Cliff Young wears many hats in Caedmon's Call: songwriter, guitarist, vocalist, bandleader. And when he puts on his thinking cap, Young has a penchant for cutting to the heart of an issue, whether it is musical, social, political, spiritual--or all of the above. In a free-spirited conversation with Lou Carlozo, Young discussed his band's place in the Christian music world, his thoughts on the religious right, and the making of the band's latest album, "Long Line of Leavers."

You're in a "Christian" band, yet the Christian music industry largely represents one stripe of Christianity, evangelical Protestantism. What makes Caedmon's Call a "Christian music" band?
I don't even know what Christian music is. To say "Christian" is a genre of music is just the dumbest thing ever. The bad thing is, Christian is a genre of music to some people. It's sad that Christians created this industry separated by ideology, where music is separated everywhere else by its artistry.

If you find Christian music annoying, why not explore mainstream music? There's a "Roaring Lambs" movement going on, and bands like Jars of Clay and Sixpence None The Richer are trying to reach non-Christians with their music and message, as opposed to "preaching to the choir."
Jars of Clay did really well with "Flood" [in 1996], but they haven't done anything in the mainstream charts for a long time. If you ask them, they would say that it's a hard world. Look at Sixpence. Are they going to have a song that really does anything after the success of "Kiss Me"? It's hard. We would love to get mainstream airplay happening, but we're not using the Christian industry to get to the mainstream.

So how do you see your role within the Christian music world?
We're musicians; that's our job and that's how we make money. We're Christians all the time. Our ministry is our lives, 24/7. We don't separate our ministry or our music from the rest of our lives. At the same time, we're directly called to do our music, to hopefully challenge the church, and people who are listening to Christian CDs and going to Christian concerts. Ninety-seven percent of them are likely Christians, and hopefully we are able to challenge them to see that God is bigger than they are and to get out of their comfort zones.

How do you get out of your comfort zone?
It's all about knowing God for who He is, and me for who I am. In Christian subculture, people spend a little too much time trying to figure out what we can do for God, or trying to gain acceptance. But there's absolutely nothing that we can do that's good enough for God, or to make the slightest bit of arc for Him to recognize it. It's all about His grace. And if it were left up to me, I'd screw up every time.

You have a well-established following that loves your acoustic-rock sound. Was it intimidating to venture beyond that on "Long Line of Leavers"?
The only person I was scared for was me. I started the band. I'm the guy who calls all the shots, and I always limited our producers in the past, saying, "No, we're a folk band, keep us inside that world." I knew a lot of our hardcore fans would be freaking out and say, "Oh no, they sold out." But we have seven band members, and all of their influences--and most of their influences--are not acoustic guitar. [Drummer] Todd [Bragg] grew up loving the Police and Sting, and [percussionist] Garett [Buell] is into all this world music. [Keyboardist] Josh [Moore], our high-school guy, he's so amazing and has absorbed all of this music from the 1920s until now. And Danielle loves Jonatha Brooke and Sarah McLachlan.

But it's one thing to site those influences, and another to get them to seep onto the canvas.
I'm probably a little too much of an overbearing control freak that I'd be able to say, "OK, go for it." But all of these people had these influences, and it just happened. It took us a month to do this record, and "Forty Acres" took us seven months. And the reason was it was way more natural for us to do. On "Forty Acres," we had everything on a script--every guitar lick, every fill. This time, we all started playing, and there it is. The fact is, this is more Caedmon's Call than anything we're ever done.

It sounds exciting.
It was fun. Once the door was open, everyone knew it was going to happen. We had two drum kits in the room, and Garett and Todd would play at the same time. It was wild. You'd look at Josh in his huge keyboard world, and these two drum kits on either side of him, and [producer] Monroe Jones in his purple-tinted sunglasses and dreadlocks jumping around. It was all going on live, and it was wild. On "The Only One," Garett started playing this groove on car exhaust pipes, and Todd started playing with him on drums to the click track. We never thought it would get on the record, but Monroe said, "OK, get in there and play over top of that, that's the song."

Any backlash from longtime fans?
Some of them are getting it. But if you go on our website and look at what they are saying, we definitely got some backlash. The first week after release, most of them already had it on Napster. Our following is very much like Phish and Grateful Dead, where [fans] just follow us around. They just get addicted to the songwriting, and all those fans who are rating our records are giving "Leavers" a D-minus. They're saying stupid stuff like, "Where's the acoustic guitars?" and "Is Derek Webb really a Christian songwriter?" [Some of those angry fans, Young noted, later apologized.]

Does "Leavers" mark a new direction for the band spiritually as well as musically?
It would not shock me if this band did some absolutely crazy things the next couple of years, even satirical things. I'm so saddened by what the world thinks of Christian culture.... If we don't like someone, we boycott companies. We spend a lot of time whining on CNN and trying to get the world back to the way the world was in the '50s. We have all of these T-shirts and fish on our cars, and in a few years it's not going to mean crap. It's time for us to make a stand that this is not who Christ called us to be."

What do you think of the way conservative Christians mix religion and politics?
I love Governor Bush. My Dad [a pastor at Houston's Second Baptist Church] knows him really well. We love our governor, and I get angry at Al Gore. But what did Clinton do that David did not do--and do times 10? David had an affair, had someone killed, and this is a man after God's own heart. But Christians loved jumping on that anti-Clinton bandwagon; we loved it. And no one ever thinks that Clinton was a Christian for one second. Last time I checked, we were supposed to separate Christians by what they think about who Jesus is--not what they think about the abortion issue or what they did with their intern. If people used that kind of standard with me, I'd be screwed. And a lot of us would be in the same boat, whether we'd admit it or not."

If that's the wrong way to act, what, in closing, is the right way?
Honestly, I think there's not a specific path that you can tell someone to go down. The main problem is getting away from the negative side, because all that stuff is so distracting. People think they're being influenced by God and the Holy Spirit, and they're being influenced by the subculture around them. If they'd get on their knees, or look at Scripture instead, they'd say, 'Woah, woah, woah, I'm way off.'"

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