Beautiful Collisions: A Conversation with David Crowder

In his new book, Body Piercing Saved My Life: Inside the Phenomenon of Christian Rock , Andrew Beaujon, an atheist, chronicles his journey through contemporary music. The one area with which he particularly struggles is modern worship, which he finds bizarre, pseudo-sexual and insincere—until he meets the David Crowder Band . He and the band’s namesake become friends, and Beaujon writes that Crowder single-handedly saved the worship music genre for him.

The David Crowder Band is an enigma. They are one of the most beloved and influential groups in modern worship music, but they sound and look unlike anyone else in the scene. Although several of DCB’s songs, including “Here Is Our King” and “O Praise Him (All This for a King),” have become staple songs in churches nationwide, Crowder claims to be fairly oblivious to what’s happening in the genre with which he is associated.

DBC began as the worship band at University Baptist Church in Waco, Texas. Crowder helped start the band while in college. His rise to worship leader extraordinaire happened quite serendipitously, and at times Crowder seems uncomfortable in the spotlight that he never sought out.

With a new album and an upcoming book, he reflects on his role in the local church, his heart for the greater Church and why bluegrass music keeps him up at night.

How did you end up playing worship music?
When we started the church, it was really just out of ideas that sounded really great at the time. What if ministry came out of relationship, rather than the reverse? What if the church staff looked less like a CEO business model and more like a bunch of friends just hanging out, living life together and trying to follow God in the process. I thought that was an incredibly attractive idea.
I was around church my whole life growing up. I didn’t know where to fit what I had seen previously into my faith. So I was in the same batch of people that we wound up attracting. It was just a need for a different way to follow God.

The music thing was really just because I was the guy in the group of people sitting around talking about these ideas who knew how to play anything. It sort of just fell into my lap by default.

At first, we started just following the models we’d seen before. It wasn’t until about a year in that we’d realized all we’d really done was reshuffle the deck. We quit playing any songs that we knew, and I started writing them. It was almost like I started songwriting out of necessity more than anything else. And sure enough, we ran everybody off. It was a difficult moment. We were trying to get the folks back to the congregations they were content with and say something new and articulate faith in a different way for these people.

How old were you at the time?
I was a junior in college. We were all undergraduates at the time.

How did you go from being a local worship leader to a national recording artist?
That’s a different journey altogether. I’m in Waco writing these songs for our church. Since it’s mostly college students at our church, it’s a very transient congregation. People would graduate and move, and end up taking these songs with them.
Somehow, the songs wound up in Louie Giglio’s realm. They were doing a Passion event down in Austin, and I got a phone call asking if they could use one of my songs for a live recording.

But really what happened is that Louie and I became friends and found a similar heartbeat for students in one another, even though it looked really different. We just really loved college kids. It’s just been one of those things. He is, again, one of the best friends I have. He’s really been a huge influence in what we’re doing as well.

Despite being on the road with the band, you still make it home nearly every day. That’s fascinating. Did you make that commitment from the beginning?
The church thing is where we really enjoy ourselves. These are people we know, love and live life with. We’ve invested in each other for a really long time. When we travel, we find ourselves in rooms full of people who are foreign to us. So there’s a level of comfort that we would never let go of that is afforded to us at home. It really brings a feeling of responsibility to use these songs that God is using in a larger way. We’ll just follow that until it’s done and then enjoy home. Home is the necessary item in the whole equation.

What influences your songwriting?
Probably the people that I’m in relationships with more than anything. That’s where the sharing of music and literature comes in. So, I would have to blame the people I’m around for most of it.

What’s the hardest thing about your job?
Right now, it’s a lot of hours. Most of comes out of feeling that responsibility and that compelling aspect. You feel like you’re given a platform and visibility for a reason. You just want to be as faithful and responsible as you possibly can. The weight of that is the most difficult thing—trying to follow and put your feet in the right direction. It gets very tiring. The process gets weighty.

