Rock with a Purpose
Rock with a Purpose Catholic Music Spotlight Interview with
David Wang, Critical Mass by Lisa M. Hendey
David Wang, founder and lead singer of the highly regarded
Catholic rock group Critical Mass, is one cool Catholic dad.
This husband, university professor, and homeschooling dad of
nine makes time to practice his lead vocals while driving or in
the late night hours. His dedication to his craft is impressive,
and even more so once you have the opportunity to sit down and
listen to one of Critical Mass' CDs.
With their third project, Grasping for Hope in the Darkness,
this award winning band tells a compelling tale. While each of
the songs stands on its own merit, the cumulative effect is a
saga of overcoming sin and temptation, a life of tragedy and
despair, and an ultimate turning of the heart to find peace in
God. Music fans of "a certain age" will love the band's cover of
the classic "Carry On Wayward Son" as much as their kids will
enjoy the updated take. As the mom of a teenager, I'm always
thrilled to find music that my son and I can both enjoy.
Critical Mass has given us that gift with Grasping for Hope in
the Darkness - its musicality is awesome and the storyline of
the project is both gripping and a message you'll want to share
with the young people in your life.
In advance of their upcoming Fall Tour, I had an opportunity to
catch up with David Wang of Critical Mass. He shared the
following comments on the band, their latest CD and Catholic
Q: David Wang and Critical Mass, please introduce us to the
current members of the band and give us a bit of history about
A: I am the founder of Critical Mass. Critical Mass has been
around since 1997 and we've released three studio albums. Faith
Looks Up was a demo recording but ended up winning Best Modern
Rock album awards from the United Catholic Music and Video
Association. Our sophomore album, Completely, won Best Rock
Album honors from the Canadian Gospel Music Association. That
led to our being one of the main bands for World Youth Day 2002
where the band performed music ministry for almost 1 million
people. If you were at the Papal Welcoming or the Papal Vigil,
you were listening to Critical Mass. The song, Share it With the
World, was on the World Youth Day compilation CD, which sold
40,000 copies. After WYD 2002, there was a turnover in band
members. The new members of Critical Mass bring a fresh, edgy
sound to live performances and we are now touring in support of
the album, Grasping for Hope in the Darkness, which is garnering
very good reviews.
Q: David, as a mom I have to ask, how does a dad of nine and a
university professor find time to write and perform Christian
A: As with most Catholic musicians, this is a part time
endeavor. Most practices, studio time and songwriting occur
between the hours of 9pn and 1am. I practice a lot of my vocals
in the car whenever I am driving. Whereas some people would take
time to sit and watch television, I take all my spare time and
dedicate it to my music. With 9 kids, a vacation where we travel
is not necessarily restful so we often combine music tour dates
with an opportunity to travel. We home-school which gives us the
flexibility to hit the road occasionally.
Q: What do your wife and kids think of having a rock star for a
A: The kids have grown up with this. Jodie, my wonderful and
incredible wife, was part of the band until shortly after World
Youth Day 2002. She was one of the female vocalists on the
previous album. My kids sing a bit on this album and are quite
used to seeing their dad jump around on stage. In terms of being
a "rock star", there really is no such thing in the Catholic
market. There is more of an attitude of serving than in the
Q: I've read reviews calling your newest CD "Grasping for Hope
in the Darkness" a "concept CD". What came first - the songs or
the storyline? Can you share the creative process that went into
writing and recording this CD?
A: This CD does indeed have a story line. It is a concept album
and every song ties into the storyline. It has a very heavy Pink
Floyd "The Wall" influence. Some of the songs were written first
but it became very clear early on that this could be morphed
into a concept album. It took a bit to convince the producer,
Andrew Horrocks, that I wasn't crazy but once he was sold on the
idea, everything clicked into place very quickly. One unusual
thing about this album, however, is that most of the words were
written first. This is opposite to the way most albums are
written but it was a necessity for a concept album.
Q: For our readers who haven't yet heard the CD, give us an
overview of the storyline you present?
A: Essentially, it is a story about a man who is lured and
tempted away from God by secular things in his life, such as
money, power and pornography. He has a daughter, whom he
neglects, and she turns to a lurid lifestyle because of this.
