Monday, September 30, 2013

Sanctus Real Interview with Mark Graalman

This is interview was originally done for The Christian Post. Read the original article here.

Christian rock band Sanctus Real has been pumping out heartfelt powerful music since they got signed in 2002, and now with their latest release, Run, they are ready to show the rest of the world what they are doing.

Founding member and drummer Mark Graalman was able to chat with the Christian Post about the new record, multiple tours, Dove Awards, the future, and hitting the studio.

The band just embarked on The Run Tour last week, which will run until November. Graalman said this tour is perhaps the most ambitious for the band because they will be incorporating a lot of different functions into the show. Ultimately it will be a unique fan experience.

"We come up with ideas on how we want the show to look. We set up at a rehearsal warehouse type place in Nashville. We bust through three days of rehearsal and make any changes in the set list we want to make," he said. "It's going to be a really different show for us … particularly in the area of audience participation. How do we make the audience literally a part of the show? … I'll just say people need to have their drumming skills brushed up on."

Sanctus Real says the album title of Run does not necessarily mean they are running from anything, but rather running forward and on to the future. The other meaning could be running to God as well, but there is no sense of running for escape.

When asked about the symbolism of the circles on the album cover having to do with the theme of running, Graalman said, "[The] circles look like they are chasing each other. It just felt like run to us," before explaining the cover was one of almost 20 that was offered to them. A woman named Sarah came up with the designs for the band, and the abstract circles were what they felt was best for the record.

Going with the second theory of the title Run, Graalman traces music back to God and our constant pursuit of Him.

"Music is the most powerful way to express any kind of message. I think music was created by God as a gift to us. A sort of language to use as a way to get back to him. Throughout the scriptures music was mainly used to worship God with. It's meant to bring him glory," he said before explaining he feels making music is a human's way of reconnecting with the Father.

Sanctus Real recently released their video for the track "Run," and Graalman said although the video was simple, they were looking more to make an impact on the listener, rather than have an elaborate sequence of events.

"We'd prefer to have some sort of storyline going with it. Tricky part is coming up with a storyline and then executing it. The goal … getting the message of the song to be as impactful as it can be and just hit
that place in the heart we're trying to hit," he said.

The new album has also been nominated for a Dove Award. The band previously won in 2005, but things were very different back then. Sanctus Real had different members, a different sound, and their heads were in a different place.

"Obvious changes have been lineup changes. Matt, Chris, and I are the founding members. New bass player, added a fifth member. It's technically a different band in that record. We've grown a lot in our singing, and just trying to say what we want to say," he said, including that they are just trying to make art, and not hold themselves so high. "We were grungier when we were younger, and def have been all over the map since then. [We've] been able to experiment musically over the years."

Graalman said the band has been in a constant evolution in sound and in growth and maturity.

"When you're a young band everything is new and fresh. You can't help but evolve. Put out a record and do all these tours 200 days a year, and you are in this writing space and recording music. So you are constantly playing music, and eventually you just get better at what you do. You get a lot more practice and hours under your belt. Another big thing that changes is musical influences as you start to grow up. I certainly don't listen to the same stuff when I was 18 when the band started and now at 35.
What you want to hear plays a big part for what you want to hear. People could hear us grow up."

Graalman says the band approaches song writing in generally two ways. Sometimes the band just gets together and jams out on one guitar riff and everyone adds a part.

"Matt (singer) will hear melodies vocally and just sing along to it, and for whatever reason that turns into lyrics. Themes pop into his head of what this music sounds like and what it's trying to say. Then he starts writing lyrics to what we're doing," he said.

In other occasions, Graalman said Mark Hammit will come to them with things he wrote at home. They have also worked sessions with a few other songwriters in Nashville.

He even hinted that Sanctus Real would be back in the studio after a winter tour to start a record in January.

"We'll go a week at a time and record three or four songs at a time and take a break. Always writing throughout. Hopefully by next spring or summer we'll have a new record ready to go," he said.

When asked how the band has anytime to write with such an extensive touring schedule, he said they are "really intentional with time." Between balancing life, and being married with children, they prioritize family over the band.

"Rock n' roll won't be there when it's all said and done-- family will," he explained.

Lastly, Graalman wants Sanctus Real fans to know about Compassion International. The band had always talked about joining the organization to see what impoverished kids live like around the world, and they were given that opportunity this year.

Hammit and Graalman went to El Salvador and met children they were sponsoring, and got to see what life is in third world country.

"It's a hard experience to see that there really are people who live like that … very eye opening. Puts your priorities in a better place," Graalman admitted.

He said his bandmate Hammit said it best, "It's help me so much to be able to see who we are fighting for."

Catch Sanctus Real on tour this fall and check out Run on iTunes.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Dustin Kensrue Interview on Songwriting 'The Water and Blood'

This article was written for the Christian Post. It was a part two for an interview I conducted two weeks ago. Check out the original here. 
Dustin Kensrue recently chatted with The Christian Post about his debut worship album The Water & Blood, and about being a Worship Pastor for Mars Hill Church after 14 years with hardcore-experimental band Thrice.

Read the first part of the interview where Dustin exclusively speaks on the new album and his transition to worship leader here.

Kensrue broke down the way he approaches music writing and how he distinguishes between writing worship, writing for himself, and writing for Thrice. For him, music is poetry, and the musician admitted his love for reading is the perfect place to get "fodder" for his lyrics.

When asked about how he approaches his song writing, he spoke of a process that is strict in detail and perfection.

"The way I write is very much focuses on whatever that song is has to be what that song needs to be," he said, speaking about the differences between writing for Thrice and writing worship for church.

"I really try to let it have an internal harmony and consistency. Especially in the last 7 or 8 years I've been really writing letting the music even inform the lyrics as I'm writing and that really shapes the music. There are times I've had this idea and as I'm building ... I either have to push the lyrics one way or the music one way. A lot of it is I like to read a lot. A lot of times that stuff is not even conscience.
It's like you're building a pallet," he continued.

