If you are new to Christian rock, please read this
post about the definition of Christian rock and some of the biggest questions about Christian music.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Top Christian Rock Songs of 2011

This is Part 1 of my top 20 songs of 2011.  This list features songs 20 through 11.

20.  Dark Horses – Switchfoot

This song is about the underdogs in the world; specifically, children who are forced into hard situations.  According to lead singer Jon Foreman, this song is about kids fighting homelessness.  “For me, that song the “Dark Horses” is all about the homeless kids back in San Diego, specifically the ones who are being helped out by Stand Up For Kids.  It’s always nice when you have a song you are passionate about singing night after night that has a deeper meaning than simply another verse and another chorus.”  Below is the official music video for the song.

19. Alligator Sky – Owl City (Adam Young)

Like most to all of Adam Young’s songs, the interpretation of “Alligator Sky” is wide open. When listening to it, one could pick out many different meanings or themes. For me, I really think this song is about chasing your dreams. Even though you are filled with fear and anxiety about the unknown, one should still faithfully chase their passion. With a guest appearance from rapper Shawn Chrystopher, “Alligator Sky” is definitely a new direction and style for Young. I really love the music video for this song.

18. One More Try (Piano Version) – Wavorly

On their new EP, Wavorly released two different versions of “One More Try.” They recorded an upbeat, pop version and a melodic, piano version. To me, the song gains so much more depth and emotion by having just a piano melody. Plus, vocalist Dave Stovall really shines on this version of “One More Try.”

17. Our Love Saves Us – Blindside

On their new album, Blindside experimented with a couple different musical styles and sounds. The lead single on the album, “Our Love Saves Us,” is much slower and even softer than the usual hardcore sound of Blindside. The official video is a great representation of the song. The music video shows how love will always conquer fear.

16. Never Too Far Gone – Seventh Day Slumber

On their latest album, Seventh Day Slumber mixes together elements from some of their previous records. They throw in their radio friendly rock sound, as well as some slow worship covers. The catchiest rock song on the album, “Never Too Far Gone,” speaks about God’s unending grace. This song is a great reminder that no one is ever too far from Christ.

15. Valleys – Close Your Eyes

This is probably one of the most honest songs on my list. “Valleys” is about constantly failing, messing up and living life down in the valleys. However, even though the band is brutally honest in this song, they still offer hope to the listener. As the song draws to a close, vocalist Shane Raymond screams, “your love reminds me, that though I am broken, I am still standing. I'm still screaming.” Close Your Eyes has always been honest in their music, and this is a very moving, hardcore punk song. Here is the official video for “Valleys.”

14. Faceless – Red

“Faceless” could be one of Red’s hardest songs in their career. According to guitarist Anthony Armstrong, this song is about being empty and hollow on the inside. “You find that the world has kind of gotten itself in your head, and turned you into something that you were never really meant to be. This song is kind of about a person screaming out with that realization, I’m hollow and faceless. I need to do something about this.” I love this homemade lyric video for the song.

13. Book of Secrets – Eleventyseven

“Book of Secrets” is a fast, pop rock song all about hidden secrets and mistakes that ultimately lead to a failed relationship. Even though the lyrics almost have a negative connotation, Eleventyseven still adds their usual upbeat, pop style of music. This video features the song as well as the cover of the Quota EP.

12. Paralyzed – As I Lay Dying

“Paralyzed” is an intense, metal thrill ride. This song is filled with As I Lay Dying’s usual guitar solos and guttural screams. “Paralyzed” is an overt statement of faith, in which Tim Lambesis screams that true life only comes when we die to ourselves. Below, is the official lyric video.

11. Right Here – Ashes Remain

This is my favorite song on the new Ashes Remain record. Told from God’s perspective, “Right Here” is a perfect reminder of God’s unfailing love. Musically, this song has great transitions between acoustic guitars and hard rock melodies. This video features the album cover as well as the song.

To see the top ten songs of the year, you can go to Part 2 here.

Top Christian Rock Songs of 2011 Part 2

This is Part 2 of my top 20 songs of the year. If you missed Part 1, you can check it out here.

10. Get Well – Icon For Hire

Brutally honest, “Get Well” is a bold statement about not settling for the lies and hurt of this world. Add in some electronic melodies and an addicting rock sound, and Icon For Hire has created a real, headbanging hit. I love the official music video for “Get Well.” The group uses a very simple story, but it fits the song perfectly.

9. Brain Damage – I Am Empire

I Am Empire’s debut centers around lead singer Austin Lyons’ father, who abandoned him when he was young. “Brain Damage” proudly proclaims that the sons and daughters of broken homes are light in this world. The official music video definitely highlights Lyons’ eccentric and unique vocal style.

8. One Shot – Hawk Nelson

For Hawk Nelson’s latest album, the band decided to return to their original pop-punk roots. Probably the catchiest song on the record, “One Shot” is a great reminder that our time on earth is brief; we only have one shot at life. Here is a lyric video for the song.

7. Alive In You – 7eventh Time Down

“Alive In You” probably has my favorite lyric of the year. In the song, the members of 7eventh Time Down proudly call themselves Jesus freaks. According to lead singer Mikey Howard, “Alive in You” is an overt declaration about the power of Christ in the lives of the band. “It is kind of a culmination of what God has been doing inside the four of us over the past eight years touring. It is our declaration and soapbox of this is exactly why we are doing what we are doing. It is because of Jesus.” Take a look at the official music video.

6. Oh the Depths - Wolves at the Gate

The post-hardcore group, Wolves at the Gate, recently released their debut EP on Solid State Records. The closer on the EP, “Oh the Depths,” is a powerful form of screamo worship. Throughout the five minute song, the energy and passion from the band keeps building until they reach a powerful climax. This song gives me chills every time I listen to it. Wolves at the Gate are literally screaming for Jesus.

5. Black Tattoo – FM Static

“Black Tattoo” is about a girl struggling in an abusive relationship. Trevor McNevan sings about her wrestling with fear and guilt as she attempts to escape the abuse. Beyond that, I also think this song has a great message for everyone to never be ashamed. Just like wearing a solid black tattoo, FM Static encourages listeners to be bold about their faith and beliefs. Here is a lyric video for “Black Tattoo.”

4. Make A Move – Icon For Hire

Featuring aggressive vocals alongside a mixture of breakdowns and hard rock beats, “Make A Move” is another great song from Icon For Hire. A powerful, rallying cry, this song urges the listener to make a move and stand up for their beliefs. This is the official music video for the song.

3. Take It Out On Me – Thousand Foot Krutch

Coming in at number three is one of my all time favorite Thousand Foot Krutch songs. “Take It Out On Me” speaks about letting go of bottled up emotions. According to Trevor McNevan, this song is told from someone else’s perspective. “‘Take It Out On Me’ is a song I wrote from a perspective of talking to someone that I love, whether it is your best friend, your wife or someone in your family. Whether it is from the way we grew up or from stuff we have been through in our life, some of us carry a lot of baggage. Anger, pain and a lot of these emotions we keep them bottled up sometimes, instead of dealing with it in a healthier way basically.” This is another hit song from Thousand Foot Krutch.

2. Reach – Peter Furler

Earlier this year, I was really excited to learn that Peter Furler was returning to the music industry. His first single off the album, “Reach,” is pop worship at its finest. Furler sings about the amazing love of Jesus Christ, and how he is constantly reaching out to us. With back up vocals from former Newsboys vocalist and bassist, Phil Joel, Furler has created a close to perfect song. Below is the official music video for “Reach.”

1. Savior – Worth Dying For

My number one song of the year is from the rock worship group Worth Dying For. “Savior” is a great example of edgy worship. With metal screams, dual vocals and hard rock beats, Worth Dying For has created an intense, honest worship anthem. I wish I had a better video for my number one song. This simple video does not do my number one pick of the year justice.

I hope you have enjoyed this look at my top 20 songs of 2011.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

My Top Ten Christian Rock Albums of 2011

10. Until We Have Faces – Red
Rating – 3 ½ Stars
Top Tracks – Feed the Machine, Faceless, Who We Are

With this new album, Red seems to retain most to all of their rock elements from their first two records. The two best songs on the album, “Feed the Machine” and “Faceless,” would fit perfectly on their two previous records. But, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing just yet. Red knows exactly who they are as musicians. They have a very polished hard rock sound that throws in a couple of ballads to keep things interesting. Even though they make very little strides from their first two records, Until We Have Faces is still a solid addition to your hard rock library.

