In the world of contemporary Christian bands, you would be hard pressed to find one more prolific over the past decade than Casting Crowns. They’ve been the top-selling act in Christian music since 2007, and it’s difficult to believe they wouldn’t take pride in that. But pride is exactly what the group is trying to avoid.
With the release of their 2018 album “Only Jesus,” the members in Casting Crowns want to make clear that nothing they do overshadows the reason why they perform. In their attempts to spread the gospel since their formation in 1999, the band has been steadfast in their desire to inspire listeners to embrace God’s word, not only vocally but in action as well. In the lyrics to the new record’s title track, listeners are encouraged not to succumb to pride and “make a name the world remembers / But Jesus is the only name to remember.”
In fact, for a group that has been around for two decades, Casting Crowns is remarkably consistent in all parts of their careers. It’s rare to find a band that has so little turnover, with only two new members joining the seven-piece in the last decade. Brian Scoggin has handled the drummer position in Crowns for the past 10 years, and from time to time, still feels like he’s the new guy on the tour bus.
“Every now and then, like when you start talking about stuff dealing with the other members of the band,” Scoggin said before Casting Crowns’ scheduled stop April 19 at Raleigh’s PNC Arena. “They have been here since the beginning, so you have to go, ‘You know what? I’ve been here a decade, but they’ve been here for two decades, so they win.’ I just let it go.”
The News & Observer spoke with Scoggin by phone, discussing Casting Crowns’ tour preparation and juggling work and home life.
Q: Has creating new tour concepts become easier over the years, or has the success Casting Crowns has had within the last decade-plus made it harder in some way?
A: Obviously, with us having toured for a long time, we have the nuts and bolts of it down, right? It’s a little easier each time out, because you’ve learned something from the last one, but it also gets harder because there’s obviously more songs that we have to consider playing with each tour as well.
We have a list of songs that we feel like have to be played, songs that we know are favorites for a lot of people from over the years. But then, every time you release a new record you have 10 to 12 brand new songs that people haven’t necessarily [heard yet], right? We’re on the Only Jesus Tour right now, and we’ll only do about five songs off the new album, because you only have so much time to play quite a few songs that you feel like you have to play from the past. People aren’t coming there just to hear your whole new record, they’re coming to hear the voice of truth, so that gets tougher.
Deciding the setlist, and what we have to cut from the last tour that we’ve enjoyed [playing], is hard. As there’s more songs to choose from, it gets tighter and tighter, and sometimes you end up actually creating some little medleys out of different songs. A couple of songs may run together, or you might rearrange a song and make it just a bit shorter so you can get an extra one. You’re trying to always reinvent your show every tour.
Q: Several of the members have deep connections to churches around the Atlanta, Ga., area, where the band is based. With the juggling of demands that a popular act is sure to receive each day, how much time are you actually able to devote to any one particular church?
A: Well, we are all very dedicated to the local church. There’s three churches represented between all seven members. Kind of the main body is Eagle’s Landing First Baptist [in McDonough, Ga.], as that’s where Mark is at, and that’s where pretty much every [other member] has been at some point besides me. I’ve been on staff at a church for 15 years. The church is what Jesus instituted, right? I mean, you don’t replace church with a band. You don’t replace church for the job, or any other thing.
We just know that the church will never run its course until Christ returns. Everything runs its course, but the church won’t, so we try to physically be there as much as possible. We try to tour on only Thursday, Friday and Saturday; that allows us to usually roll into the church parking lot on Sunday morning. Then we stay at home with our families through Wednesday night, and usually leave out on the bus again at midnight on Wednesday night. That kind of tour schedule gives us time to do the midweek evening [church] services on Wednesday, and then we start our three day run again.
The church, man, we just that’s where all the songs come from. That’s where everybody’s head. It’s the church.
Q: Every few months it seems that a story comes out saying attendance in church is dropping. As a nationally touring contemporary Christian band, does that ever affect you guys, even if just mentally?
A: I’m going to try to answer this on behalf of the whole band. I will just say that I do feel like the church as we know it...I don’t know the studies, don’t really have an answer for them specifically, but I’d say it’s aligning. I think if everybody had to strip it all down to just our practices and our methods and programs — and I know some have a lot of programs and some have less — but if you really boil it down to what it is, it’s that Jesus saves us from our sins, and He asks us to love God and one another. That’s what we’ve got to keep a focus on.
Q: Does the group ever feel pressure, even if it’s just maybe looking at a musical peer who has taken on more dates, where you can’t help but wonder if you’d be even more popular if you would play more dates?
A: I don’t know. The cool thing about those types of decisions is that they’re made by people that we really trust. We have salaries that people get paid, we have buses that we own, so there’s all kinds of stuff that you have to pay up bills every month. Sometimes there is a thought of how do we do this ministry, and how do we pay all the bills? The goal is to just break even, so you never get focused on money.
It costs the band a lot of money to tour this way. Think about it: we have to rent trucks and speakers and lights, and we’re charged by the week for all of that, and we could sell tickets seven days a week if we wanted to. It does cost a fortune [to tour this way], but we feel like to honor what matters most, which is the church and our families, we just can’t run up and down the road as much as some other people. They could be in a different place than us, such as what we feel, which is responsible for what God’s called us to do.
Who: Casting Crowns with Zack Williams and Austin French
When: 7 p.m. April 19
Where: PNC Arena, 1400 Edwards Mill Road, Raleigh
Cost: Tickets start at $30
Info: ThePNCArena.com or 919-861-2300