Red’s last album, 2017’s Gone, was an album surrounded by speculation. The band’s longstanding record contract with Provident was fulfilled. There were whispers that there might not be another album from the band at all– or at least, not one in the format that fans had grown used to.
The band (Michael Barnes, Anthony Armstrong, Randy Armstrong, and Dan Johnson) finally let eager fans know what form their new era would take earlier this year with the launch of a GoFundMe designed to invite fans to be a part of launching Red as an independent band. The plan was for the band to operate as their own record label, interacting directly with fans to deliver the music they wanted the most.
Last month, we heard the first fruit of Red’s renaissance, a track titled “The Evening Hate.” Red bass player Randy Armstrong took some time to share with Rock On Purpose about the song and what the future looks like as this veteran rock band starts something new.
Would you like to jump
right in by talking about the title of “The Evening Hate?” It has this really
unique historical tie.
Yeah, it’s definitely unique from the fact that when we
heard the term, I was watching a movie. I heard a character say it, and it
caught my ear immediately. So I looked it up, and it’s in reference to WWI and
the trench soldiers. I just thought it was really provocative and cool, and an
opportunity to tell a story in a song. And that’s one of the most difficult
things to do in music, is to find a cool way to tell a story.
The music video ended
up illustrating that story so well too. What was it like to envision that
There’s so much fertile ground with an idea like “The Evening
Hate.” We thought we could do a war video. We sort of started a war in our last
video that we shot, and we thought “it would be great to pick up that story
from there,” using the opportunity to further the storyline in our videos.
We hired a construction company to dig some holes, then we wrote,
directed, edited, and released a video in three and a half weeks.
Man, that’s intense!
Yeah, exhausting! But people are really responding well to it. We couldn’t be happier.
On a personal level,
what does the idea of “The Evening Hate” represent? How do you want that
concept to connect to listeners?
Every time we’ve done an album, it’s kind of been a snapshot
of where the band was at the time. We’ll never be able to recreate that,
because as we go on in life, circumstances change. Life changes. Ideas change.
When we did Of Beauty
& Rage, we were at a pretty dark point, and you could tell in how dark
the music was because that’s kind of what was flowing out of that time. Gone seemed to take a different approach;
it was much more positive, but it was also reflective of the fact that we’re
not guaranteed tomorrow. We were thinking “we might not be here, we may not be
a band after this—our record deal is up, we don’t know.”
But we had the opportunity to go independent, and we thought
it was the best thing for us to do. We needed our fans to help us get started.
When the money started coming in to support everything, we knew that the fans
still wanted us to be around. And we wanted to take the opportunity to get back
to the sound that fans fell in love with in the first place, and to do some heavier
stuff than we’ve done in a while.
It’s fun because now we don’t have to wait years to release albums. We can release songs in the middle and do things the way that we want to do them, while touring on top of that.
In that process, one
of the most common questions I keep seeing from Red fans is “is there going to
be a full album?” Or are you guys just going to keep releasing singles? What
does your plan look like for this brand new world you’re in?
I’ll say this: there is no guarantee of an album, but there’s
no guarantee of there not being an
album. We have the freedom to go with that ebb and flow. The music business is
changing so much; it’s like a pond of water. It never looks the same, it’s never
the same color, it’s always changing. It moves so fast, and if you don’t keep
up, you’re going to get left in the dust.
But with this freedom we have to make music, we definitely
pay attention to our fans’ comments. And I know fans have been frustrated that
we haven’t been turning out a lot of heavy stuff lately, and we thought “The
Evening Hate” was a great launching point to get back to that sound that they
fell in love with in the first place.
It’s just a call that we’re going to have to make when the
time comes. We do have Red comments from fans wanting us to make an album, so
we’re entertaining the idea of finishing an album and not just doing singles.
But that’s still an ongoing conversation. When we originally announced that we
were going to go independent, the plan was just to release songs here and
there, and we told fans that. But there seems to be this overwhelming response
for us to complete an album.
How did being
independent impact your creative process? What is it like experientially as
people, as artists, to be creating now on your own timeline?
You definitely have more of a sense of ownership over the
process. You don’t have anyone thinking for you.
When we were with our label, it was a good relationship, and
they gave us a lot of creative freedom. But there were times when they asked us
to do things that we didn’t necessarily want to do, mostly in what kind of
music they thought we needed to make. Like we needed to have a ballad, we
needed to have a slow song, we needed to get more poppy, we needed to go where
radio was going. We started to pay more attention to that than to servicing our
fanbase and sticking with what made us popular in the first place.
