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  • Pulling No Punches - an interview with Lecrae

    Posted on July 10, 2012 by John van der Veen

    From “latch-key kid” to key player in the Man Up movement, Lecrae’s life is an example of God’s transformative power – and he’s not quiet about it. In his signature straight-shoot approach, new album Gravity calls Christians to open their eyes to the weight of need in their world and share the love of Jesus as never before.

    Lecrae

    Family Christian: Can you give us a brief overview of your childhood? Where did Lecrae come from?

    Lecrae: I was born in Houston, Texas to essentially a single parent household. We moved from Houston to Denver, and then, just because my mother was single and was just kind of struggling to make ends meet, I would stay with my grandmother quite often in San Diego, California. So between Texas, California, and Denver, those were the places I bounced around. I was just a sponge. I picked up so much in all that time. Obviously not having a strong male influence or role model, I gravitated to anyone who would pay attention. Most of the time those were terrible influences [who] influenced me to run in the wrong direction quite often. I grew up with a great sense of insecurity in figuring out what I was and where I belonged. Not growing up in church didn’t make it any easier. So I pretty much wrestled through that my whole life until my senior summer in high school. I got into a lot of trouble and [things] really exploded. I had to say “God, I need your help.” That’s really when I began to sense that God was drawing me and [I] later became a Christian after hearing the Gospel.

    FC: What made you feel that impression that God was pursuing you?

    Lecrae: I had gotten into trouble my senior summer. Financial trouble, trouble with other people, trouble with women – I was just running myself into a dead end. So I’m thinking, “I’m seventeen, let me do the mature, adult thing, and go to church.” Grandma was a Christian so the roots of the foundation I had established of the Christian God were through my grandmother. And that was where I needed to go. By grace, there was a young lady that I went to high school with that invited me to a Bible study. I went, and I had never seen Christians who dressed like me or talked like me, so I thought they were Martians from another planet! When I saw them, I said, “Oh you guys are human!” They loved me genuinely and that’s really what started it.

    FC: Do you still live in Houston?

    Lecrae: No, I’ve since moved from Texas to Memphis, and from Memphis to Atlanta. I’ve been in Atlanta for the last three years.

    FC: You’re married?

    Lecrae: I am, with three beautiful kids.

    FC: So did you marry that lady from high school?

    Lecrae: No, I actually met my wife at the same Bible study [though]. She was friends with the young lady who invited me. I met her there, and obviously I thought she was way too Christian for me, but I became a Christian and grew in the Lord and it worked out between us.

    FC: How much was music or the arts part of your life growing up? Did you realize early on that there was some talent in your life, or did that come later?

    Lecrae: Absolutely. I was a latchkey kid so I would sit at home for hours while my mother was at work. I had to use my imagination. I’d sit in front of the television so much. Sometimes she would allow me to watch television and she would come home to see if it was warm so I had to figure out what I could do with my time. It just became an outlet to start writing, experimenting, and just trying to be creative. I knew I had a passion for the arts, but we didn’t recognize it. It was one of my fifth-grade teachers who recognized it and suggested to my mother that I be put in a special class. That special class led me to audition for a special school so I actually went to a performing arts middle school for a couple years. That’s really where I started to hone my writing skills.

    FC: Would you say that you’re trained in other forms of art beside hip hop?

    Lecrae: I definitely wanted to be around artistic people all the time, [because] you pick up a lot. Acting and theatrics are my forte. I got a full scholarship for acting. I thought I was going to be an actor. I saw a movie with Bruce Willis in it and thought, “I want to do that.”

    FC: So at what point did you decide that maybe there was something in hip hop for you? If you were leaning toward theater or acting, or at least had a desire for that, when did you decide “I want to do something with hip hop”?

    Lecrae: Hip hop – it’s an art form but it’s a culture as well. You grow up in the culture and you never leave it. It’s a style of dress; it’s a way of thought. I always grew up in the culture, and it was part of who I was and I carried it into every world I was in. Even moving into the theater world, I would bring that element into it. What was unique about me and different about the world I traveled in, was I grew up watching cousins and uncles. They loved hip hop, listened to it constantly. As a little kid, you just listen to everything they listen to, they’d break dance in front yard and I was just exposed to this. From grabbing paint cans and trying to learn how to do graffiti to all those different elements. As I grew older I found that I really had a knack for rhyming and I pursued that. So by thirteen I got serious about using my writing and rhyming skills. I did it everywhere I could. I didn’t really have a lot of social currency in middle school or high school. I wasn’t the most popular kid. I’m super tall, but I started playing basketball late so it took me a while to catch up. My social currency was being able to rap and that’s what I would do in the cafeteria at lunchtime. That’s what really connected me to other peers.

    FC: Did you feel forced to approach hip hop or lyrics differently after you became a Christian?

    Lecrae: As a Christian I really did kind of wrestle with “How do I do this?” The things that really steered me away from Christianity [originally] was that I really did think it was about putting on airs and about rules and regulations. I liked baggy jeans and my urban style and I thought that Christians and that didn’t mix. And so going to the Bible study I saw individuals who did dressed like me and talked like me. [Up until that point] I didn’t know Christians wore their hats back and things along those lines, so that really intrigued me. I loved that I could be authentically hip hop, but authentically Christian. The things that God didn’t endorse, obviously I would have to let them go, but there were so many beautiful things that He did endorse and so many wonderful aspects within hip hop culture that just made me me that He could use for His own glory. I just began to walk in that and allow Him to change me.

    Lecrae

    FC: When you hear the term “Christian rap” or “Christian hip hop,” what do you think?

