American pop-folksters CAEDMON'S CALL aren't content with singing shallow evangelical slogans. Their songs grow out of real experience. Mike Rimmer caught up with the band's two main songwriters.
Caedmon's Call took their name from a seventh century saint who had no talent for singing. In fact, the real Caedmon ran away from all occasions when singing was required. Once when he ran away he heard the voice of God telling him to sing. He refused, citing his distinct lack of singing talent. Again the voice told him to sing. And when Caedmon opened his mouth to sing, he sang verses that had never been heard before. Many singers and songwriters came after Caedmon but none could match the songs he wrote because he received them through the grace of God.
That's the story of the man, and for the band? Listening to the follow-up to their hugely successful 'Caedmon's Call', it's clear the guys can certainly sing and their dedicated following among the college crowd in the USA is well-deserved. '40 Acres' highlights everything that is good about Caedmon's Call - acoustic vibes, brilliant vocal performances and achingly honest song writing. One of the band's songwriters, Cliff Young, comments, "Most of our songs are written in the first person and we are always writing about things that we are going through as people. Because we are college age and Christians, college age people are attracted to our concerts and our songs."
I suggest to Cliff Young that the new album is a little mellower than
the last one and jokingly suggest that old age might be creeping in!
"Most of the feedback that we've received up to this point has been that this record is more energetic than our last one. The new album may be more acoustic, or more organic, but I think we captured a deeper level of what we do. On the other hand," he laughs, "maybe we're mellowing out in our old age. I mean, most of us are in our mid-20s!"
Caedmon's Call describe their music as "intense acoustic folk music," yet they prefer not to be categorised. "We like to see ourselves as a band full of Christians," explains Young. "We don't really believe in a split between Christian and mainstream music. I think there are Christians and non-Christians and the music they write reflects the kind of people they are. At the same time there are some artists today who like to say that so they can say what they do isn't a ministry. Our view is that our lives are our ministry. Our hope and prayer is that the stage is just an extension of our lives."
One of the most moving songs on '40 Acres' was penned by the band's other principal songwriter, Derek Webb. He describes the story behind 'Somewhere North' by confessing, "It is about someone I was intending to marry. The primary cause of our break-up was the fact that we lived in two states very far from one another. The secondary cause, however, was the fact that we never had the time or opportunity to spend any real time together as friends. We met while I was travelling, developed strong feelings for one another while I was travelling, and pretty much broke up while I was travelling. The problems that we were having, other than the distance, were fairly normal relational problems. If we had lived down the street from each other we probably could have solved them easily. Relationships are hard enough when both people are there all the time; when one is travelling all the time, it's either impossible or completely unrealistic. So we did what we had to do, and understood why we had to do it. It wasn't us as much as our circumstances."
I wonder whether the fact that two members of the band married recently left Derek with any feelings of regret. "It hasn't been hard watching all of my friends get married this last year. I believe wholeheartedly in the total sovereignty of God, and am sure that whatever plans he has for me, he will see to their fruition." Another song on the album penned by Derek, 'Table For Two', explores more deeply his thoughts about singleness and the sovereignty of God.
When placed within the wider schemes of redemption explored on the album, Derek Webb's personal insights that seep through every line of his song writing offer hope for those who hear the songs. In terms of his own healing he says, "I believe that God has things for us all to learn through the relationships that he has us in. I have definitely seen incredible purpose in the things that he's brought me through in regard to that relationship. My ex-girlfriend and I fell in love very quickly, and moved along with our relationship rather hastily. I believe that God used our break-up to reinforce his all-sufficiency in our lives. We had to realise that all we needed was him.
Both of us had come out of poor relationships and were looking for someone to make us whole, or give us worth. While we thought we had temporarily found that in each other, God had to humble us to show us our proper roles in each other's lives. Since that time, God has strengthened both of us as individuals, and seems to be rekindling what believe he started between us years ago. You never know!
And that's the strength not only of Webb's songwriting but the whole approach of Caedmon's Call, delivering songs of hope to those who have the ears to hear and the mind to think through some of the deeper issues. It's not hard to see why students are attracted to their music. Breezy, melodic and thought provoking, the material on '40 Acres' looks to be the album that will take the band to a new level. But unlike the original Caedmon, there's no reluctance here to sing the songs as God commands!