9. With Shivering Hearts We Wait – Blindside
Rating – 3 ½ Stars
Top Tracks – Monster on the Radio, Our Love Saves Us, Bring Out Your Dead

In 2007, Blindside decided to take a break from the music industry. During their hiatus, the Swedish rock group focused on spending time with their families, performing a few overseas dates and deciding if they still wanted to record music. After rumors of a new album for a couple of years, Blindside finally released With Shivering Hearts We Wait. On this new record, Blindside really changes up their sound. They stay true to their hardcore style on a few songs with their usual screaming vocals and driving guitar riffs. But, most of the album features a very radio friendly version of Blindside. On “Our Love Saves Us” and “Monster On the Radio,” the group adds some new electronic sounds, and really embraces a softer side. With all that said, was the wait worth it? Was the four year hiatus, and six years between full length albums worth the wait? It all depends on who you talk to. Some might miss the old Blindside, and some may embrace their new sound and style. But, I believe the wait was worth it. The album wasn’t perfect by any means, but this is Blindside’s best work since About A Burning Fire in 2004.

8. What I’ve Become – Ashes Remain
Rating – 3 ½ Stars
Top Tracks – On My Own, Without You, Right Here

If I could describe this album in one word, it would be redemption. Almost every song features the story of redemption and coming out of a place of no hope. “On My Own,” speaks about the failures of fighting battles on our own without God. “Without You,” is easily the most moving song on the record in which lead singer, Josh Smith, cries out to God to save his life from emptiness and loneliness. My personal favorite is “Right Here.” The song is told from God’s perspective, and is a great reminder to us how much God loves us. Overall, the lyrics really shine on this record. Their modern rock sound is solid, and does a good job of accompanying Smith’s powerful vocals. But, the overt message that each song carries is the highlight of the album.

7. Sugarfist - Eleventyseven
Rating – 4 Stars
Top Tracks – Wasted, Milk the Lightning, Book of Secrets

Eleventyseven has been around for a couple years making fun, synthesizer filled, punk rock music. This album is no exception. From singing about college girls to the pitfalls of being in love to the spread of addiction, the topics on this album are vast. Even though most of their songs on this album are very catchy, I did find myself missing some of their older, and more overt, faith based lyrics on songs like “Reach That Far,” “Love In Your Arms” and “It’s Beautiful.” With that small complaint aside, musically Eleventyseven has never sounded better. They have been playing around with their synthesizer/electronic punk style for a couple of albums now. This is the first album in which I really feel that they have mastered their sound. This is simply a great, fun, punk rock album to listen to, just don’t expect any overt, faith based songs.

6. Kings – I Am Empire
Rating – 4 Stars
Top Tracks – Brain Damage, Heart Attack, Take Me Away

A loose concept album, I Am Empire’s debut centers around lead singer Austin Lyons’ father, who abandoned him when he was young. With themes of anger, loneliness, redemption and forgiveness, Lyons freely sings about the positive and negative emotions he experienced after his father’s desertion. Vocally, Lyons definitely has one of the more unique Christian rock voices. Lyons’ high pitched tone, and almost whiny screams make for a unique style of vocals. Add to that a solid, straight rock sound, and I Am Empire easily delivers a very strong debut.

5. My Brain Says Stop, But My Heart Says Go – FM Static
Rating – 4 Stars
Top Tracks – My Brain Says Stop, But My Heart Says Go, Black Tattoo, Breaking Me Again

For their fourth album, FM Static has decided to embrace a more top 40 style of pop music. With huge guitar hooks, cheerleader vocals and even a couple of raps, FM Static really mixes up their sound. Lyrically, this could be FM Static’s most thematic album to date. Some of the songs, such as “F.M.S.T.A.T.I.C.,” “Hey I Want It” and “Cinnamon and Lipstick” are fun, pop anthems. But, the rest of the album could be their heaviest lyrically. “Black Tattoo” is easily the highlight of the album, in which McNevan sings about a girl wrestling with fear and guilt while trying to escape an abusive relationship. “Lost In You” is a rather unique FM Static song in that it is a pure, worship tune. “Last Train Home” and “Breaking Me Again” are simple songs about wrestling with your faith and allowing yourself to put your whole life in God’s hand. Even though this album has the side project moving in a different direction both musically and lyrically, FM Static still sounds impressive.

4. Crazy Love – Hawk Nelson
Rating – 4 ½ Stars
Top Tracks – Crazy Love, One Shot, My Next Breath

For their last few records, Hawk Nelson has experimented with their sound. But, on their latest album, Crazy Love, Hawk Nelson returns to their original pop-punk roots, similar to their Letters to the President debut. Inspired by the book Crazy Love, this album at times is almost a worship style punk album. “Your Love is a Mystery” speaks about God’s awesome and sometimes mysterious love, “My Next Breath” is a slow, worship ballad and “We Can Change the World” is a rally cry for Christians to fully live out their faith. Throughout their career, Hawk Nelson has rarely been shy about sharing their faith through their music. Their latest album takes their overt message to a whole new level.

3. Scripted – Icon For Hire
Rating – 4 ½ Stars
Top Tracks – Theatre, Make A Move, Get Well, Off With Her Head

If you mix together mohawks, synthesizers, Paramore and Skillet, the result would be the band Icon For Hire. Musically, Icon For Hire’s debut album has a radio friendly, fast paced style that mixes breakdowns, electronic beats and pop melodies. However, the vocals from lead singer Ariel Bloomer easily carry this album. Not to say that the music is bad by any means, but her strong and impressive voice definitely sets the band apart. Even though Icon For Hire is brand new to the Christian rock scene, this group is going to be around for a long time. With strong vocals and a fast paced, momentous sound, Scripted will have you rocking for days.

2. On Fire – Peter Furler
Rating – 4 ½ Stars
Top Tracks – Matter of Faith, Hold On, Reach, All In Your Head

I am a huge Newsboys fan. I remember way back in middle school when I first saw them in concert. Since then, I have been hooked to the Newsboys and the vocals of Peter Furler. When Furler left the group a couple years ago, it is safe to say that I was heartbroken. But, when I heard that he was returning to the music industry as a solo artist, I couldn’t have been more excited. With this new album, Peter Furler has never sounded better. His short break from the music industry really seemed to revitalize his passion and love for music. His unique vocals beautifully compliment the pop worship sound that he has perfected over these many years. “Reach” is easily the catchiest song of the year. “Matter of Faith” and “Hold On” are great songs of hope and inspiration during a desperate situation. “All in Your Head” and “Faster and Louder” are stamped with Furler’s fun, pop style. This is just a great, great album. All I can say is, welcome back Peter Furler. Welcome back.

1. Love Riot – Worth Dying For
Rating – 4 ½ Stars
Top Tracks – Savior, Through Your Eyes, Closer, My Glorious

The best description of Love Riot is edgy worship. On Worth Dying For’s sophomore album, the group features everything from metal breakdowns and screams to electronic beats to pure, piano ballads. Even though the music is very diverse and spans multiple genres, the heartbeat of the album remains the same. The mission and heartbeat of Worth Dying For has always been worship. It doesn’t matter if they are headbanging to metal screams, or simply pouring their heart out to God with just a piano melody, Worth Dying For is still worshipping and praising Christ. I think that is really, really cool. If all that wasn’t enough, the band also features a short sermon, a very strong rap during “Stir It Up” and Trevor McNevan makes a guest appearance. With this album, Worth Dying For has easily turned worship music upside down.

I hope you have enjoyed this look at my Top Ten Christian Rock Albums of the year. This list would not be complete without honorable mentions. These albums were very solid but ultimately did not make it into the top ten.

Empty Hands and Heavy Hearts – Close Your Eyes
Alive In You – 7eventh Time Down
All Things Bright and Beautiful – Owl City
Vice Verses – Switchfoot
Patterns – Run Kid Run

Also, here are my Top five EPs of the year.