    Lecrae: I think what people are trying to communicate is that there are redeemed individuals within hip hop culture. And I would say I’m one of them. I think that as a Christian, we’re to be a light in this world. I think it’s almost like saying “Christian American,” it doesn’t mean that I’m not American, it just means that I’m distinctly and authentically Christian as much as I am American. And so my Christianity is going to permeate throughout my American-ness. So when I think about Christian hip hop I think of an individual who is a Christian who is using hip hop to communicate things that God will endorse.

    FC: What do you think of the Christian hip hop industry? Are we doing well? Are we competing, in a sense?

    Lecrae: As an industry, there is definitely a lack of infrastructure. Simply because it’s definitely more of an organic art form, I think there’s definitely a lack of infrastructure. I think that’s been one of the passions that my friends at Reach Records have had; to bring some awareness to music and to really bring a different light and perspective. I’m really grateful to all of the different entities within the Christian music industry for embracing us and giving us a seat at the table. And I think that’s only helping more hip hop artists in positions to serve.

    FC: What artists do you listen to personally, either hip hop or not?

    Lecrae: I love listening to all the guys on my label: KB, Tedashii, Pro, Andy Mineo, Trip Lee. I love those guys. There’s another guy, Swoope, that I think is a phenomenal artist. They’re people that really inspire me and I think they’re just phenomenally talented at what they do.

    FC: You’ve been busy with collaborations lately, appearing on Britt Nicole’s newest and also with Jimmy Needham. Who would be on your list of dream collaborations?

    Lecrae: I’m a big fan of Brooke Fraser and Gungor, so I would love to work with them. You might see some Lecrae and Tenth Avenue North action happening as well... I definitely would say Hillsong United. I’m blown away at all that they do. I’ve been to Sydney and seen how incredibly passionate they are about what they do. I think that’s mind-blowing. I’ve been really fortunate. Not many artists can say they’ve done stuff with the Chris Tomlins and the Crowders. So that’s really been a blessing for me.

    FC: Do you think you’d ever cross over into mainstream music? And what do you think about that type of responsibility?

    Lecrae: There’s a saying that goes around that says “I you crossover make sure you bring the cross over.” That’s definitely my heart and my aim. I want to remain distinct and authentically Christian in whatever realm I’m in. I don’t want people to walk away saying, “Lecrae is a Christian because he said so. Lecrae is a Christian because they labeled him that.” But I want them to say, “Lecrae is a Christian because I can tell by his life that he values Jesus.” That’s really what my aim is, for people to see I truly treasure and value Jesus and His Word. If [crossing over] happens then, by God’s grace, let their lives be changed.

    FC: So you’re not apprehensive of something like that happening? You’re just saying, “If that happens, God’s going to have to be the one to make it happen”?

    Lecrae: Absolutely. I think as Christians, we all have the same calling, and that calling is to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul and love others as ourselves and to glorify God in everything that we do. If I was an architect, who all of the sudden made it into one of the biggest architectural firms, I’m still going to have that same calling. As a musician, to be able to walk in mainstream realms, I still have that same calling. The Bible says, “Take heed, lest you fall,” but this has really been the story of my life. I’ve traveled into other realms in order to be a light and be a missionary. Some of them were very dangerous, and I don’t look at this as any different.

    FC: What do you think of church culture today, here in the U.S.?

    Lecrae: Obviously, I love the church, the church that God is establishing, that Jesus died for, so I’ll never have any negative things to say about His church. Even though she’s spotty and has issues, He’s perfecting her. Church culture, or what I’d call Christendom, is this kind of traditionalism that we’ve set in motion. It doesn’t necessarily have any validation in the Bible, and I think can be very dangerous—creating rules and regulations and putting ourselves in positions where we’re the final authority on things because this is the way it’s always been done. It’s dangerous and we can be Pharisees in that regard. I’m very optimistic that there are sincere believers out there that are okay with tradition but don’t want to endorse traditionalism for the sake of traditionalism but want to embrace tradition because it’s God-honoring. I think that’s a beautiful thing.

    FC: Tell us a little bit about Man Up: what went into it conceptually and what you hope it accomplishes.

    Lecrae: Yes, so Man Up was kind of us at Reach Records and Life Ministries surveying the culture, both the church and outside the church. There was a lack of understanding of what masculinity really looks like and what it is. Obviously, we believe the Bible is the authority on masculinity, and so we wanted to address that. Men, specifically in the West, have no rights of passage, no way to know when they become a man. Everywhere else in the world you gotta kill a lion or stab a shark, or go on some journey, and you come back and you’re a man. But here in the West, we’re really kind of clueless as to what makes us a man. So we’ve begun to make up our own definitions when Jesus has given us so many. He was the picture-perfect man. He was selfless, He was sacrificial, He was courageous, He was authoritative, and He loved his wife – the church – to the death. Those were some of the elements that we wanted to put out there and portray for those inside and for those outside the church, that they may say, “Ah, this is what manhood looks like. And it’s a goal that I’ve never attained in my own strength.” And so, one of the key factors in manhood is repentance. Ya know, you’ve got to man down to man up. Wave your white flag and say, “Jesus I can’t do this.” I think that’s the first step in being a man.

    FC: And it has been well-received?

    Lecrae: Incredibly well. So we did a campaign where there was an album, a short film, a tour, and a conference. The tour sold out, the album has been incredibly successful, the film is attached to the album so people have been watching it and being encouraged. And at the conference we anticipated about 1,000 people and 2,200 men showed up – three generations, the grandfathers, fathers, and sons. It was mind blowing. It was a powerful, powerful time.

