So what led you to making secular music?
That was a big fight, actually, within myself when I was 18 because I felt like I should. I was raised in the church so automatically I’m supposed to be in a Christian band or a praise band and I kept thinking “well these are the songs I should be writing but how come I can’t write those kinds of songs?” I would talk to people because I just felt like those were the rules and that’s what you were supposed to do, until I realized that that’s a calling. As if you were a pastor or a missionary or whatever, there are callings in life and I think that to write religious music and Christian music, to write what’s considered Christian music I think that’s a special kind of calling. I don’t think you can just say “hey I believe in Jesus I’m gonna go write Christian songs.” It just doesn’t work like that. I think that for me it was more about, I just gotta go do my thing and I’m going to write about what I know about and I’m not going to use any cuss words and if anybody asks me what I believe then I’m going to tell them. And that’s it. It’s kinda worked out pretty good.
Have you found that your audience responds to that?
Yeah, I think so, I think that it’s something that people notice. Parents bring their kids to our shows because they know I’m not going to drop a bunch of curse words during the show. But there are kids who are Christians and they come up to me at the end of the shows and be like “are you a Christian?” and I’m like “you know, I’m not talking about a Spanish guy when I thank Jesus in the record” (laughs), “you know, it’s real to me” and they talk to me. You know the other kids, I don’t really push it on anybody so they don’t care. They don’t mind because I’m not shoving something down their throat that they don’t want to hear.
How does it influence your writing? There isn’t anything overt on The Horrible Crowes record, but there are a lot of religious undertones, do you think there was more on this record because it wasn’t Gaslight?
Yeah, you know with Gaslight I’m not trying to put my agenda across because the other guys don’t share the same beliefs I do. If you’re gonna start talking about things that are of a certain faith you need to have all of the people involved in that being of a certain faith, and if I felt called to do something like that I would have to leave my situation. A house divided can’t stand.
On this album there is an interesting mix of the religious elements and really dark imagery. Where did that come from for you?
Well, that kind of started at my teenage years, what I wrote about was what I saw. I wasn’t trying to make it overtly dark but I think that those years for kids are tough, they’re not really bright years. I grew up my whole life in the church and I never heard somebody talk about “hey man, you know, what do you do when you want to hang yourself?” so I was like, well I’m going to deal with that. What do you do when you know you’re not supposed to do drugs but you feel like it because you can’t stand the sight of waking up another day, what are you going to do? And that happens sometimes and sometimes it’s for silly things like you break with a girl or whatever, kids are picking on you at school. But in your mind when you’re young like that all these tiny problems are blown into astronomical proportions because your emotions are new to you and you have no experience in life of how to deal with this stuff so I think it’s something that hits you very hard. So when I wrote this record I wanted to let people know that “hey man other people feel like that too and feeling like that isn’t wrong. You gotta sort through it.”
What would you say the overall message of this project is?
Well, the Horrible Crowes kind of came from a broken relationship. It started out with the song “Last Rites” where a guy gets left by one situation and feels like there’s nothing else for him, talking about getting his last rites sung to him, which, is a little bit melodramatic in the real world (laughs). It ends with a song called “I Believe Jesus Brought Us Together” which is pretty amazing because for such a dark record it kind of turns out pretty positive. Funny enough, that song was written in Japan the night of that huge earthquake, which we were all in. So, that’s a little strange thing, but that’s kind of the beauty of that, you don’t know what’s gonna come out when, it just comes out.
For you, what are the biggest musical differences between it and The Gaslight Anthem?
With The Horrible Crowes record, that started basically from the drums up. That was a big difference between Gaslight where it’s usually an acoustic guitar structuring out the song. With The Horrible Crowes guitars almost didn’t have anything to do with the writing. We would just start with these drum loops, and then we would start working on pianos and organs, then sometimes hand claps and whatever inspired us to make something. We would build the songs up like that from the ground up. It was in reverse.