'Neither camp wants it': The sacred, the secular and Wovenhand

Joel Oliphint
David Eugene Edwards of Wovenhand

Singer/guitarist David Eugene Edwards never knows exactly what he’s writing about when he begins composing a Wovenhand song. One sentence comes after another, and before long it’s a song. But while he was working on Wovenhand’s 2016 album, Star Treatment, Edwards’ gaze was continually drawn upward. 

“Putting any study to religion at all — whatever religion it is, worldwide — its origins are all based on stars,” Edwards said recently by phone from his home in Denver, Colorado. “Astro-theology is seen everywhere throughout the scriptures. … Things happen in the sky, and bad things happen — things fall out of the sky. And so people attribute that to God and God's displeasure with the people on the earth. They've done something wrong, so something has to be done. The sacrifice has to be made. The gods have to be appeased. Religion is born of this fear, basically, and then man's ability to use this for their own purpose.”

On Star Treatment, which follows in the heavy footsteps of 2014’s Refractory Obdurate, Edwards combines his cosmological focus with Native American imagery, especially on lead-off track “Come Brave,” with lyrics about a young warrior galloping alongside death with an “eagle-plumed arrow inside him” while huge, relentlessly propulsive drums evoke horse hooves pulverizing the dirt. 

“[Native Americans] been put away everywhere. … It's out of sight, out of mind for everyone, unless you're into the Santa Fe art shit or whatever, and then it's just a commodity,” Edwards said. “I've grown up with it all my life, probably more so than most people that I know. It's something that I care about and that I think about all the time, so it comes out in the music.”

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Similar themes will likely surface on new Wovenhand album Silver Sash, which the band recently finished recording and hopes to release in the spring. Edwards re-formed the same lineup for the new record: Chuck French on guitar and Neil Keener on bass, both of whom also play in post-hardcore act Planes Mistaken for Stars, along with Ordy Garrison on drums. “There's more [band] involvement. I let Chuck French come up with more of the music itself,” Edwards said. “It's heavy, but it's differently heavy. The guys that I'm working with, that's their background, and so that comes through all the more.”

On Wovenhand’s current tour, which will make a stop at the Basement on Friday, Sept. 6, the band will be previewing a new song, “Dead dead beat,” from Silver Sash. Inevitably, as with every Wovenhand record, as well as Edwards’ previous project, 16 Horsepower, the new songs will feature characters and stories ripped from the Old and New testaments and often sung about in a King James-era vernacular. 

“I grew up completely steeped in church and the Bible, literally every day,” Edwards said. “My grandfather was the preacher. My dad was also in seminary to be a preacher. It was just a huge part of everything in my life.”

“When you're around the scriptures your whole life, they're just in you,” he continued. “You don't even have to memorize it. You think a certain thought, you hear something on the radio, you hear something someone says, you hear something on the television, you hear something on the computer, you see a picture, and it brings to mind the scriptures. … Everything triggers the thoughts of it. I see the world through that lens. It's basically impossible for me to not do so.”

Even Wovenhand’s Facebook presence is made up almost exclusively of photos or paintings paired with Bible verses. “The pictures and the verses that I put up, they don’t go together in people's minds. It's a picture from some completely different part of the Bible than the text that I’m putting it with. But to me they go together, of course,” said Edwards, who recently posted a painting of John the Baptist’s decapitated head on a platter and paired it with a verse from Proverbs: “Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty; open thy eyes, and thou shalt be satisfied with bread.” “The words are speaking of the picture, and the picture of the words, but people just look at me like I'm out of my mind. I get like two or three likes.”

With that kind of subject matter, you’d think the Christian music industry would embrace Wovenhand. But that has never been the case, likely owing to Edwards’ Nick Cave-like vocals and a weighty darkness that has more in common with a band like Swans. Wovenhand songs would stick out like a cockroach in the communion cup next to the typical fare on Christian radio stations like 104.9 the River.

“Most evangelical Christian people, they don't know who we are and wouldn't want to,” he said. “The Christian community has never liked my music, and the secular world has never accepted it because it has a Christian bent to it. So neither camp wants it. There's nothing I can do about it. It's just what I do. I'm not gonna try to appease either side.”

As much as Wovenhand’s music is infused with biblical references, Edwards claims that the true aim of the Bible is “to lead you out of the scriptures.” “I love the Bible, but I love it for reasons that people wouldn't expect and would be surprised by. I can't get enough of it. To me, it's endless, and coming to the understanding of the things that are written there is endless. It's a constant revelation of who we are and who God is,” he said. “I have zero patience for people who are stuck in what they think it means and what they think it says and what they think they're supposed to do and what they think other people are supposed to do and how the world's supposed to work. 

“Theologies are built on superstition and based on erroneous beliefs about who God is and what his attitude is. [But] all these things that men come up with, God enters into because he's not pushing people around. He's not a religion, but he shows himself within the religion to people, and from outside of the religion, as well. … God takes responsibility for his own holiness.” 

The Basement

7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6

391 Neil Ave., Arena District