Cliff Young of CAEDMON'S CALL spoke about the band's new worship album, India's Untouchables and how a band of unpretentious folk rockers have become a US CCM institution.
Houston's popular purveyors of folk-tinged pop Caedmon's Call are today very much an American CCM institution. Formed in 1993 the band have enjoyed a series of big selling albums including 'Caedmon's Call' (1997), '40 Acres' (1999), 'Long Line Of Leavers' (2000), 'In The Company Of Angels' (2001) and 'Back Home' (2003). Those who suggested that the departure from the band in 2001 of singer/songwriter linchpin Derek Webb left a hole in the group which would be impossible to fill have been proven wrong and their last album, the world music concept project 'Share The Well', picked up huge critical plaudits. Now with the release of 'In The Company Of Angels II' the band (Andrew Osenga, vocals, guitars; Cliff Young, vocals, acoustic guitar; Danielle Young, vocals; Joshua Moore, keyboards, guitars; Todd Bragg, drums; Garett Buell, percussion; Jeff Miller, bass) return once more to worship material. Cliff Young spoke to Chris Mountford at Cross Rhythms radio about the band's recent history, kicking off with 'In The Company Of Angels II'.
Said Cliff candidly, "If you had to listen to an album that encompasses Caedmon's Call this would not be it. It definitely has a lot of us in it but this is an album that we've written for the Church. Now when I say the Church I mean the universal Church. They call it a worship album but hopefully everything that we do as believers is worship and so this is a CD that we wrote for the Church, songs that we've written for the Church and for corporate worship. So that's what to expect from this CD. There are 11 songs but only two of them are old hymns that have been re-arranged - all the rest of them are original. I think we're called first and foremost as believers to use our gifts and abilities and our passions in the church and be a part of that local body of Christ. So this album was something that came very naturally to us. It's a kind of a break in the middle of what we're doing."
Did Cliff think that there was a lot of bandwagon jumping going on in praise and worship at the moment? He responded thoughtfully, "Modern worship is one of those things you can call a movement. When a movement happens you can say, 'Oh everyone's jumping on the bandwagon, and that's a bad thing,' or you can say, 'Hey, it's good thing, there's a lot of new worship songs being written and a lot of great new worship songs being written.' Also, of course, there's a lot of bad worship songs being written but I think that that always happens. I think that if you were to look back at all the great hymns of the faith - I'm a big lover of hymns and hope that we never get away from those at all - you look back and at the time when a lot of hymns were written, quite a lot were pretty poor too."
Did Cliff find inspiration in some of those great hymns and hymnwriters? "Oh absolutely!" he responded. "I wish they would inspire us to write even better ones. More than anything I think it's the perspective of the hymns that's as inspiring as anything else. There's very little imagery in a lot of modern worship songs, there's very little art, if you will. But look at the imagery in the Bible, look at the Psalms, look at the great hymns of the faith. A friend of mine said, 'Christianity is way more an art than it is a science.' I think we need to see that being reflected in our hymns and our praise choruses today."
Cliff was asked what were his favourite songs on 'In The Company Of Angels II'? "I think that my favourite moment on the CD is my wife singing 'Be Merciful To Me'. It's not an old hymn but an original song that has that real hymn-like quality to it. I also absolutely love 'Great And Mighty', which is our first single from the CD. It is a song that was written in response to a lot of the more self-centred worship songs that have been written. I literally sat down to write that song being very deliberate in trying to write a song that was about how great and mighty God is as opposed to some of those 'God, come and bring me power, make me feel good, come down and do a great thing' type of songs. It says, 'You are great and mighty, period, because of who you are.' That's another one that I think turned out really well."
What, Cliff was asked, did he think was the secret of Caedmon's Call's success? "You know, I don't know! I really don't know. We've just tried to write songs and be very honest. We're not a showy band, we don't have big light shows and we don't wear flashy clothes. We are just who we are on stage and in writing and in the studio. We just write about whatever we are passing through at the time."
Changing the subject, Cliff was asked about Derek Webb's recent album 'How To Kill And Be Killed'. Did he agree with the political views expressed on that project? Cliff responded, "First off I should say I love the album. It seems to me that the political views on there are hinted at. So I couldn't say that I agree or don't agree completely. I think it's more a food for thought kind of album."