1. The EP – Wavorly
2. A Whole New World – Stellar Kart
3. Awake and Remixed – Skillet
4. Relient K is for Karoake Part 2 – Relient K
5. Hanging On By A Thread Sessions, Volume 1 – The Letter Black

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Trevor McNevan Interview

Thousand Foot Krutch has been a staple in the Christian music industry for nearly a decade.  Fronted by Trevor McNevan, Thousand Foot Krutch has released five full length albums, sold over 800,000 records and scored 11 No. 1 Christian rock singles.  The group also recently released a special fan themed version of their latest full length, Welcome to the Masquerade, which serves as a thank you to their long time fans.  The album features Welcome to the Masquerade in its entirety, as well as pictures of fans and three unreleased songs.  In his spare time, McNevan also fronts the pop punk side project FM Static, alongside TFK’s drummer Steve Augustine.  The group released their fourth album entitled My Brain Says Stop But My Heart Says Go earlier this year.  On November 3, 2011, I had the chance to speak with Trevor McNevan about Thousand Foot Krutch’s new fan album, the new musical style on FM Static’s latest record and TFK’s decision to leave Tooth and Nail Records.

Webb:  You guys just released a fan edition of Welcome to the Masquerade.  What inspired you to release a fan themed album?

McNevan:  We just feel so blessed to have the support that we do.  Honestly, we had three bonus songs that we loved from the last record.  We wanted to save them for something special.  At the end of the day, we felt so humbled by the support.  In the meantime, before this new record is out, we would love to put out more of a thank you and appreciation to the fans, have a fan edition with those three bonus songs on it.  Also, have them [fans] send in pictures of themselves wearing the masks on the record, so that we could make a collage inside the artwork.  That’s what we did.  It’s been a really cool thing. 

Webb:  Could you tell me a little bit about the story behind each of the three new songs that you released with it?

McNevan:  Yeah man.  “Shook” is a song that is a hard-hitting, high octane kind of tune that was originally going to be a single off the last record.  I think a lot of bands put out B-sides and rarities that will hold people over until a new record comes out.  We really wanted to put out something that we believed in just as much as any single that we put out or any song on our record.  So we kind of held off, so that we could put something like that on this new edition.  It’s about the craziness and commotion, from my point of view, that my life feels like sometimes.  I know it’s something that everyone can relate to in their own way.  Just kind of needing my faith and trust in God to keep me centered, especially in those crazy storms.  Sometimes it seems like everyday.  That song is just about my need to be grounded.  I guess a bit of a humble statement about I am not strong enough to do this on my own.   

“Take It Out On Me” is a song I wrote from a perspective of talking to someone that I love, whether it is your best friend, your wife or someone in your family.  Whether it is from the way we grew up or from stuff we have been through in our life, some of us carry a lot of baggage.  Anger, pain and a lot of these emotions we keep them bottled up sometimes, instead of dealing with it in a healthier way basically.  Letting it out, talking about it and being able to seek counsel and share.  This song is kind of from the point of view of talking to that person, and saying listen, ‘Don’t do all of these things.  Take it out on me.’  It’s more of God’s heart of saying give your burden to God on this.  Take it out on me if you want to, but don’t drink yourself to sleep.  It’s not so specific to say those things, but the general idea is talking to that person.

“Anyone Else” was a song I actually wrote for the Daughtry record.  It’s the only time that’s ever happened on one of our records where I have written for someone else, and then we ended up wanting to use it.  We kept it for our stuff.  It meant something to me as more of a classic love song when I wrote it to pitch for him.  It still rings true for us.  It’s definitely more of a traditional love song than TFK usually does.  It’s a little platonic too in a sense that it is open to the listener; whoever that is to you, whether it is a friend, a loved one or on a spiritual level something to do with your faith.  It’s more of a traditional love song.

Webb:  You are in the studio right now mixing your new album.  I know it is still early, and you can’t release a lot of information.  But, could you give a little preview of the new album? 

McNevan:  Absolutely man.  The new record is called The End is Where We Begin.  That title rings true to us in a lot of ways.  We’ve been through a lot of transition as a band in the last year, from getting new management and switching that up, to finishing our record deal.  We really said no to all of the offers that we got in as far as signing another deal.  We just felt like this was something we wanted to do ourselves.  We really wanted to do it independently, and be able to connect with people on a closer level than we can when we are on the label.  We have chosen to do that.  Yeah, we are literally doing this one on our own.  We feel like in the state of the music industry right now, we didn’t want to be still handcuffed.  We wanted to be able to put out music more often, more reasonable and reasonably priced.  Give away free music if we wanted to, and just have the options to do those things. 

The End is Where We Begin definitely stands true to that.  With the state of music right now, that title really speaks to me as far as that and the transition that is going on in music.  On a spiritual level, [it] always kind of made sense to me with the idea of die to self.  That’s the title.  This new record, I am so excited about it.  It’s got some fresh flavors for TFK.  It also has some songs that bridge what we have done on our last record to this one, kind of doing that stuff a little better.  There are a handful of songs on this that I felt really inspired to go back to our roots a little bit.  There’s a little old school influence of TFK on a couple of these [songs] that we are really excited about, and had a lot of fun with too. 

Webb:  Do you have a tentative release date for it yet?

McNevan:  We are hoping either the last week of March or the first week of April is the tentative release date.

Webb:  If you could sum up the new record in one word, what would it be?

McNevan:  That’s a great question.  What’s the word I am looking for?  I would have to say insane [laughing].  It’s loud and crazy, but it is also beautiful.

Webb:  You mentioned this a couple questions ago, but I thought I would hit on it.  Does that mean you are no longer with Tooth and Nail, and you are an independent band?

McNevan:  We are indeed man.  Tooth and Nail has been incredible.  We love them.  They are still family and they always will be.  But, we have been thinking and praying about it for awhile.  We were very blessed to be in a position where we had deals from all the labels.  That was a great spot to be in.  But, at the end of the day, we just felt the need to grassroots a little more.  We want to do it bigger and better, that’s for sure.  It won’t affect any of those things.  We just want to connect with people a little closer again than you are able to sometimes when you are in those situations.  Just be free to release music in the fashion that we want to.  If we want to release music sooner, we can.  We can put out EPs; we can give away some free music here and there if we want to.  Our fans have supported us, and that is such a humbling situation.  They have supported us with such a strong hand, that we want to give back.  This will allow us to do that a little more.

Webb:  Since you have been on Tooth and Nail Records for a quite a few years, are you nervous about this new phase or are you excited about hitting the music industry on your own as a band?

McNevan:  We are excited about it.  Yeah, there is a little bit of nerves in there.  It’s a risk and a new frontier for us.  I work with bands all the time and these labels all the time outside of TFK.  The guys do other things as well.  We’ve been fortunate enough to learn a lot about this business through the years we have been in it.  You learn how it runs, what it needs to run and who you can trust.  We have been very blessed to find the right people to be able to do that with them.  We are excited man.  We are definitely trusting that people that connect with this band can work with us on this, and we can do it together.  That is what we are most excited about. 

Webb:  Is FM Static going to stay with Tooth and Nail?

McNevan:  We haven’t made a decision as of yet.  As FM Static, we finished our deal with Tooth and Nail as well.  It’s kind of up in the air.

Webb:  Speaking of FM Static, I do want to ask you a couple of questions about your side project.  You released your new album earlier this year.  I absolutely loved it.  My personal favorite song on the record is “Black Tattoo.”  I was wondering, when writing the song, how did you come up with the symbol of the black tattoo to represent the song?

McNevan:  I actually have a pretty substantial black tattoo.  On my right arm below my elbow, basically the size of a pretty legit wristband, is a solid black tattoo.  I got thinking about this song and just the idea of it.  That played into it.  I hear this all the time when people ask you questions about your tattoo.  You kind of realize that if you are going to get a solid black tattoo on your arm, it is a bit of a statement.  It’s not something that you take very lightly.  So, that’s what it was kind of symbolizing in the song.  It was more of a statement. 

Webb:  I also want to mention the song “Lost In You.”  Do you view that song as a worship song? 