She ends up getting pregnant is her father tries to convince her
to have an abortion. However, a kindly priest intervenes to save
the unborn child. The father is furious and confronts the priest
with much anger. Years later, however, the daughter dies
suddenly in a car accident and the father is distraught. Out of
despair, he returns to the priest and learns that his daughter
had found peace with God. This causes his heart to finally melt.
He is a changed man when he takes up the responsibility of
raising his granddaughter. At his death, he is finally reunited
with his daughter in heaven and with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Q: How did you decide to cover "Carry On Wayward Son" and can
you tell us about the rap featured in this song? What type of
reaction do you get when you play this song live?
A: Carry On is a song that I have always loved. The songwriter,
Kerry Livgren of Kansas, was searching for God during the time
that he wrote the song and he actually converted to Christianity
a few years later. I added a rap to make it more relevant to the
CD and I used it as an overture for the album at the start. It
was a real challenge to remain faithful to the original but also
to give it a contemporary feel.
Q: I have to ask you - what it was like to perform at Toronto's
World Youth Day for the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II?
A: It was awe-inspiring. We were one of the fortunate few that
caught to witness our Holy Father's suffering and strength from
up close. It was incredible how he drew strength from the youth.
Just when you thought he would have to stop from exhaustion, the
chanting from the youth seemed to reinvigorate him and he would
continue on. I think this is a model for how we should now
interact with him now that he is with God in heaven. I really
believe that he will be a powerful aid to the youth. I encourage
all youth to pray for intercession from this holy saint. I
picture the world's youth continuing to reach out to JPII and I
picture him continuing to guide and lead the youth of the world.
Q: What is the future of Catholic rock? How can we help support
and encourage more great Catholic music?
A: We need more musicians to counter the secular influences in
popular culture. This includes not only rock but other genres of
music such as hip-hop. It also includes not only music but also
television, movies and other art forms. For centuries, the
Catholic Church has influenced the world through her music and
art. The Sistine chapel is such an example. It is now the time
to re-establish Catholic art as second-to-none in quality. A
recent example of the influence of this would be Mel Gibson's
"Passion of the Christ". However, as audiences did for this
superb film, we need Catholics to support Catholic musicians. It
takes finances and resources to produce music to compete with
the secular counterparts in terms of qualities. Catholics need
to start buying catholic music and going to concerts.
Q: What do Catholic kids want in their music? How can Catholic
parents help their kids tune in to music that elevates the soul
A: Catholic parents have to start to understand the influence of
music in the child's life. I have had some parents refuse to buy
Catholic rock but are troubled when their kids start to sing and
listen to the garbage that is not only on the radio but is
everywhere around us, from stores to the television to their
friend's mp3 players. They try to buy very traditional Catholic
music and force their children to listen to it. What we have
found is the opposite. We produce rock that sounds and feels
like what they listen to now. We try to touch their lives in a
subliminal way, in much the same way that secular messages seep
into their brains through repeated listening. If the kids can
maintain that contact, however frail, with the messages of the
Church, then we have found that the kids eventually return to
the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and Confession.
Surprisingly, at this point, many of the kids do start to listen
to more traditional music (Gregorian chant, for example) and
have a deeper appreciation for the ancient traditions of our
Q: Some feel that rock music comes from the devil and that one
shouldn't use rock music to try to glorify God. How do you feel
A: I believe that art is neutral. It is the lyrical content that
makes it either spiritual or secular. There are some that say
that the rhythms of rock music are derived from African tribal
beats. That may be true but to say that traditional folk music
from Africa is somehow evil is prejudice in its ugliest form.
One must remember that the organ and piano were once considered
by the church to be secular and profane instruments. Even
Gregorian chant, one of Catholicism's great contributions to
music, comes from Gregory the Great's time (590-604). Music has
always been in a state of change and transition.
Q: Tell us about your upcoming Fall Tour. We are touring Canada
in the fall and we will be doing many US dates in 2006, which
will be the focus of our ministry.
For more information on Critical Mass, upcoming tour dates and
their latest CD Grasping for Hope in the Darkness visit
Lisa M. Hendey is webmaster of www.CatholicMom.com , a wife and
mother of two and a Catholic music fan and supporter. Visit her
at www.LisaHendey.com for more information.