Mockingbird CDMockingbird CD
Derek Webb
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Known for his excellent musicianship and challenging lyrics, singer/songwriter Derek Webb takes a compelling look at God, politics, and social concerns in his fourth solo release. Includes "A New Law"; "A King & a Kingdom"; "Rich Young Ruler"; "My Enemies Are Men Like Me"; "Please, Before I Go"; the title track, and more.
     

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Christianbook.com: Your album Mockingbird covers some pretty remarkable ground in terms of subject matter. You cover topics on Christian non-violence, false allegiances and patriotism, as well as poverty and social issues.  What lead you to write the material you chose for this album?

Derek Webb: Well, I'm not really an autobiographer- I mean I am a little bit, but I'm not the kind of writer that has a lot of say over what I'm writing. And I'm not a really prolific writer so I'll write 11 or 12 songs a year and record every one of them. Typically what I'm writing is whatever I'm struggling with or whatever I'm reading or thinking about. I guess there was a point at which there was a connection made, where I started to see connections between what I believed about God, what it means to me to follow Jesus and how that informs the way I interact with culture and the impact that has on how I love people. So it's like theology becoming ethics, and that's really what it boiled down to. I realized I'd spent so many years focusing on trying to hone some sort of theological structure without any connection between that and my ethics. And this can really be a terrible thing because then the temptation is to use the knowledge that you have about God to kind of lord it over people and make yourself out to be smarter than them, or to use a bullying theology. I just hadn't made those connections, so once the connections started to happen for me it was like I had catching up to do.

The reason it went more political is because ethical issues and social issues in western culture tend to work themselves out in a more political way. It's just the nature of social issues that you tend towards a political means for change. Even if it's grassroots it's still political to some extent. So I didn't feel like it was a choice I made and I never would have thought that I would have done anything so overtly political. By the time I was done I kind of stepped back and looked at it and I was really surprised that it's is what I did. And now I don't feel like I can get that varnish off of anything that I'm writing. For this season of my life I feel like I'm looking through a kind of grid that I think is probably right in terms of just what it means to follow Jesus. And I feel like I've just missed it for a lot of years, but maybe that's just the language of calling, maybe that's just the work that I have to do, but not everyone has to do it necessarily. I think everyone is gifted and called into different types [ministry]. Even within art I think there's a lot of different people who make excellent art as a vocation and there are people who do vocational ministry as artists. They're totally different and they're both necessary and they're kind of two sides of the same coin. So I don't have any problem with people doing it a different way.


I think I've finally started to make the connections and now feel like I am kind of wasting my time if I'm not seeing the Gospel as proclaiming to people that there's a day coming when all things will be made right. And the way that I proclaim that is by trying to put my hands to it. If the Gospel is the good news of Jesus coming and restoring all things unto Himself, then that means that my whole worldview centers around believing that there is a day coming when there will be no more poverty, no more hunger, no more disease, no more war, no more tears, no more mourning. And the way I proclaim that Gospel to my culture in the West, is by putting my hands to those things. It's just what Jesus talked about in Matthew 25. It is the evidence of a changed heart that I would put clothes on people who are naked as a means to proclaim them a day coming when there will be no more nakedness, that I would put food in the mouth of a hungry person as a means to proclaim to them a day coming that there will be no more hunger. And it's like trying to teach non-violence as a way to proclaim a day coming when there will be no more war. These are the connections that I‘ve made, and that's what has compelled me to do the work I'm doing now.

 
Christianbook.com: One of my favorites on the album is A New Law. Here you sing "Don't teach me about truth and beauty, just label my music.” and "Don't teach me about moderation and liberty, I prefer a shot of grape juice." In terms of this song would you say you're more frustrated with “Christian culture” or Christians who fail to think critically? Or is that not accurate at all?

Derek Webb: Oh, I think they're one and the same.  I think Christian culture is made up of Christians who don't think critically.  I mean I think it's the hallmark of Christian culture in the West. I really do. It's just that we're so easily co-opted - the church is. It's so by politicians, by Christian leaders who are more interested in power than they are self-sacrifice.  Yeah, we're so easily lead astray. It's so easy to do. It takes the most elementary language to know how to do it.  But it's also that my own heart is the worst offender. It's not like I'm looking at this from a distance. This wouldn't resonate with me so much, and it wouldn't interest me so much, and I wouldn't devote my life to singing about it if it weren't my story. I mean this is my story, and I guarantee you I am the worst at fault. I am a total hypocrite. But if it's not our mutual neediness that brings us together as a group of people, the church, then I don't know why we're gathering or what illusion we think we're gathering under. I mean the church should look less like some sort of a self-help convention and more like an AA meeting. If we're really being honest the only thing we all have in common is the fact that we supposedly have acknowledged the fact that we're a wreck of a group of people, who need help.  So why are we so shocked when [bad] things happen within the Christian community?

