During a busy summer, Worship Leader’s Alex MacDougall was able to catch up with David Crowder. Winding up the “American Prodigal” tour, Crowder has been in studio recording the next project, due for release in November.
Worship Leader (WL): We haven’t seen each other since the National Worship Leader Conference back in May. Thanks again so much for helping out, and for your willingness to participate on panels and in workshops, and of course, leading worship.
Crowder: We were really glad to be there, and we had a good time. People were great there.
WL: The Fall issue of Worship Leader focuses on the topic of ”tradition”. How has tradition shaped your music and how has it shaped you as a person?
Crowder: That’s a great question. One of the things when I heard that word immediately I thought, my mom. I don’t think she quite comprehends what tradition means because every year at Christmas time she says, “We are starting a new tradition this year”. But then the next year we don’t do it. (laughs). My mom is the sweetest, so I hate to kind of poke at her. Tradition has to be something established and that continues, and that we can remember. What I’m trying to do with my music, even though I’ve borrowed from Southern Gospel or Gospel in chord forms, is to make sure that we’re comfortable enough and we have handles. And we know what we’re getting into but at the same time bringing something that is current and maybe even outside of our Christian music traditions. So that would be my understanding of tradition and how it’s been helpful to my music.
WL: And that leads into my next question. Has leaving the David Crowder Band connected you to stronger ties within the great traditions of Americana Music? Did you grow up listening to classic bluegrass and country in your home?
Crowder: Yes. On the early end of things when I was in my formative years, we had farm-ish type rural setting with horses and cows. And it had a soundtrack that went along with it. My dad listened to a lot of old school country. We had plenty of it. And then my uncle was coming from a Central Baptist church and they didn’t believe in drums. So that was wonderful when it came to bluegrass. And then suddenly, the music in our house disappeared. All of a sudden it was just like, just solid Word (Records). Elvis was gone. Olivia Newton John had left the building. And we were left with The Imperials. Now there’s nothing against that, but it was just different. But I figured out ways around it though. The ability to just draw from the things that I felt like were the deeper, authentic places in me, were how I was naturally hearing music and what I was drawn to early on.
WL: Have you visited the birthplace of country music at the museum in Bristol?
Crowder: Yes I have, and what’s crazy to me is that we had actually gone there on a family trip. And there we were. We reclaimed it together as a family. And then when I moved to Atlanta there was all this stuff that I had grown up on. The street that I wound up on is where some of the earliest country stars like Fiddling John and other fiddlers and early personalities were. And they, they lived in Cabbagetown, which is where I landed. As it turns out Carroll Street where this mill was situated on is right up in this neighborhood in Cabbagetown where they hauled all these Scots-Irish down from the Appalachian mountains to work in this mill. And they brought the music with them. I wasn’t even aware of this, yet I wound up on the very street where I was trying to get back to the roots. God just put me right smack down where the soul was right for this sort of thing.
WL: What can worship leaders gain from listening to traditional music?
Crowder: For me it’s just something that I respond to. What we’re trying to do when we’re leading the church in song is, grab a lot of people coming from a lot of different places and a lot of different feelings. And we’re all in one room at the same time and somehow emit that together into one heart and the music is just an amazing thing. There’s such a beauty in the lyrics in what we call “Americana.”
WL: You know, at the turn of the 20th century there were over 100 piano manufacturers in New York City. And that’s the reason people sang in neighborhoods, because so many homes had pianos. They did what they called “parlor music.” And we’ve lost a lot of that.
Crowder: There’s a nostalgic longing I have for that time when you went over to somebody’s place and you had a gathering of friends. I guess you still have it, but we just push play. It’s coming through the speakers in the house or home or TV or whatever.
WL: Tell us about the new project.
Crowder: This is the third installment of my “solo” recordings, and I’ve had three projects to “say” something. I was really trying to tell the story of home, and how our displacement began. Our story is trying to get back into communing with our maker. And I was using a prodigal story to tell that. I first talked about it in a very big, “zoom out Google maps” way. And then a little more kind of personal direct prodigal. This record is called,
I Know A Ghost. I grew up with a Texarkana Southern Baptist upbringing. However, my parents were always chasing wherever the Holy Spirit was active, and so I had a very eclectic upbringing in the church.
If you say “Holy Spirit” people outside of the church get a little uncomfortable. But when you say,“Holy Ghost”, there’s this historic aspect that’s got a non-threatening dynamic to it. So basically, this is the storyline: Jesus died in front of his friends, and then jumps back out of the ground in front of his friends. And then says, hey, I’m going to jet, but I’m going to leave my ghost for you. I’m going to haunt you. (LAUGH) I’m going to haunt the church. And that’s going to be your comfort. Recorded in Atlanta, I Know A Ghost has a definite urban feel. It has more hip-hop in its underpinnings, and so I’m very excited. And then, of course, I can’t help it but I’m doing it with a banjo and a fiddle, and a mandolin over the top of the music.