“The Sweet By and By”
Crumbächer is a band that embodies the very nature of the music that we cover at Down The Line. They were definite innovators in the new wave/synthpop genre of Christian music back in the 80’s and they released several different albums that varied in musical direction with each release. They formed as a band in 1983 and released their first album, Incandescent, in 1985. Initially Crumbächer was a solo project of front man Stephen Crumbächer, but through a series of events the band grew to include friends Dawn and Jimmy Wisner (brother and sister) on keyboards/BGV’s and drums/BGV’s respectively. Dan Hohulin rounded out the group on guitar. The sound was new, fresh and Crumbächer immediately became a success in the small but unique world of alternative Christian music. Below is an interview with Stephen, Dawn and Jimmy. They have remained friends through the years as they have all gone on to pursue other paths. As many of you remember they came back together for the Broken Reunion show in 2005. That time is again at hand as the band will be playing another incredibly rare show on January 8th that will also include Undercover, The Lifters, Michael Roe of the 77‘s and The Choir in an acoustic format. Take 2 Productions will be presenting this show at Crossroads Church – 2331 Kellogg Ave, Corona, California 92881. Doors will open at 6 PM and this concert will benefit Lifequest’s Romanian Revolution, a ministry aimed at the youth in Romania.
Enjoy the interview here, and make sure to check back in to get an “after concert” special interview with the members of Crumbächer in the next couple of weeks here from Down The Line. Actually, this interview below is somewhat of a “preview” to the entire interview which is quite lengthy and informative and loaded with all kinds of great history. We wanted to get this up for the readers prior to the concert. Some of the questions below are a collaborative effort by Stephen, Dawn and Jimmy, and some are answered by just Stephen. Also, Crumbächer’s second release Escape from the Fallen Planet is about to be reissued by Frontline records which has been reissuing some of the classic albums in Christian alternative and metal music. You can also pick up all of Crumbächer’s Frontline releases on iTunes, so make sure to pop in to the digital store and support the band by purchasing what albums are available.
When and how did the band originally come together?
Stephen: Dawn and I met singing in a church youth choir when we were in high school. Since we were musicians as well, both playing piano, at that age especially you tend to gravitate to other people who you have something in common with, and we became friends. We didn’t always hang out in the same crowds, and there was never really any talk of forming a band together at that age, but we knew each other well enough and respected each other’s talents. Singing in that choir gave us a good foundation of how to put together a show though and taught us the value of discipline as far as rehearsing and being prepared for anything. Outside of Crumbächer it was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had working with other people toward a shared musical goal. After high school and a couple years of college when I wanted to put my own group together, Dawn was the first person I thought of; it just made sense to see what kind of a band we could create. I played her some of my demos that I had been shopping and she was intrigued; not really her style of music, but she did see the possibilities of what we might be able to do together. As far as what was happening in Christian music at the time, while she was a big fan of Sweet Comfort Band, Petra, and Whiteheart, I was totally into artists like Undercover, Daniel Amos, and Steve Taylor. But from those difference perspectives we found a pretty good middle ground where we both felt comfortable and excited about putting something together that would sound new yet still be accessible to teens and other young adults our age.
Dawn: Steve and I met in church choir during my high school/college years. Steve was pursuing music; writing and sending demo tapes into Maranatha music, Calvary Chapel’s record label. They responded and asked him to record a song for a compilation, What’s Shakin. After Steve recorded, “It Don’t Matter” for that record, they asked him to put a band together for an EP release. Steve asked me if I’d be interested and if I knew any other musicians. My brother Jim and Dan, a guitarist we played with in high school, were both into the idea. From there the band was formed.
Jimmy: It was the summer of 1983, I had recently graduated from high school in Manila before returning to Southern California. Being disgusted with my scholastic performance, I was taking a year off and minding my own business jump starting my career at ABCO hardware as a Go-fer…, Stephen and Dawn needed a drummer and I was there. Then we needed a guitarist, so I got hold of Dan Hohulin in Texas, whom I had played and recorded with in my freshman and sophomore years of high school in Manila. Our band was called “PH Factor”. There are lost recordings out there somewhere from 1981. Dan immediately moved to southern California to join us. He and I lived in my parent’s old motor home for a while behind a deaf church in Riverside. It was amazing and sad all at once. We were in for a ride.