But in America, 'How To Kill And Be Killed' seems to have been perceived as very much an expression of left wing politics. "That's ironic," said Cliff. "When I first knew Derek he was very, very far on the right. To be honest with you, I used to love politics. But now I am so out of it completely. In the United States we get believers insisting Republicans are Christians. Now that's ridiculous. I tend to think that believers need to vote with their conscience. But believers are in one sense separate from politics as I think Jesus was. I think that if we could interview Jesus during his time, I don't think that he would be drawn into tirades against the Roman rule and how they did everything. Yet at the same time, if they voted back then, I'm not sure that Jesus would have voted! After all he was King of kings and I don't know if the King of kings needed to go into a poll and vote. So I try not to go one way or the other especially talking from the perspective of a believer. I think that people say if you had to pin Jesus down politically, one thing that could be pinned down would be some kind of a socialist. In one sense, that makes sense. But then in another he wasn't talking politically when he said those things, he was talking to the Church and to those who had ears to hear and eyes to see."
Moving on to Caedmon's Call's 'Share The Well' album, most which was recorded in India with some recording done in Ecuador and Brazil, Cliff was asked how he would explain the project to those who haven't heard it? Responded Cliff, "The theme running through the project is the plight of India's Untouchables, the Dalits. They are the greatest example, I think, of oppression and of the downtrodden and of the least of these in our world today. That's our calling, going and spending time with them in India. We're starting schools for Dalit children where they're hearing the Gospel, we're building wells, we are just spreading awareness and starting prayer groups for them. We work with two main organisations: The Dalit Freedom Network (their website is www.Dalitnetwork.org) and then also Compassion International which most people have heard about. It's a child sponsorship organisation."
'Share The Well' was very adventurous musically with all its world music sounds. Did it receive the kind of support on American radio that Cliff was hoping for? "No, not at all, sad to say. It's our favourite CD that we've ever recorded but it's one that Christian radio largely ignored. We read a lot of reviews and we didn't get one bad review of the CD. And we've talked to lots of fans who think it's their favourite CD of ours. But as far as radio went, no one knew that it existed. You can say I don't know why that is. We could probably spend two hours talking about why that is but no one knew the album was out there. It's a shame but you know what, we feel like the few people that have the CD and heard the songs . I really feel that God used it. There have been so many lives changed and so many people that have committed to the mission field and going and being involved with the Dalits due to the CD. That's what matters. I'd rather sell 10,000 CDs to 10,000 people who are going to go and make a difference than I would 500,000 to people who are going to say 'Oh that was great, it gave me chill bumps,' and then move on to something else."
Clearly Caedmon's Call have not been put off by US Christian radio's scandalous lack of airplay for 'Share The Well' as a successor to 'Share The Well' is already being planned. Enthused Cliff, "We are going to be recording in India, actually stopping through London on the way. We will record in India in October. Our passion is still for the Dalits. A lot more people in the UK know about the Dalits than they do here in the US and we're trying to raise awareness about them. The Untouchables, they call themselves; the Dalits are probably the most oppressed people on the face of the earth, numbering almost 300 million, who are treated like animals, less than animals. As believers we're called to help the oppressed and downtrodden, the hurting and the poor of this world. Almost every individual story you read or hear about Christ in the Bible is him dealing with someone that everyone else seems to hate, whether a prostitute, tax-collector, leper or centurion. That's our calling as believers. In the United States there are so many Christian books about the 10 ways to be the best Christian or the best person or how can you live a victorious Christian life or how can you gain power. That self-absorbed mentality is reflected in our music, it's reflected in the sermons that we hear. Often we're bored as believers. I think the main reason for that is because we're not living out the Great Commission and we're not ministering to the oppressed and the downtrodden. As a band we're so excited that we're able to go back to India and record once again with the Dalit musicians. We have started the Share The Well Foundation that is basically trying to get college students to go and commit to the mission field for a year or two and also to filter people in to DFN and different organisations. Share The Well Foundation is our passion, the mission field is our passion and we've committed as a band. That's what we'll be doing for the rest of our run, hopefully the rest of our lives as believers, in some way working with the oppressed of the world."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.