That the David Crowder Band is calling it quits is no surprise; they announced it on their website last May, saying that a fall tour, and an album to follow shortly thereafter, would be their last.
It's been 16 years Crowder, then a student at Baylor University, and his friend Chris Seay formed University Baptist Church in Waco—where Crowder was the worship leader and where DCB was eventually born. The band recorded a two indie CDs in the late '90s, and as their notoriety spread, they were signed by sixstepsrecords. They went on to make six more studio albums, culminating with the double-disc, 34-track finale, Give Us Rest (A Requiem Mass in C [The Happiest of All Keys]), which releases today.
Along the way, they have made some of the more creative modern worship music in a genre that often lacks inventiveness, while playing in front of hundreds of thousands of fans and worshipers. They have encountered joy and tragedy, piled up a lot of road stories and memories, and have thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Now each of them looks ahead to whatever comes next—and some told us that they really don't yet know.
We had a nice long conversation with Crowder recently, and we started at the beginning by asking him how the band came together in the first place. Crowder, 42, laughed as he recounted the story of quasi-auditions centered around, shall we say, "shaker tunes."
How did the band come together?
It seems like the door that everybody walked through was the shaker. Everybody started at some point on stage at the church playing a shaker, because it felt like it was a good way for me to find out if they had any rhythm at all. So it was like, "Hey, man, are you around this Sunday?" And they'd be like, "Yeah." "Can you play some percussion stuff?" Then we'd just give them a shaker and see what happened. Back then, the shakers were all about the size of an egg.
And once you graduated to the cantaloupe-sized shaker, you were in the band!
Yeah, a done deal! It was very tedious and strenuous. (Laughs)
When you announced last May that you were disbanding, it was apparent that this was a decision you all had been contemplating for some time—like you always knew you had a certain number of albums to do, and then stop.
Yeah, there was always the cycle. We didn't want to be too presumptuous, but when we signed with the label, we just did a three-record deal, and an option to come back with another three-record deal. Once we got into the first three records and saw this might have some longevity to it, we started looking past those three records and realized we had a scope that involved six records. We had a lot of stuff on paper and in conversations about how they all related to each other and what we wanted each of them, but we could never see past the sixth record.
Was that from the very beginning?
After our first record, once we started getting asked to do a lot of stuff outside of Waco and we realized, my goodness, this band thing might have something to it. But most of us really weren't thinking that far ahead—some were still in school, a couple were pre-med, some had other jobs. I thought I was going to head back to Texarkana and take over my dad's insurance agency. It sort of snuck up on us. We just didn't feel like this was something that you could do [for a career]. We never realized what it would become.
But once we said, yes, let's do this, we really felt compelled to go for it, like this is what we're supposed to be doing. And there was this arc to it that we felt that we had a handle on. We'd make plans and they'd shift and change, but overall the original map is still very much intact as we intended it toward the front end of things. We couldn't ever see past record six. At the end of the first contract, everybody was still ready to keep going. Absolutely. But as we started nearing record number six, we started trying to conjure up ideas beyond that, and we couldn't see past it. It was really apparent that this is the end, and then we're off to other stuff.
When you say "the end," how's that make you feel?
It's been a great 11-12 years, and we've worked so well together. We probably only had three or four moments of conflict that whole time. It's been a very non-typical band scenario—just the best of friends who had music as an extension of our relationship.
Another thing that's so countercultural is we just had the best year we've ever had as a band. If you're looking at it from a cultural success standpoint, it just doesn't make sense to walk away from that. But to watch all these guys say, "I have no idea what's next, but it's supposed to be something different," that's countercultural. I think the most startling aspect of this for me is that I'm relocating out of their space. Having spent so much time in their proximity, that's going to be the hardest part.
You mean you've moved away from Waco?
Yes. When it was apparent that we were going to stop, I stepped down from UBC. I'd been there 16 years, and I wanted to take some space to find where my next footstep needed to fall, and I immediately felt drawn to Atlanta to be around Passion City Church [where Passion Movement founder Louie Giglio is pastor, and Chris Tomlin is worship leader; both are among Crowder's best friends]. My wife went back to school to study design, and so we're sort of back and forth between Nashville and Atlanta right now. I don't know for sure exactly where we'll wind up, but we have already transitioned a whole lot out of Texas.
What was it like recording this final album? Were there moments in the studio where you just looked at each other and got all emotional?
What's weird about this record is that about 85 percent of it was done with all of us in separate locations. All the guys have studio setups at their house, so all we were doing was sitting around in our own place uploading files to each other. It's the longest record we've ever done, and the most amount of work we've ever put into a project—and nobody can really tell you when they recorded it! It was just spread out in little spurts and stops, and files getting passed around so that you couldn't see the outcome or where the thing was. So that process eliminated the potential for a big emotional moment. The sentimentality was absent simply because we were not in each other's presence.