    FC: That is so valuable for men and fathers. Talk to us a little bit about Church Clothes: the mix tape, the video, the controversy.

    Lecrae: I’ve always been a missionary and what people don’t know is that I’ve always taken some strategic and eyebrow-raising steps. So historically that’s been my M.O. I moved to one of the worst neighborhoods in Memphis, as a newly married man, which everybody said “That’s ridiculous, that’s insane, you’ve lost your mind.” From there, my wife and I went to Asia in ministry there and had to duck and hide and run from authorities and she agreed to go pregnant. Everyone thought we had lost our minds again. God showed us incredible fruit. I’ve always done music to push people to get them to get uncomfortable in their seat so they could wrestle with things. Not to become pew potatoes, just simply sitting there, growing fat with knowledge and not applying it. It’s a mixed tape that’s really aimed and geared toward hip hop culture. And one of the formats that is highly respectable within hip hop culture is a mix tape. Just talking about controversial issues that I don’t think people outside of the church wrestle with. Being an artist that’s well received in Christian circles, the majority of my fan-base is Christian, and are hearing it and seeing it, and have all these questions and issues. For me, it’s me saying to them, “Hey, this exists out here. This is what people are wresting with. We need to get out here and love on people and engage people and engage culture.”

    FC: So you’ve encountered some controversy with your music. Do you think it’s because you take a bold approach?

    Lecrae: I think some people don’t get it, but as we talked about I think there’s a Christian culture that wants everything to be comfortable and safe and they think that’s what Christianity is. It’s “Aaah, I’ve escaped the craziness of this world and now I’m safe.” And we would like to move into a safe environment and have, ya know, a Christian barber shop and a Christian swimming pool and not have to deal with the world anymore. But Jesus prayed that we would remain in the world but [be] protected. He also told us that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His church and for the gates to not prevail against His church and [for that to happen], it must mean we’re trying to storm them. So, I think there’s just a sub-sect that want to remain safe and tucked away and not engage the world for the glory of Jesus.

    FC: Can you just stop rocking the boat for a while?

    Lecrae: (laughing) I would love to, but I can’t.

    FC: No don’t! Don’t stop rocking the boat. So, tell us about Gravity. What’s the theme of the record?

    Lecrae: Gravity is loosely based on Ecclesiastes and I think what Solomon was trying to do was bring some weight to life and that’s really what I want to do, to paint some sober pictures. Honestly everything sober is not bad so I don’t want people to think that sober pictures are bad. You know, there is a sobering picture when you’re overwhelmed with all of the hurt and the pain in this world. There’s a sober picture of how it’s only for a short period of time, it’s short-lived, or that we still have Jesus. So that’s what I would call a weighty part, a gravitational pull to remind us of who we are in Jesus. So obviously, just wanting to paint hope, but also just giving the pictures of the realities of this life that we live, and how there’s no escaping it other than Jesus.

    FC: I do have a couple of questions from our Twitter followers. They should be fairly easy. What was the hardest thing that the media has put you?

    Lecrae: Ya know, I don’t know if it’s the media. I would say it’s probably social media. Social media is just constant, it never stops, 24 hours a day. And so there’s always someone who is very loud and very opinionated. I will say it’s strengthened my faith if anything, because it’s made me feel closer to Jesus, or relate to Him more. I’m sure He was constantly criticized, and constantly someone had an opinion about what He was doing. I’m not perfect like Him though so some opinions or critiques might be warranted (laughs).

    FC: Who was your favorite artist growing up?

    Lecrae: My favorite artist growing up would probably be Lauren Hill. She sings, she raps, she sings from her soul, and then she wasn’t afraid to articulate her faith once she started to embrace it. And I really appreciate that about her.

    FC: She certainly wore her heart on her sleeve, that’s for sure. One more question, are there any guests on your new record?

    Lecrae: Absolutely. It’s still in the works, but I would love to work with the likes of Brooke Fraser and Gungor. There are a few, but I don’t want to give them away until it’s signed, sealed and delivered.

    To find out more about Lecrae's new album, Gravity, click here.

  • Tenth Avenue North - The Struggle

    Posted on June 25, 2012 by Family Christian

    Acclaimed band Tenth Avenue North announces “The Struggle” fall tour, its biggest headlining tour to date, visiting more than 35 cities from mid-September though late November.  The tour, featuring guest artists Audrey Assad and Rend Collective Experiment, will support Tenth Avenue North’s Aug. 21 studio release, The Struggle, whose lead single “Losing” debuted with an incredible 73 adds out-of-the-box that included the KLove, WAY-FM and Air1 networks.

    Kicking off Sept. 13 in Sewell, New Jersey (Philadelphia area), “The Struggle” fall tour will hit major markets including New York, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Phoenix, San Antonio, and Houston, among others.  Singer-songwriter Audrey Assad and Kingsway artist Rend Collective Experiment will join Tenth Avenue North, who will perform new music from its latest project as well as fan favorites.

    The tour is named for Tenth Avenue North’s third label project, The Struggle, available for pre-order now, with a street date of Aug. 21.  Produced by six-time SESAC Christian Songwriter of the Year, and two-time GRAMMY nominee, Jason Ingram (Chris Tomlin, Sanctus Real), The Struggle is a bold, creative leap forward for the band, reflecting influences ranging from fan insight to the addition of two band members to a new recording process.

