This is actually an archived interview with Steven Delopoulos, formerly of Burlap to Cashmere, that, for some reason did not make it in the transfer from the old site to the new one. Hope you enjoy:
Were you raised in a musical home?
Oh yes, my parents played music. My uncle played classical guitar. I always loved classical music, even as an infant, my mother would tell me that I would lay in her lap and pretend to conduct. My mother also led; we’re Greek, so we’re from the Orthodox tradition and my Mom always led in our church.
At what point did you begin creating music?
I was always a scatter-brained ADD child. My mother had put me into a choir, I must have been around 12 or 13. It was called the Mama’s Conservatory Music Choir and I started singing. My mother would play piano and there was a composer there who used to actually conduct the Vienna’s Boy Choir in Germany, Felix Multer. He decided to move to America and take on a position that was a lot smaller and nobler. He wound up leading at our church and conducting this conservatory boys choir. There was a director there by the name of Paul Hart who would present these plays to Felix. They’d be these wild, avant-garde plays. One was called Pollicino which came out of Germany and we performed it here in New Jersey. Another one was a Holocaust piece called Brundebar, written by the children of Terezin, the death camp in Czechoslovakia and we got to perform that at a big festival there, I forget what it’s called and then we performed it for Holocaust survivors in Red Bank, NJ. I was fortunate to be among really smart musicians and composers and theater directors and I think that led me into wanting to continue with it.
In high school, I wound up going to a performing arts school and majored in theater. I stayed in musical theater and also did some serious acting. From there I found myself in a theater college. I auditioned for a theater college called Marymount, Manhattan. That led me to want to continue theater, but what happened was: towards the end of my sophomore year, we had to a project. I decided to do a music project. I think I’ve jumped ahead, high school was also a big musical part for me as well. My acting teacher, Joe Russo would pay folk songs. He was a great folk singer and we’d sit around in a circle and I’d just drool, thinking this is amazing! I’ve got to do this! He taught me how to fingerpick on the guitar and I started buying Harry Chapin records and I just loved folk music. I ate it up. To go back, in my sophomore year of college, I did a performance and I called it Burlap to Cashmere and that was the beginning of professionally doing music.
Where did the name Burlap to Cashmere come from?
It came from a roommate who came up with the idea and it just kind of stuck.
From there you involved your cousin in what would become the band, is that right?
I did. I asked my cousin Johnny to come down and play with me and he did. From there we met a manager named Jay Ernest from Jamieson and Ernest. It just kind of all snowballed into a nice little run we had.
You’ve mentioned growing up with church involvement, would you say you were raised in a Christian home?
At what point would you say that faith became your own? Can you talk a bit about your own salvation experience?
I’ve always had a deep reverence towards God. As a child I would make my mother pray with me every night. She thought this was a little odd because they never enforced bible reading or prayer in the house though we would pray before dinner and God was present in the home. They weren’t strict about it. I think that’s what led me to want to experience God because in the Greek Orthodox Liturgy there’s a lot about the mystery of Christ and the mystery of God that makes you want to touch God. Sometimes, when God is spelled out for you too much it’s like: Oh, OK, well that’s done, now I’ll move on to something else. That’s one of the things I love about my Orthodox faith; it really emphasizes the mystery of Christ.
Growing up in that household, being involved in music, I think it all inspired me in the back of my head that if I ever went through any kind of suffering, that there is a God would be there for me and there was a God that existed. And then I was in college. I was about 18 or 19 and I had done some partying. I had experimented with some drugs in fact and it kind of damaged me. Something happened to the way I perceived life. It changed me in a frightening way. I remember going to Greece that year and I was on a boat going to an island called Sondureni, which actually has been a theme in my life for some reason, this island is just gorgeous! I remember just looking up at the sky and saying God, I know you’re there, reveal yourself to me. I can’t do this anymore on my own. I was just a frightened 18-year old.
That year actually, I wound up meeting a lot of evangelical Christians, some Pentecostals, some Baptists, some Non-Denominational. They were more outspoken Christians and I would get invited to Bible studies a lot. And so, to make a long story short, I did get baptized, I did make a re-commitment towards Christ and from then on, I was like a chicken with my head cut off! Before you knew it, I had a New Testament Bible in my hands and I stopped acting. I went to an extreme, obviously, but I frightened everyone around me, there was just no way of stopping me; there was light coming out of my eyes, I had these Pentecostal experiences as well. I believe personally that I had a Holy Spirit experience and, what can I say? When you get touched you get touched and you can’t explain it.
