From American Idol to The Gray Havens: A Conversation with David Radford (Part 2)
Yesterday, I posted the first part of an interview with David Radford, former American Idol contestant who is now composing music with his wife. Today, we continue his story of how God gripped his heart with the gospel and gave him a passion for making music.
Trevin Wax: What did you do after leaving American Idol?
David Radford: Not long after returning home from Idol, I began studying Vocal Performance and Music Education at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. I was still a new believer as a freshman struggling to walk with the Lord consistently, and I did not have any Christian friends at school.
One day while I was sitting in my dorm room, an older guy from my floor knocked on the door and invited me to a Campus Crusade for Christ Bible study he was hosting in his room later that evening. I felt guilty about saying no, so I agreed to go. I ended up getting along with the guys well enough. One of them invited me to come and watch “24″ with some other students involved in Cru. I ended up meeting a lot of people who I connected with really well.
I started attending the Bible study more and more, and eventually became part of a rich, gospel-centered community, both through Cru and through my local church. It was during this time that I truly began to understand what it meant to know the Lord.
I was asked to be discipled by one of the staff members for Cru, which was the single greatest factor in my growth as a Christian. I began to understand the gospel more and more so that it affected every aspect of my life. I grew more spiritually in two years than I could have hoped for. The gospel began to permeate all of my thoughts, and without thinking, the gospel started to become a major theme in my songwriting.
Trevin Wax: Looking back, what did God teach you through this experience?
Trusting in God’s sovereignty after being voted off and sent home was difficult. I was not so much upset as I was left wondering what reasons the Lord had in bringing me on the show.
Now, six years later, I have seen many good reasons. I have been blessed with many opportunities these past seven years simply because of my affiliation with the show. It has served as a bridge to many relationships I never would have had otherwise.
There is also something to be said for being exposed first hand to the emptiness of fame when it is elevated to an ultimate level in someone’s life. I wasn’t in L.A. long before observing the cut throat nature of the “getting-ahead” culture I was surrounded by. It is a sobering thought to dwell on whenever my mind begins to wander into fantasies about fame and success.
Trevin Wax: When did you start writing music?
David Radford: My first experience with song-writing was just after American Idol. I had just graduated high school when a friend of mine asked if I would be interested in writing a song together. I was reluctant at first, but it turned out to be the door that lead me to discover a hidden gift. I was awful at first, but the more and more I wrote, the more I understood how to write.
Working as a lifeguard actually helped me song-writing a good deal. For hours and hours a week, I would work as a lifeguard for a lake just down the street from where I lived. Many times I would sit or stand at my station for hours with no one around. Often I sang songs to pass the time, but eventually this turned into writing songs instead. I sang quietly to myself for a while until I decided upon some melody I liked. My hands would then begin to play some kind of rhythmic accompaniment to what I was singing, hitting whatever objects were around me. Then I would spend a lot of time wondering about the different images, characters, and narratives that came to mind. What kind of story should this music tell? After experimenting with different story lines and ideas, I would begin the task of trying to craft the images into words until the song was finished. It can be exhilarating and incredibly frustrating all at the same time.
Trevin Wax: Tell us about the music you’re creating today, and about some of the authors who’ve inspired you in composing these songs.
David Radford: Somewhere along the way, I discovered a passion for writing narratives. I tend to think and speak in story-form, especially when it comes to complex ideas. I write music in the same way.
The gospel is woven into much of what I write. This is not so much an intentional exercise but is more a natural expression what I find most beautiful, most true, and most compelling.
My list of influences have to begin with Christ. He was the ultimate story-teller. Everywhere He went He told stories to illustrate truth. I think this is crucial not to overlook. We as Christians need to be able to tell stories like Christ in ways that grip the human heart so that they might be moved to worship.
J. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis are great examples of this kind of writing. In his lecture entitled “Echoes of Eden,” Jerram Barrs states:
“Lewis’ desire was to tell the Christian story for those who are not familiar with it or can no longer hear it because they have heard it so often they no longer understand it at all.”
This is certainly one of my aims in writing. Non-believers desperately need Christians to display truth and good beautifully.
The other aim I have is to present the gospel to the believer as well, firing up the imaginations through lyric and song in order that they might be drawn into worship. Lewis certainly did this as well. It is not long before I am joyfully immersed in thinking about redemption, beauty, or heaven when reading any Narnia book.
Trevin Wax: What are your plans for the future musically?
David Radford: That’s a good question. This will definitely be the shortest answer because it is the most uncertain.
My wife and I are hoping to put together some kind of fall tour for next year. Eventually, we would love to transition into doing music full-time.
Another goal would be to find and partner with others in creating a series of stunning and imaginative music videos to go along with our music. That would be really cool. Past that, we are continually praying that Lord would provide us with opportunities to continue creating music for His glory.
If you are interested in The Gray Havens, check out their first EP - Where Eyes Don’t Go, a collection of six songs that allude to the imaginations of Tolkien and Lewis. (Click here to purchase Where Eyes Don’t Go or download it for free on Noisetrade.)