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Doug McAlexander, Russ Cooper and Britt Stein have landed the perfect gig. They feed their families with full time jobs during the week, while supplementing their income by playing the music they love on great boutique gear on the weekends in front of thousands of people. They don’t have to deal with smoky bars, drunken fans or questionable bookings in seedy neighborhoods. Best of all, their work has meaning.
Bassist Doug and guitarists Russ and Britt are three members of the worship band, CrossTalk. Playing together since 2000, their work is somewhat unusual. Instead of just playing at their home church, their goal is to help other churches incorporate contemporary worship into their services. Whether this is a four-year in-house stint, like they finished in August, 2007, or helping match churches with musicians, CrossTalk makes the music happen.
The members of the band pride themselves on musical excellence, eschewing the “make a joyful noise” mantra that is often used to cover mediocre musicianship in churches. Each hones their craft and strives for the perfect tone – picking of loads of custom and boutique gear in the process. We sat down with God’s gearheads to talk about what brought them here, why rock is important to church, and where the music is headed.
What’s your background in music?
Doug McAlexander: Well, I’ve been playing since 1979. Some of the guys have been touring musicians in other genres, not Christian music. One guy is coming from a country background, and another is coming from a rock background, which is kind of good, because our original music is a blend. It’s what we call “musician’s music.” We play the standard praise music you hear on the radio, but we also play our own material, what you might call Southern Rock. It’d be like Allman Brothers, Lynard Skynard or Atlanta Rhythm Section doing Christian music.
Russ Cooper: I was six or seven when I first picked up guitar. My mother gave me one for my birthday. We’ve always had a piano around the house, and we basically had every instrument on God’s Earth in my living room that was bought from the pawn shop. I grew up in the ‘80s, so I had that hair metal band influence, but I grew up in the church – my parents were devote Christians. I had influences from both ends, but without the sex and drugs.
Britt Stein: I grew up on everything from classic rock to ‘80s rock. I’m definitely a child of the ‘80s, for better or worse. I liked all the guitar rock in the ‘80s, plus Hendrix, Clapton, Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen and The Who. I got involved with worship music probably ten years ago. My brother-in-law introduced me to that side of playing. I had been playing since about ’84, mostly in cover bands, but some original bands. It wasn’t professional – kind of hobbyist stuff. Obviously we tried to do it with excellent quality, but any money we made went back into the band.
Do you guys have day jobs or are you professional musicians?
RC: I categorize myself as a professional musician with a day-job. It’s hard to have a wife and three kids and be a professional musician – especially when your wife stays at home and takes care of the kids.
BS: Yes, I have a full time job. The playing is kind of an outlet, and really just a semi-pro thing.
Do any of you guys play outside of CrossTalk?
BS: Yes, I play in a wedding band named Mix Company 2000, or MC 2k, and we do weddings and corporate gigs. It’s a part-time gig, and this year has been a little slow. We’re doing nice gigs, but there are just not a lot of them. I also play in a contemporary Christian group with my brother-in-law. We play in prisons, and it’s our main form of outreach
What kind of things are CrossTalk involved in?
DM: We usually play every week for churches, and we also do coffeehouses and street ministries – different types of outreach.
When you come into a church to play, how does that work?
RC: Sometimes churches don’t have the budget to hire a full-time worship leader, so we say, we’ll give you a whole band, pre-rehearsed for the price of a worship leader, and you don’t have to worry about anything.
DM: We explore their needs with them. Sometimes they just need supplemental musicians, and I have professionals available for that. Sometimes they’re looking for a total turnkey solution, including sound equipment, and we can do that as well. Sometimes they just want a worship leader. Sometimes you’re dealing with the pastor because they don’t have a minister of music, and in that scenario, you’re dealing completely with the pastor. We have had a situation where we’re dealing with a music minister, and he simply wants the band to back him. And in that case, our lead singer will focus on keyboards and guitars. We’re just trying to meet the needs of the church, whatever they may be.
Do you guys work with churches to create praise bands?
RC: Sure, we’ve done that in the past and we still do that when were called upon.
What is the reaction from churches to the contemporary types of music you play? Has there been any backlash?
DM: There’s been a debate. I was touring in Christian music in the ‘80s, and if guys today feel like somebody thinks they’re a little edgy, they should have tried touring in the ‘80s! Even songs by guys like Dallas Holm and Bob Bennett were considered “too much.”
We have a little bit of sentiment left over from that, but for the most part contemporary Christian music has taken over, and some older members of congregations feel a little betrayed. Some of these folks have a good attitude about it; they go to church and tolerate the music, but some of them do have a bad attitude. There will be a clash from time to time and I’ve seen churches split because of it, having a traditional service and a contemporary service. A lot of churches do “blended” services, where they do a combination of traditional music and contemporary music, and I think that’s the proper attitude.
BS: People are more accepting, especially in more contemporary settings – though some churches still don’t accept drums. Contemporary is a really relative term when talking about musical styles and what is secular and what is Christian. Some people think that if a song has some sort of beat to it or gets heavy it’s no longer Christian. That’s tough for me, because I don’t think there should be any musical differences between the two.
How do you approach volume in a church setting?
RC: Well, it depends on the venue. Different churches have different types of worship. Locally, we have North Point Community Church, whose bread and butter is rock music – a “if it’s too loud, you’re too old” type of place. So, it ranges from that to a small country church where you better watch your volume. Where I am at now, we generally just turn the amps around, mic them and crank the tubes; it’s not as loud as I want, but it’s not as quiet as it used to be.