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Every night, people clapped and they were very kind," says David Eugene Edwards about Wovenhand's stint opening for Tool last year. "Of course, we had a few diehards in the front row that don't want to see anybody but Maynard, you know. They were like, 'Get the fuck off the stage! What are you doing here?'"
That type of reaction is certainly understandable. After all, the kind of music Edwards makes isn't exactly the type you'd expect to hear alongside the brooding intensity of Tool. For more than two decades, though, Edwards has offered plenty of intensity of his own and made a lasting impact with his fiery and emotionally honest performances, from his early days with Bloodflower and his years in the Denver Gentlemen to his long tenure in the legendary 16 Horsepower and his enduring career as the leader of Wovenhand.
The sort of gothic Americana perpetuated by Edwards has, in certain circles, become synonymous with the kind of music that comes out of Denver. If anyone's songwriting has had an enduring influence on Denver music, it's his. "I don't know, people talk about 'the Denver sound,'" says Edwards. "I think it just sprung out of all the music that was incorporating stuff from the past that's worth keeping around that we're trying to get rid of and move into the future — the kind of backlash toward that.
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"I think," he goes on, "that's what that whole 'Denver sound' came out of, saying, 'There is a lot of different music out there worth listening to. There's a lot more to life than guitar, bass and drums. There's a lot more music than that' — and trying to do it in a way that isn't cheesy and hokey."
As traditional-sounding as many fans may find Edwards's music, it was never firmly planted in a single musical tradition. "If you don't do it pure," he says, "then the majority of the people who like that kind of music aren't going to listen to you. So I've had to deal with those people a lot."
One listen to Wovenhand's latest release, the haunting yet bracing Threshingfloor, and it's clear: Edwards is not a purist, and his songs could have come about yesterday or a decade ago. His songs, especially the more recent ones, draw from traditional American music, as well as music from Iran, Tuva and North Africa. They've also been influenced by more modern music, as evidenced by the cover of "Truth," an early New Order song.
"The first time I heard Joy Division, a friend of mine introduced me to it, and I thought it was the worst music I'd ever heard," Edwards confesses. "Then, probably by the next day or the day after, that was all I could listen to. I think I just paid attention to what he was saying. And then after I paid attention to what he was saying, the music started to make more sense to me." From there, Edwards became an admirer of New Order for its ability to break with its musical past against the wishes of some of its fans. It's a phenomenon that resonates with Edwards's own experience with fans and friends reacting to his artistic development.
"When 16 Horsepower finished," he recalls, "people were like, 'What?!' They were like, 'Wovenhand? No, no, no! 16 Horsepower!' Everybody's like, 'You're an idiot,' or 'This is never going to work.' What people didn't really realize is that that was the same thing that happened to me when I stopped playing with the Denver Gentlemen and started 16 Horsepower. Everyone was like, 'What? 16 Horsepower? No, you gotta do the Denver Gentlemen.' And it happened before that. It happened with Bloodflower, and then we started the Denver Gentlemen.
"It doesn't matter where I go," he points out. "People are going to say, 'You're going the wrong direction. It's not as good as it was before.' It's a constant stream of that, so I can't really listen to those voices and just do what I do."
Like any artist worth his salt, Edwards feels he has grown personally and creatively, and while he completely understands why fans of his older music would want to hear the old songs right now, he can't often play them with any honesty anymore.
"I've just gotten a better understanding of things," he says. "I was in a completely different space at those times. I can't put myself back in there, because it's not like, 'Oh, it doesn't matter; it's just an old song that people like.' I can't do it. The reason I did it back then was because I really meant it, and I was really into it, and that's why I wasn't playing any other sort of music."
Along with his art, Edwards's views on the meaning of life have changed as he's come to a better understanding of his relationship to his God and the Gospel. "That's the lens through which I see everything," declares Edwards. "It's not something I just use to use. I don't know anything else, to be honest with you. I don't know how to do it any other way, and I don't want to do it any other way. That's what I sing about; that's what I'm interested in knowing about, telling other people about.
"The whole artistic side of it is connected with it, as well," he points out. "Just the whole other cultures and other people, especially the Native American culture, what was done to them in the name of God. All the bullshit that was placed on them — which really has nothing to do with God at all. It has to do with white colonial ideas. That has nothing to do with God and the Scriptures. This is completely man-imposed and man's ideas of control and power and progress. My relationship with God is what gives me the ability, I hope, to have a connection with other cultures and to have the proper respect for them and their culture and for their spiritual ideas. I do it through music, which is a great place to be. In a lot of ways, it's just, 'Oh, you like my music? I like your music too.' Then you have a relationship and you can build on that."
Humble about his considerable accomplishments, Edwards is refreshingly philosophical about the appeal of the music he's written in his longer-than-average career. "I don't expect people to like what I do," he muses. "I like it when they do, but I don't expect it, because why should I? There's a million people playing music, and thousands upon thousands of people go to shows that I would never go to.
"And that's one thing I've learned over the course of my career — that I cannot judge other people's music," he concludes. "I can never say, 'This music is better than this music,' because people have different tastes and different ideas about what they want. Who am I to say? I do what I do, and if people are interested in it, great! But more often than not, they're not."