McNevan:  Yeah.  There is no right or wrong here.  But, I think a lot of Christians look at worship as Matt Redman or Chris Tomlin, which is traditional worship and incredible.  I shouldn’t say traditional worship; it sounds bad to say that.  I mean those guys are out of the box in a lot of great ways.  I love what they do.  I think worship comes from the heart.  To me, for FM Static or TFK, some of these songs like “Breathe You In,” “This is a Call” and a couple songs on our new record, those are worship songs to us every bit as much as “Blessed Be Your Name” and some of the classics.

Webb:  You guys changed up your sound a little bit on this new album.  What was the inspiration to go with a more Top 40 sound than your previous FM Static records?

McNevan:  I think with pop music in general, that genre can have some bad connotations to it.  I have just always been a fan of huge hooks and pop rock, from the Beach Boys to the Beatles and all that good stuff.  I think it’s whatever you feel inspired to do at the time.  It wasn’t really a conscious decision to change the sound.  It was more of let’s take what we are doing and re-skin it a little bit for this record, and have fun with it.  I came up listening to a lot of hip-hop, and I love a lot of the old school stuff.  Yeah, I think the influences and the programming and loops, kind of felt natural.  It made sense timing wise too. 

Webb:  I know you have worked with some hip-hop artists like Manafest and KJ-52, and you even had a little bit of a hip-hop on the new FM Static album.  Do you ever want to put some more hip-hop stuff in your music, whether it is Thousand Foot Krutch or FM Static?

McNevan:  Yeah, it’s funny.  It’s something that is very honest to me.  When I was 13, I actually did a full on rap demo.  At the time, it was a tape [laughing].  It was a rap tape, which sounds hilarious.  When I was 16, I put out another record.  The drummer for Three Days Grace was in my band.  We kind of grew up in the same town.  That one was half hip-hop and half rock.  I started getting more into the rock stuff when I was like 15 and 16.  The little town that I grew up in only had a classic rock station.  That was it.  I grew up listening to mostly just hip-hop.  Between those two influences, it kind of drove that.  I have always been rhyming.  It has always been something that meant a lot to me, as much as singing does.  I think it is honest to say that it could very well come out on this TFK record a little bit.  A little old school TFK love. 

Webb:  Do you ever find it hard trying to balance your time between Thousand Foot Krutch, FM Static and even your personal life?

McNevan:  Yeah, it’s a bit of a constant juggle.  Those things are part of my passion.  They are what I feel drawn to, and just love to do.  I am very blessed to have an incredible wife who is very supportive and understanding.  It is a constant juggle. To be totally honest with you, of getting some healthy time that you need for yourself once in awhile, [having] the habit of being a good husband and as a perfectionist trying to do what I love the best I can.  It’s a juggle man.  But, thank God he is stronger than I am. 

Webb:  Have you thought about doing any music videos for Welcome to the Masquerade or My Brain Says Stop But My Heart Says Go?

McNevan:  Yeah, we talked about some for the new [FM] Static, and there has been no decision made yet.  I think because there has been so much transition going on with the label with TFK.  It was bypassed a little bit.  We will see what happens there.  But, with the masquerade record with TFK, we actually did record a video for “Fire It Up.”  We didn’t like it.  Long story short, it wasn’t what we signed up for.  We didn’t want to put it out.  I think it was released.  The label did release it on a soft release kind of thing.  I am sure you can find it on YouTube.  It was not something that we intended to portray that song.  We ended up not really being able to [do a video] after that.  I wish we could.  That is one thing that I would love to go back and do on that record, but unfortunately I don’t think it is going to happen.  Now that we are free there, maybe we can put something out and not have to explain it.

Webb:  As a musician, which do you like better?  Creating songs in the studio, or playing a live show?

McNevan:  I honestly can’t really pick one.  I love writing songs.  I love working in the studio.  I do it all day long, even when I am not with the band on tour.  But, you can’t beat live.  It’s something as TFK, and for all of us, it’s a big part who the band is, and who we are as people.  The record is one thing.  That’s really the other side of us is our performance and what we do.  We give it 200 percent, and just love the live aspect of it.  You can’t beat live as long as you have a chance to do it.  But, I do really love the studio aspect, and it’s just a different pace.

Webb:  Speaking of your live show, do you have any touring plans in the future with Thousand Foot Krutch or FM Static?

McNevan:  FM Static, no.  With making this new TFK record, it has been impossible to find time to tour that one [FM Static album] right now.  But, hopefully in the future.  With TFK, we are doing a lot of spot dates, a lot of fly in dates right now.  We just got back from Switzerland and Germany.  Yeah, we have a bunch of U.S. shows coming up here, and we just finished a Canadian tour as well.  We are heading out in March and April with Red and a band that I have been working with for a couple of years that is just coming out called Nine Lashes.  It’s going to be great.  It’s going to be an awesome tour.

Webb:  I know this is a little bit of a loaded question.  But, I was wondering how do you think God uses rock and roll to win people for the kingdom?

McNevan:  I think music has always been a major communicator to all of the generations really.  I think, when I look at how music speaks to me as a person and how it communicates to me, I connect with it.  I always have.  I think a lot of people connect with music in their own way.  Some people can receive something through the message of a song or through the lyrics of a song, that you couldn’t just walk up and tell them.  They wouldn’t take it from you that way.  But, it could be communicated to them or to their hearts through music.  So, it’s not like someone is sitting there trying to preach at anyone.  But, the heart of it is that you talk about life and what you are going through, just the way you see it as a songwriter in your songs; no matter what you believe and what your faith is.  Yeah, we are Christian guys.  That is our faith and our lifestyle.  I am writing about the stuff that I am going through and the way that I see it.  Talking about God, life, love and sometimes hate, just real life.  I 100 percent believe that music can communicate, not better than anything else, but in a different way.

Webb:  Since you have been a musician so long, could you talk about one or two things that you have seen change in the music industry over the years?

McNevan:  One of the big things is a glaring issue in the music industry right now.  That is one of the reasons why we are so excited to kind of be able to do this on our own.  It has just become almost impossible to sell music.  Without pointing any fingers, just obviously a mass amount of people are stealing it and not buying it.  That is the most glaring one.  It affects all of us as artists.  I see a lot of it everyday, from the biggest artist to the brand new ones.  It affects us all in a massive way the amount people are stealing music.  When you do that, you are not supporting the artist.  Just as someone who loves music, I really hope that people can support it in that way again or realize how much they are affecting it.  It is just like movies or anything else.  It takes money to put a record together and a movie together.  Those budgets are becoming slim to none.  If you love music, support it.  I would encourage you to. 

Webb:  In a little bit of a different note, you have collaborated with a ton of artists over your career, writing, producing and even doing some guest vocals.  Do you have a favorite collaboration or one that really sticks out in your mind?

McNevan:  They have all been fun.  I have a blast working on music with people, and feel honored to work with the artists that I have.  Some of them have been like a day, and some of them have been months and months.  I’d have to say the ones where I got to spend more time with [are my favorites].  We just have more memories, and more fun times in those projects.  Hawk Nelson, getting to work with those guys for so many years, with those first few records.  They’re still family.  Those guys are incredible.  Manafest is a good, good friend.  I love all of that stuff.  Working with Toby was a lot of fun.  I just think about Toby as a person.  He is definitely one of those guys who is the real deal.  I remember sitting there when I was tracking his vocals for a demo we were working on.  Just sitting there and thinking, ‘wow this is so funny.  When I was in youth group, I would probably be freaking out right now [laughing].’  You have those moments.  But, I feel blessed and so fortunate.  God is so good.

Webb:  Do you have an all time favorite Thousand Foot Krutch or FM Static song?

McNevan:  Man, that is a tough one.  I love them all.  I really do.  With TFK, I can’t even pick one.  FM Static is almost as hard.  I think because the record never really got as much push, and it is just a heartfelt song to me about a family member.  I think the song “Tonight” off of our second FM Static record called Critically Ashamed.  Yeah, I would have to pick that one.

Webb:  You have already mentioned this a little bit already.  Besides your new album and your upcoming tour with Red, do you have any other plans in the future with Thousand Foot Krutch?

