Derek Webb (formerly of Caedmon's Call) : 2004-04-26Derek Webb made his mark in a decade or so with Caedmon's Call, but has since moved on to a solo career. He recently released The House Show, a live acoustic concert including the teaching and commentary typical of his intimate live shows. I greatly enjoyed visiting with Derek during GMA week.
Note: Click for my review of Derek's first solo effort, She Must and Shall Go Free.
Randy: I didn't have a lot of formal stuff, 'cause I didn't know how much time we'd have,
Derek: That's fine.
Randy: ...but I wanted to touch on a few things.
Randy: What I'd love to do is just sit down and chat, talk about theology.
Derek: I generally don't get--somebody asks one question and then a half hour later, it's over.
Randy: Since we're limited on time I'll just try to touch on a few quick things. One, of course, is the Caedmon's Call chapter coming to a close. I thought that was a nice touch with Bus Driver and going back.
Derek: Yeah. That was a blast. The intention was always with the split--not the split, but with me going off to do this, to do the solo thing. The intention was always that we would do whatever we could to try to be mutual help for each other. And, there's so much politics and everything nowadays, I hate when people think that there really was something that happened, or there was that we really didn't get along. We were family for ten years. You don't have some disagreement and then leave your family in ten years. We're still like family. Whenever I see those guys, I just want to cry, and grab them. I love those guys. It was fun to have an excuse to go into the studio to do something. So when that greatest hits thing came along and they called me about doing that, I was like, "Of course. It would be a blast." And so we did. We got in and recorded Bus Driver, a song which has been chasing us around for years and. So yeah, it was really fun. It made me want to find excuses to spend more time with them and I'm still trying to find excuses.
Randy: Maybe do a joint tour someday.
Derek: I would love to go out and do some shows with them. You know, like play, and then jump up and do a few songs with them and play a few songs with them. It would be a blast. There'd be nothing weird about that.
Randy: I was on your website this week, you know, doing a little background stuff and I noticed your Jabez essay and I've written a couple of those myself. I have an apologetics website.
Derek: Oh, fantastic!
Randy: What I've found interesting is that when I've questioned some of the popular Christian books I get in a lot more trouble than with atheists and agnostics. Nothing upsets--nothing worse than a Christian pop-culture fan riled up.
Derek: Oh no, there's not~
Randy: I'd much rather deal with a Satanist.
Derek: Yeah, exactly. They're a lot kinder.
Randy: Hardcore atheists at least are civil. Have you taken some flak over what you said on the air or has it been pretty tame?
Derek: I have here and there, but I'm a pretty small noise. I don't think I get very many people paying much attention to me nowadays, and that's fine with me.
Randy: There's probably more than you realize.
Derek: Maybe so.
Randy: One thing I've learned on the Web is--lurkers.
Derek: That's true. You never know, and you can't really know how many people are really reading that stuff. That's what's kind of fun and mysterious about it, is you put it out there and there's no telling where it could kind of find it's way.
Randy: Yeah. I've had friends we lost touch with, hadn't seen them for years and I had a thing on Al's site in fact where I showed me and my kids at Disneyland. Of course, she writes us, "I can't believe you didn't come see us! I've been reading your reviews for half a year!"
Derek: Oh wow.
Randy: Mention it! At least I know somebody's reading them.
Derek: Yeah, yeah. That's the thing. I think there would be something a lot more radical and subversive about what I'm doing at this point if I could find a way to make it popular. But unfortunately, because of having spent ten years in Caedmon's, and having had kind of a taste of what that feels like, that kind of success, it's made me really kind of... I'm not ambitious at all at this point in my career about anything other than trying to make really good art and trying to continue to risk whatever platform I have with what I'm saying on it. And, that combination isn't gonna ever get me on Christian radio or on the cover of Christian magazines. And that's fine with me, because I have the luxury of not being ambitious about it because I have my history in Caedmon's. I'm really happy. This last year I've spent playing in people's living rooms, playing these house shows, playing for twenty or thirty people a night.
Randy: Are you playing this week?