Between 2006 and 2008, Thrice put out four EPs combined into two albums based on the Earth's elements: Fire and Water, Earth and Air. These were compiled into The Alchemy Index I-IV.

Every song from each of the elements contained songs that either had to do with the element thematically, or had the tone of what it would sound like in music. For example, the Fire album was very heavy, while the Water album was very dissonant and effected, and actually had songs about the ocean. Earth was very soulful and folk rock like, and featured beautiful acoustic and piano-driven songs. Air was, for lack of a better word, "airy," and powerful musically. Most of the songs had to do with flight.

Even more amazing was the format of the last track of each of the EPs.

The final song on each disc is written in the form of a sonnet, depicting the relationship of man with each of the particular elements. Each of these songs is in iambic pentameter, with a concluding rhyming couplet. These final couplets also contain the same vocal melody and chord progression as each other, although they are in different keys.
The "Water & Blood" will be released October 1.

"That's the beauty of structured poetry. Constraints foster creativity. They are an awesome first person perspective of the elements. Those were a lot of fun for me, and putting this constraints on myself," Kensrue said as those albums fostered a change in style and direction for the band that set the tone for later work.

He concluded the interview with giving fans some hope for whether there is a future for Thrice or not.

"There's definitely a future for Thrice I just have no idea what it looks like or when it looks like. I think it'll definitely be a couple of years before it even begins to make sense. I look forward to the day in whatever form we start doing stuff together again," he explained. "There's just so many factors, I can't say with any certainty or what that looks like. I love playing with those guys, and it would be a blast to do it again and it will be extra fun having had time away from it because 14 years straight is pretty intense."

The Water & Blood will be released Oct. 1 off of Mars Hill Music/BEC Recordings.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Hello, Seattle Album Review for 'Improper Greeting'

Hailing from Long Island and Oneonta, NY, Hello, Seattle just released their debut album, Improper Greeting. 

This female fronted group consisting of: Kimberly Berg (singer), Amy Maxwell (guitar), Frank Cicciarello (bass), Andrew Platt (drummer), and Jason Psanis (pianist), blew me away with some great alternative/awesomeness music.

The opening track, "Let Go," is a brief intro into the musical stylings of Hello, Seattle. The singer comes in about midway through and sings the name of the track over and over – powerful start.

"Camouflage" has a very familiar tone to it. I think the chords sound a bit like Cute Without the E by Taking Back Sunday, except this track adds piano and gives the song more of upbeat dance like feel to it before slowing down and changing tone. Berg's vocals are great on this.

"Broken Glass" is a bit heavier than the previous track and the singer is more aggressive to match. The song features killer piano that drives the song.

The next track, "The Divide" is an acoustic ballad. Her voice takes a lovely folky catchy tone to it. I love the harmonies and the airiness to the vocals. The subtle keys that come are wonderful, and then quickly followed with the rest of the band coming in. Almost as subtle as the piano is some really good bass work.

"Fire Eyes" prepares the listener for a quick tempo fun song right from the chattering hi-hats in the beginning of the track. The chorus is especially strong, and at times she sounds like a more indie rock version of Hayley Williams. The music over the bridge is great, the whole band comes together so well.

"Peter Pan" is another acoustic track featuring piano. I really dig the vocals and words in this song. It's a good concept, and simply puts the feelings of many people into something that is easy and relatable. 

A slick bass line and an even better drum beat open this song. "Ghost In a Common Place," instrumentally, is my favorite track. You really hear their talent on this track. The song features a much different bridge then the others. I really feel the creativity is at a max here. The layering of the vocals with the effects, the drop out, and then guitar solo. Just really a brilliant song.

"The Cure" has prominent bass playing by Cicciarello, and continues the overall feel of the album. In my opinion this song does not resonate with me as much as the others, but it is still solid.

This next track sort of opens up like "Fire Eyes" with quick hi-hats hits and rhythms, but the overall feel is totally different. "Horizon" makes you feel like you are on the run and as I'm writing Berg began singing, "I'm already moving," so maybe I got the point! This song could definitely be a single, and I can also hear it as part of a soundtrack for a movie.

"Strides" is up next, and follows a sort of bluesy tone to it in the beginning. It is probably the most different of the tracks on the album, and has differing parts. Perhaps my biggest gripe on the whole album is that this song is only about two minutes long! I want more!

Closing out the album in "Leaving." It sort of has a march to it in the chorus. It is super catchy and mixes a few different styles on it. I love the string work on this song, and Berg sings with such passion here. It is the perfect closing song for an album because it sounds like the closer of a set. Well done on this track.

Hello, Seattle is super tight! Everyone in the band is on point and they definitely play well together and are comfortable writing together. Piano, bass, guitars, drums all hit the nail on the head with consistency and pin point fluidness. Maxwell is a great lyric writer, and knows how to engross the listener. Berg has a bit of Hayley and a bit of Avril, but yet is able to find her own voice among the comparisons to really deliver on all the songs.

Improper Greeting is a wonderful first step into music for this band, and as I told the bass player, I had no sort of idea of what the band sounded like coming in, and boy was I impressed!

Check them out at -

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Signal For Pilot Album Review for 'Man Eating Shark'

Signal For Pilot is a band like I have never heard before, and upon checking them out, you'll probably agree too! The band considers themselves to be, Alternative Rock/Indie Electro-Pop Core, but I'm sure you can find your own mix of sounds in their too. Their newest release Man Eating Shark, is an excellent foray into a musical journey from these Long Island rockers.

The band consists of: 
Chris 'Jaws'- Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Patrick Flanagan- Guitar, Vocals, Electronics
Scotty 'Tru' Truelson- Keyboards, Synth, Vocals
Keith Smith- Bass, Vocals

The album opens up with "Dangerous Waters," and from the get go I like what I am hearing. The song is super catchy and poppy, and has a good blend of synthy effected chords with heavy guitar riffs. I really love the synth at the end of this song! This song is definitely a single.