How did the deal with Broken come about, and then why the move from Broken to Frontline?
Jimmy: I too would like this one answered…why did we go with Frontline? Who has our original recordings? What do I tell my grand children when they figure out that grandpa has exactly the same amount of valuable assets from this adventure as perhaps any fan might be able to attain. It’s kind of embarrassing actually. We were young and willing, so went with it I suppose. Who knew?! No really… who?
Stephen: I had been asked to record one song for the compilation album What’s Shakin’ that was being released by MRC (Ministry Resource Center, a music outreach of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa back in 1980’s). By the summer of 1983, after sending demos of my songs to MRC for a couple years, I had a dialogue going with them regarding my music and working toward maybe putting a band together. Dawn and Jimmy and I had just gotten together a couple times to see how we gelled as a group when I got the call that one of the other artists had dropped out of the MRC compilation project at the last minute and they needed to fill the slot. That’s why I appear as a solo artist on that album; Crumbächer as a band didn’t officially exist yet outside of my living room. If I remember correctly, I got the call on a Thursday or Friday and went into the studio that following Sunday to record “It Don’t Matter” with Joe Taylor of Undercover producing and Gym Nicolson also of Undercover playing guitar. That was my first time in a recording studio and my first time actually meeting the Undercover guys, so you can imagine how exciting and terrifying it was for a 20-year old kid who just wanted to be a part of something special. We spent about eight hours recording the song with Derri Daugherty of The Choir engineering the session, and different people from bands like The Lifters and Altar Boys dropping by during the day to check out the “new guy” – to say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement! I just kept thinking the whole time, “This is finally your chance to prove you belong here – don’t blow it!” Then when they called me back for the photo session and I got to meet all the other artists from the album for the big group photo shoot, I knew something incredible was happening in Christian music; you could feel it. Everywhere I looked that day there were other artists just like me with something to say, young, enthusiastic, and playing the kind of music you would hear on REAL radio, not the religious type that we grew up on.
From that one song, next came the opportunity to record a six-song EP for the MRC label in 1984 with Joe Taylor again producing, but when the distributor (Word) heard our pre-release mixes they urged MRC to transition us to the nationally distributed Maranatha! spin-off label Broken Records (created especially for the more progressive artists like Undercover). On that recommendation we were sent back into the studio to record two more songs to turn our six-song EP into a short eight-song LP which was released in 1985 as Incandescent and billed as Crumbächer. Incandescent was a huge success for us right from the start. As soon as the video for our song “Jamie” was released, literally overnight we went from playing church basements to opening for major artists, playing festivals, even co-headlining in some venues. You couldn’t turn on the local Christian radio station without hearing a Crumbächer song within an hour (my mom kept that station turned on all day in our house during that time – it was unreal).
Then what happened next I don’t think any of us saw coming. Calvary Chapel announced that it was getting out of the commercial music business and was selling Maranatha! – including Broken Records. Shortly after the sale, the new owners informed the artists that while they would continue to manufacture and sell existing Broken Records releases, there would be no new projects, and essentially shut the label down in favor of moving forward with the more traditional (and lucrative) praise and worship releases that Maranatha! basically invented and was noted for. I couldn’t fault a shrewd business decision like that, but personally I still felt like we had all been betrayed on some level. We signed to a label on the assurance that reaching the younger generation with the “good news” took priority over profits, and then before we knew it we were axed in favor of pursuing those same profits. It was my first taste of Christian mission statements conflicting with business goals, and from that point on I had to wonder if the two could ever successfully co-exist after all without one trumping the other. Where money is involved, the business side always seems to win out, at least in my experience.
It was heartbreaking to have come so far so fast, just to end up unsigned again. Frontline formed almost immediately though to fill that void and contacted me along with the other Broken Records artists, and Crumbächer and The Altar Boys became, to my knowledge, the first artists on the roster. Now, a lot has been said about Frontline over the years, but let me just say this, for any of its independent label drawbacks or budget constraints, Frontline gave me the chance to pretty much try whatever I wanted musically for the next seven years. There were good times and bad times, but generally speaking I had a good relationship with the label until my contract ended in 1992. And at least Frontline didn’t lose the masters to my recordings like Broken Records did, so I have to give them points for that.
