The Christian artist talks band break-ups, his folktronic sound and why his solo album Neon Steeple is his most personal yet.
- Posted on May 6, 2015
In early 2012, the future of David Crowder’s music career was up in the air. His self-titled band had broken up, he’d left the church staff he’d been a part of for 16 years and he’d dug himself up from his Texan roots and planted in the soils of Atlanta, Georgia’s Passion City Church. To hear the singer describe it, it was a time of indecision and uncertainty. He didn’t know if he’d make music (professionally) ever again after the band disbanded. So he was left searching for a new purpose.
With his first ever solo album, he found it. Neon Steeple -- which debuted last May -- is the most personal and vulnerable we’ve ever heard the man whose wiry beard rivals that of a Duck Dynasty cast member (note: he was working on his long before those guys scored their own TV show) and whose good ol’ boy persona has made him popular amongst his legion of fans and big names in Christian circles like Pastor Louie Giglio and singer Chris Tomlin.
In 2001, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I wasn’t a good candidate for chemo. I took tamoxifen instead and gave my trouble to God—just as Dr. Peale suggested in his book, "Thought Conditioners". Since then I’ve remained cancer free. -Guideposts Magazine reader
Guideposts.org sat down with the singer before he took the stage at the New York City stop of his nationwide tour to talk the bittersweet ending of the band and how he’s single-handedly transforming the landscape of the Christian music scene.
A New Season
In the world of Christian music, David Crowder Band is a name that holds weight. Through 12 years, six studio albums, countless Dove awards and a Grammy nominations, the guys from Waco, Texas had amassed a loyal fan following. But in 2012, the group that began thanks to its founder’s desire to get a younger audience excited about church just wasn’t excited about signing on to yet another three-record deal.
“It was just very apparent,” Crowder told Guideposts.org. “This is over.”
The news was a shock to fans, in part thanks to the massive success of the band’s final album Give Us Rest. The fact that the breakup came without headlines of feuding members or nasty confrontations made it even harder to understand.
It was just a new season of life.
“There wasn’t any internal conflict.” Crowder explained. “It wasn’t like the stereotypical, ‘band breaks up because they’re angry at one another’. I didn’t even know what I wanted to do next; it just felt like this was the end. It was just a new season of life.”
That new season led to a move east, a new community in Giglio’s Passion City Church and a new opportunity to create music.
“I couldn’t turn off the faucet.” Crowder said. “Songs just kept coming and I thought ‘I need to be doing music somehow.’ It’s just in me and how I’m wired. I feel like I’m utilized and useful when I’m in that position; when I’m able to articulate for people that have had a similar church experience as I’ve had.”
That experience is one his younger fans -- the college kids who attend Passion conferences and follow his zany Twitter and Instagram feeds -- readily identify with.
“I grew up in the church, in a very traditional scene, and when I got to school, my mind was blown by all the ideas and things I’d been sheltered from. It’s like, ‘I need to weed through this and decide what of this faith is mine and what have I just inherited from my parents,’ and then throw my arms around it. For me, Christ is a very compelling figure and something I wasn’t willing to set aside, but what of it is just institutional baggage and how can I help other people find freedom?”
A New Sound
To do that, Crowder first had to decide what direction he wanted to take his solo career. While David Crowder* Band had been known for its bluegrass feel, makeshift instruments and worship-style lyrics, Crowder’s new sound compiles some of the best memories of his own childhood.
“I grew up in East Texas, so there was no avoidance of country music,” the singer said. “Country music is just a part of the lifestyle and in my family, gospel and bluegrass were right alongside. The Gaithers was sitting next to Willie Nelson. But then too, I feel like I spent too much time sitting in front of the TV, in an ‘80s age with Nintendo and Atari, so those little 8-bit beeps and blips, I just think fun, innocent childhood when I hear either of those things. I started thinking, If I’m going to do something new, I still want it to be within the church, I still want it to be community based, where you have a bunch of people and music is in the middle of this and we’re just authentically responding to our experience of God.
The end result, dubbed “folktronica” is a term Crowder doesn’t necessarily claim credit for (though he rightly could) but one which describes the sound of his new album almost perfectly.
“It’s a little bit of folk, a little bit of tronica,” the singer joked. “We need the banjo and we need the 808 kicking; the Appalachians and Ibiza all together.”
This is definitely the most personal I’ve gotten on a record.
While stylistically, Crowder’s sound has certainly changed, the biggest difference in Neon Steeple is what he accomplishes lyrically. Tracks like “Come As You Are,” “I Am” and “Lift Your Head Weary Sinner” all speak of redemption, healing and the possibility of new beginnings.
“I feel like this is definitely the most personal I’ve gotten lyrically on a record,” Crowder explained.
Free from the constraints of writing in a group setting, the songwriter was able to learn a new way of putting pen to paper.
“I’ve learned lyrically, I’m more inspiration driven. It felt impossible for me to sit down and conjure up something that’s art. I don’t even know how you can control the moment, it feels like the wind starts blowing and you’ve just got to be ready. I felt like the only way I could develop my craft was to spend a lot of time as a collector. I would just listen a lot, read a lot, pay attention to words that move me and move other people, how they are put together because especially in church music, there’s a very limited vocabulary set. The way I could develop is to pay attention to songs that have stuck around forever. Just paying attention to that stuff, I felt like I’d be ready whenever the wind started blowing again.”
Judging by the reviews his latest album has received, success is in the cards for Crowder’s solo turn. But then again, pleasing the critics isn’t what the singer cares about. It’s the fans that matter. The ones that crowd into nightclubs or pack concert arenas like the one we ventured to in Times Square for the chance to see in person what Crowder’s followers love most about the artist: his live act. Perched on stage that resembles a cross between the front of a Cracker Barrel and a Star Wars movie set, Crowder croons everything from his new music, to old fan favorites, snippets of a rap song by Drake and a Bill Gaither record. He lets the music speak for itself and the crowd -- who knows just about every tune -- takes over the lyrics, seeming to discover their own faith through his words.
To Crowder, that’s the best part.“My journey’s been very similar to everybody else’s on the planet. We’re all kind of in the same boat, so to have the words be exactly my experience and see people relate to that experience, it’s just really cool.”