McNevan:  There are a million things going on with this new stuff that we are doing.  We are going to be doing a huge pre-sale campaign coming up.  Offering tons of different packages, from all sorts of merchandise packages to early listening and early downloads of the record before it actually comes out to a private listening party to a Skype call.  We are just getting really creative, and having fun.  Like I said, just more ways to connect with people and getting to share this with them.  Yeah, that is going to be coming out in the next few months before the new record comes out.  We will probably have a new single out in January.  I really hope you guys dig it.  We are excited.  We have got a second wind.
Webb:  Do you have any last comments that you want to share?

McNevan:  I appreciate your time.  If anyone gets the chance, you can check out thousandfootkrutch.com.  That would be fantastic.  Also, you can check out Live At the Masquerade.  We released a live CD and DVD.  We actually released that independently.  Just really encouraging people to check it out, it’s a great live portrayal of who we are.  We brought tons of fire, and got crazy.  It was a blessing.  

Below, is the official lyric video for Thousand Foot Krutch’s song, “Shook.”

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Band Names

For this next post, I want to specifically talk about band names. When people interview bands, or when fans ask a band a question, so many times they ask for an explanation of the band name. Sometimes the band will have a serious response and a great story about the band name. Other times, the name came from a joke or even a video game. In this post, I want to give you some explanations from bands. I want to share with you the stories and meanings behind six different band names. You may already know the stories behind some of the names, but there might be a few that surprise you.

1. As I Lay Dying

The Grammy nominated metalcore group, As I Lay Dying, actually got their name from a novel. According to lead singer Tim Lambesis, the band is named after a William Faulkner novel titled As I Lay Dying.

“We got the idea from the name. I wouldn’t say that there is a correlation in the meaning of the book and the meaning of the band. We stole the name from there. It’s kind of depressing, but I guess it’s well-written. It’s not my style of novel. Coming up with a name is a lot harder than it seems. At the time, it was the best name that we could think of,” said Lambesis.

2. Family Force 5

The crunk rockers from Atlanta, Georgia, definitely have a humorous side to their band name. The first name for the band was Phamily, but the group soon changed their name to Family Force 5. During an interview with Jesusfreakhideout, Soul Glow Activator compares their name to a giant robot.

"Family Force 5 sounded like a big giant robot, basically. We're a family, we're a force to be reckoned with and there's five [of us], but I'd say there's a way better description and it's that it sounded like a big Voltron robot,” said Soul Glow.

3. Kids In The Way

Kids In the Way actually started writing and recording music before they even came up with their band name. Lead singer, Dave Pelsue, admits that their name came from a lyric in one of their songs.

“There's a lot of different meanings. We named the band Kids In the Way after the song We Are. The chorus says, ‘We are kids in the way.’ We wrote the song before we named the band and kind of took it from the song. We just liked the meaning of the name. In the song, it's talking about a generation of youth - or anybody, really - that is willing to stand up for what they believe and do what they know and feel is right no matter what anybody else says. It kind of has a negative connotation to the title, but it's kind of a sarcastic thing. Like lots of times society would view us as being in the way simply because of what we believe. If that's what they want to say and if that's what they want to call us, then we'll gladly accept that. That's where the Kids In The Way comes from,” said Pelsue.

4. The Letter Black

Formerly known as Breaking the Silence, The Letter Black was signed to Tooth and Nail Records in 2009. After realizing a mainstream band had already received rights for the name Breaking the Silence, the group decided to changed their name to The Letter Black. Mark Anthony, guitarist for the group, admits that the name of the band came from a joke.

“It came out of a joke between our manager and Paige Hamilton (of Helmet). We were coming up with band names and were just tossing names around and Paige just threw it out saying, ‘Why don’t you just call it The Letter Black? It doesn’t have to mean anything.’ And it stuck,” said Anthony.

5. Flyleaf

The female fronted rock band, Flyleaf, has dominated hard rock music in the last couple of years. Similar to As I Lay Dying, the name of the group was inspired through literature.

"A flyleaf is a blank page at the beginning of a book and at the end of a book where people take notes and write dedications and stuff. It's that moment of clarity just before the story begins and that moment of clarity just after it ends. So it's just like before you're born, and just after you die," said lead guitarist Sameer Bhattacharya.

"The moment of clarity I guess is, the Bible says that, ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you in the womb’ and so it's like that moment with God and then the moment after you die when you meet God," said lead singer Lacey Sturm.

6. Hawk Nelson

According to lead singer Jason Dunn, the inspiration for the band name came from an old school video game.

“Well when I was about 14 years old, there was this video game I played called Too Extreme on the Sony Playstation. It was like an extreme sports game - like skateboarding, snowboarding, bike riding and like all those kinds of things. And before you could play, you had to create a character name. And that was the name I made random off the top of my head. I'm like Hawk Nelson. I ripped the first name off of Tony Hawk. Nelson I got from a boot, a repair place in our hometown, Nelson Boot Repair. That's where it came from. Little piece of my childhood, don't you know,” said Dunn.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

7eventh Time Down Interview

Hailing from Mount Vernon, Ky., the members of 7eventh Time Down are poised to take the world by storm with their overt message of Christ.  The group signed with the major, Christian label BEC Recordings, which houses many well known Christian acts including:  Jeremy Camp, Kutless, Hawk Nelson and Manafest.  Their debut album, Alive In You, was recently released on Sept. 13.  Featuring southern guitar hooks, worship anthems and infectious lyrics, 7eventh Time Down has crafted a memorable and moving debut.  On Sept. 20, 2011, I had the chance to speak with the lead singer of 7eventh Time Down, Mikey Howard, about their new album, the band’s ministry, and the craziness of touring.    

Webb:  For those who don’t know you guys, could you give me a brief history of the band? 

Mikey Howard:  Well, we all grew up together in a small Kentucky town, Mount Vernon.  Austin and I first met playing in Little League T-ball together.  We were just friends, and we knew each other throughout school.  In middle school, we started our first band.  It was a typical cover band; we played Third Day, Big Tent Revival, Supertones and just whatever we liked to listen to.  Eric was also in that band with us.  Cliff didn’t come along until about seventh grade.  I met him playing football for our middle school team.  Yeah, we just grew up playing music together, and playing sports together.  That is kind of how we got our start.  After high school, we decided to go full time into the music ministry, and hit the road.

Webb:  So what inspired you to play music full time?

Mikey Howard:  For me, it was surrendering more to ministry at a younger age, and realizing the gifts and abilities God has given me.  So it just seemed natural to pursue music as the ministry that God had for me.  What inspired me most was honestly the Jesus story, to go out and further the kingdom.  Music was the vehicle to do that because that was the one thing that I felt confident enough in to go out and stand in front of people.  But, as far as being in a band and 7eventh Time Down, there are a lot of bands that inspire us, DC Talk, Third Day and that kind of thing.  But, the heart and soul of the band has always been ministry first, band second.  Not to be too Sunday school, but definitely the inspiration and heart that drives behind what we do is without a doubt the Jesus story.  Furthering that story, and just helping grow the kingdom by doing what we do best together.  That is being 7eventh Time Down.

Webb:  Your debut album just released a couple of weeks ago.  How excited are you for this release of this album?

Mikey Howard:  Man, we are absolutely excited.  It has been so awesome.  In a way, it feels like a new beginning.  You kind of feel like you are starting all over.  It’s just exciting, overwhelming, humbling, those are all the best words that I could use.  Humbling is the absolute best word that comes to my mind, just knowing that God has ordained this.  Allowing us to do this at this time for his purpose is just awesome.  It is unbelievable, super awesome.

Webb:  I do want to talk about a couple of your songs.  The title track and first single is “Alive In You.”  Could you tell me a little bit about the story and meaning behind the song?   

Mikey Howard:  Yeah man.  That is probably the first song that we started writing for this record.  It is kind of a culmination of what God has been doing inside the four of us over the past eight years touring.  It is our declaration and soapbox of this is exactly why we are doing what we are doing.  It is because of Jesus.  This is why we are doing it, and this is why we choose to be away from our families.  This is why we travel all of over the country.  It is not for self glory; it is not for a big production on a big stage somewhere.  It’s not for the recognition of 7eventh Time Down, but it is completely and totally in the name of Jesus.  That is why we are alive.  That’s why we breathe.  That is why we sing.  It is kind of our declaration of that to the world.  In hopes, listeners will hear that and be inspired to want that same relationship with Jesus.

