BustedHalo: Looking back, do you have any favorite interviews that you did for the book?
Andrew Beaujon: Well, I really enjoyed my interview with [Christian music star] David Crowder, and I’ve sort of gotten to be friendly with him outside of the book, so that has been pretty cool. I loved talking to Doug Van Pelt from HM [magazine]. We still chat every once in a while. The whole Brendan Ebel [founder of Tooth & Nail records] interview was great, because he’s such a character. And, obviously, I enjoyed speaking with Dave Bazan since I did it so often. But I pretty much enjoyed every interview I did for this book. It was all very exciting.
BH: So before the process of writing the book, did you know that there were musicians like David Bazan out there?
AB: I knew about Bazan because he’s on Jade Tree, which is not a Christian label. I was vaguely aware that he was Christian or had been or something. That was really all I knew about him.
BH: You say in the book that you were sort of taken aback by the fanatical reaction to him by his fans.
AB: Yeah, it’s interesting. Here’s a guy who doesn’t want to be called a Christian because of what it mean culturally, and yet he’s clearly embraced by kids coming out of this environment. I think that’s one of the more interesting things happening in Christian music, that a guy that like David Bazan can not only play Christian festivals but draw a massive audience when basically he’s telling them what they believe is invalid, that their faith is “a house of cards,” which I heard him say a couple of times. I think it’s only because he grew up in that kind of environment that he is able to talk about it. I think it also speaks to a certain amount of dissatisfaction by Christian kids toward the whole monolithic Christian culture.
BH: How difficult was it to walk a really careful and respectful line throughout the whole book?
AB: Well, I think the only time that I really tipped over the line was when, at one point, I was at a festival in Florida, and I saw a shirt that said, “I’m in Love with a Man,” and on the back it said, “His Name is Jesus.” That was where I was like, “You know, American Christians are always talking about how persecuted they are, but here’s a shirt that is basically making fun of people.” Whether or not you think homosexuality is real – and a lot of people don’t; they think it’s a lifestyle – you’ve got to recognize that being gay means that you’ll often get the crap kicked out of you. That’s really being persecuted. That was really the only point in the book where I felt like I probably went a little too far, in my argument against that shirt.
BH: Overall, though, it seems like you were very careful not to throw any red meat to either side.
AB: Well, you know, I think there is enough of that. I work at an alt. weekly, and we get two or three pro- or anti-Bush books every week. It’s amazing how much of this stuff comes out. Who is that stuff aimed at? Are any of these anti-Bush books aimed at someone who is actually on the fence? The opposite is true, too. Everybody is only talking to people who agree with them. I just wanted to document something.
BH: Since you mentioned the persecution complex of Christians, do you think that there is an anti-Christian bias in the media and entertainment industry?
AB: Yeah, absolutely. There definitely is. But I think that you need to balance the basic stereotyping that’s done of Christians with the stereotyping that Christians like to do with the outside world. I saw a guy imitating a gay person on stage, and he was mincing and lisping and saying things were “just beastly.” I think Christians are just as happy to have broad characterizations of people who don’t agree with them as the stereotypical guy with matching belt and shoes with a pompadour.
BH: (laughs) Do you think that mainstream music is becoming more accepting of expressions of faith?
AB: Yeah, definitely. The thing is that music generally reflects its audience, and it’s not unusual to grow up evangelical in America anymore. A lot of those people grew up as the children of people who came to the church in the 70s liking rock music, the people who Christian rock was created for. These kids are moving beyond that. You have bands like Underoath, who — I don’t know what’s going on with them, but they just dropped off the Warped Tour – but they could play the main stage of the Warped Tour, and it wasn’t a big deal to anybody. I think it’s with older bands that you see the problems where people are tyrannizing themselves over whether they’re Christian or not.
BH: So, overall, where do see the whole Christian industry moving?
AB: I think it’s probably moving toward greater integration. You listen to country radio, which I’ve been doing a lot lately, and the expressions of faith are very normal. They’re not even exceptional in country music. I wouldn’t be surprised if it became that way in rock at some point, and I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. I think people should write about what their lives are.
BH: Now that you’re done with your book, do you think that you’re done with the scene, that it was just a passing interest?
AB: You know, after I was done with the book, I didn’t really want to hear anything about it for a couple of months. But now I’m completely obsessed, and it’s not just with Christian pop culture but with evangelical culture. I read pretty much everything that I can get my hands on.
BH: Yeah, it’s interesting. I can’t really think of another journalist who can have an insider perspective [on Christian music] while being an outsider.
AB: Yeah, I’m the Jane Goodall of American Christians.