So then, like most Christians, you kind of come down, you land, you come back down to the ground and you ask the question, Now how do I deal with being a human? That duality, I think, is in my music. I love thinking about it, I love talking about it, I love writing about it, although subconsciously. I really don’t have an agenda. I tell people that because I’m not that smart, I’m really not. There’s a song on Straightjacket called “Ruin of the Beast” that deals with this duality. It tries to deal with this issue of God and me and also having to deal with me and me, the two parts of me. Me and the godly man and sitting down and saying OK, how are we going to live together? Most Christian friends I find go through that when they have kids. They see themselves as a little child again and they see the human part of them and they have to deal with that without getting mad, which makes them have to deal with themselves in turn.
Your music very openly deals with expressions of your faith. Is that something you have been intentional about or is it something you even think about at all?
I don’t. If I did, I think I’d have more of a career.
What do you mean by that?
I feel that sometimes there is quite an agenda to the music business. Thank God the music business is changing, that’s all I have to say. But there was always this agenda in any kind of music genre, whatever it might be, whether CCM or pop music or folk music; the guys behind it who want to sell the records always have this agenda saying If you’re going to make a “Christian” record then it has to, from A-Z have a Christian message and it has to be lite, lite, lite, lite. Well, that’s phony to me. I can’t do that, I’m not that good!
I don’t have an agenda when I write music and I try to be as sincere as possible where I am at the time. I think that’s why people still buy my records; they feel kindred to that and they feel that they’re not getting a phony sense of hearing about God but that it’s something they’re going through too. Hopefully they can relate at some level.
What do you think of the tag “Christian” Music?
It’s strange, for me, I think. But not just for me. A lot of my Christian musician friends it’s strange. If someone comes up to me and asks if I’m a Christian, I’m very comfortable saying Well, yes I am, and if someone were to talk to me and say, “Let’s talk about God and open up the Bible, I would feel very comfortable about doing that. I’m very open about my struggles, especially at this point in my life. But if someone were to come up to me and ask if I’m a Christian artist, I just wouldn’t know what to tell them. It may seem strange to say, but I would tell them that I’m a human artist. You have to be a human before you can be a Christian.
Burlap to Cashmere was signed, to A&M and not a Christian label, is that right?
That is correct but we were distributed on the Christian side of things on a label called Squint, Steve Taylor’s label for Word records.
But your lyrics were infused with Scriptural truths, did you receive any negative feedback because of that?
Oh, it was definitely a paradox for us. I wrote those songs out of a reverence for God and the mystery of God. I didn’t think for one second that we were going to package it and I was going to have to put a suit on and say “Buy this” and there would be an agenda and that I would have to go a certain way about selling it. I didn’t think for one second that that would happen and when it did, it threw me off, it threw the guys off as well, so it was an interesting experience to see the Christian music business. And I do say Christian music business, I don’t say dealing with Christians, that’s a whole different thing.
Though Burlap to Cashmere ended, you and your cousin have been doing reunion shows, is that right?
That’s right, we have been and we’re in talks about possibly making another record.
How has it been different for you making music as a band versus going solo?
I struggle with how it all works. I’ll tell you, I’m not a business man; I’m really bad at it. All I am is this scatterbrained guy who writes songs and sometimes I’ll make money doing it and sometimes I won’t. I went from being on Squint and then Squint folded and everyone at Word records, everyone got fired, which was unfortunate. They were our family. They were the people that connected the dots to our fanbase. When they all left, we kind of went under. There was really no platform for us anymore. Then there were all these rumors about us. I’ve heard some crazy rumors that we were in jail or something and someone else said I was in rehab for all these drugs. I couldn’t believe it and I felt a little hurt. I would walk into some Christian manager’s office and they would say “We’ve heard that you were in prison” and I would look at them like, and I just wouldn’t know what to tell them. “No sir, absolutely not,” was about all I could say! Google my name, I have never been in prison, but I’m sure the reputation would help record sales! Maybe they were on to something. I did wind up leaving the band, due to a little bit of exhaustion. We were all tired. Once the platform was taken from under our feet, there was really no place to chime.