But we didn’t have much of a choice; we were on their dime, and they called the shots. When you control the money, you control the shots. We released that music, and 80% of our income would be taken by them. So when we launched the GoFundMe, a lot of people were wanting to know why a band that’s had the success that Red has had is asking for so much money. A lot of people don’t realize that if the label’s taking all of your money, there is no money left.
So we’ve seen overwhelming support. We’re ¾ of the way to
our goal. We’re off and running with the music now. Fans can expect more to
come for sure!
You referenced this,
but Red has endured through an unbelievable amount of industry change that has
happened since the release of End of Silence
in 2006. After all of these years, after all the things you rode out as a band,
what is still motivating you guys to keep wanting to make new music and
adapting in this system?
People come up and say “what does it take to make it in the
music business?” Well, it takes way more than a lot of people are willing to
give or to sacrifice. When you say “we’ve been through a tremendous amount,” I’d
consider that an understatement, because people don’t really realize what bands
have to go through in order to stick around. And the fact that we’ve been able
to stick around for over a decade is a feat in itself.
But we’re still here, still going, because we have a very loyal
fanbase—a fanbase that really takes care of us well. And we love music. We love
making music, we love performing. This was our goal as kids, this is what we
dreamed of doing. And a lot of people don’t get to realize their dreams. So why
would we want to get to the point where we’ve “made it” and turn our backs on
it, when this whole new opportunity that’s been presented to us could be the
best part of our career?
We don’t know exactly what this is going to look like yet,
but there could be more financial freedom for us than we’ve ever had, if we
continue to deliver music that the fans love and are listening to. Then the phones
start ringing and opportunities start presenting themselves, and we’re able to
have this resurgence that we feel that we need. We can’t do that unless we first
get in the studio and try.
We weren’t ready to walk away from this. We wanted to say, “when
we’re ready to leave, when we’re ready to be done, we want to call that shot.”
We don’t want somebody to say “well, we have nothing left for you guys, so you’ll
just have to call it quits.” We want to go out on our own terms.
It was just like when we moved to Nashville. We decided to
move to Nashville and start a band because we didn’t want to turn around when
we were 40 and say, “we should have tried that.” So here we are now, at 40, and
I have no regrets. And I have this new opportunity that I don’t want to turn
around when I’m 50 and say, “you should have done it.”
A lot of people don’t get to do this. I think a lot of people love music and follow artists and athletes because they are the walking realization of something that they may want to do also.
With this new
opportunity ahead of you, with so much untapped potential, obviously there’s a lot
you don’t know. But what do you hope
happens with the future of Red? What are things you’re dreaming about doing?
I think our hopes are just achieving more than we’ve
achieved. Tom Brady, how many Superbowls has that guy won? I’ve lost count. He
does it because he loves it.
The bottom line is, success comes with hard work. And hard
work comes with passion and just wanting
to do it. And that’s what we’re counting on. Success will come. The awards and
things like that are cool and everything. But they’re only the result of hard
work. So that’s something we’re accustomed to, we’ve been doing it our entire
This is no different, but what we see as success now is
being able to stick around without the help of a label. Truly relying on the
music, as opposed to relying on a label who is giving us money to make the
music. We’re the bank now. But we have to create the product, we have to
finance the product, we have to do it all ourselves.
What can you tell
people about what the rest of this year looks like for Red?
We are putting together a short run of shows, but it’s not going
to be a headlining tour. We originally thought that we would end this year with
a full 10th anniversary headlining tour for Innocence & Instinct, but the way things have shaken out with
making music, putting together a new team, new booking agency, new management,
new everything, we’re still in the process of finishing up our recording
process. We have several songs still to finish.
It takes months to plan a tour, but we were asked to be a
part of a tour that’s not very long. We do still want to play a few shows in
honor of our second album, and we’ll be announcing soon that those will happen
in September. And then this short run I’m talking about will happen at the end
of October, after we get back from an event we’re playing in Germany.
But the goal is to go back hardcore in 2020. We wanted to take the time off this year so we could do all this retooling, catch our breath, let the market miss us for a while and then come back out swinging.
If there was one
thing that you could communicate to these fans who are such a huge part of Red
and this era, what would your consistent message to them be?
Every band probably says this, but our relationship with our
fans is extraordinary. The overwhelming support—we don’t have to defend
ourselves online, our fans do it for us. I feel like Red fans have always had a
feeling of ownership over the band: the music’s theirs, the band is theirs, it’s
all because of what they’re doing. We could not be more thankful. We’ve had a good
life, we’ve had a good run, and it’s all because they’re buying our music and
listening and streaming and telling people “hey, you need to check this band
It’s still up to us to keep that happening by creating good
content and good music, but I feel like real fans stick with you through thick
and thin. Through the worst times, the bad songs and bad album cycles.
