Derek Webb, former singer of Caedmon's Call and President of NoiseTrade music sharing website, discussed his new album, I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry & I Love You, what it's like being a 20 year veteran in music, and why the label of "Christian artist" is not always the best thing for getting the gospel heard.
His new album will be available on September 3.
Christian Post: In creating I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry & I Love You, you went back 10 years to your first album, and wrote it as a follow up of who you are now. Well, who are you now, and what are some of the major changes since then?
Derek Webb: The new album is very much connected to my first album, She Must and Shall Go Free, which came out a little more than 10 years ago and was the result of questions that I had about the church. Having spent 10 years prior in Caedmon's Call and after years in the Christian culture, I found myself with a lot of questions about my role in the church. My first record was me trying to answer those questions.
For the 10 year anniversary tour of my record, we played through every song off of She Must and Shall Go Free each night. I was grateful for the fact that I could sing every word of all 11 songs on that record and still agree with every word. I think that people over the years have heard me say a handful of things that would cause them to wonder if I did still agree with all of the words from my first record, and I do.
But a lot also changes in 10 years. This record, I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry and I Love You, is just my trying to ask those same kinds of questions and see what the different answers are. I'm different and the church is different and the culture is different and so, there was a lot to write about.
CP: Why do you feel those three statements are important to a relationship?
DW: Growing up, I always heard that "I was wrong," "I'm sorry," and "I love you" were the three things you had to learn how to say to keep any relationship going. In my 12 years of marriage, I've certainly found that to be true, as well as in my other relationships and in business. There is a moment in an argument or disagreement when someone is willing to confess, say they were wrong, ask for forgiveness and express love that softens the other person. So, when you're gridlocked in a moment where you have two people that are fighting for their side of an argument, building their case like lawyers, and there is a moment when somebody can soften and be the first to confess, it immediately changes everything. The whole room changes when that happens. Those are powerful statements to be able to make.
CP: How do you feel these words can relate to God, forgiveness, and giving and receiving love?
DW: That certainly was a focus for me writing this record. I feel like the concept of the album has a lot of different audiences. I wasn't just saying it to one group of people. Whenever we let people down, whenever we betray trust, whenever we sin, primarily we are doing that against God. So that is the first place we take our confession. From there, because of His kindness, we repent and go and make it right with the folks that we've secondarily sinned against.
CP: What makes this work stick out to you, as opposed to your last album Ctrl, and how does your musical style evolve from album to album?
DW: Every record for me over the last 10-11 years has been really different. I approach every album as though I've never made an album before. Every record takes on its own sonic identity. Ctrl was a really peculiar album for a lot of reasons and probably the album that I'll be most proud of out of my whole career. It's is a complicated piece of work. It's really abstract, really high concept and it required quite a bit of attention currency, which is understandably in short supply nowadays for people.
On this new record, I really want it to be a bridge or an olive branch. I realized 10 years in that I had maybe unintentionally pushed people away a little bit. I have always seen it as part of my job to agitate. I think I'm good at it and that there is a place for that. But I realize you can't only agitate people, you have to also resonate with people. I think it had been awhile since people had felt that resonance from me.
Although I'm never interested in restating things I've said previously, this felt like a moment to make an investment in my next 10 years. I love my job and I want to stay in my job. It felt like a moment to make an investment like that. This time around, the challenge was figuring out how to pull it all in together and make something that to me felt really fresh, like something I'd never done before.
CP: 20 years playing music professionally, is there anything you felt the same about in 1993 that you still do now regarding music? What about the other way? What has changed most for you as an artist?
DW: 20 years is a long time. I'm not even near the person I was 20 years ago, thankfully so, other than the fact that I'm the same height, unfortunately. I feel like I am more appreciative of my job now. I think I had a bit of a sense of entitlement early on because I was so young, right out of high school, when we started Caedmon's Call. We had so much immediate success and had such a great run for so many years. When you learn to expect it and feel entitled to it, it becomes dangerous and you aren't grateful for it. I'm really grateful for it.
20 years in, I've already had more than twice what most people get in a job like this and I'm so grateful for every year that I have. I think I've learned how to apply my creativity beyond just the making and writing of albums. I've learned to enjoy the business side, enjoy all the other peripheral parts of the job. An example of that would be NoiseTrade, which is a company that I founded about five years ago with some friends, giving away free music and content for data (fan information, emails and zip codes). We give away more than half a million records a month at NoiseTrade now. I wouldn't have been able to come up with that idea if it weren't for learning to apply the same creativity that I applied to making records to distributing and promoting those records.
I would encourage any independent artist to learn how to do that. Learn how to apply your creativity across the board to every part of the business. You're running a small business when you're an independent artist. 20 years in I'm really grateful that I've had mentors around me and people that have helped me learn how to do it.
Part two of this interview will be posted tomorrow. Webb discusses the term "Christian artist," and talks about being a struggling artist as well as his plans for the future.