Artistically, how would you describe the progression from Burlap to Cashmere to Me Died Blue and now to Straightjacket?
Me Died Blue, I was just so excited to put that out there. I had an interesting couple of years after Burlap, I kind of went into seclusion and struggled with minor depression. Me Died Blue was a great healing record for me where I got to express the gray areas of life; as C.S. Lewis calls it, “the shadowlands.” I think that some of the Christian market didn’t want to put it out because it wasn’t lite, lite, lite, lite, lite. But I felt like I owed it to the fans who bought the Burlap to Cashmere record for them to hear something true because the Burlap to Cashmere record was written with the same notion. I wanted to keep the art alive and I felt like I succeeded.
But what I failed to do was reconnect with the Burlap fans. I didn’t even think about it too much. I went with different management, I went with a country label. I almost completely turned my back on the Christian music business, not for any other reason that I just didn’t think about it. I’m not one of those guys who thinks about what’s going to be good for my career, probably to my demise. The good part is that if I find people who “get” me, which I have recently, which is great, is that I’ll always be about the music. My singing will always reflect whether I’m struggling or having a great day.
At what point did you begin to think music might be your life’s calling and when did you begin to think that was actually feasible?
I had a couple of Pentecostal experiences. I had this one experience when my parents were arguing. I went to the beach and I just remember yelling at God saying “Why, why, why, how could you do this to me,” that type of thing. My parents were actually splitting up. And I had this; God gave me this news flash and it was me playing a guitar. This was before I was playing music professionally. My hand was out into the audience and the Spirit was flowing through me into the audience. It was really fast and I thought, “Well there’s an inspiration. There’s something maybe I could do.”
That year I started to pursue it. I actually wanted to get into the Christian music business at a young age. I thought it would be a great idea to go play at churches and share the Word and it would be a great thing. So I started buying Phil Keaggy records and Steve Taylor and I got into some Keith Green and I just thought “Oh, these guys, they’re doing it!” I began to discover that there was a market out there. I wound up that it worked out that way to an extent.
So how do you balance not being good at business with trying to make a living at music?
Well, you surround yourself with really smart people and you keep doing it. You keep going like a shark, you just keep on moving.
As far as incorporating faith and music, are there any artists you think are doing these things the right way?
I do, I think that Derek Webb is doing that very well. I think he’s sort of the next version of Rich Mullins. Some people are intellect and some people are heart people. Derek’s got both. He’s this “heart-intellect” guy who I think really challenges the church. He’s really outspoken about it; he’ll call a spade a spade; he’s outspoken about it, which I like. I think that’s important to have that in the culture, especially in the music culture. You have Jars of Clay, who have only been themselves. I’ve toured with them lots and they’re amazing people. They really are sweethearts. They’ve given me a platform when I was at my lowest. I believe that they’re doing it right. They’re living the life as well.
Are you involved in a local church?
What role, if any, do you think local churches ought to play in supporting its artists?
I think of the Psalms. I think the artist has that duty, that calling of being the creative juice in the church. I’m just beginning an art ministry in my church. We’re different people, the artists, and I mean all artists, people who are trying to escape their fathers. All the ministers that I’ve encountered in my life all seem to like the artists, they welcome them in the church as important for whatever reason. I think they like the fact that artists have the tendency to not care and to be gutsy and put it out there whereas ministers have this sometimes unfortunate political platform where they can’t fully be themselves. There’s a part of them always looking over the shoulder and I think the artists give them that whisper saying it’s OK to push. I believe it’s important for the minister and the artist to bond and be friends. I think there’s a lot they can learn from each other because they’re essentially both doing the same thing. I’ll let you know in a year actually.
How has the experience of going from a major label to Eb + Flo been for you?
It’s different in that it’s more scattered. You’re dealing with a lot of noise. There’s a lot of MySpace people out there and everyone’s got a record out. So I always say that if you have a small platform, scream loud. At this point, it’s about surrounding myself with smart people. We’re approaching different labels for distribution, so there’s a lot of ups for this record. Right now it’s nice because I feel like I’m connecting with the fans more, the people that are buying the records and the responses have been great. I get to communicate with them and that I didn’t get to do with Burlap to Cashmere or even Me Died Blue when it was on a big label. It was like a machine and now it’s more intimate. And in a way, that’s what music is all about, it’s about the small and I believe that if you’re responsible with something small that God will bless you.