"Nosferatu" is for lack of a better word, a cool track. Musically, it feels themed, all most theater like as it is telling a story. Plus, who doesn't love an ode to old vampires with the name! The solo section over the pulsing bass drum hits into a softer bridge is superbly done.

The next track, "Mr. Parole," sounds like if My Chemical Romance and Family Force 5 had a baby. The verses and vocal style are really punky reminiscent of old MCR. The electronic sounds and hi energy vocals of the chorus and ending cover a totally different spectrum. This song is very mature in the way it blends together sonically. This is my favorite so far.

"Hot Chicks and Aliens" follows in the same vein of the previous song and kicks up the music a notch, and tones done the hi-paced energy. This is more of a straight up rock song and anthem, and could definitely hear this on the radio playing alongside anyone out there.

"Eerie Sounds of an East Coast Wreck" starts off with a burp…yes you read that right! This is a fun pirates/sailors anthem that talks about life on the sea. It features gang vocals that would make you feel like you are on the galley of the boat with them. I have never heard anything quite like this and have it be a serious song among the others. To clarify, I mean serious as in, the song is not a joke, it is very well done. It includes cannon sound effects, so what's not to love.

The next song brings the album back off the water on onto land for, "Surface and Back." The tone of the album switches right off the funny loving party song to perhaps the darkest of tunes on this record. The synth is gone in favor of a haunting piano over precise guitar riffs and intense vocal harmonies.

"Better Late Than Never," is a soft piano ballad that showcases the vocal flare of the lead single. Midway through the song it starts to build. Other instruments lightly playing are introduced and a number of harmonies begin to repeat and assemble in the foreground. This song is extremely well done and gives the listener a sense of intimacy as they enter into the lyrics themselves.

"No One Was There" picks right back up with crunchier guitars and has a Taking Back Sunday circa Louder Now feel to it. It has a good vibe, and motion to it, and then it hits you unexpectedly with some dub-step! This is the first time such an electronic breakdown was featured on the album. The fadeaway vocals at the end of the song back into the music are awesome!

Following the previous track is, "Uniform," which now brings me a Used comparison, but completely original. The music is very precise and again, almost singlehandedly paints the picture on its own. Included is a roaring, climbing guitar solo. The almost chanted like harmonization of the final chorus is a nice touch as well.

Closing out the album is "Collide-a-Scope," and say hello a more involved sound then the rest of of the album. This song is definitely mainstream, and has an aggressive alternative chorus over their electric infused rock. Also most noticeable in this song is the drums. The drummer sounds like he went all in and had serious fun on this one. It is a perfect finish to an album, "I don't want to say goodbye."

Overall this is a fantastic first entry to music for Signal For Pilot. Man Eating Shark nailed it on every front and contained no filler songs. Their unique blend of rock/electronic/punky-grunge is among the most diverse sounds I have ever heard. The band can be linked to so many others. First thoughts are Family Force 5, Chronic Future (without rap), Panic! At the Disco, and too many more yet they take these styles and make them completely original. The best part is most of the album is themed to water, and regardless of the song subject material, they all fit well together.

Look out for Signal For Pilot and their Man Eating Shark!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Dustin Kensrue Interview on His New Project 'The Water & Blood'

This interview was originally done for The Christian Post. You can view the original piece here
A little context to the story...This was a dream interview for me. Thrice is my favorite band of all time, and Dustin's songwriting ability amazes me, so this was truly an honor for me. There is a second part to the interview that I will post later.

Dustin Kensrue traded in his heavy rock chords and vocals as the frontman of Thrice for stripped down emotive and powerful church music as the Worship Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Bellevue, Washington, and is releasing his first album, The Water & Blood, on October 1.

Although Kensrue has released solo albums before, this is his first record comprised strictly of corporate worship songs to be sang specifically in churches. 

"At Mars Hill music we are really trying to write music for the local churches to sing," Kensrue told the Christian Post. "We want to proclaim and celebrate the gospel in the sense of what God has done through Jesus Christ. We are here because of what Jesus has done. He's called the church into being. There's freedom in that and there's a lot to be celebrated.  

Kensrue shared that writing worship music was a bit of a process for him as he always shied away from it in favor of what he was doing with his band or solo projects.

"I originally did not want to have anything to do with it for a long time. I grew up leading worship in my junior high group. I started playing guitar; I could barely play but none of the other leaders and kids could play, so I ended up leading. I was kind of fed up with it and frustrated. I had a real chip on my shoulder about it. It wasn't a healthy response," he revealed.

As a member of Thrice, Kensrue and his bandmates were known for challenging themselves musically as they put out eight albums of varying sound and themes. This time around however, the call to worship was a challenge issued by God Himself.

"I guess God challenged me on that. I told my wife I would never be a worship leader. He [God] trained me up to see it differently, and stop complaining from the sidelines. He brought me to where I'm at now."

Kensrue however, is grateful for all the work he was able to do with Thrice. Being in the band allowed him to portray a message through his music to "impact the broader secular world." The band was never labeled Christian, but it is quite evident in Kensrue's lyrics as to where his focus and devotion belonged to.

He now would have to use his gift for fluid and masterful songwriting and storytelling to capture the might of God, while also creating a song that many voices can sing out together. 

"I really think the only difference should be that the music has a different purpose and function. We should be making good art, we should be doing our jobs well wherever we are. The way that we do those jobs should point to the excellency of Jesus," he said. "I really want these songs to be centered around the cross, and [I'm] writing with a purpose that this song needs to work well in corporate worship."

Kensrue also says there is a stigma that comes with Christian music. Sometimes people will not listen to it simply because of the label. It is because of this that he is appreciative of his time and ability to reach people while spending 14 years touring and recording with Thrice.

"I ended up having an impact in the broader secular world" he said regarding his decision to communicate a message through a non Christian forum. It showed in the music as well.

