An Interview with Crowder – Neon Steeple

Josh Pauley —  May 29, 2014

An Interview with Crowder   Neon Steeple

How would you define Crowder as opposed to the David Crowder Band?

Firstly, Crowder can best be qualified as “all my fault.” It was definitely a shared effort in the composition of this new solo project but I was the only curator, so to speak. The David Crowder*Band was, as name infers, a band. This meant there was a collective curating process. What wound up in recorded form was an agreement amongst band members. This solo project had even more voices on it than in the past recordings but I was the final organizer, everything was bent toward getting my insides out in the open. The sound of this new recording is what I had been looking to explore for a good while now but given that The David Crowder*Band was a group of voices trying to find a collective voice it was not appropriate for me to simply explore what was in my individual chest but rather reflect more clearly the collective. I couldn’t be happier about how the lyric content and the sonic vehicle carry the last three years of my life in such a visceral way. I have been referring to the sound of this recording as folktronic. It is the banjo and the 808 kick drum. The porch and the computer. The Appalachians and Ibiza. Folk music and EDM. Music of the people. Folktronic!

Why did you feel the band change was necessary at this point in your career?

The band change had less to do with musical exploration, or career even, and more to do with a reordering of life. I love what we did musically and feel really great about the catalogue we outputted. I will say there are far more important things than having records on a shelf. To have space for those things that exceed commerce was necessary. I believe relationship, especially within marriage, is the closest we can get to discipleship. I really hate that word, discipleship, because it is so hard. The laying down of oneself is antithetical to everything we breathe in and out from the moment we arrive here. The past three years have been some of the most beautiful and trying of my life. To leave a place where we had roots, to move from orientation to disorientation and then to experience reorientation, as Walter Brueggemann has put it, is invaluable. To be able to document that story in such a way as Neon Steeple does, well, I can’t help but thank God. I am terribly glad we had the bravery to walk away from something that functioned as a career for bigger things, more important things. To be able to voice something about that journey, that we all know and that is announced again and again in literature and song and painting and film and again and again in scripture, the longing for home, the exile and the promised land, to voice this story and know it is a true reflection of my subjective experience causes me to hope more deeply that it will resonate with others.

Do you write some songs for corporate worship and some for artistic appeal, or is all the same to you?

It really is all the same to me. I have the sense and awareness to know when a song will fit more ubiquitously than others, but I have what I do framed in a moment that I reference again and again. When I first began writing songs as Music Director at my church in Waco, Texas that I helped start and where I served on staff for sixteen years, I had been to a Pearl Jam concert. It was a big arena show and it struck me, as twenty thousand-ish people sang along to every word that Mr. Vedder had not thought for one second about range of melody for a large group sing along. It was more instinctual, more innate response to certain stimuli that caused the heart to own a song and be swept up in community and add your voice. There is artistic appeal in that as well. To cause someone to care enough to sing.

What trends to you see emerging in church worship?

I see more concern for the lyrical content of what we are singing. I don’t think this concern has coalesced into something of an alternative, but I believe it is useful in its critical stage. I will say, much of the criticim is not new. I was just at a small gathering at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan where twenty-ish folks from various fields gathered to discuss popular music structures in church settings. A professor from Duke, Dr. Lester Ruth,  had done a wonderful study of language usage in the most republished hymns dating from 1737 – 1860 comparative to the top songs on the CCLI chart that began in 1988 that tracks the number of performances of a song in contemporary churches today. As example, there is a very distinct lack of trinitarian theology in the sample set of both eras. There is only one song from the most republished hymns that directs worship to the explicitly named triune God and there is only one contemporary song that directs worship to the explicitly named triune God in contemporary song as tracked by CCLI. That contemporary song is Chris Tomlin’s, “How Great Is Our God”. Now, whether or not you believe it to be a problem that there is a lack of Trinitarian declaration in our songs is not really the issue. Because both lists are not a reflection of the songs being written, but rather a reflection of the songs that the church wanted to sing. It is a reflection of what is and was resonating in the heart of people. I believe that means any discussions of language in song is really a discussion of symptomatic issues of culture and if song writers wish to effect, or provoke a shift, it is not simply language but a social, societal shift that is wished for. Technology, science, behavioral discoveries have led to massive and social shifts that seem on an exponential curve, as if the shifts are accelerated. I see shifts occurring that allow for textual content that reflects these cultural shifts, as in, the increase in social justice language that reflects mainstream culture’s shift, as well as more complexity in the tones and song structures that would be a more reactionary curve due to the simpler structures of this contemporary movement. 1, 5, 4 are the simplest mathematical divisions of frequency and the basis for most of our pop iterations in the last few decades. I think this is understandable when viewed in response to the seismic shifts in philosophy and technology. In moments of chaos we like things that are stabilizing.