 

Christianbook.com: On King & A Kingdom you write “There are two great lies that I've heard: the day you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will not surely die, and that Jesus Christ was a white, middle-class Republican, and if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him.” Could you share with us some of your upbringing and church background. More specifically, what kind church background have you emerged from that would inspire you to write so poignantly?

Derek Webb: I grew up pretty conservatively. I grew up Methodist, United Methodist in the South. And then wound up kind of Baptist for a while there, but I didn't know what any of it was about. I didn't understand any of it. It was just like…when you're young like that you're just kind of following the good looking girls around from youth group to youth group. But I definitely grew up in the South which kind of is its own brand of conservative Christianity, and with that comes a lot of other different types of conservatism. The whole thing just seems too simple. I don't know, looking back I feel like you come down the aisle at an altar call, and when you get down there they lead you through the prayer, then they hand you you're little gift bag. And in your little gift bag is all of your politics and all of your sexuality and all of your art and all of your stuff. You don't need to be thinking about it, it's all thought out for you. Here it is. But also I feel, little by little, my perception of what I do to myself, like what I feel like my job is, has as much to do with agitating as it has to do with anything else. I really see that part of my role is as an agitator. And it comes totally naturally to me. I'm constantly looking for what are the things that are going on right in front of everybody that are really important, but nobody seems to be talking about, that nobody seems to want to go near or address? And what are those things? So I'll dedicate a record to each of those things.


 

Christianbook.com: Is it kind of a "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted" kind of thing?

Derek Webb: I guess so, but I feel like I'm in a kind of weird and unique position to do that because of Caedmon's, because Caedmon's did pretty well. And I came out of that and still had a lot of people who were supporting me. So I felt just kind of at liberty to do anything at that point. She Must and Shall Go Free was a really unlikely debut record. If I had been coming out of nowhere and put that record out, my career would have been over before it had started. But because of the Caedmon's connection and because of some of those kind of people who supported me over the years I was able to pull it off. I just feel like I'm in a really unique position and I want to make sure I'm taking full advantage of it.


 

Christianbook.com: Actually you're jumping back in with Caedmon's for a bit here aren't you?

Derek Webb: We're doing a record and tour together. One record and one tour, just for old time's sake.


 
Christianbook.com: Do you feel that your departure from Caedmon's made it easier to write about this kind of material?

Derek Webb: I wouldn't have been able to do this as part of Caedmon's. Caedmon's has a certain thing that they do and a certain calling they defended to me initially when I started writing these different songs. And it was really helpful because it made it really clear that I needed to kind of go and do this myself and to do it this way. But Caedmon's was really great because it showed me the contrast. I knew when it didn't feel right anymore and I really felt that feeling of being called out of one thing and into another. It gives me a little strength too you know, because I felt like it was important. I felt like whatever I was going to do was important. It helped to kind of kick me out the door.


 

Christianbook.com: Who would you cite among your most influential musicians? Or who do you enjoy listening to? What literary writers do you enjoy reading?

Derek Webb: Dylan. The Beatles. I mean these are the staples. Eighty percent of the time when I put a record on, it's Dylan or it's the Beatles. As far as modern bands, I'd say Wilco. I think they are probably the best American rock and roll band at the moment. Gosh, there's so many good bands and so much good music but those are the staples for me.


 

Christianbook.com: Are there any writers you enjoy?

Derek Webb: Schaffer. And I'm not always reading Schaffer, but I'm always thinking about it. I mean just the way he integrated faith and culture is so tremendous. It's weird, I'm a little bit of geek . . . I really like e-commerce and I'm super interested in the digital trends on culture and on music especially. So I read a lot of, you know…like long tail and wikinomics…I'm reading books like that. Like the future of music, I mean that's more the kind of stuff that if I sit down to read for fun, I'm reading that stuff. Well, right now I'm reading the new Harry Potter. My wife and I are reading it aloud which we agreed to do like three books Potter books ago, because we were so paranoid that the other would get a little ahead of the other one. So we literally are not allowed to read it silently to ourselves. We have to read it out loud. So we're about two-thirds through. I also read a lot of graphic novels. I love the medium and I love comic book artwork and graphic novels. I'm super into that stuff. There's a lot of great writers making such good books right now. One of my best friends who lives in LA and he's a comic book writer on the side, but he's a television writer, but he's writes comics on the side so he's gotten me into all this great stuff.


 

Christianbook.com: Cool. Well, that'll do it from our end so thanks for taking the time to participate in this brief interview Derek.

Derek Webb: Thank You for the opportunity.


 

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