Crowder On His Rise As A Christian Songwriter And The ‘Milk & Honey’ That’s Awaiting Us Post-COVID

When Christian singer-songwriter David Crowder unveiled his new single “Good God Almighty” this past April, he delivered a blazing exhibition of faith and hope into the world. Between his expressively nimble vocal performance, the bombastic oomph of the sub-bass and the irresistible warmth of the chorus harmonies, the tune shines as bright as a star over Bethlehem. 

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For Crowder—who mononymously uses “Crowder” as his artist name—“Good God Almighty” is just another entry in a long line of powerfully uplifting songs he’s been writing since he first started pursuing Christian music. Originally planning on becoming an insurance agent, when he fell into a new church community in college and started providing music for their worship services, he serendipitously embarked on a multi-decade journey, eventually arriving where he is now. With tens of millions of streams under his belt, he’s one of the foremost Christian acts in the world. 

Now, on June 11, he’s dropping his new album Milk & Honey, which was written almost as a meditation on the global experience of COVID-19 and the promising future that he believes is awaiting us on the other side.

Hopping on a call with American Songwriter last week, Crowder discussed it all. From the early days of finding his voice to his continued exploration of his sound and platform, he offered insight into his journey, his philosophy and his music. Read the conversation below: 

American Songwriter: Your life really changed when you went to college and developed a new relationship with Christianity. What was that time like for you?

David Crowder: I grew up in a devout Christian home—my parents were super devout in their faith. I mean, if the doors of the church were open, we were there. First Baptist Church, Texarkana, Texas—Sunday mornings were very traditional. But then, Wednesday nights and Sunday nights, we would go where—in their words—the spirit was moving. What me and my brother found out is that those evenings would be a little bit more energetic, you could bring your tambourine, like Pentecostal Assemblies of God stuff. So, we got to grow up with a very broad picture of what music in the church could be, from pipe organs, choir robes, orchestral evenings and stuff to a band playing on stage while you’re running around the church with tambourine in hand, having a good time.

But by the time I got to college, my intention was not to make church music. I thought that I was on a path to get my college degree and head back home to Texarkana to work for my dad, who had an insurance agency. I thought he was the coolest dude on the planet, so I was like “This is what I want to do.” I thought it was the coolest thing ever. So, I was pretty set on what I thought my life trajectory would be, you know? 

Then, when I was in college I went through what’s probably a pretty stereotypical experience once you get out from under your folks’ roof or the town you grew up in: you start examining all the stuff that you were just breathing in, culturally. I started sorting through that space, trying to decide what of it was mine that I could hang on to and what I thought fell through. In the process of that, a guy I was going to school with was, like, a “religion-philosophy” major and he was like “Man, I’m gonna start this little mission church thing, mostly aimed at college kids—you want to help me out with it?” He asked me to help with the music because he knew I was somewhat musically inclined. I was like, “That sounds like a terrible idea… why not?” So, I was basically just the music director—I would find players, find repertoire, rehearse stuff and then try to pull off the music on Sunday morning. But I wasn’t leading, per se, I was just kind of running things from the back. The church turned out to become this place where it was a bunch of, like, refugees like myself, who were just trying to set a lot of baggage down—and maybe for some of us, that baggage was our institutional church experience. 

AS: Was that when it started to click for you that you did want to make church music?

DC: Well, music was a really big part of that community and experience and I was having a lot of trouble finding contemporary songs that fit the collegiate setting. At first, I was basically taking old hymns and old songs and reinterpreting them, putting them in different musical settings. We made them sound a little more like college radio.

That’s what led me to writing at all—it was more so out of necessity than anything. I’ve always sorta viewed myself not as an artist, but as an artisan or craftsman, trying to serve a function. Since I was a part of this community, I was just trying to help and pitch in wherever I could. Part of that was just “Hey, can we say something, collectively, that’s organically from here, from this soil? Something specific to our experience of God, alongside these ancient songs that we’re already singing?” So, that’s really how I found my way into this thing: accidentally. Before long, I was calling my dad going, “Hey, it looks like I’m going to be a while.” Now, here we are today.

AS: What was it like when people started connecting with your music? Was that an exciting moment? 

DC: It was more terrifying than anything. I was new to the whole thing, I didn’t know what I was doing. I still don’t feel like I know what I’m doing necessarily. Music is a thing that gets below the intellect quickly, you know? You feel it like a hit straight to the emotions. So, to use such a thing—that I feel is so manipulative—to indoctrinate people… like, that can really screw up people! It’s really a terrifying proposition.

