Casting Crowns lead singer and main songwriter Mark Hall has learned some things about balance over the past decade.
As a youth pastor at Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough, Ga., he remains dedicated to his family and his ministry first and foremost — his work as a youth pastor is what led him to form Casting Crowns in the first place, at his old church in Daytona, Fla., in 1999.
To that end, Hall and the rest of the Grammy-winning Casting Crowns, which broke onto the national Christian music scene with its self-titled debut in 2003, only tour Thursday through Saturday, allowing everyone to be at the church for Sunday and Wednesday services.
WHEN: 7 tonight
WHERE: Glens Falls Civic Center, 1 Civic Center Plaza, Glens Falls
HOW MUCH: $50, $35, $22
MORE INFO: 798-0366, www.glensfallscc.com
For the most part this scheduling works out, but when the band is in the midst of preparing a new album for release — as it is now with “Thrive,” due out in January — things get a bit hectic.
Struggle with balance
“There’s always a struggle with balance, man, especially when we’re making a record,” Hall said recently from his church. “Most of the time, the youth ministry and family and Casting Crowns sit pretty well, but when it’s time to record — man, the record just lands on everything and shakes all the foundations, because of our schedule. In a perfect world we try to keep it all balanced out — my family is first, the church is second and Crowns is the third priority, and that’s what we try to make happen. But it’s tough sometimes.”
The band’s next weekend tour will kick off tonight at the Glens Falls Civic Center. This year, the band has divided its performances between low-key acoustic affairs in support of this year’s “The Acoustic Sessions Vol. 1,” a collection of re-recorded songs from throughout Casting Crown’s career, and full-bore electric shows.
In March, the band did 18 acoustic shows, and will once again perform acoustically in October. The current tour dates, including the Glens Falls show, are with the full electric group. For Hall, both approaches offer benefits.
“On the acoustic tour, it’s way more laid back — there’s couches and other cool stuff onstage, lanterns. It’s really chill, really intimate,” he said. “In the full-on concert, you’ve got all the sound, production, lights and video, and all the other things that kind of make a full-on concert. It’s the same songs, but you can pull off a lot more sometimes in a full concert than you can in an acoustic show — there’s a lot more energy and a lot more variety in what the songs sound like.”
The band, which today consists of Hall, guitarist Juan DeVevo, bassist Chris Huffman, pianist Megan Garrett, violinist and cellist Melodee DeVevo, drummer Brian Scoggin and lead guitarist Josh Mix, covers a lot of musical ground, from the recent acoustic material to the hard rock of “My Own Worst Enemy” off the band’s most recent studio album, 2011’s “Come to the Well.”
But the music remains secondary to the Christian message in the lyrics, which has been the key factor in attracting a demographically varied audience, even more so than the music’s mainstream appeal, according to Hall.
“The fun thing about our concerts is that you’ll see all ages. You don’t just see one demographic; there’ll be 6-year-olds, 16-year-olds, a 26-year-old and a 60-year-old all at the same time, like at church,” he said. “The music doesn’t really alienate any cultures; it’s kind of in the middle. The people who listen to Crowns are more about what we’re saying; they really like the message.”
At shows, a large screen behind the band displays all the lyrics to the songs being performed, ensuring that even newcomers will be included in the band’s message.
“If you have a friend with you who is maybe not as familiar with us, they can come and still feel a part of it,” Hall said. “It’s touch and go live if you don’t know the songs — if you’re like me, I check out when there’s a song I don’t know. We try to keep it as inclusive as we can, and you can hear the stories behind them — there’s a lot of humor and goofing around, but some heartfelt stuff as well.”
Not surprisingly, Hall still draws all of his songwriting inspiration from his ministry.
“All of my songs start out in Bible studies, from the thoughts I’m sharing with families here,” he said. “These devotions, these Bible study talks evolve into what become songs later — that’s kind of been how it works. Crowns is like an overflow of what’s happening in our church. It’s very connected; if we weren’t in the church, I don’t think we’d have Crowns — we’d just be out in a van somewhere, writing songs.”
The band’s upcoming record “Thrive,” its sixth studio release overall, is even named after Hall’s youth group. Once again, Hall collaborated with Christian songwriters such as Matthew West and Steven Curtis Chapman, who both also contributed to previous Casting Crowns albums including “Come to the Well.”
“I’ve got about 400 students here, and the picture I draw for them of what a believer looks like — you take a tree and wipe all the dirt away, and you have the roots digging in and the limbs reaching out,” Hall said.
“And that’s from Psalm 1, Jeremiah 17 — man, you need to get your strength from God; you don’t get it on your own. If you’re all limbs, the thorns of life will knock you over. You need to dig your roots in and let God reach out through you. . . . I tell them all the time, everybody you talk to is just surviving — ‘If I can just get to this, get to this holiday, get to my deadline.’ We weren’t made to just survive; we were made to thrive — not just get through the day, but bloom in today.”