Since the David Crowder*Band's dissolution in 2012, the frontman has re-located to Atlanta, where he is re-working classic Crowder worship songs. Following the release of a stripped-down iTunes Session LP in November 2012, Crowder hit the road with a new fleet of backing musicians with two albums set to drop later this year. CT caught up with Crowder on the road in Chicago.
We all thought the David Crowder*Band was over when the DCB's last album dropped last year. What's going on with you now?
We're about halfway through our tour with 26 dates left, playing mostly small rock clubs, with a very intimate set. There's a lot of storytelling in the evening, so it just kind of feels like you're just hanging out in a living room. That's what we're going for. We'll also have a five-song EP come out in August, and a full length record in November of this year. Most of the songs on the EP are already recorded, and the record is off and running as well.
The band is all new folks. [The earlier members of David Crowder*Band have formed The Digital Age.] Some of them I've known over the years but others I hadn't met until we started making music together about a year ago. It's been fun to discover new people's musicianship, but to also discover these new people relationally—it's been a treat having these folks on this tour. The arrow has left the string so to speak—too late, no takebacks.
It's a different setup as far as instrumentation goes. We've got all traditional acoustic instruments with banjo, mandolin, fiddle, upright bass, porch music type stuff. We're revisiting a lot of the old Crowder Band favorites with this instrumentation, and it's fun to see the songs come back to life in a way that's getting rediscovered—it feels like I'm getting to encounter them again for the first time. 'If it can't be on a front porch, it can't be on our stage' is our motto at this point. It generally looks like the Appalachian mountains exploded. There's stuff everywhere, and people fighting over which instrument they get to play next. The set looks like you just walked into the Cracker Barrel is the best way I can describe it.
What themes are you currently exploring in your songwriting? Is it still worship music or more of a non-devotional genre?
It feels like what I'm discovering as a writer is very roots-oriented. I'm reaching back to traditional instrumentation, and my lyrics seem to be more in line with old gospel type vocabulary as well. Old-time gospel was intentionally made for group singing, and that's exactly what I'm doing. I want to write music for the church to be able to sing and express themselves to God through music, with a vocabulary that has a wider breadth than just the language of Christian culture.
A lot of the words the church uses are confusing to people outside of the church, and yet this old gospel stuff almost has a kitchy Americana feel that a lot of people can relate to. You don't have to be educated in the language of church culture to grasp what's being said about the depravity of man, and the distance between us and God, and the reconciliation of that. Those are pretty much what the themes have been so far, which I guess is kind of typical to this kind of music.
My music is definitely still music for the church to sing in a corporate setting, that's for sure. That's how I'm put together, and what I get excited about doing—helping the church announce things to God. Like at this year's Passion Conference. It was just nuts. I've never been in a setting like that [at the Georgia Dome with 60,000 college students]. As bizarre as it sounds, it felt very intimate. It felt like sacred heart singing, when everyone's facing each other. Being on a stage in the round, you're looking across the arena at all these other folks instead of peoples' backs. So that was pretty inspiring.
Speaking of Passion, rumor has it you've re-located to Atlanta to be near Passion City Church. What are you doing there?
I ran off to drink the Kool Aid in Atlanta at Passion City Church, and it's been wonderful. Watching them from a distance just wasn't cutting it. I wanted to get up close and see it. So for the past two years I've been going to the church, not leading or anything, and just now have stepped into a role where I'm helping with the music as well.
It's been amazing to be on the other side of it. After being on staff with a church I helped start in Waco for 16 years, I've learned so much about becoming a better leader by being led over these past two years. It's not too shabby to have Chris Tomlin and some of these other Passion cats leading every Sunday. It's been phenomenal to watch.
What have you been learning about corporate worship in your performances outside of church sanctuaries?
I love that it tears down walls. Even being in the Dome at the Passion Conference is a different setting than being in the church with folks. The expectancy feels heightened in a sense because you're outside the walls of a church. You're not cloistered away, and you're discovering the presence of God is in fact everywhere. No place is unsacred because God is there—you find him everywhere. And I like playing club venues because people don't typically gather to sing to God there, but when we show up, here we are doing that. Worship becomes vibrant as you come to that realization, and it's almost a metaphor of sorts you can participate in physically. I love that. It's been awesome.
In your opinion, what is the future of worship music in the church? How would you encourage worship leaders to engage congregations?
What I've discovered over the few years I've been doing this is what engages people most is if you authentically present yourself. For me that's easily done through humor. I think everybody comes in a room from very different places and spaces in life whether it be on top of a mountain so to speak or in a valley where life is difficult and things aren't going like you'd hope, and you have to collect all those different paths of life, and hope to get the whole room breathing and feeling the same thing. For me it's always been through humor. Humor helps people lower their walls and lose their protective nature. I think the more authentic you can be as a leader helps people feel the freedom to lower their guard or change their posture in a sense. For me it's always been humor that helps do that. Mostly self-deprecation. That seems to work best [laughs].
What do you think holds people back from worshipping authentically?
It's a scary thing to drop the guard and become visible in a sense. It's intimidating to allow yourself to not be worried about how you're presenting yourself to others and become more concerned with expressing what's inside of you in a real way. That's a difficult thing for humans to do. It's the opposite of what we breathe in and out culturally.
We have such a tendency as humans to present our best side when a lot of times that's just not where we're at. We're so fragile as humans that we want to be perceived as good and liked, but I feel people don't respond as well to perfection as they do to the presentation that we're in the same boat, we're humans, and we're in love with Jesus. We're just trying to follow him. We fail in our endeavor a lot of times, and that's actually an inspiring thing. That's the story of the Gospel. Jesus came and was one of us. The best thing we can do in a leadership role is to tear down the platform and plaster up something that's authentic to let people see we're all in the same boat.
How do you personally keep your faith fresh? Performing so many worship shows must be tiring.
Honestly it's the relationships I'm in that inspire me. I love surrounding myself with people who are concerned with the things of God, and talking about their relationship with God, and how to follow this guy Jesus better. That's when it gets really good to me is when those conversations are present and inspiring. That's what always keeps me wound up.
Passion's 2013 album just hit #4 on the Billboard 200, "Passion cat" Chris Tomlin recently snagged the #1 spot, and DCB's last album hit #2. In your opinion, why the success of CCM on mainstream charts?
People outside the church can pick up on what's authentic and real, and appreciate it regardless of whether or not they agree with the ideas presented. It just feels like because people nowadays are exposed to so much stuff, they're a lot less hasty to judge. And the quality of CCM music feels very competitive and exciting. So I think across the board the folks you're naming are finding success in a way outside the church because of their level of authenticity and the quality of music they're making.
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