Derek Webb & Sandra McCracken

Music Features Derek Webb
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Derek Webb now has more than a dozen albums under his belt—split almost equally between his former band Caedmon’s Call and a solo career—quietly selling nearly a million albums since 1994. He’s also helped launch a new way of delivering music through the website Noisetrade.com. But it’s his two EPs with his wife, Sandra McCracken, a gifted singer/songwriter in her own right, that we’re focused on this Valentine’s Day. In fact, the Ampersand EP was released on this day in 2008, celebrating the commitment of marriage in the face of struggles, followed by the Tennessee EP last year.

Paste: Tell us the story of how you met.
Sandra McCracken: I had a gig singing in a coffee shop with friends one Saturday afternoon in April. Derek lived in Texas at the time, but was in town with his band recording in a studio two doors down. He drew the short straw to pick up a coffee order for the band and came in to hear me sing our last song. He went back to the studio, tracked down my album and my phone number.

Derek Webb: Yeah, I had an almost immediate sense that she was the “one,” and started making plans to move. I first saw her in that coffee shop in the middle of May of 2000 and moved to Nashville from Houston two weeks later. Then we got engaged six weeks later. Basically I didn’t want her to get to know me any better until we were on the other side of an irrevocable, life-long commitment to each other. And that has worked out beautifully for me.

Paste: Describe your first date.
McCracken: I think our first date was actually me coming out on the tour bus opening for his band at the time. “Tour dating” (sharing space with 11 other people and one tiny bathroom) ended up being pretty good practice for what was to come, since we have spent much our 11 years married on the road.

Webb: We pretty much skipped that “dating” part and went straight to marriage. When you know, you know.

Paste: What was it like when you started making music together?
McCracken: The first time we got together to play songs, we got sidetracked with conversation. It was like we were already old friends when we first met. But as far as playing/performing together, I have never gotten tired of singing with DW. We have very different textures to our voices and very different musical instincts but somehow they seem to fit well together.

Webb: Because of how quickly we met and married, we didn’t really realize until much later that we were as musically compatible as we are. That was kind of a surprise. And it’s an unlikely compatibility with her being so abstract and me being so detailed. As a result, our early attempts at co-writing typically resulted in marriage counseling. But 11 years in now, we’re finally starting to get the hang of it.

Paste: Talk about a song that means something special to you as a couple.
McCracken: We love to sing Dylan covers. Have done that often over the years. But there are a couple co-writes on the Tennessee EP like “From You To Me” and “Last Fool Standing” that I particularly like in the way that they document our story together. There are moments of that on Ampersand EP too. The world needs songs about love that hinge closely with honesty and commitment. We hope to bring something to that conversation. That there is something really beautiful that you can’t get to except by working through to the other side of a conflict.

Webb: Agreed. We’re getting better at telling our story. And with so many break-up songs out there (including early songs of mine), I want to try and leave a bread-crumb trail for folks who are struggling but committed to each other. There’s not a lot of soundtrack for that.

Paste: What’s the biggest challenge of being married to a fellow artist?
McCracken: The mood swings? (Mine).

Webb: No way. That’s the good part. For me, it’s having to live in a house with such a talented and prolific songwriter. I write 12 songs every 18 months and record every one. She’s writing all the time. And she’s never written a song that I wasn’t stunned by.

Paste: What’s the greatest thing about being married to an artist?
McCracken: The mood swings?

Webb: Exactly.

Paste: Any advice you got from other couples who worked together in the same field?
McCracken: Working together can be a hard path for anybody. I’ve seen lots of casualties. But we have learned (and continue to learn) much about mutual respect and equal partnership by watching Charlie Peacock & Andi Ashworth.

Webb: Charlie & Andi are definitely a great model. They’ve reinvented it several times over the years. I can only hope we end up walking the road Charlie & Andi are on.

Paste: What advice would you give to a couple working together or in the same field?
McCracken: You are not gonna be the same. You ultimately don’t want your partner to be just like you. That’s why you picked them in the first place. But selflessness can be extremely life-giving (and contagious). Try to remember, even when you disagree about day-to-day things, that you are on the same team.

Webb: Impose some kind of work hours. It’s hard for us to not talk about work all the time since we’re self-employed, work from home, and there’s a sense in which we’re ourselves for a living. But we try to keep business in our house and knock off around 5 p.m. everyday. You need a break from it.

Paste: You guys have toured together. How is it taking a kid on the road?
McCracken: Oh, well. It depends on the kid. :) You gotta always find the balance. Everybody’s gotta find their own “happy” when you’re on the road or at home. Ours are little, so they don’t really yet have their own world back in Nashville, so in that respect it is easy. But kids have a very fine line between “I’m doing great” and “this is not ok”. Maybe we all do, but kids are not afraid to let you know about it. So, I think we’re figuring it out as we go along. There are challenges, but there are some very good days. And I love having them out with us.

Webb: We started taking our kids on the road when they were both really young, which helps. They’re so adaptable when they’re little. It’s more about stress management for me when they’re with us because it’s essentially a collision between my two jobs (being an almost full-time dad and being a full-time musician). I don’t often do them at the same time, so when I do, I have to work a little harder to hold it all together. But it’s always been worth it to have them out with us.

Paste: How long have you been together?
McCracken: 12 years.

Paste: Tell us about the project that each of you are working on right now.
McCracken: I’m writing and working on a new album due out later in 2012. We have tentative plans to record it at a ranch outside of Austin in the late spring, to track it live with the core band, and maybe bring it home for a little bit of layering and mixing after that.

Webb: Since we have a studio in back of the house, we’re constantly having to block time and take turns making records. But I’m working on a new record, as well. Mine might take a little longer than hers but I’ve already started. So we’ll probably be working on them at the same time briefly, and I have a feeling she’s gonna beat me. But they’ll both be out in late 2012.

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