June 7, 1997
By Josh Spencer
It isn't often that the publishers allow a writer to order them around, but when our heavy metal expert expressed interest in interviewing The Crossing, we sat up and took notice! Was there hope for his taste after all, or are those wielders of authentic, traditional, Irish instruments actually reaching headbangers too? It might explain the inevitable moshing their SRO sets at Cornerstone Festival always attract.
The only problem was Josh Spencer's location. He lived in Maui, Hawaii, and all the members of The Crossing are part of Jesus People USA, in Chicago, Illinois. Modern technology held the solution as Josh e-mailed the questions to Linda and Shari who then interviewed founding members Tony Krough and Pat Peterson in Chicago." They mailed the results to Maui, and Josh filed his story from Canada, on his way back to school in North Carolina. So there you have it. An Irish band from Chicago, interviewed by a Chapel Hill student in Hawaii. Is this what they mean by world music?
Tollbooth - So how did the band get together?
Tony - (to Pat) She's looking right at you! (laughs)
Pat - Okay, well, it was kind of a throw together thing to begin with, a couple of guys playing bluegrass, hanging out in somebody's room. I wouldn't exactly say they were young at that point, but younger than they are now; older musicians who had been musicians when they were younger, kind of picking it up again as a fun and enjoyable pastime. They started doing some songs in church, along a normal bluegrass line. At that point, they added a few people to the group, got a female voice in there, and a fiddler. It was still pretty much country and bluegrass.
Tony - American culture.
Pat - American culture, but getting a bit of Celtic influence in there. That's where it was for about a year or two, and then it all took a shift when Tony Krogh thought about getting bagpipes. (laughs) The band got a name, so it wasn't just a bunch of people hanging out; it was now a band.
Tollbooth - And so the Celtic influence came about sort of accidentally?
Tony - Well, it was really from my influence. I started getting into the Celtic thing when a visiting minister here at JPUSA was playing Irish music. So that started me on Irish and Scottish music. Then I got into the pipes. These guys all kind of caught my disease.
Tollbooth - Quite a difference from bluegrass.
Tony - Well, it's further back in the roots. A lot of bluegrass mountainmusic came from when the Scotch-Irish settled down in the States. It was still part of their culture and then it shifted just a little bit to an American style, bluegrass. So we just went farther back.
Tollbooth - What did you listen to learn how to play authentic Celtic sounds?
Tony - Celtic musicians. I can't read music, so I just had to learn by listening. We go to as many shows as we can, if we can afford it, and sit in the front row, absorbing the spirit and the atmosphere.
Tollbooth - Have you received any recognition from the secular Celtic music world?
Pat - Not too much, because we haven't ever really been distributed. We've gotten airplay on several national shows, but not much recognition or reviews in magazines and stuff. People can't get the albums, so it doesn't go very far. We had distribution for about a year, but that went nowhere outside of Christian bookstores. We're still at that point with the distribution now. We'd like to take our albums and get a regular secular distributor and then work on getting regular airplay. There are almost 200 Celtic shows around the country, college and public radio, etc. That's a big audience.
Tollbooth - So are you in Christian bookstores now?
Pat - We will be! Dancing at the Crossroads is getting re-released in stores--that's the only one that has been in stores before. And then we took the first two recordings--Look Both Ways and Rise and Go--and put them on one CD. And Dochas, our third release, will be out in September.
Tony - Even though we've had it around for awhile.
Tollbooth - Yes, I remember buying a copy! Why do you think distributionhas been so limited?
Pat - Well, you're talking a whole label, a community label. It didn'taffect just us; it affected Crashdog, REZ, Grace and Glory. REZ has been around for 20 years. When their last album came out, our whole distribution thing fell apart the same month. They put out this great album and no one ever really got it, because our label basically fell apart. So I guess we have to roll with the punches together, and it just took a while to come up with a new agreement. We're happy. It was a hard year, because it takes us a long time to get an album done. Then when you get it done, you want to get it OUT THERE! And sometimes you just have to wait, and that's the music business. And sometimes, it's not just the music business; it's what the Lord wants you to do.
Tollbooth - The two albums that are only on tape, are they similar in style?
Pat - They're a lot more spare. On the first one, we didn't have Hilga, the cello player, so there are no female vocals. And actually on the second one, Jennifer sang one song and Hilga sang backup. But if you listen to Dancing at the Crossroads, Hilga had a very prominent part. She sang "The Riggs" and "Ecstasy," which are two of the more popular songs. Before that, Tony was the singer for the band. And...
Tony - Zero production (laughs). With Rise and Go we actuallytried to record a live album, but it wasn't working out in concert. So we just set up live in the studio and played straight through. So it's like a live album. Very few if any overdubs.
Tollbooth - Future plans?
