[ interview by kim flanders ]
cMusicWeb.com: Well, I must admit, I am not much of a reader. Can you give me the "Readers Digest Condensed" version of your latest book, New Way to be Human?
Charlie Peacock: Sure. At its heart it is a discipleship book. I use the language of "student follower" in the book as opposed to "disciple." Sometimes you have to exchange words for a time and trade them out for other words to help you get inside an idea again. So, at its heart it is a book about what it means to follow Jesus in a modern, present-day context. But the whole premise of the book is that to be a follower is to step into an on-going story that God is telling through history about people and place. And that you take your place in that story and you have your little slice of time and that you have an active role on the stage.
cMW: We both know that Switchfoot has had some general market exposure. I keep seeing questions like, "Why doesn't Switchfoot share about God anymore from the stage?" on their message boards. How would you reply to that, or a similar question?
CP: I think that pre-supposes that musicians are on stage for something other than to make music. Whoever asks that question has to admit their biases. They have a bias that they have an expectation for a musician to preach or to teach or to exhort something beyond playing their music. So let's say that Switchfoot says, "No that's not the business we are in; we are in the business of being musicians." Then I think you have to go to the music and look at the lyric and say that the lyric pronounce a Christian world and life view. And I think that it clearly does. So I don't get the argument.
cMW: Our motto is "A Different Approach to Music." What is your approach to music?
CP: My approach has always been to write honestly for whatever audience that I was writing for and think about what it means to love that audience. If I am writing for the church, I think about what it means to love them through music. So that would mean everything from giving someone something that is beautiful to speaking [more difficult] or harder words to that person. Love could be in both those shapes. And it would be the same thing in terms of writing to people in the world in general. Where is there beauty needed, where is there truth needed, where is there exhortation needed, where is there questions needed, where is there answers needed? All of that. So it would be very mixed up, where you could not necessarily pin it down and say this is one kind of music or one kind of lyric. You would have to look at a whole body of work to see really where an artist was coming from.
cMW: This kind of goes with a discussion we have had within the staff about what is a Christian band and what is Christian music and can it be defined. How would you answer that?
CP: I think it can be defined by the person's proclamation of their allegiance to Jesus and His ways. If a person says, "Yes, I am a follower of Jesus," then I think that obviously proclaims them in the public square that they are a Christian. And then I think it has to do with how they live their life as to whether their profession links up actually with the way they live life. So I think that is the first thing. Because if it were just a matter of playing what is sold as Christian music, if you could mimic that and play that, for example a simple worship song, and if that is what made you a Christian, then that would not be a very good test. It might be an introduction into it. You might then say, "Because you play that song, are you a follower of Jesus?" You might ask somebody a question like that. But it would not necessarily the end all answer as to whether they were following.
cMW: In our interest in moving on to a slightly different angle on our website, we have had some discussions about things like what is positive music and is it OK to listen to music which is not on a Christian record label, and so on.
CP: I think the issue is, are God's people submitting to the Spirit to the degree that they are having their minds renewed and trained to be discerning and to see the move of God wherever it is. And not only that, but in the case of people who haven't yet started to follow Jesus, can they still admit about what they are singing in their lyrics that are congruent [with] the way Christians put reality together. Often times people who don't follow Jesus are a lot better about singing about the fallenness of the world than Christians are. Christians tend to skip over that and move onto redemption and the joy of following without really explaining to the world why it is that we need a Savior.
cMW: What do you think is the effect of the internet on the music industry as a whole?
CP: I think it has had a huge effect on it. I think all of the changes that are taking place — all of the really big changes about how music gets sold and who the target audiences — are and how you market to them are all a result of the internet. Whether it is peer-to-peer file swapping that triggered choices by major labels or whether it is the fact that people are content to move and be known in tribes that might collect under a particular website and various bands that might be associated with that website. And that those bands and artists can have a kind of notoriety just in the internet realm. And that people would seek them out and travel a hundred miles to see bands play. That all began as a result of internet communities and people finding each other online and the result of email and instant messaging — all of that. I think it has really changed the way that record companies market and the way that they find artists — certainly the way that they are going to sell music in the future.
cMW: A lot of people are saying now, with the internet and different equipment that people can get, that instead of getting signed to a label, the artists decide to stay independent. What would you say if an artist came to you wanting to get a record deal and was looking for advice?
