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Derek Webb Talks Candidly About New Album, Napster and a Possible Split from the Band?

  • 2000 29 Dec
Derek Webb Talks Candidly About New Album, Napster and a Possible Split from the Band? Music Channel Editor Matt Turner interviewed Derek Webb of Caedmon's Call.

Turner: OK, Derek, you've debuted at No. 1 on three major charts, including the Internet sales charts. How much stock do you guys put into charts?

Derek from Caedmon's Call: For validation, none. Charts don't really mean anything to us, but the fact that charts reflect record sales, that's gratifying and that's great for us because that's kind of the point, we just want people to pick up the records. But as far as the accolade of getting a certain amount on a certain chart, if it helps us to do what we do and it helps us facilitate what we're doing, like on tour, then that's great. I will never complain if something happens and we're successful at it. It's definitely not something that we shoot for and are really disappointed in if it doesn't come out the way we hoped.

Turner: With this third national album, you guys are now considered "veterans." How has that changed your perspective of the industry?

Derek: You learn a little bit each time. When you put in your first record you're full of anticipation and you're wide-eyed and just really don't know what might happen, don't really know what to expect, and people tell you a lot of things. By your third or fourth record you're still excited, but it's more about just trying to make a good piece of work and getting it out and it's not really as much about, "this is going to make us famous," or "this is going to make us rich," or this is going to make us anything. Regardless of the potential, we feel good about putting some art together, and we're going to package it and get it out where people can get their hands on it.

Turner: Everyone is talking about how much this album is different from the last two. Do you think it is different or just maturity?

Derek: I see each record as really different than the one before. I saw the self-titled record as really different than our independent stuff, I saw 40 Acres as really different than either one of those, and I think the new record is really different than any of those. I think it's good to do that. The thing that I like the most about the bands that I listen to, one of the things, is the fact that they evolve a lot record to record and they grow a lot record to record and it challenges me to listen to all kinds of different music. Like when Indigo Girls put out a new record and they write a certain kind of song, it makes me listen to types of music that I would not have tried. And it's good for me, because then maybe I'll see from that influence and maybe pick some of those records up. In my opinion, if people are a little bit challenged by it, that's a good thing. The records I love more than any others are the ones that when I first buy, I can't stand, and it takes me a month just to live with them, then when I figure out what was in the mind of the artist, then it makes sense to me and I end up loving it.

Turner: There's a definite jazz feel to a couple of the songs on your new album. Is somebody in your band into jazz, or is it just something that you guys have picked up recently?

Derek: No, it's just kind of happened. It's one of those things. We were working on the record and we try to look at each song and say, what does this call for? What is this song apart from what we would make it? If the song was a little more a '50s jazz kind of thing, and that's just the way it was written, and the content of it, if that's what it called for, then let's go ahead and be true to that. And if a song is more of a modern rock kind of song, then let's go ahead and do that and be more true to the song than to our ideas of who we are and what our style is. If we write a song that is completely outside of that box, then we wanted to be bold enough to go ahead and capture it in such a way that really made sense with the content and the style of the song.

I think that deep down, people who bought the new record and didn't like it perhaps would rather us have made another 40 Acres for them. If I sat down with them, I could convince them, with their own words probably, that they would rather us make the record that we did. Because I guarantee that what people want more than anything else is our honesty. Rather than us write songs that were all different kinds of styles and contrive it in such a way to kind of cram each song into a little folk-rock box, to cram every one of them into that style. Initially, they may like it better, but that's not really what they want from us. I think they want us to be honest with them about where we're moving and what we're listening to and what this record captures for us, what this time period means. Really, I'm happy with it and I still stand by it. We're really happy with the record.

Turner: The only complaint that I've heard from people who love the new album is that they feel that it is a little more overproduced than the last albums.

Derek: 40 Acres is definitely the most produced record we've ever done. I think that the deception is that people call what they mean by the wrong terms. When somebody hears electric guitars and hears background vocals they think "production," when really it's the arrangement. 40 Acres, most of the songs at that time we were trying to make it intentionally folk-rock, and I think when they heard 40 Acres, they thought, "this is not really produced, it's really broken down." The thing is you can have a really broken-down record and that's more produced than the biggest modern rock record of all time, it's just the arrangement that's different.

For 40 Acres we spent two and a half months in pre-production and five months in tracking to make that record. Everything about it is calculated and pro-tooled, and the new record, we did the whole thing in three weeks. And there's very little production. The performances are very raw. We tracked everything in three weeks. Almost all of what you're hearing is almost all one take live, with all of us playing together. We didn't do much on 40 Acres like that. We tried to, but because of the production style, the guy we had working with us on that, he had us rehearsing the songs till we had pretty much rehearsed all the life out of them over a period of six or seven months. This record, we went in, didn't even know the songs, didn't even have arrangements for them, and learned them and recorded them for the record the same day. We came out of this record, saying, "there's no production on this record." The arrangements are a little different, which may take people some time to get used to, there's more guitar, there's more ... whatever. From a production standpoint this record's pretty raw.

