Slow change coming

Culture | An interview with Slowtrain

Issue: "30 years of destruction," Jan. 18, 2003

Most of the ideological media monopolies of a decade ago are no more. Talk radio was the first to fall, and conservatives led by Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura now dominate those airwaves. Fox's balanced news is beating out CNN's liberal slant in the cable battles, and conservatives are regularly hitting the bestseller book lists. Network broadcast news shows still tilt left, but they are not as important as they once were. News magazines and big-budget movies still promote liberal worldviews, but WORLD and Hollywood conservatives are making inroads.

"Go left, young man" is still the cry in one crucial area, popular music. Songs are generally not political weapons, of course, nor should they be. But songs that emphasize the joys of marriage and family are different than those that fantasize about one-night (or one-minute) stands, and songs that value work and commitment are different from those that take a job and shove it. It's great to have explicitly Christian bands playing at church gatherings, but it's also important to have a presence among the publicans and sinners at local bars and other music venues.

Slowtrain is a young, Austin-based band that's musically strong and lyrically committed to Christianity and conservatism. Singer and songwriter Adoniram Lipton plays guitar, piano, and harmonica while brother Joshua plays the Hammond organ with a Fender Rhodes bass piano. Elizabeth Lipton, Adoniram's wife, joins in with more vocals, percussion, and the occasional guitar while drummer Cliff Fitch alternates between a bare-bones drum kit and the bass-heavy thump of the Cuban box drum, the cajon. Adoniram answered questions from WORLD.

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Why the name Slowtrain?

Slowtrain had a timeless feel to us. It's also a nod to Dylan's Slow Train Coming, but our polls showed that two out of three Americans found the one-word spelling "Slowtrain" to be hipper.

How would you describe the music Slowtrain writes and plays?

Honest and organic (though not in a vegetarian sort of way).

What makes you different from a zillion other bands?

For one thing, there aren't a lot of conservatives playing outside the safety of the Christian music ghetto. We must be the only ones dumb enough to want to pick fights with the left-wing media establishment.

How do nice kids like you make your way in a rough business?

It helps that most of us are related by blood or marriage; we're stuck with each other. We also provide each other the support and accountability necessary to stay honest in an industry that is anything but.

How do you get bookings and air time?

We're tempted to just lie and say that we're liberals. But mostly it's lots of phone calls and press kits, anything to make people take notice. We're often contacted by people who have heard us or heard about us.

What type of venues do you typically play?

We'll play wherever people are. The nice thing about being Christians who don't play "Christian" music is that we can take our music anywhere. We've played bars, festivals, cafŽs, churches, schools, pizza parlors, hair salons, and Chinese restaurants.

What's it like playing in a pizza parlor?

Delicious yet depressing.

What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the "contemporary Christian music" approach?

We feel that the CCM machine suffers at its core from a fear of presenting Jesus to the world as He actually is. Apparently the Jesus who was passionate enough to overturn tables in the temple just doesn't sell records. The sad part is that while a saccharine version of Jesus doesn't offend anybody, it doesn't change very many lives either.

Why, in a country where more people are conservative than liberal, does the music industry so clearly lean left?

The biggest reason is that conservatives have yet to figure out the power of creative media to influence the national agenda. Would-be conservative musicians are too intimidated to go right when the left-wing media militia shouts, Go left. Potential conservative audiences fail to see the value in supporting, even seeking out, musicians who espouse the same beliefs that they themselves do.

Who (inside or outside of music) do you most admire?

We admire folks like Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and Keith Green-guys who weren't afraid to fly in the face of convention. Outside of the music world we admire people who share that same quality-Ann Coulter, J.C. Watts, Joe Clark, and many others. They've all managed to stick to their guns in the face of harsh opposition.

What's your definition of success?

A scathing New York Times review, performing for President Bush, and a dinner date with Ann Coulter.


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