In 2001, 16 Horsepower went on indefinite hiatus. Not one to sit still, frontman and primary songwriter David Eugene Edwards embarked on a new project, Wovenhand (or is it Woven Hand?). The name of the band is an allusion to hands clasped in prayer and Edwards’ Christianity is a central aspect to his work, both in 16 Horsepower and Wovenhand But this is not your local “Christian Bookstore’s” “Christian” music. This is powerful, sometimes dark music, encompassing life in both it’s ups and downs. Wovenhand has just released their new album Ten Stones on Sounds Familyre Records.
I recently spoke to Edwards about everything from Howe Gelb Giant Sand to Doestoyesky, his faith, hus music and his life. Enjoy:
Much is made of the fact that your grandfather was a Nazarene preacher. Would you say you were raised in a “Christian” home.
Can you recount your salvation experience?
Basically, I was five years old. I was at church, in Sunday School with my grandmother. I grew up in it. Not that that gives it to you, but I just felt the Lord call me. Even at five years old, I just knew it was true. I was just like “Yeah, I believe it,” and I’ve never not believed it since then. Never. I’ve never had any doubt about it. I have doubts about myself constantly, and everything else, but never have I doubted that God was who He said He was and that He did what He said He did. It’s always been that way for me. I don’t have a story to say “I was out doing this or that and the Lord knocked me down,” I don’t have that story. I have plenty of stories as a person through life, but the Lord has always been there with me and I’ve always believed in Him, whether or not I was listening to Him or cared about Him was another story, but it’s always been there.
At what point did music enter your life?
Music was always a part of it. It was a small church, so my grandfather led the music as well, whether there would be someone on the piano or organ or even just singing. That was my first introduction to music I suppose.
At what point did you realize that music was your life’s calling?
Probably when I was around 8 or 10.
How did your family react to that?
At first it was fine, I was in the choir or I played guitar or drums at church. And then there was being exposed to other music in public school, or just from friends; I started hearing music that I wasn’t used to. The only other music that I’d heard that was any sort of “rockin” music was, like, Andrae Crouch, The Disciples, Johnny Cash or Buddy Holly. My Dad was into Buddy Holly and Johnny Cash, but
I remember hearing rock n’ roll at school and loving it and wanting to play it and, of course, my parents were not so happy about that. From there I went through many different phases. In Jr. High I got into punk rock and that was really quite horrifying to my parents.
Did they frown on “secular” music?
Not necessarily. It was frowned upon in my growing up but once we left that church and started going to a Baptist church (which was, you know, a mortal sin), they started to relax just a little bit. Of course, there were always concerns but they were never heavy-handed about it, just always showing a concern and stating what they thought about what I was in to or what I was doing. They were always supportive of me playing music.
As a Christian playing music, what do you think of that distinction many people make between “sacred” or “Christian” and “secular” music?
I think the way most people approach it is more from a business sense than anything else. You have the CCM music and then “secular” pop and it’s just another corporation basically. One is supposedly Christian, but I don’t know, and the other is supposedly secular whereas I never thought of music in those terms. Music is music. Certain people, whether its an architect or a painter, or anybody else, there’s certain people who are not believers but they make fantastic art and they’re created by God and given an ability to create whether they use it for Him or not. That doesn’t negate the fact that they’re talented and make beautiful things.
I’ve always thought of music in that way. I listen to music that maybe I don’t agree with but I can definitely appreciate the art and the musicality. There are just things that appeal to me outside of religion.
It seems that you receive more criticism from Christian media than non, especially for being “too dark,” is that right?
Oh, for sure, I mean, since the beginning that’s always been the case. Maybe they’re right, I don’t know. I do what I do, you know? It’s not like I sit down and say: “OK, today I’m going to write a dark song.” I’ve always been drawn to more minor keys and I know that has a lot to do with it. Just because a song is in a minor key, someone will say it’s depressing or dark. Yes, it has more of a mood to it, but at the same time, within those songs I have every aspect of emotion, but “dark” has always been a label put on me and I can’t disagree with it.
Since the music is perceived as dark, do people expect you to be that way?
Oh, always! People are always extremely intimidated to come up and talk to me, they think I’m going to fly off the handle or something. I’m actually not that social, I’m a pretty solitary person. I don’t see a lot of people besides the people I play with and my own family. I’m on the road all the time and I meet thousands of people, but that kind of makes you go in. I’m very joyful, happy and well-adjusted, for the most part. People are surprised at that. They’re probably disappointed.
There’s a lot of talk in “Christian” circles about how to incorporate faith and art. Is this something you’re conscious about?
