Catholic Rock with a Purpose
Catholic Music Spotlight Interview with David Wang, Critical Mass
by Lisa M. Hendey | Source:
David Wang, founder and lead singer of the highly regarded Catholic rock group Critical Mass, is one cool Catholic dad. This husband, university professor, and homeschooling dad of nine makes time to practice his lead vocals while driving or in the late night hours. His dedication to his craft is impressive, and even more so once you have the opportunity to sit down and listen to one of Critical Mass’ CDs.
With their third project, Grasping for Hope in the Darkness, this award winning band tells a compelling tale. While each of the songs stands on its own merit, the cumulative effect is a saga of overcoming sin and temptation, a life of tragedy and despair, and an ultimate turning of the heart to find peace in God. Music fans of “a certain age” will love the band’s cover of the classic “Carry On Wayward Son” as much as their kids will enjoy the updated take. As the mom of a teenager, I’m always thrilled to find music that my son and I can both enjoy. Critical Mass has given us that gift with Grasping for Hope in the Darkness – its musicality is awesome and the storyline of the project is both gripping and a message you’ll want to share with the young people in your life.
In advance of their upcoming Fall Tour, I had an opportunity to catch up with David Wang of Critical Mass. He shared the following comments on the band, their latest CD and Catholic rock today.
Q: David Wang and Critical Mass, please introduce us to the current members of the band and give us a bit of history about your group.
A: I am the founder of Critical Mass. Critical Mass has been around since 1997 and we've released three studio albums. Faith Looks Up was a demo recording but ended up winning Best Modern Rock album awards from the United Catholic Music and Video Association. Our sophomore album, Completely, won Best Rock Album honors from the Canadian Gospel Music Association. That led to our being one of the main bands for World Youth Day 2002 where the band performed music ministry for almost 1 million people. If you were at the Papal Welcoming or the Papal Vigil, you were listening to Critical Mass. The song, Share it With the World, was on the World Youth Day compilation CD, which sold 40,000 copies. After WYD 2002, there was a turnover in band members. The new members of Critical Mass bring a fresh, edgy sound to live performances and we are now touring in support of the album, Grasping for Hope in the Darkness, which is garnering very good reviews.
Q: David, as a mom I have to ask, how does a dad of nine and a university professor find time to write and perform Christian Rock?
A: As with most Catholic musicians, this is a part time endeavor. Most practices, studio time and songwriting occur between the hours of 9pn and 1am. I practice a lot of my vocals in the car whenever I am driving. Whereas some people would take time to sit and watch television, I take all my spare time and dedicate it to my music. With 9 kids, a vacation where we travel is not necessarily restful so we often combine music tour dates with an opportunity to travel. We home-school which gives us the flexibility to hit the road occasionally.
Q: What do your wife and kids think of having a rock star for a dad?
A:The kids have grown up with this. Jodie, my wonderful and incredible wife, was part of the band until shortly after World Youth Day 2002. She was one of the female vocalists on the previous album. My kids sing a bit on this album and are quite used to seeing their dad jump around on stage. In terms of being a "rock star", there really is no such thing in the Catholic market. There is more of an attitude of serving than in either the secular or Evangelical Christian markets.
Q: I've read reviews calling your newest CD "Grasping for Hope in the Darkness" a "concept CD". What came first - the songs or the storyline? Can you share the creative process that went into writing and recording this CD?
A: This CD does indeed have a story line. It is a concept album and every song ties into the storyline. It has a very heavy Pink Floyd "The Wall" influence. Some of the songs were written first but it became very clear early on that this could be morphed into a concept album. It took a bit to convince the producer, Andrew Horrocks, that I wasn't crazy but once he was sold on the idea, everything clicked into place very quickly. One unusual thing about this album, however, is that most of the words were written first. This is opposite to the way most albums are written but it was a necessity for a concept album.
Q: For our readers who haven't yet heard the CD, give us an overview of the storyline you present?
