David Crowder thinks of himself as an interior designer when it comes to music.
It’s a metaphor he formed in his most recent chapter of songwriting, which has marked his exploration of Atlanta’s hip-hop scene while still incorporating country rock elements such as guitars, banjos and the singer's Southern drawl.
Before connecting with hip-hop producers and beatmakers, Crowder and his cohort began songwriting as so many musicians do: fiddling with an instrument until inspiration strikes.
With this genre exploration, that part’s already been done for Crowder. He’ll ask artists to make him a selection of beats, and then click through a folder of them on his computer until he finds one he likes. That’s the “room,” as he sees it. All of his additions, like the vocals and instrumentation, are how he “decorates” the sonic space.
“It was so inspiring,” Crowder says of the process. “I'm glad I followed this trail because it sure has, in one album, really changed my understanding of how to collaborate.”
Crowder released those songs on “I Know a Ghost” in late 2018. On Thursday, Jan. 16, he'll headline Winter Jam in Reading, which features a stacked bill of some of today’s most popular contemporary Christian artists and pastors. Crowder will be joined by Hillsong Young & Free, Passion, Louie Giglio, Andy Mineo, Building 429, RED, Austin French, New Song, Greg Stier, Zane Black, Riley Clemmons, Ballenger and Zauntee.
Hearing those songs come to life in a live setting is particularly thrilling for Crowder. It further shows the dynamic shift of moments like the massive swell of the album's title track.
“You're like, oh, ok. He’s playing little acoustic riffs and sounding like a country boy, and then all of a sudden, boom, the beat drops,” Crowder says. “It’s such a fun moment… It feels even bigger live, and that makes me happy.”
This isn’t the first time Crowder has experimented with combining different genres, though. On 2016’s “American Prodigal,” he borrowed a beat from Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead” for the track “Prove It.” In 2009, he posted a video of himself covering West’s “Stronger,” and at a live performance in 2015, he sampled “Jesus Walks.”
And he isn’t just mish-moshing these different sounds together for the novelty. Crowder just sees it as a natural gathering of the varied styles he’s interested in.
There’s soulful moments on the album too, like “Let It Rain,” which features “American Idol” contestant-turned-Christian-star Mandisa. On the song's first listen, it’s upbeat, joyous even. But examining the lyrics shows a different sentiment.
“It’s a heavy song… The same God that makes the sun shine is the same one that brings the rain,” Crowder says.
That track, as well as others on the record, was inspired by Crowder’s recurring thoughts about cancer and what it takes away from those who battle it. It’s a thought that's followed him since childhood.
“I wanted to be a doctor that cured cancer… because my grandparents had both died of cancer, and it had an affect on me,” Crowder says.
Over the years, he’s known others who have battled the disease.
“It feels like it’s inevitable,” Crowder says. “It creeps in, and we’re all going to have to cope and deal. I think that’s what’s amazing about art, is to be able to express all of the emotions that we are going to encounter in moments where we feel isolated.”
That’s why he thinks it’s valuable to share his own darker experiences in songs like “Let It Rain.”
“We form into community and get to stare at one another and see that there is a beauty on the other side of pain, and there might be a necessity at the moment for growth,” Crowder says.
And then there's tracks like “Red Letters,” in which the narrator is the one who has sinned, but finds salvation in faith. He says that’s another powerful moment in the live show.
“You just hit the first few chords and it just feels like the air in the room changes,” Crowder says. “It astounds me. It’s just crazy I get to do this.”