Thrice songs such as "Like Moths to Flame," chronicled the feelings of shame after Peter denied Jesus, and "Come All You Weary" touches on resting all heartache and burdens on the Savior – and those are just a few.

The importance of the power of music is not lost on Kensrue as he understands the opportunity to now minister to people who may have not ever listened to worship, but will now because of his history with Thrice. 

"Music is something that has a lot of hear a sermon once or twice, read your favorite book two or three times, favorite movie... How often do you listen to your favorite song? Maybe hundreds – a thousand times in a life time. If that song is true and helpful and good, it has a profound impact on the way you see things. Especially worship songs. This is the reason why we need to have great corporate worship songs." 

He continues, "I don't want them to just be tools for other worship leaders. I want them to be amazing worship art so that people will want to listen to them, therefore have spiritual transformation."

Perhaps Kensrue's newest song, and the big single off of The Water & Blood, "It's Not Enough," is the perfect example of music as art. The song leaves the standard convention of what a worship song is and allows Kensrue to explore a bit more of his roots while opening himself up to the Lord. 

"That song was originally going to be a Thrice song that I never got around to finishing. The song should work on either record because it is true and engaging on a different level," he said.

The video is powerful as well. It is a continuous shot of his face as he walks for what seems like forever with a background of events happening all around the world behind him. It is simple and to the point, but gets the message across crystal clear.  

"There's something kind of engaging and uncomfortable and inviting by this lopped off shot. I thought it was compelling and would work really well with this song in particular. I think the main point was to capture the face to face to excentsiate the lyrics which adds another layer to challenge the listener of what's going to be talked about," said Kensrue.

He came up with the idea of the video while at the gym. He said he was walking in step with the song while on the treadmill, and the idea hit him. 

Kensrue is well known for the emotion and passion he puts behind singing some of his most emotional songs. "It's Not Enough," is no different, and when asked about it he quoted Dr. Bryan Chapell, "If the manner does not match the message, the manner is what we will believe."

In other words, he means, being engaged with the song makes the story powerful because it puts yourself in the characters place. "[It's like] Entering into the story and inviting others into that."

In the foreseeable future, Kensrue plans on continuing to lead worship every Sunday at Mars Hill Church. He also has a couple of musical endeavors in the works. 

"As crazy as it sounds, I plan on putting another worship album out within a year. I've got two other records I want to make that are outside the church. One being a follow up to Please Come Home and one being something totally different. I don't know when I'll ever get to those. I have songs for it, I just need to finish them," he said.

He also offered a glimmer of hope for Thrice fans that are missing their favorite band since going on hiatus earlier this year.

"There's definitely a future for Thrice I just have no idea what it looks like or when it looks like. I think it'll definitely be a couple of years before it even begins to make sense. I look forward to the day in whatever form we start doing stuff together again. There's just so many factors, I can't say with any certainty or what that looks like. I love playing with those guys, and it would be a blast to do it again and it will be extra fun having had time away from it because 14 years straight is pretty intense."

The Water & Blood releases on October 1 off of Mars Hill Music/BEC Recordings.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Music Videos! Cody Miles, Fairday Skyline, and Process of Fusion

Cody Miles
Hip-Hop artist Cody Miles reached out to me and sent me his newest music video. I was honestly quite impressed, check it out below!

Fairday Skyline
Check out these S.I. locals in their new heavy lyric video for "Circles"

Download the song -

Process of Fusion
My is continuing our Fusion Friday series. Check out a little promotional trailer for "Bright Eyes."

Friday, September 13, 2013

Charetta Prepares for the 'Apocalypse' with New EP (Interview)

Tell me about the new single "This is Your Fall," and what has the response been like so far?
"This Is Your Fall" is the first single from our upcoming Apocalypse EP, which will be released on Sept 29th, 2013 at our show with Eye Empire at Revolution in Amityville, NY. The fan reaction has been great so far. The song started around that vocal hook, "Im not gonna break, Im not gonna fake, Im not gonna take your fall," in the chorus. Angelina was singing that one day and it was stuck in my head for hours afterwards. We felt compelled to build a song around it. Musically, it's probably the most diverse song we've written to date. It's still very much hard rock, but you also hear hints of goth, pop, and progressive elements as well.
How does the new single prepare your fans for the upcoming Apocalypse EP?
It definitely sets the tone for the "newish" direction of the EP. I recently listened to Defying The Inevitable (1st album), and A Nation Distracted (previous release), and these new songs are a little faster and moodier. Angelina has really developed as a songwriter/vocalist. There are more vocal hooks than the prior songs - you know, those phrases that jump out at you when you're listening for the first time. (See: "I'm not your bitch")

What will be different with this upcoming EP that the band may have not explored before musically? 
Screams, guitar effects, and heavy breakdowns. Ange had been listening to a lot of "In This Moment" in the time we were writing, and some well placed screams really help bring out the emotion of a few songs. I don't want to scare people off with that one though - its still 95% singing.  

Will there be a music video for "This is Your Fall?"
We believe so. We have a few ideas for the story lines and visuals that match the mood of the song. Our next step is finding a producer who can execute our vision. We also just finished a lyric video for our second single, "Im Not Your Bitch." 

Please explain - "Sounds like Alanis Morissette punching Chevelle in the face!"
If Alanis Morissette punched Chevelle in the face, that's what we sound like! (haha) But seriously, I think it came from another review in the early days of the band. We had mentioned that Alanis was a big influence on Angelina when she was starting to sing, and Pablo mentioned he was a Chevelle fan...and the tagline was born! Just don't ask us what CHARETTA means.

What does CHARETTA mean? 
I joined the band halfway through the 7 year history, but I think its an old Latin phrase for the ash that covers a city after a volcano eruption. 

