Christian music group
Atlanta-based Christian band Casting Crowns went from being a local worship band to receiving eight Gospel Music Association awards within a year of their self-titled debut album. Despite their rocket trip to success, the band has remained modest, and they still work as youth ministers in their local church.
Frontman Mark Hall and the six other members of the band were all working as youth ministers at Eagle's Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough, Georgia, outside Atlanta. They made a CD of music to use for outreach with the church's youth group, and it came to the attention of Mark Miller, who was founding a new record label called Beach Street. He asked the group if they would be the first artists on the label, and they accepted. "It really did take us by surprise," Hall told Michel Herman in Christianity Today.
The group's first album, Casting Crowns, was an immediate success in the Christian music world. It featured an acoustic pop sound that Russ Breimeier, writing in Christianity Today, compared to that of Steven Curtis Chapman, MercyMe, Big Daddy Weave, and Warren Barfield. The album eventually sold over a million copies and won eight Gospel Music Association awards.
"We've Got to Stay Unplugged"
Hall has never wanted to emphasize the group's meteoric rise from obscure worship band to the top of the Christian charts. He told Herman, "I really don't know how to process all this 'chart stuff.' It's not real to me because I just don't understand it." However, he was excited about the personal responses the album got from youth pastors, who sent e-mails telling how helpful it was with their ministries. Hall added, "As far as reviews go, good grief! That's one person's musical taste in a magazine for millions of people—I've never understood that. We've got to stay unplugged from all that stuff."
Hall's emphasis on humility has a background in his childhood. He had trouble in school and was diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age. He went to special classes, and although he didn't feel different from the other kids at the beginning, by middle school he had become ashamed of his disability. He didn't tell his friends why he went to different classes. As he told Russ Breimeier and Andy Argyrakis in Christianity Today, "I had to become a master of changing the subject and moving around." He gradually came to terms with the fact that he learned differently from other people, and eventually saw it as a blessing because it kept him humble. He told Breimeier and Argyrakis, "I've never walked on stage and thought in my head, 'Let's rock!' Instead, it's more like, 'God, I'm going to blow this, and I'm going to forget all my words.'"
The album's success made the band members think deeply about what they were doing and what message they wanted to convey, since they now had "the ear of the church," as Hall told Breimeier and Argyrakis. They thought about each of their songs and why they were singing, to make sure they were not doing things to be "cool" but in order to send a spiritual message.
In 2004, Casting Crowns released Live From Atlanta, a CD/DVD collection of songs recorded in the band's home church. According to Andy Argyrakis in Christianity Today, the album "captures the spirit and emotion from the parishioners for whom they've frequently led worship." The disc also included interviews with each member of the band, an analysis of each song, the video for "American Dream," and a feature on the band's youth ministry.
The band's next release, Lifesong, featured this kind of examination of self and other, as in "Stained Glass Masquerade," which questions the honesty church members who act happy and "plastic" when they are really broken inside. Another track, "Does Anybody Hear Her?" accused the church of being too judgmental about pregnant teenagers. The album also featured worship songs, such as "Love Them Like Jesus," "Praise You In This Storm," and "In Me," which convey what the Beach Street Records biography called "their unwavering determination to be living, breathing examples of Jesus in the world." In Christianity Today, Russ Breimeier commented that the album is quite similar to the band's first album, calling it "derivative," but also noted that Hall's "insightful" songs would appeal to fans.
For the Record …
Members include Hector Cervantes, guitar, vocals; Juan Devevo, guitar, vocals; Melodee Devevo, violin, vocals; Megan Garrett, keyboard, accordion, vocals; Mark Hall, vocals; Chris Huffman, bass; Andy Williams, drums.
Group formed in 2003; released Casting Crowns, 2003; released Live From Atlanta, 2004; released Life-song, 2005.
Awards: Gospel Music Association (GMA) awards, Best Inspirational Recorded Song, for "Voice of Truth," Pop/Contemporary Recorded Song, for "Who Am I," Group of the Year, Songwriter of the Year (Mark Hall), and Song of the Year, for "Who Am I," all 2005; GMA award for Group of the Year, 2006; Grammy Award for Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album, for Lifesong, 2006.
Addresses: Record company—Beach St. Records, P.O. Box 210586, Nashville, TN 37221. Website—Casting Crowns Official Website: http://www.castingcrowns.com.
The group balances their recording career with their spiritual life, returning home every week to the Eagle's Landing First Baptist Church, to continue their work as youth ministers. In a biography provided by Beach Street Records and reprinted on the Christianity Today website, Hall noted that most of his Bible students have never heard of Christian music awards or radio play charts. They are dealing with family problems, difficulties in school, or problems in their relationships. Hall said, "We come home every week to people who desperately need a relationship with God. This is the ministry that God has called us to." He said that in order to gain the teens' trust, the band members have to be honest about their own lives, their struggles and failures, and how God has helped them. Then, he said, "others will see us and think, 'Hey, that's me too! God can do that in me!'"
Hall noted that despite the band's success, he does not want to spend a lot of time planning a future musical career. In the Beach Street Records biography, he commented, "All I know is that we're husbands and wives and parents first. And we know that we're supposed to be in the church doing what we're doing there. So we're going to bloom where God has planted us in this season and keep doing it until the next season comes." And he told Breimeier and Argyrakis, "The day when my wife and kids aren't [top priority] is the day when I know I need to quit all this. And the day when I can't minister in a church, I'll know it's wrong because that's my next priority. Casting Crowns is third."
Casting Crowns, Beach Streeet Records, 2003.
Live From Atlanta, Reunion/Provident, 2004.
Lifesong, Beach Street, 2005.
Billboard, March 6, 2004, p. 18; September 4, 2004, p. 14; February 12, 2005; July 9, 2005, p. 19; July 29, 2005, p. 19; p. 13; September 10, 2005, p. 74.
Campus Life, September-October 2004, p. 32.
Today's Christian, November-December, 2005, p. 13.
Today's Christian Woman, November-December 2005, p. 78.
"Casting Crowns," Christianity Today, http://www.christianitytoday.com/music/artists/castingcrowns.html (June 27, 2006).
"Casting Crowns," CMCentral.com, http://www.cmcentral.com/artists/853.html (June 27, 2006).
Gospel Music Association Web Page, http://www.gospelmusic.org/newsmedia/pressRoom_detail.aspx?iid=14874&tid=33 (July 6, 2006).