Music at Mars Hill is a weekly column by Luke Larsen that seeks to find God amidst the newest trends in both mainstream music and independent music.
The Welcome Wagon is a husband-wife duo whose rise to indie fame seems peculiar at first glance. Aside from their association with indie superstar Sufjan Stevens, there is very little about The Welcome Wagon that seems cool or hip. Frontman Vito Autio is the senior pastor of a Presbyterian church in Brooklyn and writes pretty off-handedly about the Christological purpose of his folk-gospel music. In the description of their new album, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, Autio comments that his work as a pastor has significantly influenced his songwriting style: “A pastor is supposed to care for people, to help them to love God, to engage with their lives and their joys and their sorrows. I’m only interested in writing music that will speak to that. I’m writing as a pastor, wanting these songs to speak God’s truth into those situations.” If that isn’t the most “uncool” thing to say for an indie singer-songwriter, I don’t know what is. Yet on Sufjan Stevens’s indie record label Asthmatic Kitty, The Welcome Wagon has received a lot of attention—from both Christians and non-Christians alike.
As you could guess by the title, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices is an album about healing. Vito Autio has described the album as “spiritual medicine,” not unlike the the old 17th century Puritan book the album gets its name from. It’s definitely true that these quiet acoustic songs and haunting words of praise create a sacred kind of space to find God in. It’s like standing in an old rustic church and seeing the light pour in through the stained glass windows—there’s a sense of holy awe to it all. But it seems to me that The Welcome Wagon’s music inadvertently provides healing in a much larger context as well.
The band has found an interesting niche to fulfill in music made by Christians. Landing somewhere between Sufjan Stevens and The David Crowder Band, The Welcome Wagon doesn’t hold any punches about its gospel roots and worshipful lyrics. But they also aren’t afraid of making music that exists entirely outside the context of Sunday mornings—even music that has appealed to non-Christian music fans. A quick look at the cultural exchange between the three aforementioned artists—each distinctly different in how they approach music and the way they express their faith through it—provides a hopeful picture. The story goes something like this: first David Crowder covers the Sufjan Stevens song “O God Where Are You Now (In Pickeral Lake? Pigeon? Marquette? Mackinaw)?” back in 2005 on the worship band’s album A Collision. Then Sufjan Stevens produces and arranges The Welcome Wagon’s debut album Welcome to the Welcome Wagon in 2008. And now finally, the relationship has come full circle with The Welcome Wagon’s new album where they beautifully cover the David Crowder song “Remedy.”
The fact that David Crowder was willing to cover a Sufjan Stevens song in 2005 was a sign of an industry moving forward. But the fact that The Welcome Wagon is willing to cover a popular David Crowder song in 2012 is a sign of an industry finding healing and reconciliation. It’s a sign of an industry that is done being an “industry” and ready to appreciate the Body of Christ as the multifaceted, diverse body of believers, worshipers, and artists it is. Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices doesn’t seem to be about “us versus them” or about “art versus worship” at all. Instead, they’ve found a special place—an incredibly sincere place—to create music as followers of Jesus.
Listen to the entire album on The Welcome Wagon’s bandcamp page.