Is it finally time to admit that the faux-preacher shtick has been done to death? From David Byrne and Brian Eno's sampling of crazed TV evangelists on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, to Nick Cave's perpetually wild-eyed Southern Gothic obsessions, to the one-man gospel revivalism of Denver's Reverend Deadeye, it's become obvious that all the irony has been bled out of the thing.
Which is why David Eugene Edwards' music sometimes scares the hell out of me.
Admittedly, as a lapsed Catholic, I've found as many cheap thrills in the above-mentioned artists as the next sinner. But the Denver-based Edwards and his internationally acclaimed (if not financially prosperous) bands, 16 Horsepower and Wovenhand, are different. His vocals may not be that dissimilar to Cave's in fact, the two have toured together but comparisons end there.
Edwards' themes of sin and salvation ring with an authenticity that can, for some, be genuinely uncomfortable. And while I've long been an admirer of both his bands, only recently did I realize just how serious Edwards actually is.
"Some people are more sincere about their questioning than others," says Edwards, "and it can be something that you use to market yourself in a certain way. Of course, early on [Nick Cave] was a big influence on me he's written some fantastic songs but I guess I don't get a lot of comfort from him in his lyrics."
Unlike, say, "Every man is evil, yes, every man's a liar," which Edwards, the grandson of a Nazarene preacher, howled in 16 Horsepower's "Black Soul Choir." Surely, in the 12 years since, his perspective has changed?
"Um, not necessarily," says Edwards. "I still think the same way. I just hopefully do it in a more mature fashion. Obviously I'm older and hopefully a little bit wiser, but I think the older I get, the more I believe that," he says with an oddly timed laugh. "I just communicate it in a different way, I guess ... But yeah, I think every man is fully depraved."
That said, Wovenhand's fourth full-length album, Ten Stones, may be its most accessible. Co-produced with Danielson Famile founder Daniel Smith, it was released last month on his Sounds Familyre label (home to Sufjan Stevens). "Kicking Bird" is as fervent and kinetic as the most punk-driven 16 Horsepower tracks, while "The Beautiful Axe" manages to be as beatific yet elegiac as its title suggests. A cover of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars" hints at a kind of lounge music that moves from inner to outer space.
Alternating between wooden banjo and electric guitar, Edwards clearly has his own style: "I've kind of taught myself this real archaic way of playing. So it definitely has a distinct rhythm and a distinct pattern and sound."
As for the Southern Gothic influence in his own music, Edwards blames it on family history as well as an early affection for Appalachian music, tempered by an affinity for punk, post-punk and rock in general.
"At the beginning," says Edwards, "we were definitely considered more of an alternative country band. But as time has gone on, that label has really kind of dissipated, and people don't really know what it is that we do. In my mind, that's a good thing."