Do you listen to much music?
No, I don’t, I don’t! Not anymore. I used to all the time. I just feel like we’re in this time of a lot of noise; environmentally and spiritually, I just feel like it’s in the air. But I feel like there’s a new beginning happening here and it feels like for the first time I’m opening my eyes. It’s almost like I’ve been in a fog for the last 15 years. I just feel like at this point, quiet is good. At this point in the game, I’m always ready to either go sign a record deal or join the monastery.
Have you seriously considered monastic life?
I have. I’ve considered joining the priesthood as well of the Orthodox faith and I’m still considering it.
Do you read much?
I try to. I always start books and don’t finish. I really love to read when I’m in it. But my concentration level is pretty bad. I love reading a good book, but I’m pretty bad at it. I have ADD. Maybe not medically, I don’t know if that’s true or not but I feel like I do, my concentration level is pretty bad but I do enjoy a good book when I’m there.
What are some of the books that have impacted you?
The Orthodox Way, I love. It’s a book about the Orthodox Christian faith. You know, it’s funny, I’ll be in the South sometimes and they’ll ask me if I’m a Christian. I say yes and when they ask what church I go to, I say I’m Greek Orthodox and then they ask “But when did you become a Christian?!” It always makes me laugh and I just think “Well, that’s not fair, you should read this book called The Orthodox Way.
I enjoy Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, I like Oscar Wilde, I like some of his books. I just finished The Picture of Dorian Gray, that was a haunting book. It was awesome. He’s a great writer. I think he’s one of my favorite writers. The poor guy, what a life. I was pretty spooked by it.
Do you feel as though the Evangelical community understands the Orthodox tradition?
No, I don’t think so. That’s a good question. But I do know that a lot of them are becoming more open to Catholicism as a Christian church, which is pretty cool. But I think they thing we’re Muslims or something. But, if you ask a hardcore Greek Orthodox church go-er about the Evangelicals: “Do you think the Evangelicals are Christian?” The older men will say “No, we think they’re lost.” In every church there’s going to be that ideology taking over Christ’s love and the things that are real. I don’t think the Evangelical church gets it, but I also don’t think it’s my job to try and help them see the light. But it would help at least for them to know that we are Christians.
Is it possible to bridge that gap?
Yes, it is and that’s a good point. I would love to see in what form and shape that’s going to happen. Who knows, maybe that can be an open dialogue.
You mention the emphasis in the Orthodox tradition on the mystery of God and the mystical aspects, do you think that that emphasis helps encourage artistic expression?
Absolutely. When you see that God is big and life is big, when you go to the ocean and you have this personal moment and you just think about how the ocean goes on forever and ever and you don’t stop to think about the point where it ends, there is a feeling of possibility and of communication and a feeling of identity because it’s outside of yourself’ it’s grand and its eternal. I think that that’s the mystery of God and the mystery of Christ; He is so big, so eternal that it makes you want to fall in love. It makes me want to write, it makes me want to touch Jesus’ robe. It makes me want to love and feel and expand and not be afraid.
That’s a great term. I can never write music when I’m in fear. I don’t want to even do my laundry. They say that when you’re depressed you want to write, but that’s absolutely not it for me. I just want to stay in my room and be left alone. I shut off the phone. But when I’m feeling that feeling of eternity and possibility of moving mountains is finally here. Then we feel like the adventurer that God has made us to be. Then you want to paint, you want to express, you want to write about what you’re feeling. You want to express that love because you do it out of joy. It comes from that feeling that you’re OK and that feeling of trust.
A couple of years ago my wife and I actually saw you open for Derek Webb and you shared a bit about what happened to your cousin, could share a bit of that?
My cousin, who was actually the lead guitarist for Burlap to Cashmere was the victim of a very severe case of road rage. He was actually beaten up pretty badly and was in a coma, a very severe coma and we almost lost him at one point. That affected me greatly. Whenever you have family that in the hospital, it makes you appreciate family and God all that much more. He’s absolutely 100% percent better now and we’re thankful for that.
No, just that this is good stuff. I actually have to write a devotional for a website and you’ve given me some good ideas. I thought this was a really great interview.