A: Essentially, it is a story about a man who is lured and tempted away from God by secular things in his life, such as money, power and pornography. He has a daughter, whom he neglects, and she turns to a lurid lifestyle because of this. She ends up getting pregnant is her father tries to convince her to have an abortion. However, a kindly priest intervenes to save the unborn child. The father is furious and confronts the priest with much anger. Years later, however, the daughter dies suddenly in a car accident and the father is distraught. Out of despair, he returns to the priest and learns that his daughter had found peace with God. This causes his heart to finally melt. He is a changed man when he takes up the responsibility of raising his granddaughter. At his death, he is finally reunited with his daughter in heaven and with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Q: How did you decide to cover "Carry On Wayward Son" and can you tell us about the rap featured in this song? What type of reaction do you get when you play this song live?
A: Carry On is a song that I have always loved. The songwriter, Kerry Livgren of Kansas, was searching for God during the time that he wrote the song and he actually converted to Christianity a few years later. I added a rap to make it more relevant to the CD and I used it as an overture for the album at the start. It was a real challenge to remain faithful to the original but also to give it a contemporary feel.
Q: I have to ask you - what it was like to perform at Toronto's World Youth Day for the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II?
A: It was awe-inspiring. We were one of the fortunate few that caught to witness our Holy Father's suffering and strength from up close. It was incredible how he drew strength from the youth. Just when you thought he would have to stop from exhaustion, the chanting from the youth seemed to reinvigorate him and he would continue on. I think this is a model for how we should now interact with him now that he is with God in heaven. I really believe that he will be a powerful aid to the youth. I encourage all youth to pray for intercession from this holy saint. I picture the world's youth continuing to reach out to JPII and I picture him continuing to guide and lead the youth of the world.
Q: What is the future of Catholic rock? How can we help support and encourage more great Catholic music?
A: We need more musicians to counter the secular influences in popular culture. This includes not only rock but other genres of music such as hip-hop. It also includes not only music but also television, movies and other art forms. For centuries, the Catholic Church has influenced the world through her music and art. The Sistine chapel is such an example. It is now the time to re-establish Catholic art as second-to-none in quality. A recent example of the influence of this would be Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ". However, as audiences did for this superb film, we need Catholics to support Catholic musicians. It takes finances and resources to produce music to compete with the secular counterparts in terms of qualities. Catholics need to start buying catholic music and going to concerts.
Q: What do Catholic kids want in their music? How can Catholic parents help their kids tune in to music that elevates the soul and spirit?
A: Catholic parents have to start to understand the influence of music in the child's life. I have had some parents refuse to buy Catholic rock but are troubled when their kids start to sing and listen to the garbage that is not only on the radio but is everywhere around us, from stores to the television to their friend's mp3 players. They try to buy very traditional Catholic music and force their children to listen to it. What we have found is the opposite. We produce rock that sounds and feels like what they listen to now. We try to touch their lives in a subliminal way, in much the same way that secular messages seep into their brains through repeated listening. If the kids can maintain that contact, however frail, with the messages of the Church, then we have found that the kids eventually return to the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and Confession. Surprisingly, at this point, many of the kids do sta
rt to listen to more traditional music (Gregorian chant, for example) and have a deeper appreciation for the ancient traditions of our faith.
Q: Some feel that rock music comes from the devil and that one shouldn't use rock music to try to glorify God. How do you feel about this?
A: I believe that art is neutral. It is the lyrical content that makes it either spiritual or secular. There are some that say that the rhythms of rock music are derived from African tribal beats. That may be true but to say that traditional folk music from Africa is somehow evil is prejudice in its ugliest form. One must remember that the organ and piano were once considered by the church to be secular and profane instruments. Even Gregorian chant, one of Catholicism’s great contributions to music, comes from Gregory the Great's time (590-604). Music has always been in a state of change and transition.
Q: Tell us about your upcoming Fall Tour.
We are touring Canada in the fall and we will be doing many US dates in 2006, which will be the focus of our ministry.