Pat - Yeah, more albums.
Tony - We're going to try and record this concert at the festival this year and try to put out a live album again. After nine years, we should be able to do it.
Pat - We're pretty boring, though, (laughs) so I don't know about the video sort of thing. We just all sort of stand there! A video is great because it puts your music out in sight and sound. If they caught a lot of shots of the crazy audience, a concert video would be good.
Tony - The audience is the big show.
Tollbooth - Yeah, all the dancing outside the tents.
Tollbooth - It was my first Crossing concert, and I thought I would go up there and review it no problem....
Pat - ...get through the crowd....
Tollbooth - Yes, and I couldn't even get near the tent! (laughs)
Pat - The fun shows for us are annoying. When we were down in Tennessee, we were making mistakes left and right, knocking mike stands over and instruments. The stage was no bigger than a postage stamp. But we had so much fun, and so did the audience.
Tollbooth - Chicago has historically been a depository of Irish music.Francis O'Neill collected the oral tradition of his fellow officers over 100 years ago. Do you interact with that at all, in the Chicago area?
Pat - Some. We've gone to some sessions, Irish musician jams. And it's something that in a perfect world we'd like to do more. But being in a community, you know, the community has a lot of demands. We all have families; families have a lot of demands. We all have full-time jobs; they have a lot of demands. So if you have a couple spare hours on Sunday after you've worked five or six days that week, you know you've got community obligations. It's hard to fit that in. I've been to one session in the last ten years! (laughs) I'd like to go more, but it's a little low on the priority list, I guess.
Tollbooth - In the liner notes, it says you once accompanied an Irish dance troupe to New York?
Pat - You saw "Riverdance," didn't you? (laughs) No, it wasn't anythinglike that!
Tony - We had a good friend of ours there, a Catholic priest, who brought us to an Irish community in Albany. We were going to play a concert, and they brought a dance troupe as well. So we adapted our music to that. Playing dance music is a lot different than playing a concert.
Tollbooth - Why?
Tony - Because dancers need a good solid rhythm they can dance to. There's not a lot of flash like in concerts. So it took the focus off of us, which was good.
Tollbooth - I noticed that the music on the first album was dominated much more by traditional tunes whereas Dochas was almost entirely your own compositions. Is this just reflective of the band's increasing skills, or are you learning how to write authentic Celtic sounds and not just reproduce them with your lyrics?
Tony - There are a lot of things that go into that. We are learning how to write something that sounds more traditional. A lot of times in the beginning I'd take lyrics I had written and put them to a traditional tune and, through that process, learn how things work. That's part of it.
Another part is that we want to say something through our music. We could go out and play a lot of Irish folk songs, but they wouldn't be saying what we want to say. To say the things we want to say, from our Christian worldview, we have to write that sort of thing ourselves. And also on Dochas a lot of the other band members were contributing their influences. Mike wrote a few songs, Jennifer wrote a few, so the whole thing just kind of mixed together. We aren't playing as many traditional tunes, but we still write from that, especially the dance music.
Tollbooth - What would you say to someone, either a believer ornonbeliever, who criticizes you for putting your faith into such music as Celtic music, which in modern times is often considered New Age or at least originating out of a pagan culture?
Tony - Well, yeah, it did originate out of a pagan culture, but God created music. You can go back a few hundred years, though; we're not the first ones to do this! I'm trying to think of some songs . . . "Be Thou My Vision" is an ancient Irish melody.
Tollbooth - At this point, what motivates you to make this music?
Tony - Well, there are two ways we can go with this. One is the music itself. We all just love the music, so that's a motivation in itself. Going further than that, though, is our lifestyle. I mean, we're all sold out for the Lord. We want to say something positive, not necessarily evangelistic, although that's a part of it, too. There's such a downside today in the subject matter of songs. We just want to make something positive, whether it comes out as "You got to get saved" or whatever it might be, a song about abortion or a song about suicide, those heavier issues. We also do some fun songs, like a church picnic.
Pat - There are a lot of
our songs that speak of loss. Unfortunately, I keep saying I'm going to
write a song with a happy ending, but all the songs I write are about abortion
or refugees or something. I mean, I just need to write a song that doesn't
have people crying or losing their families! How
Tollbooth - (laughs) Is there any major key Irish music?
Pat - Those are the dirges. The songs without words.
Tollbooth - Okay, to follow up, why do you think your music is of a publishable quality, a commercial quality? What motives do you have to be so good at this, on top of what else you do in your lives?
Tony - Part of it goes back
to what you were saying earlier--about the criticism of people who don't
like you to put Christian lyrics to this kind of thing. We don't play Celtic
music to reach some group of Irish people in Chicago. We do it because
we fell in love with the music. That's our
Photographs by Cornerstone Festival