I don’t even think about it. I think once you get into that, you’re getting into business again. I try to be true to myself and to be sincere. If I’m being sincere about something wrong, at least I’m being sincere. I just try to be truthful to myself with the music that I play and the words that I sing. I don’t have any specific message. I don’t have this message of joy or anything specific, it’s just life; all the different emotions that go with life. One minute you’re happy and the next, you’re completely depressed, depending on the situation, but always the Lord is there guiding you through whatever it is. That’s how I see the music.
Many of your lyrics come straight from Scripture. Do you memorize much Scripture?
Not as much as I wish I would. There’s certain things that the Lord puts in your mind that are always there, you know? They come up a lot in different situations and they can mean different situations. I have a lot of that that goes on. It’s not like I sit down and try to memorize Scripture, it just comes to me. Hopefully, it’s the Spirit just giving it to me as I need it, using it in a proper way.
There’s no question about the content of your music, how is your music received by those who don’t share your faith?
A lot of people at the beginning didn’t know if I was serious or not. They thought maybe I was being cynical or I was just using it as some sort of theme. But as time went on, people began to realize I actually do believe it! We took off in Europe right away, long before in America and in many of those countries, they don’t speak great English. They don’t necessarily even know what I’m talking about, at least at the beginning, they just like the sound of the music and the feeling it gives them. Of course, the more they delve into it and figure out what it is that I’m saying, they either like it or they don’t. I have a lot of people that don’t like what I’m saying, but they still come. They like the music and the way it’s presented, but they completely disagree. That’s the same with me. I go see music I completely disagree with as well but I love the music and the way they’re presenting it, so there’s both sides of it. Then there’s people who totally understand what I’m saying and are helped by it in some way and can identify and it’s important to them.
Are you outspoken in sharing your faith off of the stage?
Of course. If anyone asks me, of course. I don’t sit around and just blast it out, but it comes up a lot. In the context of music, people are always asking me but then there are other people and we just talk about other things. It’s whatever the situation calls for and I feel led to do. I don’t feel any pressure necessarily, although I do feel the message is urgent. It’s not going to be me that makes it happen. I may be a part of it at some point at some times, and I’m always ready to give an account of why I believe what I believe.
There was a time when the church was at the forefront of the arts and yet it seems that now Christians are on the tail end of things. Have you thought about why that might be?
I think you’re right but I don’t know that I’d say music or painting came from the church. I think a lot of it was controlled by the church more than anything else. I think a lot of that stuff was done as penance to the local bishop or whatever and each bishop was trying to outdo the bishop in the next town with a better painting and I’m sure it was the same with the music. I think it’s hard to say it came out of the church. It comes from God, period. I think the church had control over it but there came a time when they lost control, for whatever reason and the world just said “Hey, we’re going to do it for ourselves. We don’t have to do it for the Pope.”
At the same time, the church began to put a negative light on art, saying it was worldly, or leads to hell or something. It’s all a matter of control. The church tries to control things and it doesn’t work and it will never work. It got to the point where, I remember growing up in church and people wanted me to listen to Christian bands doing the kind of music I liked. Sort of “if you like this, try this” sort of thing. Try this band because they’re believers and they’re playing punk rock. And, 9 times out of 10, the music is garbage, to me. I have to be really clear about that, what I think is garbage, for the next person is a prize, it’s gold, and that’s as it should be. What I like is not better than what somebody else likes. That’s one thing I’m really adamant about saying.
People accuse CCM music of just being sappy and I say “Well, so what?” Some people like that and that’s what they want and maybe even that’s what they need and who are you to say that your music is cooler than theirs? I don’t think I’ve got something more because none of it really matters in the long run, you know?
Just in an aesthetic sense, and the music that I liked and cared about, I just couldn’t’ get into what people wanted me to listen to, I was just like “come on, these people just put on some spandex and grew their hair long to preach the Gospel”! That’s like somebody becoming a biker to preach to the bikers. Maybe that’s fine for some people, but for me, that’s not. I don’t feel right about it and I have to do what I feel is right and for me, that is to stay true to my artistic sensibilities.
What relationship, if any, do you think should exist between the church and art and artists now?
The church is always trying to come up with something. They’re always trying to come up with something new to entice the world to the message. I just don’t think it works that way. I think you just live your life and you do what you like to do and you let the Spirit work through you whenever and wherever. People try to come up with programs all the time. There’s a million of them and they’ve been going on for ages and there’s a new one every month. I don’t understand that thinking. I grew up in a church where they had the number of people on the wall every week and if you didn’t come, they called you: “Where were you? We’ve got to fill these pews!” I’m not into that. I don’t feel that’s the way the Lord works. The church I go to has like 40 people. I don’t do music at church. I have in the past, but music is such a part of my life that when I go to church I don’t want anything to do with it other than to sing what we sing. I like hymns. I don’t like going to church to hear rock music. I hear plenty of that. I like to sing hymns that have real solid theology that are worth singing. I don’t want to hear drums and bass and jazz. That’s fine for some people, but that’s not what I want. I like it as traditional as you can get.
