article by jennifer kelly|
· · · · · · ·
David Eugene Edwards, frontman of 16 Horsepower and Woven Hand, faces a conundrum. His work is grounded in the fire and brimstone Christianity of America's heartland, referring in a very natural way to spiritual struggle, prayer and thankfulness. Sparsely orchestrated and traditionally arranged, his songs are almost unbearably intense, their dynamic shifts and mood swings mirroring the drama of tumultuous inner striving. If you have any history at all with evangelical Christianity, you cannot help but feel that Woven Hand fits almost perfectly with that stern and demanding world view. However, this music is also undeniably a part of another tradition -- rock and folk and punk music -- that people comfortable with Edwards's message often reject as evil. So, while it might seem that his natural audience is fellow Christians, Edwards's following has largely developed in the relatively godless environs of America's east and west coasts, Chicago and Europe.
Edwards himself seems comfortable with the contradiction, asserting that his music, like all music, comes from God, and that he'll play wherever people are willing to gather to listen to him. Though his lyrics are often riven with questioning and doubt, he seems, in person, to be exceptionally calm and sure of himself, his art and his beliefs.
I recently spoke to Edwards about his new Woven Hand album, his collaboration with the Belgian dance company Blush, 16 Horsepower's temporary hiatus and the way that religion shapes his dark, beautiful songs.
Splendid: So, the title to your album, Consider the Birds, that's a reference to the Sermon on the Mount, isn't it?
David Eugene Edwards: Yes, it is.
Splendid: Let's talk about that idea and why it has personal relevance to you.
David Eugene Edwards: Well, there's a few different reasons why I called it that. One, I tend to be, in my own stuff, an anxious person, so this is kind of a reminder to myself. And then also, within each song, I think the majority of songs, there's something to do with a bird. That was just kind of a theme. Peacocks are a big theme for me. I've used that for some time...
AUDIO: Sparrow Falls
Splendid: Peacocks meaning pride and showiness?
David Eugene Edwards: Well, they have a multitude of meanings. It's that, of course -- proud as a peacock. But just in general, besides that thing they have put on them, it's partly just about what a cool bird they are. And when they talk, it sounds like they're saying my wife's name.
Splendid: Really, what's your wife's name?
David Eugene Edwards: Leah.
Splendid: Huh...that's cool. And then the first song is called "Sparrow Falls", which is another Biblical reference, I think, and the song seems to be about human fallibility, the struggle to do what you think you should do?
David Eugene Edwards: Yeah... You could almost say that about every song I've ever written. That's one piece of it, yeah.
Splendid: How does making music relate to what you see as your duty, what you call your "bleary-eyed duty"? Is that part of your role here or is it a distraction?
David Eugene Edwards: I'm not sure I understand the question.
Splendid: You seem to be singing about how human beings try to be good and can't, and I'm wondering how music fits into that whole scenario. Is music something you should be working harder at, or is it a distraction from the real stuff that you need to do?
David Eugene Edwards: Music? Oh, I think it's just part of it. It's something that God has created for us to enjoy, for one, as an art, just like all the other arts that He has created, and also to relate to Him with, and relate to each other. I think it tends to...
Splendid: So, do you feel like when you make music you're closer to...
David Eugene Edwards: I don't think I'm any closer, necessarily. I just think it's another communication, you know?
Splendid: Yeah... there also seems to be a fair amount in this album about human love.
David Eugene Edwards: Well, I guess I can't really separate...because I think all love comes from God, so the love between people is actually His doing rather than our doing, I guess. I can't really separate the two, even though people who don't believe the way I believe, of course, they can love people. But I just think... I don't know.
Splendid: I know you come from a very strong religious background, and your music reflects that -- but it's still rock music, and I know that a lot of people in the fundamentalist groups think that's a bad thing. How you reconcile the two things?
David Eugene Edwards: I don't really reconcile them. A lot of the things that people would say about rock music that they don't like, I would agree. Yeah, I don't reconcile those. I just... it's a hard one.
Splendid: This is your third Woven Hand album. For those who haven't heard the first two, could you talk a little about how this one is a departure or continues what you were doing before -- how it relates to the other albums?
David Eugene Edwards: Well, the second album was a soundtrack, basically...
Splendid: To the dance project?
David Eugene Edwards: Yeah, to the Belgian dance company, called Blush. They had seen me play in Brussels and approached me afterwards to make music. They had already been using some of the music to rehearse with. It wasn't something that I had ever thought about or cared about. They gave me videos of stuff they had done in the past and I watched them on the tour and I really liked them. I liked what they did. So I just reworked some of the songs from the first record that they wanted to use. I made them fit as far as length and everything. Then I just wrote some other music. They had a storyline going, but I didn't know it. I just made music and they could use it however they wanted.
Splendid: That must be kind of interesting, to see your work interpreted visually, isn't it?