    For more information on “The Struggle” fall tour, visit: www.thestruggletour.com

    For information on how to prebuy The Struggle, click here

  • All Things Are Possible

    Posted on June 11, 2012 by Family Christian

    If anyone knows about possibilities, it’s Mark Schultz. Whether selling out the famed Ryman Auditorium as an indie artist and youth leader, biking 3,500 miles across the U.S. to raise money for widows and orphans, or becoming a platinum-selling artist, award-winning songwriter and 14-time Dove Award nominee, Schultz has made the most of the many gifts God has given him.

    All

    Now, with his much-anticipated new studio project, All Things Possible, Mark continues to create very personal songs that showcase his knack for giving voice to the emotions we can’t express on our own. Producers Seth Mosley (Newsboys) and Pete Kipley (MercyMe/Phil Wickham) make the most of this talented musician’s God-given gift for storytelling, making sure the music beautifully complements the spiritual tales he’s telling.

    This isn’t just “the next Mark Schultz album,” though. From the first notes, it’s clear that Schultz doesn’t just have a new record label home, he also has a new energy and a fresh perspective after more than a decade in the music business. At the same time, he’s an artist who knows who he is. Songs of encouragement, stories of hurt and healing, and an ever-present reliance on God continue to be unshakeable cornerstones of any music Schultz makes.

    While this album marks a new chapter, he’s still the same voice behind hits like “He’s My Son,” “He Will Carry Me” and “Letters from War.” Listening to All Things Possible is like rediscovering an old friend and finding him at his absolute best, anxious to share all that God’s been doing in his life. You won't want to miss it!

    Prebuy Mark's new album here.

  • FREE Download from Jimmy Needham

    Posted on June 8, 2012 by Family Christian

    Here is a present for you. It's our way of saying "Happy Father's Day."

    If you are not yet familiar with Jimmy Needham, we strongly encourage you to check his music out. If you are a fan of singer/songwriting material, then Jimmy should fit great in your collection.

    Mr. Needham came on the music scene back in 2005 with his first independent release titled For Freedom. Then in 2006, he signed with inpop records. His songs that have appeared on radio charts are "Dearly Beloved," "Lost at Sea," and "Yours to Take."

    On Jimmy's latest album, Clear the Stage, he has a song that he wrote for his daughter titled "Daddy's Baby Girl." In honor of Father's Day coming, we would like to give it away for free.

    You may download the song by clicking here.

    Also, check out this video from Jimmy sharing about being a father.

    For a laugh, check out a recent video that Jimmy made when he stopped by our office.

    Jimmy Needham albums:
    Speak

    Not Without Love

    Nightlights

  • New TobyMac Me Without You single

    Posted on June 4, 2012 by Family Christian

    Here is the lyric video for the new TobyMac "Me Without You" single.
    Let us know what you think of it.

    You may purchase his new single here.

  • More than Conquerors

    Posted on April 24, 2012 by Family Christian

    Filled with gritty resolve and a special measure of God’s grace, Marvin Sapp’s newest record (and life) reminds us that we can defeat any obstacle through Christ.

    FC: What was the biggest inspiration for I Win?

    Marvin: I titled this CD I Win because I want to affirm for myself and for others that the winning is in the enduring. People have a perception that the winner is the one who crosses the finish line first – but I maintain that winning is not a destination but an attitude. I discovered the song I Win at a pastor’s conference a while ago – a young singer named Brittney A. Wright co-wrote and performed it. I was so very impressed by the song I asked her if she would allow me to record it, and a year and a half later I did.

    Family Christian: To date, your live albums have been recorded in your hometown of Grand Rapids, MI. What led to choosing to record this album near Washington D.C.?

    Marvin Sapp: I recorded the album near D.C. at Evangel Cathedral, simply because that was one of the first places I ever did a concert when I first started in the Gospel music industry some 22 years ago. I was in Commissioned and one of our first concerts was [there]. I’ve had a great relationship with that church for literally 22 years. As bad as I wanted to do the new recording in Grand Rapids where I’ve done all of my live recordings, it was just too close of a reminder of having buried my wife. She was always a part of my recordings because she managed my career. So, since I wasn’t going to do the recording in my city, the only place I could think to take it was to [the] family that’s not here, and that was Evangel Cathedral.

    FC: Your Twitter page includes the quote “I’m a preacher that happens to sing, not a singer that happens to preach.” How do you balance these two distinct roles?

    Marvin: I always say that I don’t balance, I prioritize. Because, when you try to balance or juggle, something inevitably is going to fall. The call on my life is to preach. I started preaching when I was 22 years of age, and that is what I prioritize. The music is an extension of my ministry, it is a gifting, but I keep it in its rightful place based on God’s call on my life. The gifts come without repentance. I’ve learned that you can be gifted and anointed and live like the devil. In order to be successful in your call, though, you have to tap into the Source. The only way that you can maintain being connected to the Source is you have to live a life that’s holy and acceptable in the sight of God. That’s one of the things we don’t talk about anymore in the church, and that’s trying to live holy. I challenge people who live close to me, next to me, with me that they have to learn to strive to live holy at all costs. Everything else springs forth from that.

    FC: Your life took an unexpected turn in 2010 with the loss of your dear wife. How has that affected your approach to ministry/music?

    Marvin: One of the blessings was that all of my contracts were negotiated by MaLinda already so it hasn’t affected my business at all. My booking office still does what it does. I’m still turning down a bunch of different dates… Opportunities are still there because we built a great staff so it hasn’t been difficult to move forward. Musically, I continue to record songs that I connect with because I know that those are the songs that will connect with people. MaLinda also laid out in great detail how things would move forward at our church, where she was the administrative pastor. So my approach in both ministry and music has been to adopt a motto that MaLinda had and said all the time:  “keep it moving.” That is what she wanted me to do.

