, so I got the band to listen to the song and we knew that we had to do what we could to get this tune into more people's lives.
You recorded a song with Ted Nugent ("We Won't Be Quiet"). How did a Christian band like yours get teamed up with a character like Nugent?
He's a fun dude to be around, as crazy as he can be, that's for sure. A while back, he moved to Crawford, Texas, and our music entered his sphere through a church in his town and he really liked our guitar tones. We had some phone conversations about recording and that led to us hanging out one day, and over lunch he said, "Hey, come over and play guitar on this thing." We had always talked about song ideas, so I was obviously up for it. He's just a guitar great, and there's a different sound that comes out with a person like that. I've never been in a room with music like that, because he's got a real gift. It's been a riot.