David Eugene Edwards: Oh, yeah, it really is. And we played live with them as well, for about a month.
Splendid: So you travelled with this dance troupe?
David Eugene Edwards: Yeah.
Splendid: Where did you go?
David Eugene Edwards: So far, they've done, I think, 120 shows. We've only done ten or so shows with them. Most of the time, they just use the recorded music. But whenever they have a place that's big enough, they try to have us come and play. We did it in Vienna. We did it in Brussels, France...I can't even remember.
AUDIO: Tin Finger
Splendid: That sounds really interesting. So tell me about the people you worked with on this current album?
David Eugene Edwards: All the people I worked with are friends of mine from around here. Daniel Memahon played the piano. He's toured with 16 Horsepower a couple of times, playing keyboards. Ordy Harrison, who plays the drums, is in another big band from here called Slim Cessna's Auto Club. We're just good friends. And Shane Trost plays the bass. All of them played a little bit on the first record. Actually, no, not Shane... but they also toured with me and the dance company. But it's not really a band, per se, Woven Hand -- it's kind of whoever's playing at the time. It's kind of set for the dance company, but outside that, I play with other people or sometimes just by myself or one other person.
Splendid: And this is mostly where you live, in Denver?
David Eugene Edwards: Yeah.
Splendid: There are a lot of musicians there.
David Eugene Edwards: Yeah.
Splendid: So tell me about recording the album -- where did you do it and how long did it take?
David Eugene Edwards: I've recorded the last, I don't know, four or five records at the same place. It's a friend of mine who has a studio in his home. Absinthe Studios here in Colorado. It's in his basement.
Splendid: How finished were the songs when you went in to record them? Were you pretty sure about how they would sound?
David Eugene Edwards: Some of them quite finished. Others I just did on the spot.
Splendid: Which ones did you do on the spot?
David Eugene Edwards: Let's see... "To Make a Ring", "Off the Cuff"...
Splendid: Oh, I like that one.
David Eugene Edwards: ..."Chest of Drawers" -- that's probably it. Most of the songs that the other members play on for that record, which I think is about four songs, those were songs that we had been playing live and had kind of settled.
Splendid: It's a really beautiful album. So, do you tour with Woven Hand?
David Eugene Edwards: I do. We've toured two or three times with the whole band. But it's mainly in Europe... that's primarily where we tour. I'm playing tonight, just by myself. I played last Friday, just with me and a keyboard player. And then I go on tour, with just me and the drummer, in November. The whole month of November.
Splendid: You have a strong following in Europe?
David Eugene Edwards: We do.
Splendid: Why do you think that is? Is it just because you've played there a lot?
David Eugene Edwards: Well, with 16 Horsepower, when the records first came out, that's where they did well. And we ended up going over there and touring, and it kept getting better and better. We tried America, too, many times, touring with other bands. We toured with Morphine a number of times. In certain pockets of America, we have a really good fan base. Most of the coasts, Chicago -- I guess it's mainly the bigger cities. Middle America is really difficult. Denver is pretty good, sometimes it's good and sometimes not so great, but always in Europe, we can go and have a good audience and do what we do.
Splendid: What are some of your favorite places to play?
David Eugene Edwards: It's hard to say. I like to play, period, whether it's Kansas or France. It doesn't really matter to me.
Splendid: It's weird, though, that you'd be more popular in the coasts than in the heartland, since your music is so religious and people in New York would be less acclimated to that.
David Eugene Edwards: Yeah, I know, it's hard to understand, because New York is one of our best audiences. I mean, we do okay in Knoxville and Louisville. I think the separation in those places, like we said earlier, between rock music and the religious establishment is much more drastic than it would be in California, which I'm not saying is necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. It's just the way it is.
Splendid: It's interesting, though. Tell me about the music that you remember hearing first and what sorts of things were influences on you.
David Eugene Edwards: I was in church a lot, and that's the music I heard... whether it was hymns on an organ or a piano or something more late-70s youth movement, acoustic guitar, just real folk-based church music.
Splendid: How old were you when you started playing the guitar?
David Eugene Edwards: I was probably 13 or 14 when I started playing the guitar. I played the drums first. I never took any lessons at playing the guitar. I just wanted to play the guitar and started to imitate, you know?
Splendid: What kinds of things did you imitate?
David Eugene Edwards: A lot of Bob Dylan, a lot of folky stuff, Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie -- all that stuff is kind of connected. And then, at the same time, a lot of heavy music that I was exposed to at school that I really liked, like AC/DC and Motorhead and I don't know -- just certain sounds that I was attracted to, punk rock and... I played in a punk band for a while.
Splendid: Did you grow up in Colorado or did you come there from somewhere else?
David Eugene Edwards: I did grow up there.
Splendid: Were there punk bands there?
David Eugene Edwards: Oh, yeah.