    FC: What helped you through that time?

    Marvin: For me, prayer, praise and worship absolutely sustained me through the bereavement of my wife. I know I would not have been able to endure that great pain without God.

    FC: What is your favorite moment/song on the record, and why?

    Marvin: A standout moment was definitely the “Hymns Medley.” I grew up on hymns and my mom kinda taught me almost every hymn I know. When we were doing the recording, the “Hymns Medley” just happened. We were transitioning between songs and I just started singing hymns. At first, it wasn’t even supposed to go on the record. We were going to drop it and then the staff was like, “No, this is unbelievable. It’s gotta stay.” So, we just ended up putting it on the record - but I was just singing things I grew up listening to from traditional hymns to Andrae Crouch. And [so] we just went back and forth and people were blessed by it and I enjoyed doing it. Hopefully, people will love it when they hear it on the record.

    FC: For all of the recognition you’ve received over the years – is there a specific honor that has meant the most to you? And if so, why?

    Marvin: [laughing] The BET Award for Best Gospel Artist – because my kids were so excited about that! Honestly, every award and recognition is a very humbling experience.

    Click here to experience the passionate Gospel-energy of I Win.

  • Review of We Once Were - Rush of Fools

    Posted on December 13, 2011 by Family Christian

    After an unexpected and uncontrollable hiatus, Alabama rock group Rush of Fools is back with "We Once Were". Their third album is a hit from the get go with driving rhythms and heavy guitars. It's obvious from the lyrics and sound that the group is back with a lot to say. "We can't go back to what we were before because we were so changed by the events that occurred along the way," says guitarist Kevin Huguley, "...we learned how to count it all joy by writing songs in the midst of the storm...Had we not walked through so many trials in the past two years of our career, we would never have the songs that are on this record."

    That feeling is carried through the twelve track album with an upbeat yet contemplative feel. Songs such as "A Civil War" and the last track "Inside and Outside" best reflect this with lyrics like "It's time to bow out of this race/ About time for me to be in last place/ I got myself in a civil war" and "I'm not over/ I'm not finished yet I've got a ways to go/ I'll be alright/ When it comes down to that moment when our dreams have lost their way/ I'll be alright".

    "We Once Were" has a creative raw texture, almost an indie feel to it. A great example is track eleven "Help Our Unbelief" which starts out with an organ like a classic horror movie. Although somewhat short lived, still a unique sound you might not expect from the group.

    It's obvious a ton of heart and thought went into this recording. Front man Wes Willis says "We gave this recording all of ourselves... We spent over a quarter of a year away from our families and friends on this one...The difference is night and day compared to the first two releases." Just about every song will be stuck between your ears because this album is so infectious. Rush of Fool's fans will love this latest release, not to mention all the new fans they're going to garner from this immediate classic.

    Check out the album here: http://www.familychristian.com/we-once-were.html

    By: Kevin Thorson

    www.cmaddict.com

  • Tidings of Crowder & Joy – An Interview with David Crowder

    Posted on November 11, 2011 by Family Christian

    David

    Family Christian Stores: This is the band’s first Christmas CD. What inspired you to create one after all these years together?

     

    David Crowder: Well, I think when you form a band you know that it is inevitable you make a Christmas album. It only took us 11 years to pull it off! We were actually supposed to start work on our last album in January and instead of making any headway on it, a Christmas album popped out. I would get calls from our label asking how the new recording was coming along and I responded, "Are you feeling festive?" We didn't mean to make this album, but Christmas apparently, was still in the air.

    FCS: Since Christmas music is so regularly covered, how do you find something that hasn’t been done before?

    David: Well, the beautiful part about the Crowder*Band is that we are a collection of six different folks with varying tastes in music, so for us to revisit some of the classic carols would, by default, turn out a bit different than what you've heard previously. It's really something special when you consider it a conversation; that everyone's voice is important. It gives it an eclectic blend that is compelling, I think.

    FCS: Do you have a favorite song on the album? What makes it special to you?

    David: My favorite song on the album is “Silent Night.” I think the reason that I love it so much is because the center is people in the room with us when we were playing. Plus, the outro was a rather spontaneous thing that turned out better than I could ever have hoped for!

    FCS: There’s a very unique bluegrass version of ‘Angels We Have Heard on High’ on the record. What influenced that musical direction?

    David: We became intrigued with the genre a number of years ago. If you could have ever been on tour with us, you would have heard us sitting around in the dressing room together playing old gospel songs or bluegrass tunes. So, this one just sort of popped out. It's rowdy, fun and very unlike any version of this song I've heard. But I think it is completely appropriate, given the subject matter. Christ has come and that is reason to celebrate and throw a hoedown of sorts!

    FCS: Do you have any special holiday traditions as a band?

    David: Actually as a band we have always taken December off so that we could be with family. It's been rather annoying for all of those wonderful people attempting to book us during the holiday season, but we've been careful about keeping those days set aside for family.

    FCS: You’ve been very open that the album you’re currently working on (Give us Rest) will be your last. What can we expect to hear?

    David: It is the last offering we will have as a collective and it's turned into the most ambitious offering we've had since we formed in the year 2,000. It's the most music we've ever put in one place at the same time. We have composed a ‘requiem mass’ that feels like all of our explorations as a band in one place. We absolutely can't wait for people to hear it.

    FCS: So how will everything wrap up?

