Crowder: Pointing Up, Reaching Out

After 16 years of making music together, it was the end of an era. The longtime frontman of the David Crowder Band found himself sitting in the jump seat of the bus on his last official tour with the group who shared his namesake, wondering what might be next. As the sun came up and the bus crested a hill in West Virginia, Crowder looked down into the valley below and found some unexpected inspiration. A steeple stood erect in the center of a small coal-mining town, reminding Crowder of his purpose.

93_large“There’s a steeple in the middle of it all that’s pointing up, and I think, ‘I don’t know what’s coming, but I want whatever’s coming to be that thing,’” he shares. “All that came to me topping that mountain ridge, and I thought, ‘I want this. I want to be somebody and make something that makes us believe a thing that is beyond what we experience, and I want to point up.’”

That cinematic moment became the catalyst for Crowder’s first solo offering, Neon Steeple (sixstepsrecords). Neon is a nod to the way the singer-songwriter believes the world distracts us. “Neon is typically the thing that sells, that gets you to want something. It’s an advertisement that sells something grander than here and now,” he says, adding that he, too, is wanting to “sell” something greater than the present.

Initially, he thought his first solo venture would be just that—a journey he’d walk alone. However, he soon discovered that a united voice didn’t hinder what he desired to say, it only magnified it. “I thought, ‘Now we’re going to be in a different space with new people, and I’m going to get to say things as an individual,’ but it turned out, all I did was collect a different community of people,” he offers. “I think that’s driven less by my desire regarding music and more [by] my desire for community. I feel like we say things better when it’s a corporate voice, because we get closer to the heart of things when it’s your story and my story sort of smushed together.”

In the midst of recording, Crowder not only set out to find his unique voice, but he also struck out to define his sound—a unique blend of folk and electronic music he calls “folktronica.” In addition, for the first time, Crowder collaborated with songwriters outside of the Crowder Band collective, providing fresh perspective as he co-wrote with everyone from Matt Maher and Ed Cash to Ben Glover and Seth Philpott. It was a new process Crowder found surprisingly invigorating.

“Now I understand the people who are great at doing that, they’re paying attention all the time,” he says. “So when you plan to get together with that person who is an artist in that realm, as long as you open yourself up and create some sense of vulnerability and [remain] aware of your humanity in that moment, then you’re going to get something great.”

Neon Steeple has three producers at the helm—Cash (Chris Tomlin, Kari Jobe), Chris Stevens (TobyMac, Sanctus Real) and former Family Force 5 member Solomon Olds (Family Force 5, MercyMe). A theme of home and belonging weaves its way through the 14 distinct tracks, including one incomparable stand-out that features the timeless vocals of Emmylou Harris on “My Sweet Lord.”

crowder-1One of Crowder’s personal favorites is lead radio single “I Am.” “What I love about the song is that it holds both the rescue of God and the desperation of the human in the same sentence,” he says. “It’s a very desperate cry. I’m holding on to the only thing that I know can get me out of this moment, and at the same time, it’s acknowledging the reality that the divine has entered the story and has hold of us in a way that our grip pales in comparison to His.”

This fall, fans will have the opportunity to sample Crowder’s “folktronica” as he embarks on the “Neon Steeple Tour” with Capital Kings, All Sons & Daughters and Ellie Holcomb, on select dates.

While he’ll be debuting new music across the country, he’ll also be working from a different home-base. Crowder and his wife recently moved from their native Texas to Atlanta, Ga., to join friends Louie Giglio, Chris Tomlin, Christy Nockels and Kristian Stanfill at Passion City Church.

“Texas is a hard thing to tear yourself away from, and Atlanta is like my Africa,” he quips, adding, “I don’t know if Atlantans would appreciate that analogy.”

Crowder will continue to be an instrumental part of leading worship at Passion City Church on a regular basis. “I love that [Passion has] an anchor that is a foundational element,” he says. “It’s now got a home with more relationship and more community at the base of it, and that creates something better, I think.”

This could also be an accurate metaphor for his life and musical career as he enters this season with a new group of friends, a fresh batch of songs and a re-energized urgency to share the story of God that’s personally changed his life.

“The [Gospel] story has nothing to do, really, with making bad people good, but it’s about being fully alive. The story brings dead people to life,” he asserts. “It’s about us coming to life in present tense and meaning something to our neighbors, meaning something to the people we’re in contact with right now, and meaning something to all of creation. If creation is groaning and there is a balm, a salve, we can bring here and now, then that’s what transformation is intended for.”

In the end, Crowder hopes Neon Steeple serves its originally intended purpose. Like that steeple in the hills of West Virginia, he simply wants to be an arrow pointing heavenward. “[I hope] these songs can be a thing pointing to something grander, to a redemptive motif that is woven into this path that I’ve been on,” he concludes. “You still feel the depravity and the brokenness of the earth beneath your feet, but it’s pointing to something that rights things, that gets things back to the dream of God.”

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