You said 85 percent was done that way. Does that mean 15 percent was done with all of you together?
Yeah, the closing of the record are four bluegrass tunes, but we actually recorded those at the beginning of the process so that we could know where things were headed. But when you're in a room playing with each other just like another level of connection, and so it's sort of a good way to ground the record, in a sense. And then we went off on our own after that. But it's not that we don't feel the finality of it. We have a good sense of closure.
How about on the final tour last fall?
I thought the tour was going to be pretty emotional, and the first night I started cracking a bit at the end, when I was trying to express how special it's been to be able to do this for this long with these guys. And I thought, Oh my goodness, this is night one. This is going be rough. But that was about it until the very last night, in Jackson, Mississippi, and when I got about halfway through the first verse of our last song, I cracked a bit. But then it was all good after that.
This last album is just massive. How would you …
(Laughing) I'm sorry. I had to laugh. That's a good pun. I'm going to quote you on that one.
OK, mass -ive. I get it. How would you compare it to previous DCB projects?
Well, we definitely didn't set out to do that. It was more just a result of the form. When we got into trying to enunciate what a requiem mass was to us, and how to keep it hopeful and yet still feel like we were keeping the form intact, well, it's just a lot to say. There's a lot of content that we felt like we needed, we couldn't just disregard. And so it just took us awhile to say it all, and so it's more that the form dictated the thing than anything else.
This is probably the most eclectic record we've ever done. There's a lot that's said musically—and again, I blame the form—and there's so much content that you're trying to relate that it felt like we had to continue find a different route to say something. If you look at it on paper, it tends to look repetitive. The same Latin phrases appear over and over in different sections, and you try to say them in a new way and yet point back to where you just were a few movements back. It was exciting to have a vehicle like that to deposit what's coming out of you. I think that's why requiem masses have attracted so many composers over the years; it's such a great container to write. It didn't feel like we wrote 34 tracks. It felt like it just came because it was a great vehicle to put yourself into.
So you didn't say, let's go out with a double-disc monster. It just happened?
Yeah. We started with an outline form of the Mass, and found the heart of each of these sections that we felt like we needed to work with: "OK, here is the introit. How are we going to say this? Is this a two-song kind of thing? Which parts of this are we going to key in on?" And so on, till we had an outline for the whole thing.
Is there some satisfaction in calling it quits while you're still making great music? Sort of like going out a winner? You think of athletes that hang on too long …
Like Brett Favre, you know? He's made us suffer for too long, so we won't put anybody through that. But it's hard to say. At times it feels wonderful, and we can look back and think, Man, this is a great body of work that we can be proud that we were a part of. But I don't know if that outweighs our trepidation of what's in front of us. There's this confidence and courage that we could only attribute to the Divine at work, knowing that we're stepping into what he has next for us. But at the same time you're like, "Ah, this has been such a great thing, so wonderful."
I think that's why people hang on and don't let go—because it still works and they still love what they're doing, and it's such a hard thing to not do what feels natural and easy. I think this might be one of the beautiful things about how we're ending, is that there's no sense other than to follow what we feel like, as people of faith, when you're told to go elsewhere, you should obey and hope that you're hearing the right stuff. You know? So that part of it, I think, feels even better than "we're going out on top." To me it feels better to say we're doing something that doesn't make sense, culturally speaking. We're placing value on something that is not typically valued in our culture. And that part of it is what I feel most satisfied in.
There has been so much worship music in the last decade, some of us have become jaded …
Really? (Snarkily)I don't believe that at all.
I hear ya. Sometimes I just roll my eyes. But I've never rolled my eyes at a Crowder album. You guys were always inventive, bringing something creative to the table.
Thanks. But we've felt inventive or super creative. But I do feel like we've tried to be intentional in bringing ourselves authentically. Everything we've done has been an extension of how we were being formed in our UBC community, where authenticity and bringing the full person to our experience of faith as a community is valued; that was reflected in the music. We have six individuals that are differently formed and have different tastes and are inspired by different types of art, and we're attempting to all be in conversation with each other, to do that as a community. We're in the middle of Scripture and trying to figure out what does it say to us here and now as a community of believers. Well, here we are as people given this tool of music to help say things on behalf of our experience as people of God together in Waco. Texas. And it makes sense that if we're in conversation as a community that we're also in conversation musically, and so just we always looked at it as a conversation. That's all we've meant to do.
What's your best memory of being in this band?