You guys were definitely innovators in the scene with the progressive/new wave sound, what were your influences musically back then?
Stephen: My key influences, like the other band members, were not primarily new wave or even punk, although I did like what was happening in music in the early 1980’s. It seemed like anything was possible, especially with technology and I just wanted to explore that potential in my music. Mostly my main influences were the vocal centered pop/rock groups I grew up with such as ABBA, ELO, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, and even The Beach Boys; I loved great vocal arrangements no matter what style of music, and maybe that came from singing in a choir all through high school. But being that I was also into the new electronic music technology and what was happening in the post-punk and new wave scenes with groups like The Cars, Blondie, and The B-52’s, I wanted to try to do something along those lines too. The other band members saw the possibilities as well and really got on board. Once early on when we were opening for The Choir (still Youth Choir at the time) Derri and Steve asked us how we would describe our sound. I didn’t really know, so I put together the two extremes of the groups I liked and said it was sort of “ABBA-meets-The-Cars” and everyone got a good laugh out of that. After we played our set, one of the guys came up to me and said, “Hey, you know you’re right; your sound is ABBA-meets-The-Cars!” I had forgotten all about that until I saw a magazine article Steve Hindalong of The Choir wrote about the last reunion show we did with them in 2005, and he referenced that quirky yet apparently accurate observation of our style.
Dawn: Personally, I didn’t know much about the new wave scene as we moved into recording our first record. Yet, as I heard some of Steve’s early music – I liked the new, fresh sound – it was very different – but well-crafted and I knew that people would be drawn to it. I’ve always been a fan of Steve’s lyrical twists and turns as well! Steve and I had the same taste in music in some areas, ABBA, The Eagles and a few others. As we progressed as a band, I found myself enjoying some of the girl bands from the 80s like The Go-Go’s, The Bangles, Madonna, and Cindi Lauper – even though I had never been into the style before. I may have felt a bit of a connection to them as a female performer/musician – although I never consciously felt any different than my male peers in the scene. Some of the first records that I listened to daily as a teenager were Chicago, The Jackson Five and The Osmond’s. I loved vocal groups with harmonies as I was a singer from a young age. My parents always worked in the church; mom a choir director and dad handled sound (they became missionaries with I was 12). My earliest roots in music were gospel quartets and choirs. Some of those were The Blackwood Brothers, Andrae Crouch, and Love Song. In my teenage years I discovered Sweet Comfort Band and Daniel Amos which helped spark my desire to play in a band.
Jimmy: The Police, Queen, Boston, TOTO, Journey, Dio, Maiden, Saga, Zebra… the Gaithers. Seriously. And my parents for sure. I was also influenced musically from my time spent living on an Indian reservation as a very young child, as well as four years on an Island off the coast of Malaysia, and four years in the Philippines. A very culturally rich childhood, I was very fortunate.
How did the music writing process go down as a band? Was it a collaborative effort?
Jimmy: Is he trying to start a fight here? I happen to be very compliant and indecisive, so it worked well for me. I did provide fodder for a few lines in the thought process leading up to the writing process. The real collaboration as a band happened onstage after countless hours of learning our parts, I did however play a major role in finding the Burlington coat factories and KOA campgrounds along our many road trips. I also became quite the mechanic, taking advantage of many opportunities to assist our “Road Crew”, Van Metscke and Tom Lenton, in creative repair of our retired 1957 Greyhound bus with a Detroit Diesel 6 in the rear. Does that sound good? Cuz I’m really not sure if that is an accurate description. What was the question?
Dawn: There wasn’t any collaboration, which honestly became the main reason I finally decided to leave the band. Steve was the principle writer. His writing was so prolific and targeted for the style that there wasn’t room for co-writers. As time went on with my performing in the band – I became more and more restless without a creative outlet and I knew that I had to move forward at some point – even though I had no idea how or even if I would be able to. Chris Duke and I eventually started a band on our own, Almost Ugly – and we co-wrote everything for that project. That experience was exactly what I needed creatively. I’m grateful for the years I have spent working with Chris in Almost Ugly – it was very fulfilling for me personally. As far as Crumbächer goes, musicians each have their own way of working and processing – sometimes it just doesn’t work out.
