Artist Interviews
Caedmon's Call - July 9th, 2001

This is from a 20 minute interview that I had with Derek Webb and Cliff Young of Caedmon's Call. A friend of mine from my church, Shannon Reed, helped me with the interview. The bold text is our questions/comments to them, and everything else is their replies.

Some unnecessary text has been removed, and some sentences have been tweaked to make them more readable.

Here's the interview:

Mickey: Caedmon's Call - The name. How did you come up with the name Caedmon's Call?

Cliff: Caedmon was a poet/songwriter/monk between the 7th and 8th century. He lived in a period of time when the Bible had only been translated into Latin, but yet everyone started to speak the old English and new English. Only the very wealthy and well-educated people could actually read the Bible for themselves. The common people had the Bible read to them. So Caedmon would sit around and play the harp, and would write songs directly from Scripture, which were written in Latin, and sing them in Engligh, so all the common people would sit around and listen to his songs, and hear the Bible for the first time in the English language. So, the first words of the Bible ever heard in English were his songs.

Mickey: More or less, how did the band come together?

Derek: My answer is one word - and it's Cliff. No, it's not, really. (laugh).

Cliff: I'll do the first few years…

Derek: and then I'll take over.

Cliff: I started the band, my wife and I, and a guy named Aaron Tate, who still writes for us. Danielle and I were dating at the time. We basically just played in our church and played around, and we weren't very good.

Derek: This is the place where I came in. (laugh)

Cliff: And then Derek came. That's the first year.

Shannon: So it was just the three of you?

Derek: Well, actually, it was the two of them and this other girl - they all went to church together.

Cliff: Right. We actually got the whole band started to learn a Rich Mullins song Hope To Carry On, which we recorded.

Derek: Aaron and I went to high school together. When Aaron left, Cliff needed another guitar player, so he hooked up me and Cliff. And then I kinda came in at that point. It's really oversimplifying. And then Todd, who plays drums, had come it just before me. He had moved to Houston and was playing drums for the church. So he was the only drummer that Cliff could find, probably, at the moment. He was like "Hey, you play drums. Wanna play drums in our band?" and he ended up being this amazing drummer, which is so great. And from there it was like, every year or so we add a member, and there's a little story for every one of them.

Cliff: God really brought it all together, as he does bring everything together, whether we want it to or not.

Derek: It's like "Where'd you get the name for the band? God" "How did the band get together? God." (laugh)

Cliff: We played mostly colleges. Still do. Early on we played mostly colleges that had people that went to them that didn't live in the same city that the college was at. Like Duke University. The first time we played there we sold like 800 CDs. All those people lived in California, New York, all over the nation. We always encourage people to play our music and record our music. All of a sudden we got these calls from all over the world saying "come play at our place, come play at our college". We've been to like three states, but we were getting calls from like 40 of them.

Shannon: I first heard your music in college.

Derek: Where at?

Shannon: University of Georgia.

Derek: In college, music is such a huge. Finding obscure music is even better.

Shannon: Oh yeah. It's like "who can find the most obscure music?"

Derek: That's why a lot of our college fans dropped us when we signed a record deal. (laugh)

Shannon: But obviously, a lot of your music speaks to college age students, a lot of songs about being single, being on your own. One of the questions that we got was, now that you're married and getting families…do you think that's changing the focus of your music, or changing your audience?

Cliff: Yeah. I think that as singers and songwriters - as James Taylor would say "professional autobiographers" - all you do is travel around and share what's going on in your life. When Derek writes lyrics, all he does is write lyrics about what's going on in his life. As we're changing, so are the people listening to our music. We do not purposefully write for college students - they were just our peers, and they related to what we were going through. Now I think college students relate more to our music than our lyrics. Lyric-wise, we probably appeal more to the young married people.

Derek: I think also that for us, to some extent, there's a point where the calling sort of kicks in, where it didn't have to kick in before, because it was also just our instinct to play colleges. We really feel called as a band to play colleges, because that's such an important time, and there's not a lot of Christian music, if any, that's geared toward people in college. Most of it's geared toward youth, and then adults. Like it's either punk bands and rock bands, or it's geared for the 40-something crowd.

Shannon: You still feel called to colleges?

Cliff: Yeah, we love to play them. Now, maybe it's because we've been doing them for so long, we continue to go there. I think that college students look through all the hype. They're the whole reason my record label was started - it's called Watershed Records. It's literally because of what Caedmon's had done for college students. College students just look through the hype. They see through screens and smoke and lights and all of that, and they just look and they say "there's people playing music for us. What are they saying and can we get anything out of it". It's much more casual like that. We'll continue to do colleges, although it's not exclusively what we do.

Shannon: So do you think the label has changed anything?