It's funny, but when I get nostalgic, I'm like, man, it's our moments of conflict. The first one happened on our first tour, loaded up in up in a Suburban and pulling a trailer. We drove from Texas to California, and spent about three months going up and down the coast of California, driving nonstop without any sleep. About two days before we were supposed to head back to Texas, Jeremy [drummer Jeremy Bush, aka B-wack] and I get in this fight. We wind up outside of the Suburban, ready to go at it, and we're about to hit each other … and we started just laughing. That's probably one of my favorite moments because it was just this eruption of everything that's human. But if I have a regret, looking back now, it's that we didn't actually fight. It's both my favorite moment and also my greatest regret.
Who would have won?
See! That's why it's my biggest regret! Because we're like polar opposites. Here I am six-three and about a hundred fifteen, and Jeremy is about three foot tall and a big, stocky dude. He would probably say Crowder would totally kill me, but I would say I don't think I can take him. It could go either way.
Maybe we've got a CT exclusive here.
Like a cage match, yeah. Pay for view!
I'd pay twenty bucks for that.
I'm wiry, man, and lightning fast. So it would be even matched. We'd go full rounds, I'm pretty sure.
I am guessing that you can't recall what you were angry at each other about.
Oh, absolutely not. Though I'd bet it was because he stole my Funyuns. Or he might have been mad that I was eating them in his proximity, because they smell so bad.
What's the most difficult thing the band has been through?
Probably when Kyle died. [UBC pastor Kyle Lake died in 2005 after being electrocuted while performing a baptism.] And at around the same time, several of our friends and family were sick and/or dying with cancer, and then Kyle's death was sort of the end of that season for us. We were very close to him. He was a friend to everybody, and a very active part of what we were doing as a band. I had just been super close to him, and I had leaned on him so much for a lot of our theological content. I grieved pretty deeply; I was not much of a leader for the band during that space in time, and they were carrying a lot of the load that I wasn't able to. I think all of us would say that we thought we understood music before Kyle died, but when that happened, our music took on a depth that we hadn't experienced. A lot of it had to do with the songs we had written that Kyle had been a large part of in terms of conversations. We had thought we were making a statement on behalf of ourselves and the church about death not being victorious, that it's swallowed up, and then Kyle dies and we were left with these songs that were exactly the thing that our community needed to be singing that he had had a part in the end in helping shape. It was bizarre—like, wow, the very thing we needed was what we were making, and then suddenly the songs went deeper than we initially had felt them go.
Do you think the band's friendships will continue, even though you've called it quits and are even in different cities?
I cannot fathom that they wouldn't. There's just so much life has passed among us, and the depth is really deep relationship feeling, friendship. All those words feel inadequate to say what this thing has been and is. So I would be certainly surprised if we weren't still very much in touch and close to each other in whatever is happening in the future.
What's next for your? What will you do for income?
I'm going to be making music for the church in the future. I just don't know exactly what that will mean and look like. I just know that I love writing for the church and to help people express themselves to God in a very direct manner in terms of corporate or collective singing. If I'm not doing that in some fashion, I definitely would feel like there's a vacancy. And so I'm sure there's more to come.
What's the best fan story that you've encountered?
When we were recording A Collision, we wanted to do a group vocal, so I put something up on my blog saying, "We'd like to do a group vocal on Sunday night," or whatever it was, and I included the studio address. Two minutes later, my wife comes in and goes, "What did you just do?" I go, "I posted on the blog for people to come over for a group vocal, and that we'll cook for them." And she goes, "You are insane."
We wound up renting this huge smoker from a barbecue place in town, and two nights later, sure enough, about three or four hundred people show up. And the barn doesn't hold that many people, so we had to break everybody up into groups to go up and sing. But there were these two guys who had driven together from California, two straight days without stopping. They're like, "We didn't sleep." And then they said, "And we don't have any money to get back, and we haven't eaten the entire time because we don't have any money. We just had enough to get gas here." So we wound up giving them a sack of bread and some peanut butter and gas money back. I just remember that and thinking, I don't even know where to put that. To think that what we're doing would mean enough to drive for two days without sleep is just the craziest thing ever to me.
As it turns out, we kept up with both of the guys through the rest of the years, and consider one of them our number one fans, basically.
Speaking of fans, what would your final words be to them?
I feel like we've tried our best to eliminate the distance between us and the listener. Social media has been huge with that. It goes back to that authenticity thing—that we're just humans attempting to follow Jesus, and we're as messed up and depraved and as hopeful and excited about what God is doing among us as they are. Hopefully they saw a glimpse of what we were attempting to do in terms of following Jesus in a way that was beyond the music. That would be the hope.
Along the way, these fans have carried these songs with them and have championed them almost as much as we have. That part has been really special. We've had very limited radio success. Most of our success is because these people really cared about us, and further than the music. I believe they attached to the way we were approaching faith, and they responded, making it feel like we're all in the same boat together. That part, we couldn't be more grateful for.
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