Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Big Tent Revival - An Interview with Steve Wiggins

  • 1999 9 Dec
Big Tent Revival - An Interview with Steve Wiggins
By Bruce Adolph, courtesy of {{Christian Musician}}

Few bands in any genre can claim a Grammy nomination for every album they have recorded. {{Big Tent Revival}} is one such band. Driven by a desire for musical excellence and spiritual maturity, Steve Wiggins (guitar/vocals), Spence Smith (drums), Randy Williams (lead guitar), Steve Dale (bass) and David Alan (keyboards) perform well over one hundred dates per year for a single purpose: to tell the world about Jesus.

I've met front-man and songwriter Steve Wiggins twice previously when he's visited CM's Guitar Gallery event during GMA Week in Nashville. Steve has some interesting insights that you can only get by being a veteran Christian artist. I found him to be someone who's not afraid to ask why concerning certain aspects of the music industry. He's the type of guy who wants to make an effectual change in the musical status quo.

CM: So the band's been around for five years now?

SW: Well for me, it's been since 1991. I had a solo album with Sparrow. But for the band, yeah, it's been about five, six years. We were calculating recently-we're not sure if we've passed the 1,000 concert mark or not. We're going to figure out if we have, because if we haven't we want to come up with some kind of contest or something to commemorate it.

CM: Are you doing 200 dates a year?

SW: That's what we were doing. We took one year off from ticketed events and only did conventions and that sort of thing. We did a bunch of youth conventions and the Harvest Crusade and all the festivals. There were a lot of those that had been piling up, but we couldn't do them because we were always on tour. So we felt like it was a good idea, especially with there being such a glut in the market right now, to take a bit of a break. And it's been fun, doing what we're doing, because every date we've done this summer has been a fly day. You fly in, do the gig and fly home. It's great.

CM: Are you going to do a tour for the new album?

SW: We'll probably firm up a tour for the spring.

CM: As a band you decided that you'd like to have mentors. How is that going?

SW: I think at any stage of life you're in-unless you're a hundred years old or something-there's someone around that's been there before you. To not utilize the knowledge they possess is cheating yourself. I think when Jesus Freak [{{dc Talk}}] came out, Christian music took a massive turn. It went from being solo artists traveling around with DATs to being a ton of bands. The bands that came out at that time didn't have a lot of people to go to ask about the practical matters of being on the road, which includes anything from how do you travel to how do you handle being away from your family to your spiritual life. There was just no one there. There were {{Petra}}, {{Whiteheart}}, {{Degarmo & Key}}, but very few others who had been out there for any significant length of time. So we tried to utilize the information we got from anyone who came along. At the same time we learned a lot by doing the wrong thing. A lot of what happens when Big Tent tours now has come out of the mistakes we made early on.

So now we try to fill that space with other bands. We teach them that number one, they need to be spiritually fed and taking care of their families back home. And then everything else on the road works out if those things are taken care of.

CM: How do you encourage them to be spiritually fed?

SW: We have a Bible study that we do as a group. I was having this dilemma about a year ago where I was wanting to do a Bible study with the crew, and then I wanted to do one with the band as well as another with the opening band. There just weren't enough hours in the day to do all that. So we decided to do our Bible study during the concert. Instead of giving a systematic presentation of the Gospel, we open up the Bible and read it, and then talk about it with the audience.

CM: This gives everyone a chance to participate?

SW: Right. The opening band was usually on stage by the time we finish dinner, so this worked out for everyone-the bands, the crew and the crowd-to hear it. We've seen a lot of amazing results from that. There are more people at the end of the night now that tell us, "I walked in here without a clue about my life, but now I've heard about Jesus and it's turned my life around." These are the kinds of things that we've learned with experience. We're trying to pass it on to the next generation of Christian artists.

CM: How about the family issues?

SW: We've tried to solidify our schedule so that we don't work on Sundays, Mondays or Tuesdays. Three to four days a week we tour, but the other days we're home. There's a great deception going on within the industry that says what you do on a stage in front of a bunch of people is more important than what you do at home in front of two or three people. That's so inverted, so wrong. That's a deception that Satan would love for all Christian artists to get into. Your first ministry is to your family, and your second ministry is to the world. It's like when Jesus left the ninety-nine sheep to go after the one.