I grew up playing music in my church and at that time, it was a lot of the folk tradition. Music from the 70’s and a lot of it they just took and put “Christian” lyrics to it, which is fine I guess. A lot of times, you don’t even know and you hear the real version and you’re like “What’s going on here? I thought this was a church song”! Can’t we write our own songs? What’s the matter here?
Why do you think the music has taken off more in Europe than in America?
That’s a really tricky question. I think there’s a lot of different answers. I know a lot of bands that are in a similar situation. I tour in Europe 4 or 5 months out of the year and there’s all kinds of American bands over there and so many of them are in the same situation: we do far better over there than we do here. Arts in general are much more supported there. They’re not subject to Clear Channel, so they’re more willing to play things on the radio. The clubs themselves get money from the government to help pay the bands and the people working there. A lot of times they just do it as a social service, they don’t even get paid, they’re just happy to be there. It’s a completely different experience touring there than it is in America.
For us, I think that in America, there’s a church on every corner and everyone’s tired of hearing it. In Europe, it’s not that way. You have a big cathedral on every corner with nobody in it except tourists taking pictures. They’re interested. They don’t have what we have. I think they find it kind of exotic and strange, and interesting. I really think they’re hungry for the Lord.
- Is being on the road so much hard on your family?
Yes it is.
How do you cope with that?
I don’t know how we cope with it. We cope with it different ways at different times. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s extremely difficult. There’s all kinds of challenges involved. The only thing I can say is that that’s the way it’s always been. My children have grown up with it, they’ve always known it. I was playing music when I met my wife, it’s just always been a part of our life, so it’s just the way things are. But that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.
Did having a family change your artistic perspective?
I don’t know exactly. I’m sure it did, it’s just hard to say. You think about things a different way when you have children or when you are married. But I got married so young, I feel like I don’t know anything different. I got married when I just turned 18 and I’ve been married 22 years. To be honest with you, I never even went on a date. I mean, I had a few girlfriends before I met my wife, but you know, just at school. I was never out in the world dating or anything like that. I just got married and put an end to it. I don’t think that’s always necessarily a good thing, but it’s worked for us. It hasn’t been easy, believe me, but we’re still together. I think we’re more together now than we have been throughout our lives. The harder things get the closer we get.
You mentioned that, playing in Europe, a lot of the people don’t understand but they like the feel of the music. Howe Gelb of Giant Sand describes his band by saying that it is a mood. Would you say something similar about your work?
We definitely do create a mood when we play. What that is, I don’t know. I think it’s different for different people. Different people respond to it in a different way. I think that any music you go see creates some sort of mood. I don’t specify that as what we do, but it does happen. The live experience is quite different from listening to the album. Howe Gelb is a good friend of mine. He’s one of the ones I was talking about in Europe. I see him over there all the time. We play together over there and just talk about how it’s impossible for us to make a living here in America.
You mention the live experience versus the album, the new album, Ten Stones seems to draw on that live aspect much more than previous albums, is that right?
It is much more live, yes. For the past ten years or so I’ve been recording here in Denver with a friend and the majority of the Wovenhand records were done by myself and him. Him as the engineer and I played most of the instruments. Whatever I couldn’t play, I would bring someone in to fill that position. That was done purposefully, though it wasn’t that I couldn’t’ find people to play with or that I’m too hard to work with, I just wanted to do that. But I felt like it was time for change. I’ve been playing with the same group of people for several years. We’re not necessarily a band in the sense that 16 Horsepower was a band for so many years, but for the past few years I’ve had a solid group of people. On this record we tried to recreate more of what we are live. We recorded it as live as possible, with everybody there, we recorded to tape rather than computer to make it more of a live experience in every way, with everybody brining their character, the drums, the bass.
What would you like people to know about the new record?
I have no claim to it once it’s out there. I’m happy with it. Hopefully people will like it. I have no control over that. Lord knows.
What, if any, would say is the difference between 16 Horsepower and Wovenhand?