CP: I tend to give that same advice myself. I think you access the major labels when it is to your advantage to access them. The beauty of the time that we live and the artists that are taking shape in our time is that going to a major label is not the default setting. Whereas when I was a kid, it was all that you would hope to achieve. So you put your value and your work and your affirmation was sort of held by the record company. It was theirs to give back to you. And it is not that way anymore. Now young people are very content to be on indie labels that they have made themselves that they have marketed and distributed by other young people who are in the same do-it-yourself mode. I think that is great for the music. It keeps the music very fresh. And if it seems hard for them to move on to have a greater distribution, they will probably have to interface with a major corporation because basically that is where they have a monopoly - with distribution.
cMW: In the big realm of the music industry, some may even call a Christian label as independent. And then when someone goes to a bigger label with more distribution, it is considered selling out. What do you think of that?
CP: It depends on what kind of Christian label. Every major label in Christian music including the sort of indie style majors like Tooth and Nail or Gotee are all owned by major entertainment corporations. If they are not owned in full, they are owned in part. So some of their funding is coming from SonyBMG or EMI or Warners or Universal. Somewhere, they are getting their funding. So the people at the top of the music divisions in those entertainment corporations don't see those Christian labels as indies — they see them as one slice of the entertainment pie that they own and steward. Even that changes the whole motion of crossover. They own these music properties and what they do is that they seek to exploit them in whatever areas that they can. So if they have to release Stacie Orrico in US and Canada, and end up having a big pop record in Japan, or Portugal, or whatever it is, they are totally content with that. They have long since moved past these labels. Because for them it is all about sales.
This experiment of working with the majors in the history of contemporary Christian music — this is the longest stretch that it has lasted. So we are into it for twelve plus years now and longer where all of these companies have been owned by major labels. Years ago it just used to be Word Records was owned by a company called ABC Cap City. And they were the first to do that. But now it is just a given. It has been a decade or more that the labels have been owned. So in the early days, there was a lot of prejudice against the Christian labels in the system. And there were people who did not want to work with them. And now, if you don't want to work with the Christian labels, you would be fired. If you don't take a head of A&R at a Christian label that is owned by a major label — if they call another A&R director say at Capitol Records or Virgin, and can't get their calls returned, that is going to be a real problem.
From the top down, everyone is being asked to integrate and work together. So in the same way if someone from Capitol Records signs an artist like Kendall Payne and they even say, "Oh, she is a Christian, I wonder if we should try to do something with Sparrow." And so then they call Sparrow and they say, "We are going to release this album with an artist named Kendall Payne, and she is a Christian, and we'd like you guys to do something with it, too." So the street is going both ways. It is not really called crossover any more. The way the people and business look at is as just exploitation of music properties wherever they can exploit them.
cMW: "Exploitation" meaning...? It almost sounds like a negative word.
CP: It is basically to put that product in front of as many people as they can in the hopes that they will purchase some. So if they can find a niche wherever it is. And the other thing you need to understand about the process is that these entertainment corporations have various sales conferences — whether domestic or foreign. And a certain amount of product every year rises to the top and gets presented at these sales conferences.
So let us say for example if there is a sales conference in France for EMI. And at that sales conference in France or Japan, they decide that they are going to present Steven Curtis Chapman. Historically, he has only done well as a domestic artist. But let us say that this year he has had some song that all of a sudden the international crowd gets behind. But they really don't care whether it is Steven Curtis Chapman and he is a Christian artist, the darling of contemporary Christian music. All they care about is the song there, and will they have the backing from the rest of EMI. If they decide it is a hit song, then they will go for it. They will market it. They will put out videos. You and I may not ever even know it, that they are tearing it up in the Pacific rim. That Stephen Curtis Chapman records are being sold everywhere from Japan to Thailand in the general market. And that is what they are doing all the time. That is what you have to keep in mind. It is no longer just in the domestic markets. Globalism has changed all that. They are looking at markets all over the world to exploit to in a sense exploit these properties that they own. It is a completely different ballgame than it was ten years ago.
cMW: Can you tell us anything about the upcoming release from The Elms?
CP: Yes. The Elms have signed on to our production company, which is called Runway Network. They are recording a new album right now that is produced by them and co-produced by Richie Biggs. We have a couple of different mainstream labels that are interested in them and some management companies. As soon as we get the record done, we are just going to go and shop it.
cMW: What do you think the mainstream audience is going to think of The Elms?
CP: I think they are going to like them. This is a lot less polished than their other two records. It is very rock. I think it has got the best songs that they have ever done.
cMW: Is it still the classic rock that they have done?
CP: I think so, yes. There is a lot of seventies influence. So we will go and find a mainstream partner for them. Hopefully it will be released by the Spring.
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