Wovenhand+New+Flat-1When I’m in the studio I have the opportunity to do things in a certain way, and I try to make records more pleasant sounding, records that you can listen to while you’re sitting in your room. But live, I want to rip your throat off with the music, I want to beat you into a pulp with the law. I bring the law, I bring it! So you wanted to live by it? You want to know what’s good and evil? OK, let’s talk about it, if you wanna live by your expectations or someone else’s. But I know that you can’t do it, and I wanna help you get there real quick, to the point where you realize that you’re hopeless without the mercy of God. And then you’re in a place where he wants you, where you’re no longer afraid to say that you need him, and he’s gonna be there sayin I’ve loved you all along, I never held any of your sins against you in the first place. And then you just rest, you enter his rest. And you’ll sit there finally at peace with yourself and with this world.. – David Eugene Edwards

David Eugene Edwards has been swimming in the backwaters of the American music scene ever since the early nineties, and he has made some of the most profound and beautiful music out there. I discovered the music of his two bands, 16 Horsepower and Wovenhand, as I was wrapping up my masters degree back in 2009, roughly 20 years later than I should have. Ever since then he has been a constant musical presence in my life, so much so that I was moved to listen to nothing but Gothic Americana for a full year (last year). I dug deep into Edwards’ catalog and those of his contemporaries, who all have roots in Denver, Colorado, bands like Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, Lilium, Jay Munly, etc. As he states above, his songs are often intentionally challenging to our ever-present desire to save ourselves by works of the Law. But grace lurks even deeper in the music. In fact, this is music that is positively saturated in grace, mostly because Edwards is adamant about the distinction between the Law and the Gospel. But I would be taking away from the power of Edwards’ words if I didn’t let him speak for himself via some excerpts from an interview done by the blog Transylvanian Hunger:

wovenInterviewer: Having been on the road for so many years since 16HP days, doesn’t that hurt you, even a little bit, that across an ocean so many people come to see you, and here you’re lucky to play in front of 100? When you’re on stage, do you feel like home more in Europe than here?

David: Well home is where the truth is…The only thing that it hurts is the travel, and being away from my family life. It doesn’t bother me that we play in front of 50 people in Kansas and in front of thousands in France. It doesn’t bother me that they don’t wanna hear it here as much as they wanna hear it over there, I wanna go where people wanna hear it, period. That’s where I wanna be. I want to communicate with other people, I want to help people set themselves free from the burden of the law. I want people to know the gospel; I want people to know that God does not hold their sins against them anymore, while everyone tells you that he does. Your own mind tells you that he does. Your own mind works against you…

Interviewer: What was it like to play in all those huge arenas [when asked to play 7 shows with the band, Tool], in front of over ten thousand people, most of whom don’t know Wovenhand? Were you somewhat nervous, to go from your usual US crowd to such a vast ocean of people?

David: Didn’t bother me at all. We just went out as a three piece, threw our Indian rug on the floor and ripped through it. I’m not afraid to play with these people. I’ve got nothing [to] lose and I’ve got nothing to gain from them either, they can’t give me anything. God gives me everything I need. I’m not looking for a hand out from a big band, I’m not looking for a big break. I don’t care. If God wants to take it away, that’s fine by me, I’ll do something else. I’ll go back to washing dishes, or whatever…I’ll talk to people in any environment, about what I believe. And I’ll be at peace there too. Yes, I am a human being, I have an ego, I have pride, I have all this bullshit that I have to deal with constantly, but the Lord transcends all these things and he allows me to do these sins by his grace...

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Interviewer: David I’m curious about your upbringing, I’d like to hear it from you what it was like to be raised in such a conservative protestant church.

David: We grew up under the law, we grew up in the Nazarene Church. It was a part of the holiness movement, which started out in Texas in the 20’s I think. It was all about your behavior. You didn’t play cards, you didn’t go to movies, you didn’t drink, you didn’t smoke, you didn’t dance, women didn’t wear makeup, women didn’t wear the color red, and so on. From one Sunday to the next Sunday, if you did any of these things you were constantly told you’d go to straight to hell. And so you had every Sunday to re-give your life to Christ. But if you died in the middle of the week, you were going to hell. That’s what I was being t[aught] as a child.

Interviewer: That’s not a way to live a life…

David: No it’s not. It’s no way for anyone…no one can measure up to it. And the people who think they are measuring up to it are lying to themselves. Or maybe they deceive themselves to the point that they actually think they are better than others. But they’re not, and I think most of the times they know they are not, and they’re just playing a role because people will think of them as sinners if they didn’t. That’s why you see when a TV preacher or a public person makes a mistake and is being caught with another woman, the world just jumps on that like a lion.

Interviewer: Right, because they’re hypocrites…

woven handDavid: But that’s the whole point you see, every man is a hypocrite! Every man! The man pointing at the hypocrite is himself a hypocrite. We are all liars, whether we preach to large crowds or friends. Every one tells other people what they should and should not do, what’s good and bad, as their own set of laws. And then every person in its turn does the same. I’m telling you, there is no end to the laws; you have to drop’em all, you have to drop’em. You have to say to yourself I cannot keep the law, I cannot do it. The only way to stop sinning is to realize that you’ve already been forgiven. The only way to stop doing evil is to realize that God no longer holds your sins against you, because of what Christ has done for you. There is no tally up in Heaven as in Oh, look what he did now – that is what the Devil does, and he brings it to God’s attention every time. He is the one who keeps a track of that and brings it up to God every time, Look! And God says I already paid for that with my own blood, thank you very much. It’s a finished deal. This was taken care of on the cross. But we’re still living this creation out, until it’s the time to be done…

Interviewer: How can you love everyone, without exception? I find the very thought to be exhausting.  How can a murderer or a rapist be forgiven, let alone be loved? Doesn’t that make something very cheap out of love?

David: No it doesn’t, because you yourself are the rapist, you are the murderer, the liar; you yourself are all these things. The pope himself is a rapist, a murderer, a liar. We all are. We are all made of the same flesh and blood, we are all a reflection of each other. We are all sinners, the lot of us. There’s no such thing as a smaller sin or greater sin, God doesn’t compromise, you broke one rule you broke them all. I’m gonna say it again, man made that choice, to live by the law. Man keeps making that choice every day. People feel better about themselves when they compare who they are with the rest…Yeah I cheated on my wife but at least I’m not a rapist or Yeah I stole something but I’m not a murderer. There’s no such thing, you’re only fooling yourself.

I have compiled a playlist of eleven of my personal favorite songs from Edwards’ catalog with both of his bands. The more straightforward bluegrass/folk rock songs are from 16 Horsepower (1992-2005) and the more atmospheric songs are from his current band Wovenhand (2001-Present). I hope you fall in love with them just as much as I have.


Watching the man perform live is pretty remarkable as well…here he is solo on the NPR Tiny Desk concert series…