Derek: No. I am, but not in town. I came from Charlotte, North Carolina last night, drove eight hours after getting done with a show at eleven o'clock to be here today. I have two days here today and tomorrow. I think Wednesday morning I'm leaving 'cause I've got a show back near Charlotte Wednesday night. We just canceled a couple shows to come in town to do this. The majority of my touring this year has been really, really small, like twenty or thirty people a night, in living rooms, doing as much teaching as playing music and as much discussion as entertaining. And I'm really satisfied doing that. And I think that with the conversation that I'm going to have with people being about what our idols are in the church and how we can all look at our sin, but look ahead to our glory and really learn how to preach the gospel to each other in a way that will make our mess really redemptive, I don't that there is more success that I could be having than to be playing really small shows for very few people because that's where people are going to be honest and I feel like that's a good medium for what I'm trying to do. So I'm not ambitious, like, it's okay with me if I don't really do more than I've done this last year, just continue doing it on this level. As long as I can make a living and communicate with people and have an opportunity to use some of my gifts which I'm able to do more now than in Caedmon's because of the less formal setting I can teach more, so it's great.
Randy: That sound like a great combination. What about Sandra? (note: Derek's wife, Sandra McCracken.) Is she continuing to write and record?
Derek: She just finished a new record that we are in, hopefully the middle or end of the process of discovering where it's going to land. It's a really ambitious record for her 'cause this really great, kind of world-renowned producer took an interest in her and liked her enough, actually was smitten with her voice and just everything about her. Who wouldn't be? So he came on and produced it as an independent record, which he had never done before. So now they're looking for maybe a label home for it, which is kind of a long process. So we're hopefully near the end of that process and then after that we're going to get the record out. In the meantime she's just starting to play shows again. She's taken a lot of this last year off to record, write. It's a great record and now, we're probably near getting it out.
Randy: Most of my exposure has just been through what she contributed to Caedmon's projects.
Derek: Yeah. She's written a lot of songs in the last few Caedmon's records. It's interesting how that doesn't actually connect with what she does as an artist. She's not interested in getting mixed up with the Christian subculture. She's a Christian who's making really good art, and she doesn't really belong here. She's going to have a great impact, just because she's a great artist. She makes great art. And luckily, Christian art is not contingent upon the content, it has nothing to do with the content. She's making great art. So I'm really excited to see what's going to come of it this next year. She's got some interest maybe in the UK, places that are more into folk and roots music.
Randy: Are you working on any projects right now?
Derek: I've got this live CD called "The House Show" which is a recording of one of these living room shows. It's coming out...if you order it for my website, which is just derekwebb.com, obviously, seemed like the best place for it, then it comes out May 25. We're giving it two weeks early for people who order it on the website. June 8 is the retail date for it. That is a recording of one "House Show" that happened near Mobile, Alabama. It's got like fourteen tracks on it, and about four are teaching. We just put a track idea on all the teachings, so it's completely intact. All the teachings and everything. It would have had to have been double disc if we had put on all the Q&A that happened afterwards, which I wish we could have done, 'cause it was really good that night. That's coming out pretty soon. Just after that comes out, maybe even over the next few months, I'm going to start working on my follow-up to--
Randy: Did you grow up in a Reformed family, or is that something you discovered as an older--
Derek: No. I grew up in the Methodist church, hearing the teachings of John Wesley.
Randy: A little contrast there.
Derek: Yeah. He's a brilliant man, and I like a lot of what Wesley has taught, just with the exception of his soteriology.
Randy: I'm sure you're familiar with the Whitefield-Wesley dialogues.
Derek: I am. And George Whitefield is a huge hero of mine. I quote him constantly.
Randy: I grew up in a Mennonite church...
Randy: that kind of background, went to a baptistic college, basically there's a combination of things. Greg Bahnsen's apologetics, of course I've always liked Francis Schaeffer, and there's a few other, and I started going, "You know, all these guys I like seem to be Reformed. There was like this thread running through a lot of these guys, and then, I don't even know how, maybe it was through the web that I discovered James (White), and really The Potter's Freedom was what slammed the door on me. I told my wife, a couple of the chapters, I was gritting my teeth. I didn't want to read them, because I knew by the time I finished the chapter, I'd have to be changing my theological perspective.
Derek: That's the way I was when I read Sproul's Chosen by God. That was the book that really probably pushed me over the edge.
Randy: I have Sproul's Not by Chance.