Yet, there’s a reverence that comes with it. There’s an inherent humility in trying to construct a song that can shape the way we think about each other in light of our understanding of God, shaping the way we think about the divine. So, for me, it’s a very difficult task.

At the same time, it feels very “Jimmy Buffett.” You gotta, like, take people to the ocean every time all while saying it in a way that feels like “Wow, that’s the first time I’ve ever thought about a flip-flop that way.” You’re trying to reconstruct it over and over in a way that tells the same story, says the same stuff and takes you to the same place, but feels brand new—feels like you’re just seeing the ocean for the first time. It’s been a journey. I still feel like I’m learning so much about the songwriting process, even though I’ve been at it for over 20 years now.

AS: Well, hearing you talk about both your experience with the “institutional church” and the reverence you have for your craft, do you see the music you make—then or now—as having an element of activism? 

DC: Well, I think there’s a sense of subversion in church music to begin with—you’re proposing that there’s a way of existence outside of cultural norms, you know? So, I don’t think it’s possible to write a song that isn’t activism, in a sense. You’re trying to activate something that’s countercultural in everybody who’s participating in it. 

So, I’ve been very interested in that as I’ve tried to understand what it is I’m doing. Music has always been such a part of how cognitive praxis works—it’s art, it affects culture beyond “good” and “bad.” I think that’s definitely the case when you’re writing songs for the church. The whole thing is basically that there’s evil and it’s an active presence. So, we must be active in our rejection of it. 

AS: Tell us about Milk & Honey—when did you start making this record? What inspired it?

DC: It started when we were on a big tour that had a bunch of different bands on it called Winter Jam. I like having a visual when coming into a new project—I had seen this gold ring on Etsy that said “mac ‘n’ cheese” on it. I eat like a 5-year-old, so I was like “I need that ring. That’s the most amazing ring I’ve ever seen.” So, when COVID hit, I started thinking “Okay, well this is the perfect opportunity to make an album, so I need to make an album.” I was thinking about the ring idea and then the title “Milk & Honey” came to me, and I was like “That’s it, that’s the cover—the ring, but it says ‘Milk & Honey.’” I could see it, it was blinging. I could even hear the music that went with the ring. I was like “This is it, I’m ready to roll. I just need to order the ring to be made on Etsy, take a photo and we’re all set.” 

I really believed that if I could get the ring made, all the songs would come—it sounds crazy, but I had this feeling that the general theme these songs were going to speak to was going to be: we’re not going to be in this moment forever. We may feel like we’re in the wilderness right now, but I believe God’s with us—I believe he’s still present, I believe he’s still active and I think we’re going to get to sing about the beauty on the other side of this when we’re done. So, all the songs were pretty hopeful, they weren’t bleak. The “other side”—the promised land—was a big influence on my thinking, so it embodies that hope. 

The other thing I thought was hilarious was that everytime we got to a chorus or were talking about how we wanted to arrange a song, I’d be like “I feel like this is a choral number.” Some of the guys I wrote with thought it was pretty funny—they’d be like “Let me guess, you hear a choir on the chorus?” But that really came from a conscious decision—I don’t think humans are made to be in isolation. I feel like we’re made for relationships. So, using a choir was a musical way to communicate that without having to sing about it all the time. “Unity” and “harmony” are both amazing musical terms for the cultural period we just went through. 

AS: That’s so cool how the musical arrangements on Milk & Honey augment and support the themes. On the note of production, too, this record is lush with amazing, hip-hop-esque synth basslines. What can you tell us about that? 

DC: Moving to Atlanta, Georgia brought more bass to my music. Hip-hop is such a thing and there are a lot of folks in the artistic community who I’ve gotten to be good buddies with, and they’re all hip hop artists. So, obviously, your ear just starts gravitating towards the stuff that you listen to and love. So, going into it, that was an important piece of the musical construct I was aiming for. 

Talking about activism—since my lyrics are church-oriented, I’m not going to be saying a lot about things outside of us reforming ourselves. So, I try to get a lot in through the music, like how we can benefit from one another. I think the creative community, especially, has a better understanding of how to approach one another’s cultures. 

AS: Milk & Honey is out June 11—how do you feel? What’s the future look like for you?

DC: I can’t believe we’re getting this close! When you get down to these things, it feels like it takes forever to get them out the door. So, I’m happy that it’s finally here. I think folks got a good glimpse of what the record’s like from all the singles we’ve put out already. I can’t wait for people to hear the full thing—I can’t wait for a few of the songs that I know friends of mine are going to be flipping out over. So, I’m ready to get there.

Crowder’s new album Milk & Honey is out now and available everywhere. Watch the lyric video for “He Is” below:

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