In my mind, there’s not much difference, though in my mind, it’s more mature. Not necessarily musically, though maybe sometimes, but lyrically. I still play with Pascal, the bass player, he still plays with me, but obviously there’s different personalities involved. But the way I write the songs and the reason I write the songs, the way in which I go about it, all of that is the same. Nothing is different and to me, it’s just a continuation of the music rather than stopping and starting something new. When I started Wovenhand, any of those songs could have been 16 Horsepower songs. I just changed the name because I was doing it by myself and I didn’t want to say that it was 16 Horsepower without these other people. Other people notice more of a difference than I do. For me, it’s just a continuation of where we would have gone if we were still playing with 16 Horsepower, that’s just where I was headed.
Do you have a typical songwriting process?
It’s pretty haphazard as far as lyrics go. I just write down things that come to me whenever they come to me and that could as slow as a sentence a month or it could come really fast. It just depends on what’s happening with me. Musically, it’s not easy, but it does come more quickly. If I sit down and decide to write something new, that’s what happens. I may only get one phrase, but that comes fairly easily, but the lyrics take a while and I have to build them up.
I do the music first. For the most part, I structure it and everything and try to put the lyrics on it. They’re two different beats to me. I really concentrate on the music, and making it what it is before I even put the lyrics on. One doesn’t dictate the other necessarily. The lyrics can kind of offset the music and even not go with the mood of the music and I like that. The songs are really quite abstract. They end up coming out abstract and from one sentence to another, even in one song, could be about something completely different, almost a stream of consciousness type of thing and I don’t worry about it too much. I just write it down and put the words together like a puzzle with the music. Later on, they become something. They become their own story. It’s not always this way, sometimes I have a bit more of an idea, but usually that’s the way it goes. I only get things in maybe one sentence or one word at a time. I don’t try to expand on it, saying “OK, here’s a word, now I have to write a story around it” or anything like that. I don’t worry about that, I just wait for the next one to come and then I put them together if I feel like they fit.
What drove your decision to sign with Sounds Familyre?
Just a need for some sort of kinship with the people that I work with. I’ve worked with a lot of record companies, major labels and minor labels and basically, they’re all the same. One’s just bigger and has more money than the other. The attitudes and the business side of things ends up being the same. I was really looking for someone who I knew was looking out for my best interests and someone I knew was dependable. Not always, of course, but more dependable than I was used to, I guess. I wanted somebody I could trust with what I do, to take care of what I do. Daniel and I just have such a great friendship first and foremost, even before the business, it just made sense for us to work together.
Who are some artists who have influenced you over the years?
There’s a lot. At different times I’ve been influenced by different things. I like a lot of heavy music: bands like Motorhead and AC/DC, just the sound of that music when I was growing up, that has been a huge influence on what I do today. And then bands like Joy Division, The Birthday Party, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. A lot of music that had more of a serious tone to it. I was a big Leonard Cohen fan. Bob Dylan, of course. You have to be a Bob Dylan fan.
Do you read much?
What, if any authors have been an influence on you?
I read a lot of Doestoyesky, probably more of him than anybody else. Cormac McCarthy is my favorite modern author. I’ve read everything he’s written. Of course, growing up in the church, you read C.S. Lewis and Tolkein. I read a lot of theology and different preachers that I hear that I think have an interesting message.I’ve read Spurgeon and Edwards and the old-timers and gotten good stuff out of that. More modern-day, R.C. Sproul I like. I don’t read a lot of pop culture type of books. I guess I read a lot of Russian stuff like Pushkin. For some reason I’ve always been attracted to Russian authors. I like weighty, heavy stuff. I like Kafka, things that are a bit abstract and you don’t know where it’s coming from.
What did you think of the Coen Brothers’ adaptation of No Country for Old Men?
I thought it was pretty close to the book, which I thought was good. I saw All The Pretty Horses and wasn’t really fond of that. I thought they did a really good job of sticking with the book. It gave me the feeling the book gave me. It’s a terrifying situation with a sense of desolation. More than anything, that’s what he can really bring across. Desolation in all its forms, be it landscape, be it people or situations. I find him to be amazing, the depths that he can take you to and his understanding of human nature.
Are those themes that resonate with you?
I think so. A lot of the A lot of the things I sing about people say are dark, but I’m just singing about myself most of the time and I can tell you right now, a lot of the time, it’s dark! My selfishness is dark.
That’s interesting, because you’re not going to fully understand grace without also understanding sin.
You’re absolutely right. You’re not going to go to the Dr. unless you know you’re sick. That’s my job, I feel, is to really let people know that they’re ill. I really feel that that is my calling. Other people have something else, but that’s it for me and I do it from a personal standpoint first. All the songs are directed straight at me but at the same time, they’re for mankind in general because I know I’m just like everybody else.