Derek: Heavy book.
Randy: I have a copy of Not by Chance that a friend of mine got me when he saw Sproul at a conference, and he talked him into signing it. "To Randy: Keep praying the Prayer of Jabez."
Derek: Great (laughing). That's fantastic!
Randy: When he first asked him, he was just kind of signing them, you know, "Who's this for?" And he said, "Randy." And he goes, "Could I ask a favor?" R.C. goes "Yes." He said, "Could you sign it 'Keep praying the Prayer of Jabez?'" "I can't do that!"
Randy: "No! No! It's a joke, it's an inside thing, Randy's writing reviews against it." So he goes, "Well, okay."
Derek: That was the book that really pushed me over the edge and I have Horton's Putting Amazing Back Into Grace.
Randy: Have you read, I forget what it's called, Christ or Christianity and Culture? (note: the title is Where in the World Is the Church?: A Christian View of Culture and Your Role in It. I got a couple of the words correct!)
Derek: No, but I've heard about it recently.
Randy: You should read it. Anyone in the arts should read it.
Derek: I've heard about that. It's interesting, I tend to not agree so much with some of the more high-church reformed guys when it comes to the arts.
Randy: What aspect?
Derek: Well, specifically with music. I know that there's some of those guys who will say that classical is the only kind of pure music.
Randy: Oh, yeah. Some of them will go to that extreme.
Derek: I've heard some of those guys go there and I just can't...okay, to say that classical music is the only kind of musical artist expression that we have in the church, which is a caricature of what they're saying. But to say anything like that is to make an idol of the 16th century the way we make an idol of the 21st, 'cause either way that was the "pop" music of the 16th century.
Randy: I'm with you there.
Derek: You can make an idol of any one culture. It's interesting, 'cause I went from Horton's book to Arthur Pink's Sovereignty of God. My copy of Chosen by God was just ripped up and tattered from me throwing it against the wall so many times, like you were saying with that other book.
Randy: Gritting your teeth.
Derek: I was so mad after every chapter that I just chucked that thing against the wall. And by the time I got to Pink's book, you would have thought I was watching a football game if you were on the other side of the door. I was like hooting and howling and cheering and freaking out 'cause I couldn't believe how clearly he was stating it.
Randy: How long ago was your transition?
Derek: It would have been probably six or seven years ago.
Randy: So it was after you were in Caedmon's already.
Derek: Yeah. Caedmon's had been going for some years at that point.
Randy: I know 40 Acres really hit me as a strong reformed influence.
Derek: What's really interesting is we all kind of went from young, just out of college or just at the age where we would have been in college--I never went to college, but we were all that age and it's interesting how we all came off this one tour where we had a lot of good discussion, we were starting to read some books, left, were away from each other for a little while, all came back to go on the road, and all of us were kind of afraid to bring it up, for fear we would be the only one. The only kind of reformed person in a room of people who were not. And it turned out that we had all came into kind of more of a reformed tradition while we were away and found that everyone in the band had kind of come to that place.
Randy: Some people ask "With Derek gone, are they going to lose the Reformed impact?"
Derek: Oh no. It was no more one of us than all of us.
Randy: It was universal.
Derek: Even down to our management. People who's influence you might not even hear on the records by way of the content, had all kind of hit that same place. And scripture just totally toppled over on top of us.
Randy: At the showcase luncheon the young girl, I forget her name, Brittany or--it wasn't Brittany. Anyway, Ed Cash was playing with her.
Derek: He's fantastic.
Randy: That was the first time I'd seen him in person. I thought I recognized him from Caedomon's or something.
Derek: He's been a friend forever. We met him through Bebo. He's been a friend for even longer. He's the best, man. He's the real thing. And we met Ed by way of Bebo 'cause Ed had produced all of Bebo's records and they'd written together and they were just old friends. Ed ended up producing half of Long Line of Leavers for us a few years ago, which we were really happy with. We just had a blast working with him. He's just an immense talent. Ed Cash is just...people don't know the half of it. They really don't. He is just a tremendous talent. He's just tremendous.
Randy: Well, we've certainly enjoyed your stuff. Thanks, Derek.
Derek: No problem!
Note: Thanks to my son Michael for transcribing most of this interview.