In some Christian circles, you’ve become a bit of a Christian celebrity. How has that affected you?
I think we’re pretty oblivious to that, to be honest. I think home has a lot to do with it. Christian music exists in a bubble that is really minuscule, comparatively speaking to other genres. So the impact that we’re having feels really tiny compared to the things that impact me. It’s an impossibility to feel large and great about what you’re doing when it’s tiny in comparison to the things you admire. You can never be a superstar when you’re at home.

What’s the one piece of advice or encouragement that you’d give to other church leaders?
It would be relationships. Following Christ becomes such an ethereal or intangible item, and it’s the people who you can put your hands on or hear the voices of or feel next to you that God seems to speak and move through most tangibly. So my biggest encouragement is to find people you trust and can open yourself up to. Within our Christian culture, we have this accountability crap that we posture more than we actually live. We do it to feel more spiritual about ourselves than to actually share relationships with people. If we spent the time just being present with people, I think we would wind up in a space that we can genuinely see God inhabiting as well.

You’ve said before that you don’t sound like anything else in modern worship music because you weren’t inspired by modern worship music. What shapes your sound?
Music happens the same way life happens for me. I like to have ideas about life and then force my physical reality to fit within the ideas. So with the band you have six personalities with each person being able to put their voice into the creative process. It comes out being something different. It comes from allowing six individuals to be heard and to have a place in the art. For us, it’s been a really natural thing. We’re not the typical band that blows up and has all these arguments and stuff. It works like life does. It’s very conversational.

What’s the relationship between your new album, B Collision , and A Collision ?
It was supposed to be this nice little happy bluegrass acoustic thing. But due to where it fell in life, it developed a real heaviness to it. We just got back from the tour, then Kyle [Kyle, pastor at UBC] died, and then this record was supposed to happen. It’s more of our journey of coping with death. A Collision ends on a pretty positive note. But a fact about life is just about as soon as you are feeling that moment of elation, you have your feet taken out from under you again. It’s very sequential, just like we experience life. Something is always following, and that’s what we’re trying to say. We’re in sequence; things are always ahead of us that we can’t see. We know the beginning, and the end and that’s about it.

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What’s your new book, Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven But Nobody Wants to Die , about?
It’s about death and bluegrass music, which should be a huge seller [laughs]. Bluegrass is blowing up right now. It’s a huge genre, and its market share is exploding. And then there’s death—no one can get enough of that stuff. It’s going to be huge! We’re trying to use bluegrass music as a skeletal structure to place our thoughts of our eternal destination upon.

Have you always been interested in bluegrass?
I’m not a long-time bluegrass fan. It’s a recent journey. In fact, the co-author [Mike Hogan, violinist and DJ for the DCB] actively avoids banjo at all costs.

My initial take on bluegrass was that I was more concerned than anything. It seemed like all the songs were just overly concerned with the ever after—the whole “I’ll Fly Away” concept—and seemed to leak into the faith to the extent that in our recent past it seemed to give a lot of room for the justification of neglecting our present.

If your head’s in the clouds, there’s no room to have concern for social issues or environmental stuff. It just seems like that is what has contributed to our lack of responsibility as Christians. I thought these songs seemed to echo that mentality.

In researching the history and the roots of bluegrass, I came to the conclusion that the reason why these guys were so concerned with the ever after was because there was so much suffering. All of a sudden the songs started making sense because there wasn’t anything exciting to look forward to here. The ever after was more reasonably imagined than the reality of life improving. Suddenly, the music makes a whole lot a sense.

After going through Kyle Lake’s death and also some others, life felt really dark and bleak. All of the sudden the music began to mean something to us. These songs that were saying stuff about something better coming toward us, grabbed hold of us, and we held onto it.

That’s kind of the journey as a band into the wonderful world of bluegrass music. Unfortunately, one of us had to learn the banjo in the process, but it wasn’t me.

Tyler Clark thoroughly enjoyed Andrew Beaujon’s book and talks about it far too often.

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