Webb:  For me, my favorite lyric on the whole album is on that song.  I love the part where you sing, “a Jesus freak till the day I die.”  I love that lyric that you guys wrote.

Mikey Howard:  Yeah dude.  We get a lot of comments on that lyric.  That was one that we were in the studio tweaking the final lyric.  It was one of those things when we were like, ‘man is it cheesy?  Are people going to think we only put it in there because of the whole Jesus freak movement?’  But, honestly that song “Jesus Freak” by DC Talk really helped shape the way that I followed Jesus at an early age.  It gave me the okay to be bold about Christ in school, and with my friends.  It carried over into my adulthood.  My wife is the same way.  My family is bold about Jesus.  Just all of us, my band, and everybody that we know that song really impacted us as kids to want to change the world for Jesus.  For us, that lyric just had to stay in the song.  No matter what negativity it brought from certain critics, it had to be in there because that is just who we are.

Webb:  I totally agree.  I think your message is definitely bold in this album, and especially on the last song, “Rusty Nails.”  Could you tell me a little bit about the story of “Rusty Nails?”

Mikey Howard:  That is a song that we really didn’t know if it would end up on the record or not.  “Alive in You” was the first song that we specifically wrote for this record, but “Rusty Nails,” was one of the first songs that 7eventh Time Down ever wrote as a band.  It was one of those songs that our friends and fans that have been following 7eventh Time Down for a long time already knew.  That song is a real humble response to the cross and to the Jesus story specifically.  It is really just a humble way for us to respond to that amazing transformation story.  It was the last song that we recorded for the record.  It was one of those ones that we were like, ‘as long as this song has been around, it doesn’t matter.  As many times people have heard it, it doesn’t matter.’  We felt like this song had a message.  It had something to say to the masses.  Being this was our first national release, we felt like it needed to go on there.  The lyric and the message behind this song needed to be heard.

Webb:   How would you guys describe your music to an average person who has never heard you before?

Mikey Howard:  It is just a really big, bold sound.  I hate to get too specific on what we sound like with people, but I tell people that we sound like Daughtry, or maybe an amped up version of Jeremy Camp.  It is just good rock and roll music with a real strong Jesus message behind it.  I think a lot of Third Day fans even like our sound because we have a little of that southern draw to our music.  It is just a good blend of rock and roll.  

Webb:  You have already touched on this a little bit.  But, besides the overt message of Christ, are there any other messages that you want to convey to listeners?

Mikey Howard:  Yeah, I mean there are tons.  I think most importantly what I would love to say to people that are listening to our music is we hope that it inspires you first, if you are on the fence about Christ, to become believers.  What more could a band like us ask for?  For people’s lives to be transformed through our music because of the Jesus story.  I think second, for people who are already believers, our prayer is that their story would not end there.  We pray and hope that through our music that they are inspired to actually step into the way of Jesus, and actually living like Christ in the world.  Not just believing in him, and not just being okay with their eternal destination.  As good as that is, and as much as we affirm everything that the Bible has to say about eternity, salvation, the cross, Jesus and the resurrection, [we should] know that Christ also died so we could live like him in the world.  So that this world could be changed here and now, and give people hope in this world and this life.  That is woven throughout our album and our lyrics.  Hopefully, [we] just want to inspire people to live like Jesus in this world. 

Webb:  Now on a little lighter note, do you remember where you were and what you were doing the first time you heard 7eventh Time Down on the radio?

Mikey Howard:  Yeah dude.  It’s a little tricky because you have Iphone apps now.  I had heard it on the Iphone apps a lot.  But, actually being in the car and just randomly coming on the radio, I was actually with the entire band.  We were on tour, and we were driving through Texas.  We just had the radio on; and sure enough out of nowhere, ‘a brand new band from Kentucky.  This is 7eventh Time Down with “Alive in You.”’  We just started screaming like little girls [laughing].  We were just so excited, everybody was cheering.  We could barely even hear the song on the radio because we were so excited.  It was a really neat experience; it was definitely overwhelming.

Webb:  How did you guys first get in contact with the major label BEC Recordings? 

Mikey Howard:  I think we had put on a showcase for a bunch of labels in Nashville.  This has been awhile back.  Basically, a lot of record labels from Nashville and across the country came to check out what we were doing and our music.  We played this showcase, and afterwards it was the first time we had ever met anyone from BEC and Tooth and Nail.  That is what kind of started the relationship.  Shortly afterward, we just really liked them [BEC Recordings], and what they were doing in the industry.  They seemed to really know what to do with a rock and roll band.  With the success of Kutless, Jeremy Camp and Thousand Foot Krutch, they seemed to know what to do with the rock acts.  We had played with a lot of those bands, Kutless in particular.  Just having the chance, before we were on the label, to see the ministry mindset behind Kutless, and also seeing that spill over into BEC.  They are just incredible people.  To get to be a part of that family has just been awesome.  Anyways, I kind of got off track, but after the showcase we talked to a bunch of different labels.  We ended up picking them [BEC Recordings], and that is kind of how it happened.  They picked us; we picked them.

Webb:  What was your feeling when the signing day came with BEC Recordings?

Mikey Howard:  Man, it was absolutely awesome.  Our day was probably a little more unique than others.  I think our families for all these years had enabled us to have our ministry.  They have enabled us to do what we were doing.  I think our families kind of felt like they were passing the torch to BEC.  Now, BEC was going to be the one that enabled us to do our ministry on a much bigger level.  Naturally, all of our families, my wife and my little girl, came.  Our parents came, and we just took a big entourage down to the office there.  We signed the paperwork and took pictures.  It was incredible.  It was an emotional day.  It just felt like it was a testament to God’s faithfulness to us as followers of him.  Just feeling like years ago God had put this in our hearts to do this on a national level, and then [we] had struggles over the eight years of touring.  You have questions along the way like, ‘did I really hear God’s voice?  Was this God telling me to do this?  Was I dreaming?  Was I making it up?’  Then to have it finally happening was just, again, a testament to his faithfulness.  He keeps his promises to his people.     

Webb:  You have already mentioned a couple of your influences: DC Talk, Third Day and Kutless.  Are there any other bands past or present on BEC Recordings or Tooth and Nail Records that you guys really look up to or draw influence from?

Mikey Howard:  Sound wise, I really love TFK [Thousand Foot Krutch].  They are just a big sounding band.  Melodically, we don’t really jive.  We are not the same melodically.  But, musically I just really like the way their records sound, and how bold their cds sound.  I really draw from them.  Vocally, for me Jeremy Camp is a huge one.  In high school, I used to drive around blasting his records and singing them at the top of my lungs.  He really helped with little things like the diction that I have, and the way that I say certain words.  He was a big influence for me personally.  Obviously, Kutless is a huge one.  We definitely draw a lot from their past records.  That music is kind of what we grew up on, so it was just natural that we would draw from that.

Webb:  Also, you guys just released the brand new music video for “Alive In You.”  Could you tell me a little bit about that process of making the video and your experience working on the project?

Mikey Howard:  It was awesome.  We worked with a really cool director named Austin Upchurch.  He is another Kentucky boy; he is from Somerset, Ky.  He did a fabulous job.  That was really my first rodeo with a music video.  I had never attempted to do something like that before.  So, I didn’t know what we were getting into.  I probably got up around 4:30 that morning.  We had our first, I don’t even what you call it, our first call to be there which was about 5:00 o’clock that morning.  It literally went all day long.  There were green screens, lighting and cameras; it was just absolutely unbelievable.  They shot our music video with the same type of camera that they shot “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and “The Book of Eli.”  I didn’t even want to breathe around the camera.  I felt like if I touched it, it would break because it was so expensive.  It was just awesome having all those people there working hard to get the right shot.  You would literally spend like hours setting up lighting, and shooting this big, long scene.  Then, it would be all for four seconds in the music video.  It was really cool to see how it all came together.  I kind of knew when we shot the video that at the end I was going to turn to dust.  When we shot it that day, I was like, ‘how in the world are we going to make what we just shot, make me look that I turn into dust?’  Sure enough, it was unbelievable.

