"We are used to playing at clubs in New York where people are drinking and smoking and doing their thing. We have never made an apology for who we are. We have never changed who we are. That is not even a question. We just go out and play our songs--if you like us great."
--Burlap to Cashmere's Scott Barksdale



by Chris Laurent for the Music Channel at crosswalk.com

Inside a bustling Nashville music venue, hundreds of fans wait with eager anticipation for {{Burlap to Cashmere}} to take the stage. One of the hottest new bands out of Brooklyn, New York to cross the paths of Nashville music insiders, Burlap has piqued the interest of many who are looking to get in on their unique brand of musical action. For now, the fans must wait, we've got an interview to take care of.

Behind the venue sits a busy coffee shop, where I'm told to meet the guys. I wrap my cold hands around a warm cappuccino mug to fight off the chill of the autumn wind on the outdoor patio.

Inside the coffee shop, seven young guys with heavy east coast accents, talk with nervous excitement. A small crowd has gathered around to be entertained with wild stories of hanging out with Bruce Springsteen in Red Banks and the boys' dreams of someday meeting Billy Joel.

Two guys finally emerge and take their place across from me out in the Nashville chill, away from the heat and energy of the indoor conference. I'm interviewing new A&M/ Squint recording artists Burlap to Cashmere, the first band that I know of, to ever do a reverse cross-over by going from the secular mainstream to the Christian marketplace. "We didn't even know that there was such a thing as a Christian music scene, 'til all this happened." Scott Barksdale the band's percussionist informs me.

These virtual unknowns ambushed the Nashville music scene on April 20, 1998 during Gospel Music week. The first of their shocking two song performance at the Ryman Auditorium held the room dumb-struck. "Who are these guys?" "Are they signed to a label?" "What kind of Music is this?" But by the time Burlap started their second song "Basic Instructions," every industry person, music buyer, and critic was out of their seats and dancing to the rhythmic sounds. And when it was all over the crowd was thirsting for more. Instantly, Burlap to Cashmere was the talk of Music City.

The band's rich combination of Greek musical ancestry, combined with a shared passion for melodic songwriting and modern progressive arrangements has introduced something new to Christian music. Radio friendly rhythmic pop with the passion of Les Miserables. Their well-crafted songs, combined with edgy, poetic lyrics, tell thought-provoking stories of love, loss and life's spiritual quest..

The band started as a college project of lead singer and primary song writer Steven Delopoulos. "I wrote some lyrics and I wanted to put music to them," he explained. "I envisioned like a Broadway thing. I wanted to have dancers and opera singers. So we hired some ballet dancers and some opera singers and we called the whole lot Burlap to Cashmere. Sure, It was nothing' like this... it was very different. After that me and my cousin were playing guitars in coffee shops and stuff and then it just sort of happened."

Throughout the next four years their music began to metamorphosize, changing from a Simon and Garfunkel-like acoustic, harmony-driven duo to a seven member tidal wave of sound. "We just kept adding guys. Some guys we went to elementary school with, and another guy we found in the paper," Steve shares. "Each artist added something new to the music. All we know is that it was all totally God, and it's got nothing to do with us. God has set the whole thing up and it's kind of like one big party. We don't know what the heck is going on!"

Crosswalk Music: So you just kept the name Burlap to Cashmere?

Steve: The name doesn't mean anything, you can imply whatever you want. I picked it because it just sounded cool to me.

But what the guys came to discover was that the name was a prophetic metaphor for what was about to happen. The band of young Christians from broken homes and tough pasts--like the rough, coarse fabric of burlap--was going to develop into something beautiful. Throughout the next four years the guys became a close family, a musical success, and a band of Christians with an opportunity to take Jesus into the world. "We all became like brothers. We're all so different but like a family," says Scott. "We all come from different places, I started out evangelical Christian, but now I'm Greek Orthodox (Christian). We've got a guy who's a Messianic Jew, a couple of Catholics and some evangelicals. But we are all Christians, and we know that God brought us together for a purpose."

CM: Since New York is such a competitive place for music, was it tough getting started?

Steve: It's still tough, but we all find ways to make it. Scott's (percussionist) dad is like a billionaire, so he's doing fine. I still live at home. On the road it's cool, seven guys in a bus. It's the traveling circus...but yeah, it's been tough. It's still tough. I'm only 23 years old.

CM: Being on both A&M and Squint, you will be playing in the secular clubs as well as Christian venues. You have such an awesome opportunity to take the gospel to a lot of people who may never darken the door of a church.

Scott: Secular clubs? That is where we are from. We started in Greenwich Village, and in four years we never played a Christian show until we played the Ryman last April. That was truly our first Christian show. That is where we are from. We are used to playing at clubs in New York where people are drinking and smoking and doing their thing. We have never made an apology for who we are. We have never changed who we are. That is not even a question. We just go out and play our songs--if you like us great. It would be different if we were going from the Christian world to the mainstream, but we are going from the mainstream to the Christian market, and now we are going back again.

The band began to play their moody blend of ethnic folk pop on the New York club circuit. The powerful rhythms, the energetic harmonies and wild fits of strumming electrified the crowds and a loyal fan base quickly grew. The grass roots buzz caught the ear of many major record labels, and the offers came flooding in. The Wanted posters were printed and A&R executives scouted the band like gun slingers hunting their bounty. But all the offers came with strings attached.

CM: Were you ever asked to compromise what you believe as artists or Christians.

Scott: Yes, they wanted us to change our lyrics or leave songs out of the set.

Steve: They said that we were too faith evident, and we needed to be tamed down. We refused change and agreed to do whatever we had to do to keep the integrity.

CM: Even if it meant losing a record deal?

Scott: We had to be real. We wanted them to take us for who we were.

Because the band refused to change, one by one the labels began to retract their offers. And when the smoke cleared, only A&M/ Squint remained, and the deal was made. However, the battle to keep the integrity of the music and the purity of the expression was still far from over.

Steve: We were all real excited but when we went into the studio to record our five song release, ==The Bitter End==, even the producer said that our lyrics were "too Christian to be marketable."

But once again the guys stuck to their guns and refused to compromise. They recorded songs crafted directly from scripture, incorporating Biblical principals for the purpose of bringing people closer to Jesus.

Scott: The music is an expression of who we are. It is our real life not manipulated to fit some market.

Steve: Tears still come to my eyes when I sing "Treasures in Heaven" and "Anybody Out There." I'm not going to change them.

There is a musical chemistry to their songwriting. It's a chemistry that moves through each of the guys on stage and pours out onto the audience, leaving each of us with a sense of having lived a little deeper, a little more passionately. Not to mention the fact that the honest integration of their faith into their superbly crafted music delivers a punch that's bound to make an eternal difference. And yes, Steve did cry that night.