Caedmon's Call: In the Hands of the Potter
- Janet Chismar Senior Editor, News & Culture
- 2003 21 Mar
They sing of being laid on the spinning wheel, of being shaped into "something real" by the hands of The Potter: "Lord if I'm the clay then let your living water flow/Soften up my edges Lord/So everyone will know." After 10 years and five albums, the members of Caedmon's Call are still being molded by their Creator - personally and professionally.
Much of the shaping takes place in the recording studio, where seven individuals learn to collaborate, compromise and even argue well together. "It gets kind of difficult with so many people and so many ideas that everybody's passionate about," says percussionist Garett Buell. "So passion reigns, but that's what brings Caedmon's into its element. Good music comes out of that process."
Musically, Caedmon's Call has covered a lot of ground since its formation, from the acoustic-pop energy of 40 Acres to the quirky, experimental sounds on Long Line of Leavers. In 2001, the group came full circle with the release of the special-event worship album, In The Company of Angels - A Call To Worship, Caedmon's first self-produced project since its independent debut.
Back Home, their fifth and latest studio project, "is a really good representation of where the band is today, as well as a good representation of where we've come from musically and artistically," says drummer Todd Bragg. "One of the things that we wanted to do with this album is get back to our roots musically and creatively. We've had a long road over the last 10 years and honestly didn't expect to be doing this for so long."
According to Bragg, in the early days, "we were all kind of in the studio just throwing around ideas. That's what made our earlier independent albums what they are, and that's what we wanted to try to capture with Back Home, so we produced this album ourselves."
While self produced, Back Home is built on songs written by "extended family." For years the band utilized two primary songwriters, vocalist/guitarist Derek Webb and Aaron Tate. More recently, the band's writers pool has expanded to include Joshua Moore, Aaron Senseman and Webb's wife, independent artist Sandra McCracken. On Back Home, they also added the poetic lyricism of both singer/songwriters Andrew Peterson and Randall Goodgame.
"Walk With Me," a song written by McCracken, is one of Bragg's favorites. "It focuses on how life is about relationships. I'm learning that more and more as I grow older. Also, our relationship with the Word is an amazing thing. Sandra uses Psalm 23 to puts things into perspective. Life has ups and downs, but not only is God there with us, he's guiding us through it, whether we realize it or feel like it or even believe it sometimes. I think that that's what kind of hits me with that song."
A Circle of Friends
Maintaining a strong sense of community remains a top priority for the members of Caedmon's Call. "We're a family," says Buell. "We're a community and the family extends on to our friends that we hang out with, not just band members or people that directly work for the band. It's funny because a lot of those friends are people we've toured with in the past and that we're fans of. Now a lot of them have written for this record."
Bragg adds, "We've lived together and have toured for so long that we challenge each other and we know each other's weaknesses and strong points. We keep each other accountable, and so there is a strong bond."
Hanging out on the tour bus can lead to some great discussions, according to Buell. "There are times when we'll just go into hours worth of great, in-depth conversation. I loved - especially back when I was young and I'd just met a lot of them - I loved all that because I heard a lot of viewpoints I had never considered or never heard. I thought it was very cool and I began to respect a lot of the people in the band in that way."
Regarding Derek Webb's solo project, neither Buell nor Bragg have negative words. According to Buell, Webb is "focused on serving the church and felt the need to do that on his own. He was so passionate about it, and we totally supported him 100 percent. We all agreed that it was fine. He's doing a home tour -- he's just going to show up and play and talk, which is great. It's a cool idea."
The Larger Family
Perhaps one result of The Potter's shaping process is a new emphasis on influencing culture. There was a time when the band seemed somewhat critical of the church and Christian culture. "But now we're trying to write for the church rather than at the church," lead vocalist/guitarist Cliff Young has said.
Buell clarifies: "We never wrote against the church. Against the Christian culture - as in the subculture, the box - yes. When I was growing up and went to high school and to church and to Wednesday night Bible Study, a lot of what I was presented with at that time, it didn't really hold true after I got out of school. That led to a lot of confusion and unanswered questions, kind of like potholes."
It wasn't until Buell met the band and was affected by its members "and what they had, and some of their viewpoints, that I really opened up to a whole new perspective of the Bible."
He says they all now try to offer hope and accountability to college kids who have left home and experience similar struggles. "I think we all wrestle with the same kind of things; I think everybody does when they are growing up."
Bragg notes that while Christians are not called to condone the world, "Christian culture spends a lot of time condemning the world for being the world, and Christ never did that. Christ only condemned the religious faults of the time, and as Christians, we're called to keep our Christian brothers accountable."
According to Bragg, Christians need to learn how to think for themselves and question what is being taught from the pulpit. "Just because their pastor is teaching it, doesn't mean it's the Gospel. You've got to hold Scripture as the ultimate authority."
Many such lessons can be taught through worship, says Bragg. "When you are focusing on the qualities and characteristics of God, that's where a lot of things that need to be said can be said."
Although it's now considered trendy to do a worship album, Bragg says he doesn't think worship should be trendy. "We have some important things to address in doing a worship album and with the lyrics. A lot of people get the wrong idea about what worship is and what worship means."
Buell explains that the direction of each album ultimately is determined by The Potter himself. "Honestly, not to sound super spiritual, but it's what God decides. The records and the way the tour's going to go, we plan it, but it always takes on a life of its own and it's way out of our hands. It's spooky the way it comes together. He's in control of this and what will come, we'll follow."