Webb:  I want to talk about your band name for a minute.  Why did you guys decide to put the number seven in your name?

Mikey Howard:  Just to be different.  There are not too many people who spell with numbers.  It just kind of seemed like a cool thing to do.  The seven is kind of that iconic thing for a band, and it just made sense.  For us, we just liked it.  Give people something to chew on, and wonder, ‘why did they do that?’

Webb:  Yeah, it definitely makes it stand out.  When it is beside a bunch of different band names, that seven really pops out.

Mikey Howard:  That’s the thing, there are a ton of other bands out there that have the seven thing going on.  For us, it was just trying to separate ourselves.  We have had that name since we started the band.  We have gained a lot of traction with the name.  So, we didn’t want to change our name, just because other people had sevens in their name.  We thought, ‘how can we make ourselves stand out, and not change our name?’  That was what we came up with. 

Webb:  Thinking about touring for a minute, how do you guys balance having family lives at home, and all the responsibilities that come along with being a full time Christian band?

Mikey Howard:  Man, that is the toughest part.  Just like I was telling you a minute ago, when I first called you, I was literally driving my daughter to the babysitter.  It is just tough, but I guess it is no different from what other people experience.  I am a dad, and dads go to work.  That is what you do.  Unfortunately, my work keeps me away for longer periods of time.  You have to make sure that you are on your phone with your wife everyday.  Make sure you are praying together, and talking about scripture together.  It makes you want to be more open.  You share all of your thoughts, and you really have to talk more.  You almost have to communicate more than people who see each other everyday.  The good part about it is when I am home, I’m home.  When I am home, I am 24/7 with them because I don’t have anything else to go and do.  So, that part is pretty cool.  It seems like there are fewer distractions when I am home.  For the most part, when I am home, we eat together and pray together.  It is just a little different, and you learn to adjust.  You have to have a wife that absolutely rocks, and mine does.  She is incredible; she definitely makes it where I can keep doing this.  She is awesome.

Webb:  While you are on tour, how do you have your personal quiet time when you are sharing such a tight space in a van with a bunch of people?

Mikey Howard:  Iphones are a blessing [laughing].  I have an audio Bible, and I have a couple of different Bible apps that have different reading programs.  You just do it.  I am sure a lot of people think, ‘man, the guys are having a blast in the van.  They are probably laughing the whole time.’  That is not always the case.  We are tired, and everybody has their own designated area in the van.  You just chill out and make time for it.  You make time for what is important.  You just do it and get in the word.  The cool thing about us is that it makes for good van conversation.  I might have read something in Colossians, and two days ago Eric might have been in Proverbs.  You are sharing all that stuff, and it makes for good conversation and encouragement.

Webb:  You guys have toured and shared the stage with quite a few big bands in the Christian scene.  Do you guys like doing any pranks with other bands on tour?

Mikey Howard:  We try not to get in involved with too many prank wars.  But, I will tell you this.  Pillar started a prank war with us a few years ago, and we won pretty big.  It started off with them calling us and telling us that our sound man was in the hospital.  That he had fell and hit his head at one o’clock in the morning.  We get out of our hotel beds, and drive to the hospital.  Obviously, he is not there.  So, we end up calling them [Pillar], and telling them that he is not here.  They are like, ‘the ambulance just left here; he will be there in a second.’  We just kept waiting, and no ambulances came back.  Finally, we drove back to the venue, and they busted out laughing.  Anyways, that kind of started it.  The whole tour we went back and forth.  But, we told them, ‘no matter what happens between now and the end of the tour, we guarantee that we are going to win.’  The last night of the tour, we jacked their trailer up on cinder blocks.  [We] took the wheels, and hid them all over the venue.  Spray painted it, Christian vandalized it pretty good.  We did a few other pranks during the show.  They have these things that we call ego risers, where bands stand up on them.  Basically, we made an exact replica out of poster board.  They stepped up on it, and it collapsed underneath them.  All that came in one night.

Webb:  Since you guys have been touring for so long, do you have any crazy stories to share from the road?  

Mikey Howard:  Dude, there are crazy things that happen all the time.  Back a few years ago in Texas, we were running low on money.  We pulled into this parking lot of a hotel because they had wireless internet that was free.  So, we decided to sleep in the van because they had internet.  Cliff and I, we ended up sleeping on top of the van that night.  When we woke up the next morning, there was a cop car sitting next to us.  [The cop] had a camera phone out snapping pictures of us, just dying laughing.  Then he drove off when we woke up.  That was a pretty funny one.  We have had axels break off while we were driving down the road.  We have had wheels fly off, transmissions die, rear ends lock up, all kinds of crazy stuff.

Webb:  Looking ahead to the future a little bit, what are your plans?  What can fans expect from you guys in the near future?

Mikey Howard:  We are doing a tour in October with another new rock band called Ashes Remain.  We are going to be doing a few weeks with them.  We are going up to Canada and back, which is really exciting.  We got to meet those guys down at Disney World a couple of weeks ago.  They are some really sweet guys; we are excited about that tour.  We are going to be doing a Christmas song that is going to be released to radio.  We are going to be doing a Christmas tour with After Edmund, which will be fun.  We are doing a few shows here and there with the Newsboys this fall, which will be cool.  After the new year, we will probably do a new single off the new album.  Just touring a bunch, and writing new songs for the second record. 

Webb:  Any last comments that you want to share?

Mikey Howard:  I think for us as a band, we just want people to feel like a big family.  Get to know us on Facebook and Twitter.  Come out and see a show.  Share with us what God has been doing in your lives, and we would love to share with everyone else what God has been doing in us.  We just want people to take ownership of 7eventh Time Down.  We want to be the people’s band.  We love everybody, and we want to share the gospel of Jesus with everybody.  Also, inspire everybody to do that within their own communities.  That is when we are going to see a change in this world, when everybody starts living like Christ.  

Below, is 7eventh Time Down’s official music video for the song, “Alive In You.”

Friday, September 2, 2011

Ashes Remain Interview

Before being signed to Fair Trade Services in 2010, Ashes Remain played together for nearly a decade.  The group released their major label debut album, What I’ve Become, on August 23.  On their debut, Ashes Remain tackle the subjects of desperation, hope and redemption.  Drawing from a wide range of influences, everything from 3 Doors Down to Circa Survive, What I’ve Become is fueled by the band’s accessible, rock radio sound.  On September 1, 2011, I had the opportunity to speak with the lead singer of Ashes Remain, Josh Smith, about their debut album, traveling in a 1987 school bus and his inspirations as a musician.  

Webb:  Before I talk about your debut album, I was wondering if you could give a very brief history on the band.

Josh Smith:  Yeah man, no problem.  I moved to Maryland in 2002.  I am originally from Florida.  But, before I moved up here, I worked at a camp in Maryland for four summers.  That is where I met our rhythm guitar player Ryan Nalepa.  He and I really believed that we were supposed to do something in music together.  We committed to pray about it daily.  I was looking for God to open a door for me in Maryland.  One year after the camp was over, I moved back home.  A couple months later, I got a call from a church up here [Maryland] that was looking for a full time worship leader.  It was about 10 minutes from where Ryan lived.  We kind of took that as a green light from God, and just got things underway.

Webb:  Were you guys touring for many years before you got signed to Fair Trade Services? 

Josh Smith:  We were.  This September, we will be a band 10 years.  Probably for the last four or five [years] we were touring regionally, and then we finally started touring all over the country on our own.  That was actually part of what Fair Trade liked about us.

Webb:  Was it ever tough for you guys touring that long while being an independent band, or was it something that you knew God was calling you to do? 

Josh Smith:  It’s both.  I think we always knew that this was what God was calling us to do.  It can still feel tough.  But, when you know you are being obedient, you kind of just push forward and wait for his provision.

Webb:  Looking ahead to your debut album that was just released, what was your feeling on the release date of What I’ve Become?  Relief, joy, excitement, anxiety?

Josh Smith:  Honestly, we couldn’t be more excited about it.  Like you were saying, we have been in the business for so long.  We never had anybody backing us up.  Having the label behind us, and all the things that are going on right now is just exciting.