Stephen: Being that I had originally signed and started out recording as a solo artist there was no thought on my part about collaborative writing with a band, and I don’t really remember forming the band with any expectations that there would be down the line. Of course, you can’t work together in a group like that forever without including other members’ ideas, so as a band we were probably destined to have a short life. I did however, end up co-writing a bit with Chris Duke on later projects, but up until that point collaborative songwriting is something I had never really thought about; I just wrote my songs then showed them to the band. You can’t have four creative people in the same group for very long though without giving everyone a chance to have input. When we split up we could truly say it was over creative differences – I got to be creative, but rarely did anyone else. Dawn even told me once that I was the type of songwriter who could hear a song in his head from start to finish, arranged, produced, recorded, and playing on the radio, all while I was still writing it, and that she knew there probably would never be much room for outside collaboration with me. She was always a big supporter of my creative process, but I also understood that she needed to be featured more in the group. That’s why on our last Crumbächer album Tame the Volcano even though Dawn didn’t co-write any of the songs with me, her vocals are more prominent on many of the tracks. I knew we needed to make more use of her talent while we had the chance, and I’m glad we did.
How did the first reunion show come to fruition?
Dawn: We had actually attended a funeral and everyone re-connected there. We decided to do a little dinner party reunion at my parent’s house. We even brought our instruments and played a little together. Discussion was started about doing a real reunion show – and my sister, Beth decided to run with it. The date was February, 2005 and we pulled together the reunion show for August of that year.
Stephen: It started out as one of those “Wouldn’t it be incredible if…” conversations at a Crumbächer band family get together in February 2005. Before we knew it, Beth Jahnsen (Dawn and Jimmy’s sister) had the gig booked! I honestly think that none of us expected to be able to get the original Broken Records bands all back together again for just one show, but it happened and it was great. It was a lot of work for Beth, who had never promoted a concert event before in her life, but it was also very organic and natural that these bands would all come back together in one place even after so many years. It was probably the highlight of all my experiences with Crumbächer and a great way to go out… well, at least until this next show that is… I hope
Can you tell me about the upcoming reunion show, who will be playing, maybe the order the bands go in and can you tell me about the charity that this will benefit?
Dawn: After the 2005 reunion show – we were working on a DVD to release for the show. My sister’s husband, Dave, passed away in 2007 and all production on the DVD was stopped. We never have been able to get that going again as Beth has 3 boys she’s raising now on her own. We always wanted to do another show to commemorate the release of the DVD, with different bands and possibly get others involved.
Since that didn’t happen – when Lifequest asked me to help them raise funds for a benefit – I decided after about a year or two, to do another show. I didn’t want to duplicate the 2005 show – but since I was doing a benefit – I needed bands that were mostly local to keep costs down. Undercover had asked Beth to help them do other shows after 2005 – and I asked them first. This is the order of bands: The Choir Acoustic, Michael Roe, The Lifters, Crumbächer, Undercover.
The charity that this will benefit is Lifequest’s Romanian Revolution. They have a heart to see a spiritual revolution in the lives of young people in Romania. I know the team that has been to Romania personally and when they returned from their trip and I saw pictures – it struck a chord with me. Their goal is to reinforce and teach the idea that “church” can happen anywhere life happens. Lifequest’s team helps develop missional Jesus communities on college campuses, in coffee shops, restaurants, homes and anywhere else people hang out.
Do you guys have a set-list that you can share for the upcoming show?
Stephen: There will be lots of stuff from our first album Incandescent since everyone still seems to enjoy that era most (at least those are the songs that are easiest for us to remember). We’ll also be playing a few from the Thunder Beach album and a couple from Escape From The Fallen Planet and Tame The Volcano. It will be a good mix and representation of what Crumbächer was all about, although no Crumbächer-Duke or solo material as far as I know.
Thanks to Stephen, Jimmy and especially Dawn who has coordinated this interview with everyone! In the upcoming issue of Down The Line we will have even more info on the reissue of Escape From The Fallen Planet, the history of the band in the industry and more personal creative info about Stephen and Dawn. Thanks for reading and hopefully you guys will be able to attend and enjoy this rare concert opportunity with so many tremendous artists!
(first two photos by Joel Ligenfelter)