What's the band's biggest rockstar moment?
Probably after our sold out show at The Gramercy Theatre in NYC last summer. We walked right off the stage and over to the merch booth, and were getting swarmed by people wanting to say hello and sign stuff. Angelina is used to that a little more since she is the singer and most recognizable, so when people start coming up to the rest of us, we know there's a serious crowd! (Haha) We now know to have a dedicated merch person on staff at any larger show.

What's one thing as a band you wish you could all do better?
Pulling Miley Cyrus and Jimmy Kimmel-esque publicity stunts. 

All answers by Chris Fullam, check out Charetta at -

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Newsboys Interview with Drummer Duncan Phillips

Did this interview for the Christian Post. Enjoy, and be sure to check out the original at -

As legendary and pioneering Christian band the Newsboys get ready to release their 17th album, Restart, tomorrow, the Christian Post had the opportunity to speak with longtime drummer Duncan Phillips on the messages of the album, why Christian music as a whole is lacking, and why Restart is the best Newsboys album ever made.

Christian Post: The new album Restart has been quoted by the band as 'taking music one step further.' How is that?

Duncan Phillips: I think on this one in particular we really wanted to go outside of our box because I think... we kind of felt that Christian music is really the only type of music that is sort of gauged on its lyrical content rather than the art of the music. This is fine, but unfortunately the downside is I think music is kind of second fiddle for the lyrics – I really believe that the art itself has suffered. It's second rank, and that's one of the complaints we hear from a lot of people. The music art just isn't there, and I would have to agree with them about that.

This one [album] we kind of went on purpose and said, look if that's the complaint that people who listen to CCM and Newsboys [have], let's have a genuine look at this and see what we can do about it. So we chased the best producers we possibly could and we chased the best songwriters we possibly could. Just because we are in band doesn't mean that we are the best songwriters, and I know we've had a lot of success with our own songs over the years but we thought, 'let's just get the best.' There's guys out there who will never be on the stage but at songs they are absolute geniuses. Let's see what we can do if we get some world class songwriters to collaborate on this project. I really believe we got a superior product. I can unequivocally say, that it's the best Newsboys record we've ever penned and recorded.

CP: What are some of the themes and messages that you are trying to convey on Restart?

DP: We didn't do it on purpose, but there is a theme throughout the record of, God chooses his people to do His will, and we aren't going to be able to hide in our subculture. We are not going to affect the world hiding in a cave and waiting for God to return. He's not going to return because I think He chooses to do His work, and if we ain't going to do it, He'll just sit around and wait for the next generation to it. He chooses to use you and me, and maybe it's for our betterment but the fact that he does, tells me we have to reengage with the culture. The culture over the last 50 years has degraded to a point where we have a 20 year-old girl at the VMA's strutting around basically naked telling everyone if you're to be anyone that she's got to act in a certain way. This generation has lost its heroes and people to look up to. As a band we want to rengage our culture, and have a real positive effect. Obviously the enemy is having a positive affect on our culture and I think it's time that we jumped in not to be apart of it, knowing who we are and having courage to do the great commission. 

CP: Why do you think music is a powerful tool for the gospel?

DP: I think the thing with music, it can bypass you in your conscience and affects someone right down into their soul and being. I'm a drummer and rhythms and grooves really get me going. A lot of times I don't even know what a certain song is singing about. One time someone asked, 'What's your 10 favorite songs,' and then someone in the band said, 'Have you ever heard the lyrics on that song?' and I'm like 'No, I love the drums on that song.' Then when I actually read the lyrics I died because I can not believe I've been singing this song in my brain the whole time, and that's what the lyrics have been. That proved my point, that a lot of the time the art of the music is such a powerful force that it can actually bypass the conscience. It could work for the good, and it could work for the bad. Through the medium of music God does wonderful and mighty things and I really believe God has done that in the past.  

CP: The new single is "Live with Abandon," what have the reactions been like so far? 

DP: It's amazing. I was talking to Michael this morning. He said the feeling on this record is how he felt when Jesus Freak hit. He knew with Jesus Freak that he had something amazing, but they weren't quite sure what because obviously a hit is not a hit til it hits. But he has that very same feeling, that sense of anticipation and so far the reaction has been amazing. I think people are really genuinely blown away. We want to give a product that kids are proud of, and I don't want them to hide their Christian music. Something they'll only listen to when no one else is in the dorm room. I want it to stand up stylistically, and as far as the art side of it goes, against anything out there, and I think it does. I'm incredibly proud of it, and once this kind of gets into the airwaves and people get the record, it'll be something that they can use as a tool.

CP: Why have the Newsboys been able to last so long? From 1985 to the present.

DP: We've always been very proud of who we are as a band, and very proud about not being a Christian version of someone else. That's one of the major complaints of CCM in general, you know whatever is happening at the time, two or three years later, stylistically the Christian music industry will kind of do their Christian version of it. I believe Christian music should be better. We shouldn't be copying one another, and this album, that is what we did. I'm incredibly proud of this record. I think it's going change the face of our fans, but hopefully changes the face of CCM in general.  

CP: Stylistically the Newsboys have covered many different genres of music as the decades have passed. Do you think it's because of the different lead singers or just how Christian music has evolved over the years?

DP: I think it's everything. Every record is like applying for your job over. Every record is an opportunity to say, 'Hey, here we are.' We hope you like this rendition. With the change over to Michael in 2009, that gave us this incredible opportunity to try something musically that we hadn't done before, and it's a risk, and it's scary, but I think any band that stands the test of time has been through any one or two restarts. They've kind of been through a realigning of who they are. Because if you keep making the same record, you are going backwards I believe. Getting a new lead singer is a stretch, going from a bald white guy to a black guy with hair, that's a massive monumental change in the band. Michael is such a world class talent, that he really allowed the band to go forward and to kind of do the record like Restart

CP: Michael was no slouch either. His former group DC Talk was fairly popular (Sarcastic)...