    David: Our final CD will release January 10th. I couldn't be more pleased with the songs we've collected for it. We will play together as a band for the last time at Passion 2012, a collegiate conference in Atlanta, GA. The album will release shortly thereafter.

    FCS: And finally, are there real Crowder*Band nutcrackers, as seen on the album art?

    David: I wish! We're actually working on that and if it happens, you'll be able to find them on our website.

    FCS: Thanks for such a fun interview! We wish you a wonderful Christmas & a memorable final tour with the band.

  • Mother, Artist, Activist. Meet Sara Groves again for the first time.

    Posted on October 27, 2011 by John van der Veen

    Sara

    Sara is a kaleidoscope of colors. With every record she creates we, the listeners, climb a little closer to her heart and discover something new about her character. Her honesty, vulnerability and artistry are what make us feel so connected and keep us so inspired. We recently caught up with Sara to hear about what big, new things are happening around the Groves home and discover the backbone of her new record, Invisible Empires.

    Family Christian: What does Invisible Empires mean and how did the name come about?

    Sara Groves: Well, I never fully know what I’m working on [when I start writing] – such as a theme, but inevitably the songs will start to overlap, and I’ll start realizing ‘oh this is all kind of about the same thing.’ It’s always a mystery for me when I’m working on a record, figuring out what the hub of the wheel is. And I feel with this record the hub ended up being a lot of what I was reading from Eugene Peterson’s book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. He talks about Psalm 127 which says “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builder builds in vain.” He says the work of man is frenetic. We chase after things, it’s futile. He says literally, man works like the devil, and then he compares that to the work of God. He says the work of God is a lot like pregnancy, you’re making a human being. You’re doing quite possibly the most important work you’ll ever do, but you’re not really doing anything. You’re just getting out of bed, and walking around and eating. As a mom, having carried three children I can appreciate that metaphor. So this whole record is really wresting with the fact that a lot of times I feel like I’m working like the devil. ‘How on earth do I get to that place where His yoke is light, where He’s making my paths straight?’ So this record is looking at the flawed areas of my life where I’m really worrying a lot [and asking], am I seeking stuff on my own and how do I work with God, letting Him work through me?

    FC: And so the Empires are Sara’s empires?

    Sara: Yeah, Invisible Empires to me talks about what Eugene talks about, and what’s in 2 Corinthians: the unseen world – the work that God does – is eternal and real. The Kingdom that He’s building is real but invisible, and then here we are building what we think is real but it’s actually virtual. I look at technology a lot because I feel like it’s something we’ve got to stop and question, ya know? Right now it’s sort of running ahead unabated and I feel like we’ve got to look at it and say ‘Ok, I’ve gained all of these conveniences, but what did I lose?’ And that to me is all part of the same idea of man-made work. We literally worship the things that we’ve made with our own hands. That’s as old as mankind, that problem. I just want to ask the questions about the stuff that falls in with man-made struggle and that frenetic life.

    FC: So the cover kind of also tells that story, right?

    Sara: Well, you’ve got the dark city which might be like man-made cities and behind is this ethereal Kingdom of God. Again, the invisible things of God are more real than the visible things of earth. And then you see a sound wave and that’s actually me singing the words ‘invisible empires’ from the song “Obsolete.” So it’s sort of an embedded message inside the cover. When people get the actual record there are midi files which look like flowers. When you play the piano in a midi file, it looks like flowers with stems and those are also decorating the artwork throughout. So we kind of merged this idea of technology and the spiritual world. We were trying to capture all of those ideas.

    FC: You’ve talked about technology and how at times it could be a big hindrance to our lives, not necessarily a convenience. How does the Groves family ‘unplug’?

    Sara: I have a friend Miranda Harris who says ‘technology is a great servant and is a horrible master.’ I feel like my job as a parent is to get technology into that place where it is under our feet, not mastering us. My husband and I really struggled with watching TV too much and our kids basically had a video game addiction. So as a family, about 2 years ago we did a media fast for the entire summer. We thought, in Minnesota you gotta get outside in the summer! So it was really hard, but we drew a deep line in the sand. [We decided] for the next 3 months we’re going to abstain from everything; we did a whole media fast. And then we talked about what we would add back in.  It was really neat. The conversations were really healthy. I think having been detoxified, my kids were able to talk about it reasonably – in the past they couldn’t even talk about it, like it was their obsession. We were able to decide that 30 minutes a day with video games was enough for us and that we didn’t want to let the TV back in because it was definitely eating into all of these things we discovered. We still to this day don’t have cable, but we do have a physical TV that we watch a movie occasionally on, but those are some steps we’ve taken. Troy and I try to keep our online life really to our business or the music, connecting with fans and stuff.  I’m not on Facebook at all. As soon as Facebook came out it was a divine moment for me because I knew it would feed into all of my vices so it was something I wouldn’t be able to participate in.  I basically heard God say, other people get to do this but you don’t (laughs). So we do other stuff that will feed into our Facebook page, like I write a blog occasionally and Troy does Twitter a lot. I just really felt that it was going to keep me away from my family, from my kids and the people that I really want to be physically there for. So anyway, that might seem radical to some people and I’m not saying that this is in anyway a judgment or a law, but those are some of the parameters we’ve drawn.

    FC: So that’s how the Groves family operates…

    Sara: Yeah, that’s how we roll.

    FC: When you look at the overall record, you do talk about busyness, technology, all these sorts of outside influences coming into us – but there are a few other themes in the record as well. What else is there?

