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15 Things You Probably Didn't Know About: Derek Webb

  • Michael Nolan CCM Magazine
  • Published Sep 28, 2004
15 Things You Probably Didn't Know About:  Derek Webb

More than two years after his departure from Caedmon’s Call, INO Records’ Derek Webb is charting an unconventional course as an artist. For his first solo album, "She Must and Shall Go Free," this student and teacher of theology sang about the life of the church. Derek’s follow-up, called "The House Show," was recorded in a living room setting that took the concept of an “unplugged” concert album into new territory as he interspersed teaching with stripped-down versions of his songs. For his next release, due this fall, he’ll focus his attention on relationships.

Derek took time while traveling in Europe to answer our questions.

15.  My Mom, the Tattoo Artist
Derek’s first tattoo, an ichthus, was etched by his mom, who was experimenting with a new hobby — applying permanent make-up. She used the skill primarily used for non-fading eyeliner to try her craft on her willing son’s ankle.

14.  Theological Body Art
Tattooed on his left arm, Derek has the five tenants, or “solas” of the Reformation. Written in Latin, they translate as follows: “Scripture alone,” “Christ alone,” “grace alone,” “faith alone” and “to God alone be the glory.” “I have a Canterbury cross on my left forearm, a Celtic eternity knot around my right arm and the Greek word for ‘grace’ on my right thumb,” he says.

13.  Dressed to a "T"
Derek never intended to make a fashion statement when he started wearing white t-shirts — he just needed something that could be packed en masse for relentless touring with Caedmon’s Call. “I haven’t thought about what I was going to wear on any given day for better than 10 years,” he confesses.

12.  One Roof, Two Songwriters
Being married to a songwriter, Derek says, “can be very inspiring. Lots of great songs are written in my house. Unfortunately, few of them are being written by me. We’re really different writers with different writing processes. So it can be frustrating to wake up and hear three new songs that she [independent artist Sandra McCracken] has written that morning that are all brilliant, and I haven’t written anything in months.”

11.  And He Quotes: 
Derek is inspired by the words of a Scottish Puritan named David Dickson, who was asked on his deathbed how it was with his soul. His response: “I have taken my good deeds and my bad deeds and thrown them together in a heap. Then I have fled from both of them to Christ, and in Him I have peace.”

10.  Hidden in the Vault
Perhaps Derek’s most unusual composition was a song recorded for Caedmon’s Call’s "Long Line of Leavers" that didn’t make the album’s final cut. Titled “Famous Last Words,” it is a song about his transition from adolescence to adulthood, becoming a full-time musician and dealing with his mistakes. The first two verses were written from the perspectives of a squirrel and a dog. He confesses, “I have no idea what I was thinking.”

9.  Recommended Reading
“For the most part, I like to read dead guys — church fathers, Puritans, reformers,” Derek observes, “But there are actually some great books coming out right now.” On his reading list:  "Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down" and "A Royal ‘Waste’ of Time" by Marva Dawn, "The Enduring Community" by Brian Habig and Les Newsom, "Risking Church" by Jim Kallam Jr., "Stop Dating the Church" by Joshua Harris, "New Way to be Human" by Charlie Peacock and "The Rock Cries Out" by Steve Stockman.

8.  Headed Home
If we gave Derek and Sandra two airline tickets to travel anywhere in the world, they’d hop onboard and fly “from wherever we are back to our house in Nashville.”

7.  Good Buy from Goodwill
“I used to faithfully mine thrift stores in Texas and have tracked down some good finds,” the bargain hunter enthuses. “I once found an amazing brown corduroy coat just before Caedmon’s was heading out for a few months of winter touring. I believe I paid $7 for it. That’s probably a dollar a year considering how long I wore that thing.”

6.  Continuing Ed
If he could pursue a new skill, it would be “the ‘art’ of loving my wife well … that’s one I wish there was a class for. Actually, I’ve been pursuing seminary this year. But, for a few reasons, it’s been difficult getting started:  my schedule and lack of an undergrad degree — well, any college at all, actually.”

5.  Now That's Intimate
Derek really enjoyed the interaction of the ‘house shows’ last year because “there’s something appropriate about the artist not having the advantage of the lights and the P.A. system over the audience. I like just sitting in someone’s living room, playing music and getting to teach. It’s made for great discussion (which is generally part of the evening) and given me the opportunity to learn and occasionally receive some good correction or encouragement from those who attend.”

4.  Surprise!
For his 30th birthday, Sandra shocked Derek by secretly arranging to have all of his immediate family come to Nashville for the weekend. “It’s not often that we all end up in the same place, so it was really special,” he reflects.

3.  Growing Up
Turning 30 has awakened an important understanding about his vocation. “I’m getting more and more secure about the fact that I want to make music for adults. That’s not an easy thing to make sense of when music is categorized the way Christian music is. You either play ‘adult contemporary’ style music or you play for youth (jr. high and high school), and there’s not really much in between. I guess I’m learning that I’m kind of neither. I’m an adult, and I write and sing songs about adult issues. But I’m also into folk and roots music, which tends to appeal more to younger audiences.”

2. Words to Aspire to
Derek embraces this quote from Thomas Merton’s book, "New Seeds of Contemplation":  “Better to be known first as a good artist than as a ‘Christian’ artist, as your good art can lend credibility to your witness while explicit art done poorly is more likely to disparage your witness.”

Derek adds, “As we struggle to remain both relevant and faithful to the world that we’re called to love and engage, we, especially as Christian artists in the church, must lose our preoccupation and concern with trying to get songs on the radio, following industry trends and huge quarterly sales and start learning how to simply make good art.”

1.  The Ubiquitous Question
So what’s next, Derek? “I have about 15 very new songs, and I hope to record 11 or 12 of them. “I’m recording final guitar/vocal performances of all the songs first (which is a bit backward, really). Once I feel like I have the honest performances that I need, I’m going to take them to a studio for a few days and start building the rest of the recording around them. I think that will allow me to stretch my legs a bit more as a producer as well.”

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