Catching up with ... David Crowder
Church Music is full of contemporary expressions. Is the title a tongue-in-cheek remark on the old-school organ hymn renditions many of us grew up hearing?
David Crowder: The music of the church is broad and diverse. All we're doing is stating the obvious—we make church music. It is not a critique of more traditional expressions of music in the church, but rather how the creation of expectation by language can be limiting in ways that divide and confuse, rather than unite and clarify. The fact that those who come from a traditional setting hear this music and think, "this is not church music," and others coming from more progressive settings think, "this is not church music," causes me to think that both expectations should be reevaluated.
How would you define "church music?"
Crowder: Church music is music of the Christian church used for congregational singing. Pliny the Younger, a Roman statesman in the first and second centuries, wrote emperor Trajan asking for advice in how to deal with Christians, of which he'd had little experience with. One thing he uses to define them is, "They sing songs as if to a God." To me, that defines the purpose of Church music.
Church Music encompasses rock, pop, electronic, dance music—a melting pot of genres. What did you grow up listening to?
Crowder: My formative years were spent in the backseat of my dad's Ford Thunderbird playing five tapes in an endless cycle: two Elvis tapes, a Willie Nelson tape, an Olivia Newton John tape, and thankfully, a Bill Gaither tape. When secular music was banned from the house, I circumvented this by listening to Kiss really, really loud at my friend's house, and by explaining to my parents that Queen was in fact a Christian band.
Are you the epicenter of the band's creative process, or is it a collective effort?
Crowder: I make up rules for a particular project and then give assignments based on these rules. The music of the church has been most effective at articulating faith for groups of people when it has embraced the language and art of that particular group of people. So we had to embrace what is going on within pop music. Pop music has moved more urban in the last decade and yet most progressive church settings are still trying to capture U2 and Coldplay. Not that they aren't relevant, but when you have hip-hop producers like Timbaland producing rock bands, the trend should be considered.
One of the rules this time was that all of the music must first be composed in a computer. Then the rules stated that we must destroy what we made and recreate it with organic instrumentation. I felt like this would keep us from straying too far from where we've been and also allow for some of our rock and indie rock influences to be audible.
A couple of other rules were that songs had to lead into each other. Also, each must contain a nod to a formative moment within the history of music in the church, and these moments must appear on the album in historical order. It's a musical puzzle.
Do you have an intended audience for your music?
Crowder: This question causes me to think of what we are doing in consumptive terms. God is our intended audience, and those who find their sensibilities similar to ours will be able to use what we're doing to express themselves to God in a meaningful way. Music is a powerful thing that allows us to dig out places inside of ourselves that are uniquely human and offer them to God. For those who do not share our sensibilities, our music will be of little help in doing this.