When there's thousands of people out there wanting to see you in concert, and there's just a couple of people at home, you can fall into the trap of saying, "Family, why can't you see what a great ministry this is?" That's when a lot of bands fall apart because people lose perspective.

We had some opposition from people working around us, who were sort of making a living off of our tours. And when we said, "We're not working these days," it made their job more challenging to be sure the days we would work were filled. But that's a part of the industry. You've got to count the cost before you get involved. I think a lot of fans who go to see a {{dc Talk}} show or a {{Jars of Clay}} show see the smoke and the lights and think, "Man, I want to do that." And maybe they're talented and can write a good song and play well, but that's only about a third of it. You have to have your heart and your home right, and keep them that way. There's so much more involved that what the average guy understands when he signs a contract. It's like getting married. People think that marriage is like dating life on steroids, but actually it's a whole other thing. You don't really know what you're signing up for when you stand at the altar and say, "I do," and slip an expensive ring on someone's finger. It's the same thing with Christian music.

CM: You've said in the past that it's important for a public figure to be vulnerable. Can you explain that?

SW: People identify more with your imperfection than with perfection. When you look at modern evangelicals, it seems as if they're trying to portray an image of perfection. People admire that, but they don't aspire to that. If you only show people your good side, I don't think you really relate to them. The one thing that everybody has in common is the fact that we all have sin in our lives. All of us. So if you're really trying to relate to people, show them that. I'm not saying you should list all your specific sins, but let people know that you struggle. Then, the degrees of victory that you've found over these areas become so much more significant. People can say, "I see him struggle and he's getting through it, so maybe I can get through it." While the guy who always looks perfect may get followers, I don't believe he finds real brothers and sisters.

CM: Can you give us some background on ==Choose Life==?

SW: Greg Laurie is the pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California. We were playing at a Harvest Crusade in Philadelphia and he came up to me and said, "I'm preaching a sermon on Deuteronomy 30:19, 20, and I heard that you used to write songs for your pastor's messages." Long before Big Tent my pastor would tell me what he was preaching on and if I didn't know a song that would go along with his message I'd write one. So Greg asked me to write one for his sermon, and I wrote "Choose Life." He liked it so much that they made it the theme song of this year's Harvest Crusades, which was very flattering. We liked it so much we made it the title cut of the new album.

About a year-and-a-half ago I stopped writing with instruments. All of the cuts on the new album were written on airplanes or in a hotel with no instrument at all. I just heard the melody in my head. I got the idea when I heard that Toby McKeehan writes without playing. His theory is that if there's a melody that you've never heard and you can't get it out of your mind, then it will be a hit.

CM: So once you had the melody in your head, where did you go from there?

SW: Well, once the melody's been developed in my head for awhile-sometimes a few days, sometimes a few weeks-then I'll pick up a guitar and work the chords out. And when it's time to record, we get into the studio and I play the songs for everyone.

CM: Do you have some kind of home studio?

SW: About a year ago I went to Circuit City and bought a hand-held Sony tape recorder for $29.99 that I use to record myself so I can listen to new songs and fix things I don't like, but that's it. My next purchase is going to be a Yamaha MD4 or MD8, because I'm putting together a Bible study for songwriters. I'd like to get a group of four talented songwriters together to study the Bible, and immediately turn around and collectively write a song as we feel inspired. I think I have to go a little more high-tech to archive those songs.

CM: What equipment are you using currently?

SW: My focus is the relationship between the guitar and the amp. I'm looking for the best combo. My amp is the Fender Hotrod Deluxe, and the guitar is a Fender Hellecaster. It's the John Jorgenson signature guitar. It's not the new one that looks like a Tele, but it looks like a Strat. It's the most awesome guitar because it has a great combination between a Strat sound and a Gibson sound. Randy has a custom Fender Strat and a custom Fender Tele. I don't think he's ever bought a guitar that he didn't take in to have customized.

CM: What change would you like to see brought about in the Christian music industry?

SW: I think the system that exists now works fine: make a record, tour, tell people about Jesus. It's when folks start worshipping the process that things go bad.