DP: Oh my God yeah. DC Talk was kind of a band that revolutionized Christian music at the time. There was nothing like DC Talk at the time. I remember it, there was just this massive moment of, 'oh my gosh, where did these guys come from?' They really raised the standard of what Christian music had been up to that point and time. And I really believe with Michael this record that the Newsboys have done that again. At least from what we've done before, we've set the bar pretty high. I think you have to legitimately and constantly working on getting better on every level of what you do. 

CP: What's the craziest thing that has happened to you in your 20 years with the Newsboys?

DP: There's so much to go on. I've probably forgotten half of it. You travel the whole world, you might play 150 dates a year. There's stuff that happens all the time and because you live in that world, a lot of times you don't even remember this stuff. We were younger and we crazy, and it takes a bunch of crazy to do what we do I think. We used to ride motorbikes all over the country, we had dirtbikes, paintball back in the day. Off hand I can't remember one particular thing. I mean the road life is crazy, you go from town to town, you're meeting people all the time. Your bus is breaking down, your gear is breaking down... One time back in the day our drum riser that spins around got stuck upside down, and that was a funny moment because I didn't know whether to keep on going or to stop. But being the pros we are we kept on going, and I finished the set hanging upside down until some guys came and got me and unbuckled me and carried me out of the thing. That was years and years ago, that doesn't happen anymore. 

CP: What's your favorite classic Newsboys song to play?

DP: Since Michael's joined the band, we've had so many hits off of these last three records, that we're only playing like three records, like three songs from older stuff. "He Reigns," we play that which is a really nice moment. I think "Something Beautiful," and kind of a throwback to Michael's heritage, "Jesus Freak," out here for a couple of years now, and that's always a nice moment because it puts a bow on the collaboration between Michael and the Newsboys and where he's been. With this Restart record we may even get rid of those. Going out in the future we may not play any of the classic stuff  unfortunately. But the great thing is that we have so many new great songs that we want to play and want people to hear. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Tammy Trent 'Sunny Days' Interview

This is an interview I conducted with Tammy Trent for the Christian Post. It was broken into two parts which can be read here and here.

Christian pop recording artist Tammy Trent has been encouraging believers and non-believers with her God-inspired music since 1995, and with her latest release, Sunny Days, she continues that consistency.

Whether it be the testimony of overcoming tragedy in her life, authoring books, or her work with the Women of Faith Conference as a speaker and performer, Trent has not wavered on her purpose for the Lord.

Trent took time out of her busy schedule to chat with The Christian Post about her first album in five years, Sunny Days, along with her relationship with God and special moments from her life.

Christian Post: Tell us about Sunny Days and why you feel this album is the most close to who you are?

Tammy Trent: Well it's been five years since my last release (STRONGER) and I think I'm more excited about this album than any other album in my career. I ... [co-wrote] 8 of the 10 songs and oversaw all the production, mixing and mastering. When you're that involved with every step along the way, and you're purposefully thinking about your audience with each word you write and sing, the end result is always something that is a clear reflection of who you are and what God has called you to accomplish through His work.

I ... hope that these songs will now make a huge impact in the lives of those who lean in for a listen. I'm prayerful that they would feel the love of God breathing in their direction and straight into their circumstances, wherever they may be in life.

CP: What are the major differences between this album and your last, and how have you grown since then?

TT: On my last album I brought everything back into the studio with live musicians and a string orchestra. It definitely took on more of a straight ahead pop feel which I loved, yet I felt like I was missing those energetic fun tracks that I've always been known for and my audiences have come to love. In the past, my music has always been pop-driven, infused with dance elements for sure, and this new album won't disappoint any longtime fans or hopefully any new ones that discover it.

Sunny Days is a musical journey of my life as I continue to grow in my faith and encourage others along the way. It's full of energetic pop dance tunes balanced by some thoughtful worship ballads. But more importantly, it's my testimony that though grief may come for a night, in Christ the morning always arrives. And when it comes, we can dance, sing and worship.

CP: How has the reaction to Sunny Days been so far, and what's the next move concerning the album?

TT: It's been heartwarming for me to see so many people responding to the songs and I love how all the songs minister in different ways. That's the payoff for me, not in the sales, although that's obviously an important factor too, but it's in the responses of people and how they're being ministered to through the music.

My next move is continuing to hear the voice of God so that when He calls, I'll be ready to go … whatever that may be! I'm prayerful that through this new album will come a music video, favor at radio stations across the country, and that God will continue opening doors for many women's events as that is truly my heart.

CP: Are there different feelings of satisfaction in completing a book versus an album? Which do you feel is harder?

TT: It honestly feels the same for me. It's that feeling of conquering something. Finishing something that you started that began with a dream and a vision. Although I think writing a book is much harder for me because it doesn't come as natural to me as writing music. But I love pouring myself into both, especially if I see that it will serve a greater purpose in the end and offer life and hope to someone who is desperate for answers.

CP: As a female singer, how do you feel about being a wholesome example to young ladies who's only image of beauty comes from what they see on television?

TT: Well being a tomboy my whole life I've never struggled with wanting to wear the shortest skirt or the lowest cut shirt or the highest heels that I can't even walk in! [laughs] So you'll never see me in that stuff. But I love fashion, I love dressing up and going out with my girlfriends and I work hard to stay healthy and fit. I don't mind at all being a wholesome alternative to other options that might be out there trying to capture their attention. Modest is hottest is my opinion!

CP: As an individual who has undergone tragedy, what would you say to someone who is on their last leg of hope and looking for answers?

TT: The first thing that comes to mind would be that we can't interrupt our numbness as God's absence in our lives. There is never a time when Jesus is not aware of every detail of our lives. We have to get to a place where we trust Him with every breath we take, because life is filled with failures, disappointments and pain. But the love of God and His commitment to us never changes…even when life does.

CP: What's the biggest "God moment" that you've ever experienced, personal or professional?

