As lead singer of Fireflight, Dawn Michele has been a steady voice in Christian music for nearly 20 years, bringing listeners with her through open embrace of the painful parts of life and into ultimate triumph through grace and hope. With songs like “You Decide,” “Unbreakable,” “Stay Close,” and now most recently “I Won’t Look Back” and “Die Free,” Dawn has stood alongside bandmates Glenn and Wendy Drennan in offering a consistent hand of solidarity and encouragement to their listeners.
2018 has seen the birth of a new season for Fireflight– and in particular, for Dawn. With Fireflight releasing new songs one at a time and spending less time on the road, Dawn is preparing to release her first solo record, Surrender. I had the chance to catch up with Dawn Michele about all things Fireflight and solo venture related, hearing more of where her heart is in this time of rebirth.
This has been a unique season for Fireflight with the model you have been doing things– releasing singles, doing less touring. Do you want to talk a little bit about what that season has been like and how you guys landed here?
Firelight has been a band for 18 years now. We’ve been able to do so many incredible things during that long amount of time. I always joke that band years are like dog years, so we’re really like over 100 years old!
As you know, we used to hit it hard touring. We were gone at least 3 weeks out of the month, most of the year. Then in the last couple years, we’ve been pulling back from that. Me, and Glenn and Wendy, we both have little boys now. And it’s just a different kind of lifestyle. When Johnny was first born, he was touring at about 8 months, on the bus, just me and him. So that was pretty intense.
With the changes in the music industry, it was getting harder and harder to be super unstable all the time, and touring requires that. So we started doing a little less touring, slowly, gradually. And now we find ourselves in an area where we’re just doing maybe a couple shows a year. We’d like to pick that up a little bit now, but it’s been a cool time for us to have a little bit more stability and routine for our children. And for our own peace of mind as well! We’ve been doing this for so long. We toured full time for probably about 8 years. When you live your life like that, there’s a lot of cool aspects to it, but a lot suffers at the same time.
It’s given us a reprieve from being under the pressure of timing all the time. So now, we find ourselves with the ability to just pick some time and go across town to our buddy’s house and work on songs. Instead of having to get a whole album done, now we can take our time and do it at our own pace. It’s been a really neat season for creativity where we’re not so much under the gun because it’s only our schedule we have to worry about.
We’re really enjoying it. Having more freedom, but at the same time continuing to give music to our fans, who have been so incredibly loyal and loving through all these years. And we want to keep hopefully encouraging them. Having new songs is a way that we can still be part of their lives while not having to still constantly be traveling all the time.
Part of that new season that you have been in this year is you’ve shifted back to a much heavier sound. You guys did this foray into electronic music, then fans this year might have noticed that you have more guitars back, more of a heavy sound again. Was that an intentional choice? And if so, where did it come from?
With INNOVA, we were really pushing boundaries. It felt new and fresh for us at the time, having been doing the same thing for a while. We really enjoyed that. Now that we’re releasing singles one at a time and had a breather, these songs are for the most part about honoring our fans and hopefully being an encouragement to them. We recognize that our fans are traditional rock fans. That’s really where their heart is, at least where a large part of them are. So we wanted to honor that and really just get back to some of Fireflight’s roots and have some fun exploring in that area again, since on the last album we got to explore some different stuff.
Well the new song “Die Free” really does that exploration of your roots– it hits hard, and it’s really powerful and anthemic. Where did that song come from?
I think that as we fall more into the routine lifestyle with being at home, it’s really easy to step back into the rat race, you know? I think there’s a huge push in our culture right now where we’re really entertainment-driven. We’re most concerned about how we’re going to be entertained, how we’re going to make ourselves happy and get what we want. And it’s this intoxicating siren song that’s pulling all of us to put ourselves first and think about our own happiness first and do whatever we can to eliminate any kind of uncomfortableness in our lives.
I think our priorities get totally messed up when we take our eyes off of the message of God and God’s love, when we put the emphasis on our own pleasure. I think it’s pretty much something that we all fall into, especially here in the United States. So this song is really kind of a push back song to where hopefully each of us can find ourselves in it and make it our own anthem, saying that we’re not going to trade in the gospel for the American dream. Because I think the American dream is preached in a lot of churches across the country, and it’s become like the gospel. That’s our new thing, those are our rights, what we should be most worried about. But it’s not God’s plan for us.
I feel like the greater part of my life has been about suffering and what I’ve learned from it. It’s made me stronger. Kind of like going to work out at the gym– it’s super not fun to go work out at the gym! But if we don’t do it, then our health declines. In the same way, it’s not fun to suffer, but maybe it’s good for us sometimes. If we’re just trying to run from it all the time, we might be missing out on the things that God is trying to strengthen in us so that we can grow individually in our own character and be there for other people.
Lord help us if we think somebody looks like they’re drama or maybe they’ve got some problems– we just run the opposite way, like “I don’t need that in my life.” But that’s not what Jesus did. He ran towards the fire, not away.
It’s so easy to get caught up and get distracted in living our day to day lives. I think that’s why we thought this song was so important: something that could strike back against that, to help all of us to remind ourselves to look out for a greater purpose and a greater plan for our lives instead of numbing ourselves out from our own pain and hiding from discomfort.
One of the cool things about this song is that you worked with some other people on it. You have a guest vocal, and you also worked with Josiah Prince in the studio. Share a little about that part of the song, who you guys are working with to make the music happen in this season?
Like I said, we live in Nashville. After touring for so many years, we’ve been blessed to share the stage and share life with a lot of incredibly talented people– Disciple being some of the number ones on that list. Working with Josiah has been super fun, he’s so talented and gifted. He can do everything– like Josiah, you make me sick! [laughs] But he can play the guitar, and he can do a million different things. He’s a great writer too. So we got to hang out with our buddy and write a song together, and he helped produce it. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Then of course, Kevin [Young]– he could be like the king of rock and roll for Christian music. He’s been a buddy of ours for a long time. One of our very first actual big substantial tours that we ever went on was with Disciple. We’ve had the privilege to tour with them a couple times and really get to know their hearts. You’re just not going to find a more legit group of dudes. We also had Joey, who drums with Disciple, he played drums on the song for us. Man, I’m just telling you all around, they’re top-notch.
It’s just a dream come true for us to be in a season where we can’t go out and make a whole album at once, but here and there we can scrape up enough and release these songs one at a time and hopefully just keep the conversation going, loving on and encouraging our fans.