Meet & Greet: Casting Crowns
- Debra Akins Contributing Writer
- 2004 6 Jun
Daytona Beach, Fla., may be best known as the country’s most popular spring break destination or perhaps as the home of NASCAR’s biggest race, The Daytona 500, but the beachside city was also the birthplace of one of Christian music’s brand new worship bands, Casting Crowns.
A veteran youth pastor for 12 years and a singer/songwriter at heart, Casting Crowns frontman Mark Hall was leading a youth group in Daytona Beach when he first began to team up with his future bandmates one by one. Starting out as a student worship band, Mark was joined by friends Juan Devevo (guitar, vocals), Melodee Devevo (violin, vocals), Hector Cervantes (guitar, vocals), Andy Williams (drums), Chris Huffman (bass), and Megan Garrett (keyboards, accordion, vocals).
“I’ve been a youth pastor for about 12 years, and every church I’ve been in, music’s always been a part of it,” Hall says. “We’d usually start up a band made up of students so we could lead worship in our Wednesday night programs, and as the student ministry started to grow, the band would go off and play and do things in the area.”
But Hall never thought he’d be leading a band into the wilds of the music business. “Traveling around and playing was not something I thought I wanted to do,” he shares. “I thought maybe I could write for other bands.”
But Hall and his fellow band members eventually transplanted to Atlanta, Ga., where they now make their home, and the rest is history. They recorded two well-received independent records, distributed mainly in the Atlanta area, all the while maintaining their work with the youth group in their new church. But through a chain of bizarre events, a college student back in Daytona Beach had a copy of the band’s indie CD and discovers his basketball coach used to play basketball with a guy named Mark Miller, who became the lead singer for country band Sawyer Brown. The CD makes it into Miller’s hands and he likes the group so much that he takes it to his good friends Steven Curtis Chapman and Provident Label Group President Terry Hemmings.
“[Casting Crown’s] songs were really different to me,” Miller says. “They came from a different viewpoint than what you would normally hear within Christian music. They lyrics would immediately make you think, ‘This guy’s a hard hitter.’ He makes no bones about it; he’s not hiding from anything. For me, in Christian music, that’s a rarity.”
Miller’s excitement about Casting Crowns eventually led to a new business venture with friends Chapman and Hemmings. A partnership was formed and Miller’s own record label imprint, Beach Street Records, was created, with Casting Crowns signed as the flagship artist. When Miller first called Hall to tell him the news, the response was not what he expected.
“Rather than saying ‘When do we leave?’ or “How much money am I going to get?’ it was “Am I still going to be able to be a youth minister,’” says Miller. “I told him, ‘Sure, Mark, but your congregation may be a whole lot larger than you would have ever imagined.’”
So with Miller and Chapman serving as co-producers, Casting Crowns went into the studio and recorded their self-titled debut, which has now sold more than 500,000 copies and has been certified gold by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) in just eight months. The success came in large part due to the band’s popular radio single, “If We Are the Body,” a song that challenges Christians in the church to step outside the exclusive circles we are involved in and see the needs of others.
“It addresses a problem I’ve seen in churches all over,” Hall explains, “that churches are a lot like a circle. Circles are great if you’re inside the circle, but most people find themselves outside that circle for whatever reason. There’s not a sign on the door, and no one’s really saying it to you, but you get the feeling that they’ve got everybody they need. You’re welcome to come, but you’re not really ever going to be part of the circle, and that’s certainly not what the Bible teaches.”
So even though Hall and his Casting Crowns bandmates are currently in a whirlwind of activity the likes of which they probably couldn’t have dreamed, they’re not about to take their eyes off the fundamental message they wish to share.
“I want to shake people up and help them see that Jesus is not a religion, and God is not a book,” Hall says. “You can’t pray to a book and you can’t draw strength from an idea or standard. If there’s no relationship with Jesus as a person to you, you’re in trouble.”