TT: It was definitely the moment when I was at the lowest point in my life. I was two days into the grieving process from the tragic death of my husband and I was in a hotel room in Jamaica all alone crying out to God in the bathroom. I was so numb and so broken and so lost and all I wanted was someone to hold me and tell me I was going to be ok. I missed the touch of my Mom especially. So I asked God, "If you can see "this girl," if you can hear "this girl" could you please just send someone to hold me. I'm not asking for a thousand angels or a hundred angels, but just one angel that would hold me. God if you're real could you do that for me." I opened my eyes and began to walk out of that bathroom and into my room. I could hear someone in the other room from the adjoining door. I made my way over to that opening in the doorway and saw a beautiful Jamaican woman standing there. I asked her if she could come into my room and make my bed. Then she looked at me with the sweetest of compassion and said, "I've been trying to get to you. I could hear you crying and I've been trying to get to you. Could I just come in and hold you?" Wow! Wow! Wow! I knew at that very moment in my life that yes Tammy, God is very real and You are never alone. He answered my cry and it was the biggest "God moment" of my life.

CP: What's your favorite Bible verse?

TT: My life verse is Jeremiah 29:11. I had it tattooed on my wrist on the 10th Anniversary of my loss. I wanted to be able to look at it every single day and be reminded that God's promise to me is a hope and a future! I can't begin to tell you how many countless times this tattoo has opened up the door for conversation about the things the Lord has brought me through and to. It's not just a promise to me, but to all of us and I love telling people about that...especially the ones who had no idea about Jeremiah 29:11 for their own lives.

CP: On your Facebook you are lifting some serious weights! How important is fitness to you, and is there anything that most people don't know about you that you'd be willing to share?

TT: Well thank you for noticing! I've always been involved in sports since I was a kid, so yes, staying fit is pretty important to me, and as you can see on my Facebook and Tweets, I'm pretty active and love the adventures of life. Having a good workout routine helps me balance out the rest of my life and feel good about myself along the way. I'm sure there's plenty that most people don't know about me, so how 'bout I give you a fun glimpse into what my normal day at home looks like.

Morning to night, I can't lie, I like to sleep in. That means I don't set my alarm before 9am, and another truth is that I love to stay in my sweat pants for as long as the day will let me around the house. I'm not a coffee drinker, so you'll never find a cup of that stuff in my hands. Well, maybe if it has lots of cream and sugar, then maybe it will go down. I love doing Body Pump at the gym 3 or 4 times a week. Summer time you'll find me out at my pool during the day hanging with my family and friends grilling out. Mowing the grass, trimming and pruning the trees and shrubs. Painting anything that needs it. Fixing the furnace or replacing a light fixture. In other words, there is always something fun to do around the house, but I love being outside. And in the Winter you'll find me laying by the fireplace or out in the front yard making snow angles for all the neighbors to see whenever it snows [laughs]. But you'll never find me in bed before 11pm.

Twitter (@tammytrent) 
Official Website

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Derek Webb Says the Stigma of 'Christian Music' is Not Helpful for Evangelization (INTERVIEW PART 2)

Interview for the Christian Post. Read my original article in its entirety here.

Derek Webb, former singer of Caedmon's Call and President of NoiseTrade music sharing website, discussed his new album, I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry & I Love You, what it's like being a 20 year veteran in music, and why the label of "Christian artist" is not always the best thing for getting the gospel heard.

Read part one of the interview here.

Christian Post: Do you feel music is a gateway to evangelism, and why do you think people are more receptive to music?

Derek Webb: I don't really feel like music is a gateway to evangelism. I certainly don't use it that way. There are some people who feel called to be professional vocational ministers, that their job is ministry, I don't personally feel that way. When I go and I play shows, make records, write songs, I don't consider that vocational ministry for me. I'm a singer/songwriter. I'm an artist. My job description and the basis upon which I make choices about how to do my job is hoping to make excellent art and to write and perform songs with excellence.

Now in any job there are going to be opportunities where ministry can happen and you want to be ready and aware of those moments. My brother, for instance, is a family practice doctor in Lincoln, Nebraska. He's also a Christian, as am I. He's not a vocational Christian minister; he is a professional doctor. He doesn't go to work everyday to evangelize, he goes to work everyday to provide excellent healthcare. It's very much the same for me. I don't do that in order to evangelize, I do it to make excellent art that's engaging that people resonate with.

I do acknowledge that music is really powerful and I've seen that. But I think that art is not at its best use when it's being used as a tool to do something else. The entire first chapter of the Bible is our marveling at God for making all things out of nothing. In the beginning God created. It's the first attribute we learn of His in the Bible; He's creative. There is intrinsic value in creativity and making things that are excellent and that's more how I approach my job.

CP: Do you think putting the label Christian over an artist hinders what they can do musically, and also alienates them from a group of people who might genuinely enjoy the music?

DW: I've always felt, even back to the first earliest days of Caedmon, that the term 'Christian' has never been helpful, in my opinion. Caedmon got its start playing at a lot of colleges. If the promoters put "Christian band" on the flyer, then half the amount of people would show up just because they weren't interested; not because they had heard us, not because they had any idea of what we were going to say or how it was going to go down. They just weren't interested and I probably wouldn't have been either.
I feel like even if you're intention is to evangelize and do ministry, it's smarter to not put a category on something before people even have a chance to hear it or experience it. That might alienate them and keep them from even wanting to give it a try in the first place, especially if they might really love it. If you have no idea what people think of that word, why would you use it? Especially when, in my opinion, the term Christian when applied to anything other than a human being is a marketing term.

CP: Between Caedmon's Call and your solo career, what was your defining moment as an artist that made you say, "Wow, I did it."

DW: I don't know. I feel like it's probably a thousand seemingly insignificant moments along the way. I remember Caedmon spent three or four years independent. We put out a couple records and were touring nationally before we found our first record deal. When Caedmon signed our first deal, as a songwriter, for me, I was poor as poor gets. When I started to make money, I had to go open a bank account and I realized that I was going to be able to support myself, that this is actually a job that I could do. Now that was a big moment.