Cliff: Yeah, the record label has changed us, because when we get done with a record, sometimes they'll go "Mmm, we don't have a good single.". Ok, we'll write a new song. Our last record was like that. It was like "We don't have a good single" Ok, we wrote another song. I don't have a problem with that. I think that if you're compromising what you believe or who you are, that's another story. But if they're like "We've gotta write a pop song." I mean, artists a lot of times think that's wrong, to consciously write a song. If it happens it does, and if it doesn't it's fine. But, I don't see it any worse than if you're a dentist and they're like "Ok, you've never filled a cavity with the air before. You need to work on that and try that." I think that Josh writing the first single from our new record is not a bad thing. It's just different. We're still the same people, but the songs on there are maybe a little more accessible to the masses. They were like "Write this song." A week later, there it was.

Mickey: Which song was that?

Derek: "What You Want". I sat down with the record label and they said "It'd be real cool if you could just sit down and be intentional about writing a modern rock song. Just to see if you can do it. Even just as a challenge as a writer. Give it a shot, and see what happens." I did, and I showed it to them, and they said "It's a good song, so let's see if we can put it on the record." And that comes back to the band philosophy of "whatever we do, is who we are." If I write two country songs and four rap songs on the next record, then believe it or not, that's gonna be Caedmon's Call's style.

Cliff: Some of our fans we like "Derek compromised - he wrote this modern rock song." What do you mean? If you're into Caedmon's Call and what Caedmon's Call is and what Caedmon's Call is about, and then Derek writes a modern rock song, you should either like it or not. Not, "we compromised", or "we sold out."

Derek: We've never established a musical identity. That's the whole identity of the band. Every record has had a lot of experimental stuff, though we've been mostly acoustic. "40 Acres" I think is what pigeon-holed us a little bit for some of our fans, because that was a focused, folky, acoustic record, more than the record before it, and more than the record after. So it's easy to come back and say "there's what your style was." To that I would say "whatever we do is what our style is. If it's us you like, then you should like what we do." The basic elements that they like are still in place - the writing is the same, coming from the same people, coming from the same viewpoints, all the players are the same. It's just us doing a different thing.

Mickey: Tell us about the new record a little bit.

Derek: It's coming out September 25th. It's what we're calling a record of church music - it's worship music. Josh Moore wrote two of the songs on the record, and the other songs on the record we're written by people we're really close to. But, we didn't write any of the other songs ourselves. We basically commissioned our community of people around us and said "here's what we're gonna do". We want to showcase the talent around us. Kemper Crabb, who is seasoned in Christian music, wrote two songs for the record. Aaron Seseman, who is the worship leader at our church in Houston, wrote three of the songs on there. He also wrote "Covenant Song", which we did on City On A Hill. He writes great worship songs. One was a Rich Mullins song. His family gave us maybe 150 random praise and worships songs that he had written over the years, but no one had ever heard. His family made maybe three copies of all of this material and gave it to us, Andrew Peterson and Mitch McVicker and basically said "do whatever you want with all of these. Just don't give them to anyone else." So we pulled a song out of those and recorded that on there. My wife, Sandra McKracken, is a singer-songwriter as well. She took three old Issac Watts hymns. Really old hymns, like 18th century. She wrote new music for these three hymns. And then "God of Wonders" is on there as well. So it's really interesting because it started off as one thing but it kinda took on this whole other thing.

Cliff: We're writing worship music, and it's like we started getting in and putting instruments on it "it's gonna be this acoustic broken-down Caedmon's CD". If we had done that on every one of those songs, we would have been selling the songs short. That's what so cool about writing worship songs - everyone wanted to put stuff in. We have 120 tracks on one song. It's like 120 different channels going into this one song. It's just great, it's worship music - you just keep going - you don't want to stop. That's what so cool about it. People say "It's Caedmon's. It should be this raw, acoustic worship." There's something to say about that, but when we got down to it, we didn't want to do that. These are incredible songs, we just wanna keep going with them. So it ended up being way more than just another CD of just songs that are more geared for the church, and for Christians to sing to God.

Derek: But they're also great pop songs. And the way they were recorded was really true to form. Originally we were going to do this really torn-down, incorporate liturgy into it. And I still think that's a cool idea - it just didn't happen.

Cliff: It took seven months to record the record.

Derek: Of course, we were doing it on weekends and stuff.

Cliff: We actually recorded at our church.

Shannon: What church do you go to?

Cliff: Second Baptist Church in Houston.

Derek: Cross Community Church in Nashville.

Shannon: I guess we're about out of time.

Cliff: We didn't know we'd have to leave so soon.

Shannon: That's alright.

Mickey: Thanks for your time.

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