    Sara: In ‘Finite,’ the first line of the song says, I’m not every woman, it’s not all in me. I was sitting across the table from Jill Phillips and we were both feeling absolutely exhausted, pulled in a million different directions and she said the word ‘finite.’ I latched onto that and said ‘there’s a song in that word.’ So we sat for the next two hours and worked on that. In ‘Mystery,’ I talk about trying to bring God to earth somehow as if I could specifically do that. In ‘I Will Wait for You’ I say, I’m going to wait for You now more than ever. I can work like the devil, but that can’t really be my way, I have to wait for You. So it is my weariness at trying to do all of this work by myself and trying to make the Kingdom come. You’ve (FC) followed us as we were embarking with International Justice Mission, and we still work with IJM, (we have the song ‘Eyes on the Prize’ on this record that’s about their work). But I think I jumped in with two feet and started taking off, maybe getting a little ahead of God a little bit. And I had to realize and say, Ok, I can’t change the world, God will change things through me and He can change me. I have to wait on the Lord, and say I’m waiting for whatever You’ve got for me, and I don’t want to get ahead of You anymore. And then tying that in with the idea that I want to be about Your work, not my own work, not my own kingdom but Your empire. So that’s definitely, I would say, the river that runs through the whole record. Honestly, it’s a tired mom trying to figure it all out saying ‘I think You have more rest for me than this and I don’t think that all these things I feel obligated to are You. I think I’m obligating myself to things that aren’t necessarily God-centered.’ So how do I purge my life of all the distractions to really listen for the things that God wants me to do?

    FC: Through your art you’ve certainly opened up – whether it is marital issues, strengths, weaknesses, parenting, you’ve shared a lot that maybe other artists are uncomfortable doing. It has certainly made an impact on people. When you look at Invisible Empires, do you feel that you’re following along that same path, opening up that heart again to the public and saying ‘here we are, this is our life?’

    Sara: Yeah, ya know Fireflies and Songs was a very personal record and almost every song was me lying on the operating table. With this record I did pick up again kinda like with Tell Me What you Know and Add to the Beauty where I looked at some other things that were happening in the world. ‘Scientists in Japan’ is about bioethics (laughs), that’s not necessarily where you find me at home opening up own personal heart. So I did return to some other broader, cultural themes in this record, but there definitely are some. ‘Mystery’ would be a deeply personal song about my last couple years’ struggle with anxiety and walking through fears. I couldn’t feel God in the traditional ways I had felt Him. I’ve always had very emotional connection to God. So basically in dealing with the anxiety and panic attacks I was having I had to tell myself, my emotions are not my reality. The way I feel is not real right now! I feel like I’m going to die, and I’m actually not going to die, I’m going to be okay. But I had to deny my emotions. For a good year and a half I just rehearsed that. My emotions are tricking me, they’re not reliable. And so having had an emotional connectivity to God, it impacted the way I would feel when I would pray, everything, how I sensed God. But in the place of this emotional sort of thing I’ve always had of God, this other sense of His presence has come, that I’m really grateful for. I don’t think I would have gotten there without this whole experience, but He has been so faithful to me, and so present. Not in this emotional way where I’m “Oooh! I feel Him! I feel these emotional goosebumps!” It’s just been this solidness, I can’t even describe it. It’s literally just been a season of manna. So ‘Mystery’ is definitely a song where I’m confessing that I’ve just been working at this, trying to pull God down, I’m physically tired from trying to bring ‘Your kingdom come on earth’ And saying ‘I must not be doing it right because I need a rest. But You will meet me again. You will show up, it’s not about me, it’s about what you’re doing.’ ‘Miracle’ is a very personal song about marriage and relationships. Feeling things I can’t feel, saying things that are hard to say, not just in my marriage but in friendships. So yeah, I definitely have moments where I’m writing from that very deep personal place, and then I have other things where I’m revisiting things like I have in the past, cultural movements and events. Things that I feel like I want to ask a question about before we run full force ahead (laughs).

    FC: So yeah, tell us about ‘Scientists in Japan?’ Where’d that come from?

    Sara: Well, so in the very beginning of that chapter in Long Obedience… there’s a quote that Eugene Peterson pulls out from a French philosopher and says [something like] The marker of this day is that we set great machines in motion without any idea of where they are headed – I’m butchering thisbut he says, how tremendous the means with no concept of the end. We set machines in motion without any concept of where we’re headed. We just set things in motion, set things in motion. So I was at this think tank with Christian leaders and this bioethicist look the stage. He said literally there are only a handful of us who are Evangelical in the field of bioethics, and he had spent a year of his own time going around to all of the Christian colleges asking them, begging them to start carrying at least a minor in bioethics. There’s not a single Christian college, university of liberal arts or otherwise that is carrying a minor in bioethics. And the response was the same, well, students aren’t coming here for that, they go to the universities for that. Well exactly! We’re giving the entire field over, he said, we can’t talk about these things in churches. If I were to stand up on a Sunday morning and say “Scientists in Japan are building a robot to take your job,” I would be booed off the stage. So ya know, the little feisty part of me said, I’m gonna write a song, hopefully a whimsical one, that starts with that line (Laughs). It was compelling what he said, ‘you will face ethical challenges as you care for your aging parents, unless you think about it, you will be caught off guard.’ And that spoke to me. I will one day be caring for my aging parents, and I need to know what I think about life and death and all of the things between those.

    FC: So you and Troy are working alongside Charlie Peacock on an ‘Art House north’?