I remember several moments along the way where it was dawning on me that I was going to be able to do this for the rest of my life. Nowadays, the dream is just different. The dream now is to make a sustainable wage being blue-collar, learning how to find your tribe and make art that resonates with them. If your ego can bear not being a household name or ever making seven figures in a year, you can have a great job as an independent artist. But if what you're looking for is fame and fortune, you should probably get into another line of work.

CP: Aside from the new album, what's on the horizon for you?

DW: I'm going to spend some real time promoting the record. I'm going to get out on the road before the end of the year. I also am the President of Noisetrade and run that company, so that's about three days a week for me and part of my every day work that I do. I have two small kids and a wife. So that sounds like three or four full-time jobs right there.

I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry & I Love You will be released September 3. Webb wrote, recorded, and produced every song on the album.

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Derek Webb Says 'I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry & I Love You' Are Words to Build Relationships By

Original interview I did for the Christian Post. Read the original here

Derek Webb, former singer of Caedmon's Call and President of NoiseTrade music sharing website, discussed his new album, I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry & I Love You, what it's like being a 20 year veteran in music, and why the label of "Christian artist" is not always the best thing for getting the gospel heard.

His new album will be available on September 3.

Christian Post: In creating I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry & I Love You, you went back 10 years to your first album, and wrote it as a follow up of who you are now. Well, who are you now, and what are some of the major changes since then?

Derek Webb: The new album is very much connected to my first album, She Must and Shall Go Free, which came out a little more than 10 years ago and was the result of questions that I had about the church. Having spent 10 years prior in Caedmon's Call and after years in the Christian culture, I found myself with a lot of questions about my role in the church. My first record was me trying to answer those questions.

For the 10 year anniversary tour of my record, we played through every song off of She Must and Shall Go Free each night. I was grateful for the fact that I could sing every word of all 11 songs on that record and still agree with every word. I think that people over the years have heard me say a handful of things that would cause them to wonder if I did still agree with all of the words from my first record, and I do.

But a lot also changes in 10 years. This record, I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry and I Love You, is just my trying to ask those same kinds of questions and see what the different answers are. I'm different and the church is different and the culture is different and so, there was a lot to write about.

CP: Why do you feel those three statements are important to a relationship?

DW: Growing up, I always heard that "I was wrong," "I'm sorry," and "I love you" were the three things you had to learn how to say to keep any relationship going. In my 12 years of marriage, I've certainly found that to be true, as well as in my other relationships and in business. There is a moment in an argument or disagreement when someone is willing to confess, say they were wrong, ask for forgiveness and express love that softens the other person. So, when you're gridlocked in a moment where you have two people that are fighting for their side of an argument, building their case like lawyers, and there is a moment when somebody can soften and be the first to confess, it immediately changes everything. The whole room changes when that happens. Those are powerful statements to be able to make.

CP: How do you feel these words can relate to God, forgiveness, and giving and receiving love?

DW: That certainly was a focus for me writing this record. I feel like the concept of the album has a lot of different audiences. I wasn't just saying it to one group of people. Whenever we let people down, whenever we betray trust, whenever we sin, primarily we are doing that against God. So that is the first place we take our confession. From there, because of His kindness, we repent and go and make it right with the folks that we've secondarily sinned against.

CP: What makes this work stick out to you, as opposed to your last album Ctrl, and how does your musical style evolve from album to album?

DW: Every record for me over the last 10-11 years has been really different. I approach every album as though I've never made an album before. Every record takes on its own sonic identity. Ctrl was a really peculiar album for a lot of reasons and probably the album that I'll be most proud of out of my whole career. It's is a complicated piece of work. It's really abstract, really high concept and it required quite a bit of attention currency, which is understandably in short supply nowadays for people.

On this new record, I really want it to be a bridge or an olive branch. I realized 10 years in that I had maybe unintentionally pushed people away a little bit. I have always seen it as part of my job to agitate. I think I'm good at it and that there is a place for that. But I realize you can't only agitate people, you have to also resonate with people. I think it had been awhile since people had felt that resonance from me.

Although I'm never interested in restating things I've said previously, this felt like a moment to make an investment in my next 10 years. I love my job and I want to stay in my job. It felt like a moment to make an investment like that. This time around, the challenge was figuring out how to pull it all in together and make something that to me felt really fresh, like something I'd never done before.

CP: 20 years playing music professionally, is there anything you felt the same about in 1993 that you still do now regarding music? What about the other way? What has changed most for you as an artist?

DW: 20 years is a long time. I'm not even near the person I was 20 years ago, thankfully so, other than the fact that I'm the same height, unfortunately. I feel like I am more appreciative of my job now. I think I had a bit of a sense of entitlement early on because I was so young, right out of high school, when we started Caedmon's Call. We had so much immediate success and had such a great run for so many years. When you learn to expect it and feel entitled to it, it becomes dangerous and you aren't grateful for it. I'm really grateful for it.

20 years in, I've already had more than twice what most people get in a job like this and I'm so grateful for every year that I have. I think I've learned how to apply my creativity beyond just the making and writing of albums. I've learned to enjoy the business side, enjoy all the other peripheral parts of the job.
An example of that would be NoiseTrade, which is a company that I founded about five years ago with some friends, giving away free music and content for data (fan information, emails and zip codes). We give away more than half a million records a month at NoiseTrade now. I wouldn't have been able to come up with that idea if it weren't for learning to apply the same creativity that I applied to making records to distributing and promoting those records.

I would encourage any independent artist to learn how to do that. Learn how to apply your creativity across the board to every part of the business. You're running a small business when you're an independent artist. 20 years in I'm really grateful that I've had mentors around me and people that have helped me learn how to do it.

Part two of this interview will be posted tomorrow. Webb discusses the term "Christian artist," and talks about being a struggling artist as well as his plans for the future.