Splendid: Like who?
David Eugene Edwards: Well, the best band in my opinion was called the Rok-Tots, who are actually still around. They never went anywhere because they never wanted to go anywhere. Sub-Cons were another really good band. Frantix, I think. White Trash... there were a lot of good bands.
Splendid: So how do you bring those two traditions together, the folk and the punk? What do they have in common?
David Eugene Edwards: I found a lot of similarities. I guess the thing that I liked about the music, the different types of music, whether it be Bob Dylan folk or punk rock or Joy Division, anything I was listening to had some sort of similarities to it, whether it was sincerity, simplicity and kind of the attitude going into it. Different things would connect for me. And musically as well, it made a good environment.
Splendid: What does the term Woven Hand mean?
David Eugene Edwards: It doesn't really have a huge meaning. I don't know exactly how I came up with it. I really like weaving... I especially like Native American weaving. I just think it's a cool art. But the woven hands, it just means a lot of different things to me. If you think about all the ways we use our hands to do things that are positive. Just to bring that image to mind of some sort of ... family really.
Splendid: Now, how does Woven Hand relate to 16 Horsepower? Is 16 Horsepower over now?
David Eugene Edwards: No. We still play. It's just that I started Woven Hand because we were on a year break from 16 Horsepower. We'd been touring for eight years. My drummer has a horse business -- they raise horses, him and his wife, and it's a full-time job. My bass player's wife is a teacher and he works on a ranch. Music is not, like, the all-important stuff. There's a lot of stuff that we put our time and energy into...family and whatnot. But I don't have a source of income other than playing music, so I can't afford to take a year to do anything. I had to keep working, so I just started writing songs. I was playing shows around town, basically. I called it Woven Hand. I ended up making a record, recording the songs, and the record company wanted to put it out and people responded well, so I just started touring. It took on a life of its own in a way. Some people think that it's an opportunity for me to say the things I want to say but can't as a part of 16 Horsepower, but that's not the case at all. There's no difference in the way I write the songs, the lyrics or music. It's just me being in charge, basically, and doing everything, rather than having those other personalities there.
Splendid: You're doing some work with Daniel Smith, aren't you?
David Eugene Edwards: Yes, we recorded some songs together. We talk all the time. We have a good friendship. We plan on releasing what we've recorded, but we want to record some more first. But both of us are so busy, it's difficult to find the time to do it.
Splendid: His music is so much happier sounding than yours. Yours is really dark and his is sort of cheerful. Is it hard to bring those two viewpoints together?
David Eugene Edwards: No, not necessarily. I don't know if you've ever spoken to him, but if you were to say that to him, I think he would disagree with you.
Splendid: Really? Just in terms of how it sounds; I'm not saying that he's not serious.
David Eugene Edwards: No, I agree with you, the sound does come across that way. He has a different view of it, the way he looks at it. I think we're... we're a lot more similar than people would realize.
Splendid: I think it's sort of interesting sometimes to ask people who've just finished a record if there's anything that you haven't gotten to in the record that you're really itching to try the next time you sit down to write. Is there any new direction that's happened since Consider the Birds?
David Eugene Edwards: Sure, there's always -- I'm thankful that I keep having ideas. Being able to record the way I do, without pressure and without time restrictions, I can do whatever I want to do. I'm really thankful that I can, and at the same time, make a living at it. Most of the ways that people work with music and market music and do it, I don't really fit into any of these categories. None of the things really work. I'm not a marketable product.
AUDIO: To Make a Ring
Splendid: And yet, if you don't have a day job, you're more successful than probably 75 percent of the people I talk to.
David Eugene Edwards: I know, and to me, that's a sure sign that it has nothing to do with me. (He laughs) That it's divine intervention, because otherwise I see no reason for it.
Splendid: Yeah... Do you have a family? I know you have a wife.
David Eugene Edwards: I have a wife and two kids.
Splendid: How old are your kids?
David Eugene Edwards: I have a daughter who is 17 and a son who's seven.
Splendid: Are they interested in music?
David Eugene Edwards: Oh, yeah, of course.
Splendid: Do they play? Do you ever play with them?
David Eugene Edwards: My daughter played on one of my 16 Horsepower records. She played violin and sang a little bit. She's good. She plays the cello, too. At the moment, she's not playing anything.
Splendid: What about your little boy?
David Eugene Edwards: My son...he just wants to dance.
Splendid: Yeah, that's kind of cool... What are you going to be working on next?
David Eugene Edwards: Probably another 16 Horsepower record. Probably starting in December, working on it, hopefully, finishing in February.
· · · · · · ·
· · · · · · ·
Jennifer Kelly exists outside of time and space.
[ graphics credits :: header/pulls - george zahora | photos - header + first two pulls: erwin verstappen; remaining pulls: damien galle :: credits graphics ]