    Sara: We are. We are hoping to get an offer on our house this week. We’ve purchased a 100 year old church, and the Art House in Nashville is a 100 year old church, that is also the studio and home of Charlie and Andrea Peacock. So we asked him about four years ago, ‘would it be possible for us to partner with you in this way?’ and they were excited, so we’ve been looking for properties. The byline of the Art House is ‘creative community for the common good.’ So basically the goal in the simplest form is, artists often work in isolation but we want to give them a reason to gather whether formally or informally, and we believe that sparks will fly when they get connected. So we’re hoping that people will respond to the different artist forums and things that we hold at the Art House. I really believe something creative and new that our city has never seen will be born out of artists connecting with other artists. So that’s our dream. We’re going to live in the church, we’re building out a parsonage in the basement, and then the whole building will be used for hospitality and events. So that’s where we’re headed!

    FC: Ok, so last question. We know you started homeschooling this year. Can you briefly tell us about your experience? And are you homeschooling all three kids?

    Sara: I am sending Ruby to preschool, that gives me time with the boys that I need, they’re 5th and 3rd grade. [It was] a little bit out of necessity but it was also [a result of] a neat experience with a missionary family that put us squarely in the homeschooling camp this year. A friend of ours from IJM called and said my hero in the faith is coming to the United States and he wants to meet you. He’s a missionary in Burma doing incredible, incredible things. So we cleared our calendar and they came, and they were a team, Team Eubank. And in talking with Karen Eubank (the matriarch), I just caught a vision for us that I haven’t had before. We’ve always been Team Groves but we were doing a lot of things by putting the kids in school, a lot of gymnastics and things to keep them in the sort of ‘normalcy’ of public school, whatever that is, and we just all of a sudden felt really free and called to homeschool. We really call it ‘world school,’ we like the term. It’s been surprisingly joyful; I thought it would be more stressful than it’s been. I actually feel like we’ve simplified in a lot of ways, and the boys are thriving. And I’m having fun, the teacher in me is waking up and it’s really been joyful! That’s the only word I have for it. So I don’t know how long we’re going to do this, I don’t know what God has in mind for us, but it has been a huge blessing.

    FC: Ok, we said that was the last question, but one more. Candy corn or the fake pumpkin candy corn things?

    Sara: The real deal, that’s so funny. I just went on a trip where I wasn’t with my husband or my kids and I got a glimpse of myself without any checks and balances (laughs). I didn’t mean to do this, but I went to the grocery store and before I knew it, I had a bag of candy corn and like, all kinds of terrible snacks. So over the weekend I ate an entire bag of candy corn! If my kids were there, or if Troy was, I never would have done that… but I got a little freedom and I just went nuts and ate a whole bag of candy corn. So yeah it’s definitely a favorite (laughs).

    FC: Sara, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today. We love your music and message – and wish all the very best to you and your family.

    To learn more about the International Justice Mission or the Art House North that the Groves are busy creating, visit www.saragroves.com.

    Bonus video - Sara singing Eyes on the Prize

    Further insights into Invisible Empires

  • Review of Vice Verses - Switchfoot

    Posted on October 22, 2011 by Family Christian

    Here it is, the highly anticipated album of 2011 Switchfoot's "Vice Verses". The second from the group since leaving Columbia Records and moving to their own lowercase people. A move I highly agree with after their amazing release of "Hello Hurricane" in 2009.

    "Vice Verses" is exactly what I was looking for, a continuation of their last album mixed with some hints of old and yet some stretching musically into other creative avenues.

    Frontman Jon Foreman on the title of the album: "The whole thing is about polarity. We wanted to write about the polarity of what it means to be human, the lights and darks. I'm always intrigued by the tension that exists between life and death." The twelve tracks sum it up well with a lot of ups and downs both musically and lyrically.

    The first track "Afterlife" begins with guitar only as Foreman enters. An almost classic sounding Switchfoot and a great way to start off the album. "The War Inside" has an almost "The Sound" beginning to it. Listen carefully because it's got a very unique and addictive music track.

    Song four "Restless" has a rock worship feel to it that could have been sung by Bono. I just had to play the end of the song a few more times because it's that good. "Blinding Light" is a song about searching for hope and finding it "Deep down there's a hope inside / You got wings but you're scared to fly / wake up, wake up".

    The sixth track "Selling the News" is a commentary on the sensationalism of, well, the news: "Substance, oh substance where have you been / you've been replaced by the masters of spin". "Selling the News" definitely stands out with Foreman speaking, not singing, the verses. I can already see the music video of Foreman in a news room or war zone reporting/performing this song.

    Can't get your fill of hard hitting vocals and blazing guitars, then play "Dark Horses". One of the coolest rock songs I've heard in a while. I'll be playing this one too much, way too much and way too loud. So will you.

    "Souvenirs" is a beautiful track with great lyrics "These are my souvenirs / the memory of a lifetime". "Rise Above It" is a fun song that is slightly different and changes up in a lot of places throughout the song. Very fun lyrically also: "Just because you're present doesn't mean that you're here".

    Title track eleven "Vice Verses" is one of the best songs on the album and an instant classic. It contrasts life and death in a very thoughtful and memorable way: "You got your babies / I got my hearses / Every blessing comes with it's set of curses". And in true Switchfoot fashion gives you a lot to think about.

    The final song "Where I Belong" is a good wrap of the album. It has a mid tempo 'good feeling' anthem to it that makes you want to replay the album all over again. So I did.

    Switchfoot's "Vice Verses" has exceeded my expectations. A perfectly executed album with loads of 'classics in the makings'. No trendy synths or unnecessary auto-tune here, just straight up rock, pure and thoughtful, what Switchfoot does best. And when they're at their best, they're amazing.

    By: Kevin Thorson

    www.cmaddict.com

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