Turner: How is it working with Monroe Jones?

Derek: We love him, and it was a blast.

Turner: Has Ed Cash ever worked with you guys before?

Derek: We've never worked with Ed on a record before, but we've been around a ton when he worked on other records. We were around a lot of that and some of us played on some of those records, so we knew he was a great guy. We wanted to get Monroe to come in and produce that half of the record and take that under his wing. And the rest of the record we wanted to get with Ed and Ben Wisch, who is our engineer, who is a great producer, and get with those guys and co-produce with them. We wanted to get with guys who we trusted, who we knew would know what direction to go and how to do that with us.

Turner: Whom are you listening to right now? Who are your influences?

Derek: It kind of changes, but right now I'm listening to Indigo Girls, Paul Simon, U2. Those are huge, and those don't change. Some that I've more recently been into are, believe it or not, Johnny Cash. I love Johnny Cash, he's an incredible storyteller, he's a great writer. Emmy Lou Harris! I've been listening to a ton of. Tom Wades, 'cause guys like Tom Wades and people like Radio Head and guys like that, I just love how completely unconventional those kind of folks are. That's something I really strive for. Sometimes I think I'm too hard on our band, when I start seeing us walk the line of pop music a little bit, I just want to rebel a little bit. I start wanting to change songs in the middle of a live show, I really want to start doing crazy things just because I don't want to get that predictable.

Turner: You wrote seven songs on this new album. One thing that is obvious is that you have fallen in love -- want to talk about that? When are you getting married?

Derek: I'm getting married in January, which cannot come soon enough. I wish it was Christmas right now. We met while we were working on the new record. She is a brilliant singer, songwriter. There's definitely a couple songs on there about this, which were the last two songs written for the record and squeezed on at the last minute.

Turner: With so much talent in one band, is there any chance of ever seeing Caedmon's Call split up into two or three different bands?

Derek: I don't know. We've just talked about it a little bit, and I think that we would be smart to cultivate some of that and let some people do some things and keep the creative effort of what we do fresh, and not burn ourselves out trying to be a conventional touring band because that's never what we've been. I think there's a possibility of seeing some things like that in the future. The thing to remember in the future is that if any of us do things like that, and if we ever began to do things separately, it would be only because we know that that is what is going to strengthen us as a band and that's what's going to get us through another 10 years, if that's what it comes down to. Because if we don't do things like that and this is our only creative outlet then a band like us just isn't going to last. We're not going to be able to go for that kind of time if we're putting that kind of pressure on ourselves. That's what Indigo Girls say is one of their major things that's kept them going for this long and kept it fresh. They both do other things, and they both have really, really different interests, and that's what keeps the whole thing going.

Turner: What's your view on Napster?

Derek: I think that Napster is a lot like sororities, fraternities and handguns. I think that it's the kind of thing that, handled properly and governed well, can be a good thing, it can be used for great purposes. But I think in the wrong hands and handled improperly, (it) can be absolutely deadly. I think that Napster is great technology, I think the idea is great, I think it has great potential, but I think that the fact that it was just thrown out there to the general public without any governing on how it can be used, I think it's really dangerous, and I think we've proved that to ourselves. I think working with record labels, working with songwriters, working with independent artists, I think Napster in the future is going to be a great thing once it's governed a little bit. Something like Napster, that technology, is great for independent artists and can be great for the signed artist, but I just think that we need to set up some rules under which it can operate that it can end up being fair for everybody. What people don't realize when they take songs off of Napster and they don't pay the writers, writers who are in bands who aren't getting paid for anything but their writing, pretty soon, because their not getting paid, the bands are going to stop making music and eventually Napster is going to shut down because there's not going to be any bands left, because everybody is going to be starving. Because this is what we do for a living, its our job, how we get paid. I do think that there is a way to balance it, to govern it in such a way that it's going to be good for everybody.

Turner: Do your have any comments on the coming election?

Derek: I would just encourage people to not vote on single issues. Look at the entire platform, you don't necessarily have to listen to your parents and vote their political persuasion, you can branch out on your own. I think that there's enough going on in this election that people are going to identify more to one or another candidate, and I think that you have to follow your convictions in that way. I'm not going to tell anybody who to vote for.

Turner: On every one of your albums there's something mentioned about breakfast. Who in your band is really into breakfast?

Derek: I'm the one who writes those songs, but I'm not necessarily a big breakfast person. I think that probably says more about the fact that my friends drag me out to do things I don't necessarily want to do. I'm not a big coffee drinker, and I don't eat pancakes a lot, so that just goes to show that if my friends want something, my friends generally get it. I don't really have a fetish about breakfast or anything. That's interesting, I never really thought about it. I guess that's true though.

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