Tell us about your writing process? Do you write alone or with co-writers? What instruments and/or gear to you use?

I think I write in any way imaginable. I love the collaborative moment, where there are multiple people in a room and you must do your best to cause the air to shift so that the fragility of each other disappears and you get to say something out loud together about our experience as humans. That moment may be my favorite. When something lights fire and you are carried up in it and you look back and think, how in the world did that happen. I also love the moments alone, when it is just a hint of a thing in my chest. When it feels like I’m listening to a conversation on the other side of a wall and the only cleverness is in trying to piece the conversation together. I guess both of those statements infer I’m much more an inspirational writer than a craftsman. Either the air is “right” or it isn’t and the results reflect such a thing. If you asked me to write a song right this second and I acquiesced to your request, it would be a terrible, spite of a thing. So then, I view myself as more a collector, a curator, a distiller, gathering things that may be useful at a later date, letting them rattle around in my chest and then attempting to order them when the air turns in expectation.

What are the elements of a great song in your opinion?

Thank goodness! A question that I can answer without so much verbosity!! Tension and release.

You’re a very entertaining personality on stage. How do you use this as a worship leader to be compelling but not too showy?

Thank you for your kind words. (Insert smiley emoticon if I believed in them.) It is my attempt to just be uniquely God made me to be. This often includes self deprecating humor. I think humor is disarming and I think the ability to recognize and point to your deficiencies can be disarming. To point to them too much can indicate something deeper, a self protective mechanism, but I think to acknowledge we are flawed and bring humor into a “sacred” moment points to the sacredness inherent in all of us. We all enter a space fragile. We wish to project the best possible announcement of who we hope to be. We want to belong and we do not want to be rejected. So, if I can drop the wall, if I can expose myself, it creates an environment that allows others to be a little more OK with their fragility. And out of the awareness and acknowledgement of our brokenness we sing more deeply from the interior of our person. That’s when it gets good and that’s what I am after, in myself and anyone in the proximity of my sound reenforced voice.

You often sing old hymns. What’s the appeal?

The appeal for me is that they are good songs. They have lasted because the melodies are fantastic and they say something that resonates over the span of decades and centuries. Add to that the value that singing them can connect us to something beyond our present tense. They can help us acknowledge that we sit in a timeline that stretches backward and will continue into the future. It helps us understand what has formed us and it helps us imagine how we form the future.

Who is a dead musician that you would most admire?

So sorry to be stereotypical, but, it would be David, as in, King David of the Holy Scriptures. No other has been more influential in Judeo-Christian hymnody and no other poetry has been set to music more often in Western culture.

You can find the digital songbook for Neon Steeple on the Worship Together Digital Store and the new album on iTunes!

Josh Pauley

Posts Twitter Google+

Josh joined the team at the beginning of 2013 and now manages all things digital for Worship Together, which includes running the website, overseeing all online content, and handling visual design. Prior to Worship Together he worked for a record label that includes artists such as Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, David Crowder, and Kristian Stanfill. Josh leads worship in Nashville, enjoys trying out specialty coffee brewing methods, and heads outdoors on the weekends to hike, mountain bike, or camp with his wife Kaylee and their dog, Tucker.