Winter Jam 2020: A Conversation With David Crowder

Christian music’s premiere annual tour, the Winter Jam Spectacular, rolls into Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Thursday, Jan. 23 at 7 p.m.

Leading this year’s pack of some of the biggest names in Christian music is David Crowder, the genre-bending, beard-sporting singer/songwriter whose sense of melody (not to mention off-beat comedic timing) has propelled him to the top of the Christian contemporary music charts, and into the hearts of millions of listeners. He will be joined this year by artists such as Red, Building 429, Andy Mineo, Austin French and more. All for just $15.

ListenIowa spoke to Crowder about the Winter Jam tour, the importance of stepping outside the collaborative comfort zone, and The Beard.

You’re a regular Winter Jam veteran at this point.
Yeah! I believe it’s the fifth time, and it’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever gotten to do. The NewSong people who started it are just a wonderful group of folks, and they’ve done a great job of creating a sense of community and family. There’s nothing like it. There’s just a natural bond that is created with the bands and all the crew guys. It’s just so unique. I’m fortunate because my church family is coming out, and the Passion Band will be there, so, man, we’re just going to be out on the road having church together for a few months.

Any adjustments to performing on this tour as opposed to carrying your own headlining tour?
It’s very different than when it’s just your tour and you’re playing for two hours and you can get into some of those deep tracks. It can get a little indulgent. (laughs) I’ve always thought of what I do in a utilitarian sense. I’m doing what I do to help facilitate the church and using music to understand what it is to be in a relationship with our Creator. To move from displacement to belonging, that’s what I’m trying to do with song. I want to throw the net wide and capture the hearts and imaginations of everyone.

Headlining one of the nation’s largest tours isn’t such a bad thing either.
(laughs). Oh yeah, we get the easy job. Everybody’s already had a great time by the time we get up there so we’ve got it easy. (laughs) I don’t think you can do any wrong by then.

What should we be expecting at the show, then?
I think the night is going to be woven together in a way that hasn’t happened before. I think 2020 is going to be an amazing time. I’m not joking when I say that 2020 is going to be a year that’s really significant. I hope there’s a lot of people who fall in love with Jesus for the first time.

You’ve stepped out of the creative box in recent years with collaborations with hip-hop/rap artists such as the Social Club Misfits on “La Luz,” people you wouldn’t necessarily peg for sharing a mic with David Crowder.
Those guys are a treat. Being around that, they are a force. It’s all like a family in Atlanta. Everybody knows everybody, everybody is always up in each other’s stuff. Those guys and Andy Mineo, it’s a tight knit thing that doesn’t look like it works, but that’s why I want to keep putting it in front of people to show that the lines that people have drawn between us aren’t really there. We’re all in same boat and trying to get to the same place. I love getting to collaborate with people who stretch and push me, people who grow me as an artist and as a person. It makes you see the world broader, and that’s a good thing, I think.

Are there any secular artists you’d like to work with?
(laughs) I bet I’m like every other person in the church…. C’mon Kanye! (laughs) Put me on the track, bro! (laughs) His new album and what’s happening … I think it’s one of the most incredible things to ever happen in culture. You have this artist who is known worldwide, and all of a sudden there’s this album that we need to say around the world: “Jesus Is King.” I got chills when I saw the title. You’ve got to be kidding me! Now we have people around the world saying that. It’s insane. It’s like when you read a bit of scripture that says every knee bow, you’re like, “I doubt it.” Well, maybe! I thought that was like esoteric in nature, but, oh my word, that’s pretty close to being accurate. I think it’s cool people are asking questions. It’s like watching a new Christian in front of us. It’s a crazy moment on a lot of levels. But it’s beautiful.

You spent 16 years as vocalist of the David Crowder Band. What is the difference between that and what you have now?
Great question. The David Crowder Band was like the church band at the church I was at for 16 years. These guys were the ones who were on the stage Sunday after Sunday. We missed the church when we were out traveling, but 16 years of doing both, man, it was wear and tear. You can ask anybody who was on staff at the church. (laughs)

You’d bitten off a little more than you could chew.
We had a big life shift, too. My wife went back to school, and I didn’t know if I was even going to keep doing music. My wife does interior architectural design, and I thought I was going to work for her! (laughs) I wanted to be bringing her paint swatches and stuff. (laughs) Trip to Home Depot? Uh, yes. (laughs) Anyway, as we kept going along, the songs kept coming, and it just felt like there was still a need. But this time, it was like, “OK, I’ve got these songs, how can I enunciate them well?” So I just began collaborating with all these people who I’d thought were amazing for years and years. The other band, we wrote and recorded all of it, and it was very insular. Here, I’ve gotten to write with so many people, and have so many people play. The collaborative aspect of it has gotten me exposed to a lot of super talented people. The lineup has changed over the years; it’s been fluid, and I’ve loved it. It’s allowed me to grow in ways I haven’t before. It’s a totally different animal.

Your latest album, “I Know A Ghost,” came out a little over a year ago. Now that you’ve had a chance to live with it and play it live, how does it stand up?
It’s still my favorite. I hope I get to say this for as long as I’m making music, but it’s the favorite thing I’ve ever made. The reason it’s so long is that it just kept flowing. I approached it totally different than I have the other ones because I’ve been in Atlanta and been around these guys in hip-hop. I was honestly covetous. (laughs) It was almost sinful. (laughs) I was watching these guys make records and it looked so fun! They’ll have a guy who is like a beat maker or track producer, who has a Dropbox folder with 10-12 little tunes with vibes of ideas. They’ll just click through, something will hit ‘em, and the next thing you know, they’re in the vocal booth, and there’s a song. I was so, “That’s not how works. That’s too easy, man.” (laughs) So I did that, too. I hit up some track makers and told them to send me some tracks to see if I can put all of these more organic, acoustic elements of banjo and Appalachian-style instruments with it and get all of this stuff in the same place at the same time. Sure enough, I’d be clicking through tracks, and “Bam!” All of sudden a song is out there. Then I’d get a bunch of people to help me corral it into something listenable. It was a blast.

You’ve probably been mistaken for one of the guys in “Duck Dynasty” a time or two I’m guessing.
(laughs) I’ll tell you this. Willie (Robertson, of “Duck Dynasty”) came to our church in Atlanta, and we went out to eat afterward. It was a blast walking to the restaurant, and in the restaurant. Everybody would be like, “Willie, I love you!” (laughs) And I’d be like, “Hey, what about me, huh?” (laughs) Then they’d be looking at me like, “I don’t think so.” They knew. It’s a nuanced crowd. (laughs) They could spot it a mile away. They weren’t falling for that.

Winter Jam Tour Spectacular 2020
When: Wednesday, Jan. 23, 7 p.m.
Where: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines
Tickets: No tickets required, but a $15 freewill donation at the door is suggested