Webb:   Listening to the album, I felt like one of the major themes was redemption, and coming out of a place of no hope.  Was that theme intentional in the writing process?  Did you want to tackle that theme on this album?

Josh Smith:  We really didn’t aim for it; but with every song that we wrote, it just seemed to be where our heads were at.  I think it comes from touring and talking with people at shows, and just seeing that that is what this generation is dealing with all across the country.

Webb:   I do want to specifically talk about a couple of songs on the record.  Your first single “Everything Good” is really different from the rest of the album.  It is very positive and it almost has a worship style feel to it.  So I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about the story behind the song “Everything Good.”

Josh Smith:  Yeah, we wrote that song in a grocery story parking lot with a guy named Paul Alan.  We were just sitting around talking about the different stories in the Bible, like Paul being in prison and literally singing praises from behind prison bars.  It’s talking about how so many times in our faith in America, we run into people where life isn’t perfect.  Things aren’t going their way and they think that God is out to get them.  In the Bible, we just see the opposite of that so many times.  God leads us through valleys and tragedies to just make us who he wants us to be.  That was kind of the thought behind that song.  Even though the world is falling apart around you, instead of blaming God, just realize he is God and taking you through that journey.        

Webb:  Also, I think one of the most powerful songs on the record is “Without You.”  Could you share the story behind that song too?

Josh Smith:  Yeah, absolutely.  The chorus kind of says it all.  That song is just about realizing that life without a relationship in God is completely useless and empty.

Webb:  What is your favorite song on the record?  Is there one that you are most proud of or one that means the most to you?

Josh Smith:  Oh man.  It changes week to week.  Right now, I really like the song “End of Me.”  That one is really speaking to me, and is really fun to play live. 

Webb:  Can you tell me a little bit about the album title What I’ve Become?  Is there a certain meaning or message that you wanted to convey to listeners with the title?

Josh Smith:  What I’ve Become, when that came through my mind, it was just thinking about as a Christian coming to a place in your life where you have drifted away from who you were supposed to be and who you were meant to be.  Just realizing in that moment that you are not the person you are supposed to be and not even recognizing yourself.

Webb:  Musically, you have been compared to other Christian rock bands like Kutless, Seventh Day Slumber, and Decyfer Down.  Do you like the comparison to some of these bands; do you welcome the comparison?  Or do you just want to say we are our own band with our own sound?

Josh Smith:  Comparisons don’t bother us.  We are not aiming for that.  We are not trying to sound like any other band, but that is the way music is.  There is nothing new under the sun.  Any time you write a song or put out an album, no matter how unique you think it is, someone is going to find a way to compare it to something else that is already out there.  So, we are not offended at all.

Webb:  I saw that you guys travel in a 1987 Ford school bus.  Can you tell me a little about this bus?

Josh Smith:  Yeah, it is a 1987 Ford school bus with no air conditioning, no heat, and only goes about 50 mph.  But, it has also been a blessing to us.  We don’t hate the bus [laughing].  We are excited to have it.  For the past five years, we have been touring all over the country.  We have gotten to play in 27 states.  We couldn’t have done that without the bus.  We did the van and trailer thing for awhile.  But, [in the bus] we put six bunks in, two couches, and all of our equipment goes in there.  It allowed us to tour a lot cheaper because we didn’t need hotels wherever we went.  It opened up a lot of doors for us to play a lot more shows. 

Webb:  Since you have had this bus for awhile, is it something that you definitely want to keep or are you ready to move up to a tour bus?

Josh Smith:  [laughing].  I don’t think we are in a hurry either way.  If the schedule demands it, the money is there and it all makes sense, we would get another bus.  But, I feel like we are almost in The Karate Kid [laughing].  This bus has taught us so much.  It has taught us a lot of patience and a lot of just gratefulness.  I don’t know.  That is a good question.  If the timing is right, we would probably get a new bus because our schedule is getting a lot busier than before.  We are having to cover a lot more miles a lot faster.  The 50 mph is literally becoming an issue.  We are having 600 miles between shows over night.  That is just hard to keep up.

Webb:  Now talking about tours, do you have any upcoming tours or festivals planned for this fall?

Josh Smith:  For the fall, we are doing a tour with a band called 7eventh Time Down out of Kentucky.  Those dates are starting to come in now.  I know we are going to be in Canada, Ohio, Michigan and North Carolina.  We have a lot of cool one off stuff that we are doing that is pretty exciting.  We are getting to play in Virginia.  We are getting to play with Thousand Foot Krutch and Switchfoot in September.  So that is cool.  In the spring, we are pitched for a couple of different tours, which we won’t know for a couple of weeks now which one we will land on.  We are just trying to keep it moving.  Stay out there in front of people with the record being so new, and just make some new friends. 

Webb:  Would you say maybe the most important part of your band is touring, meeting people and talking to fans every night? 

Josh Smith:  For us it is.  But, it is hard to say what is more important.  Without a record and without radio, touring is next to impossible.  It is so hard when no one has ever heard of you in any town you go to.  You are lucky to have 50 kids show up at any show.  It is so important to have the record out there and have the radio behind you.  We have never had that before.  It is so crazy to go to towns now and to hear kids singing along to “Everything Good,” and singing along to our rock single, “Come Alive.”  It is so cool.  For us, the most fun part is definitely touring.  Writing a recording is a blast, but there is nothing like getting on the stage, and just living it out.

Webb:  Since you guys have been signed and you are gaining a lot of momentum, do you find that it is harder to have that one on one time with fans?  Do you find that it is harder because you now have more fans wanting to talk with you?

Josh Smith:  I can see the difficulty growing, but right now we are still okay.  It is still pretty attainable to sit down one on one with people.  I hope that it always is on some level because that’s who we are.  We are not the band that wants to hang out in the green room, and come out and play the set; then get on the bus and leave.  We are the band that wants to know people and share life with people.  So, we will fight for that.

Webb:  I saw on twitter that you called your fans Ashes Remainiacs.  Is that name going to stick?  Do you want to keep calling your fans that name?

Josh Smith:  That is 100 percent up to the fans [laughing].  That is something that I said one day when I was in a goofy mood.  If they go by it, that is cool.  If they don’t, I am not offended [laughing].

Webb:  I do want to talk about one music industry topic.  Are you guys okay with selling music online, and just the thought that we are okay with whoever picks up our album.  Or do you guys like having people buy the actual physical album?

Josh Smith:  Oh no, we are fine with online sales.  I mean, I think the industry has shifted so violently.  Physical record sales are down so much, and digital sales are up so high.  I don’t really see a lot of bad in it.  I mean I am a guy that has to have the physical copy of something, but there are times when it is just simpler to go ahead and download something on my phone or on my computer.  So, I don’t mind it, and I can appreciate it.  The way I look at it, any way someone wants to get our music into their hands, I am honored.

Webb:  Thinking way back, what inspired you to become a musician?

Josh Smith:  I grew up in a musical family.  My dad was a country musician.  He lived in Nashville in the 1970s and put out a record.  He got opportunities to go on tour and do all these things, but he was a family man.  He pretty much walked away from the business.  He always played on the weekends, and did whatever he wanted for fun.  My brother also played in the band with him.  My brother Robert, when I was 15 and he was 26, he landed a gig at Disney World.  He was in a house band at one of the places at Disney World.  He died in a car accident on the way home from a show.  I just remembered it impacting me deeply.  Up until that point, I was the kid who always sang in the shower.  But, it was never something that I wanted to do.  That was when I was 15, within a couple of years by the time I was 18 or 19, I really started to grow this desire to play.  I started learning guitar chords, and just couldn’t put it down.  That’s when I realized that it was becoming more of a calling and a passion than a hobby.  Then I quit college and started a band.

Webb:  Looking ahead to the future a little bit, what is the goal or goals of the band in the next few years?  What do you guys want to achieve?

Josh Smith:  You know a lot of people shoot for the moon, and maybe I should.  If we become a stadium rock band, that’s great.  But, if we can just sustain ourselves, if this can be our ministry and career for life, I am a happy man.  If I can keep the lights on at home and do well enough there, then I have no complaints.

Webb:  Any last comments?

Josh Smith:  Man, I just appreciate your time.  It is very humbling to me that people care to talk to us now.  So, I just appreciate it.