Everybody has their opinion, but they’re still willing to say “hey, I’m with Red
in this new opportunity, and I’m anxious to see what they’re going to do, and I
It’s hard to wrap your head around, that people are willing
to do that. But if I remember myself as a kid and my favorite bands, I was
willing to do anything to see them play. I’d listen to them all day long, and
they gave me inspiration and hope. People will do anything for that, that
feeling, over and over again.
Our goal has always been to meet people where they are with our music, to inspire them, to help them get out of their own way and to just forget about life for a minute. And that’s what we want to keep doing.
Remedy Drive has transformed their band into a support for the work of justice, from the music they make to the merch they sell to actual undercover work overseas with The Exodus Road. Hear straight from a coffee conversation with lead singer David Zach about the work they do, how it informs their music, and some of the misconceptions they’ve encountered along the way.
Learn more about Remedy Drive (and find their merch store full of products supporting rehabilitation at remedydrive.com. Get involved with The Exodus Road at theexodusroad.com.
Poetic Descent’s music is marked by their absolute refusal to shy away from heavier topics. With a musical style heavy enough to match, their series of singles released over the past year have been quick to make an impact. Formed by Jared Lacey and Adam Thompson following the dissolution of their former band Mayfly, Poetic Descent didn’t lose a moment of time in reforging themselves into a force for creating impactful hard rock music.
Poetic Descent singer Jared Lacey took the time to share with Rock On Purpose about the band’s origin and their approach to topics like abuse, addition and loss.
For those who are just now encountering you guys, can you give us the Poetic Descent origin story?
This is Jared Lacey, and I sing and play guitar for Poetic Descent. We are an Alternative/Metal band from the Dayton, Ohio area.
The band was pretty much created the moment my old band, Mayfly, ended in March of 2017. Mayfly had studio time booked to record our first full length album, and I didn’t want to cancel when the band ended because we had already cancelled once before. So I took six of the songs I had written for Mayfly and went ahead and recorded them myself. I convinced Adam Thompson, who had also been a part of Mayfly, to play drums on the songs. We released the first of those six songs a little over a year later, and we put a new single out every couple weeks after that.
The name, Poetic Descent, came about after I discovered that the biblical Hebrew meaning of my first name meant “to descend,” which refers specifically to the descent of the sons of God or fallen angels to earth in Genesis. The angel/human hybrid offspring of the sons of God were called Nephilim, which has been translated by some to mean giants. In the past few years, I have become intrigued with this rarely mentioned passage in scripture, and I figured that since my name was associated with it, why not name my band after it?
The latest single is “Paperthin Walls.” Can you share about the idea behind that song and what you hope listeners take away from it?
The lyrics for Paperthin Walls were written after hearing the man who lived in the apartment below me constantly yelling at his step-daughter. The walls in my apartment building are so thin that I could usually hear him pretty clearly. He would curse at her and just say really insulting things to her. I remember being yelled at by my parents some when I was a kid and even spanked several times by my parents, but this guy just seemed to take it beyond discipline. Everything he said seemed to come from a place of anger and not love.
I am not the type of person who enjoys confrontation. I wrote the words to this song in a notebook before I ever actually said anything to the man downstairs. I wish I had said to him in real life what I said to him in this song, but I was afraid of the confrontation, so I simply sent him a text message with a Bible verse about children being a blessing from God, and I let him know that I could hear him upstairs. He and his family moved out not long after that.
I really do hope he hears the song some day. I hope this song reaches the ears of parents who are abusing their kids either verbally or physically, because I believe their kids will continue to unintentionally seek out relationships with the same kind of abuse throughout the rest of their lives if they continue to receive it from the ones who are supposed to protect them from it.
Was there anything in your own personal lives that led to choosing to write about such weighty topics, on this song and others?
Yes. I wrote the song “Consuming” after several years of wrestling with an addiction to pornography, which is something I still fall prey to from time to time. The chorus talks about feeling unsatisfied, which is exactly how porn leaves me every time I have looked at it in the past. I use food as a metaphor in this song. Porn is kind of like junk food. It tastes really good and makes you just want to keep eating more and more until you are sick to your stomach, but it has no real nutritional value. It does not truly satisfy. Only Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, can do that.
I am learning that when he died on the cross, my sin was crucified with him, and I was reborn as a new creation with him when he was resurrected. Sin should no longer have any power over my flesh, because it was put to death on that cross. As long as I keep my eyes fixed on it, I cannot fall prey to the temptation of things like pornography.
Another very personal song for me is “Fragile Frame.” I think I began writing the lyrics for it some time in 2010 after my mother died from a disease called ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) which broke down all the muscles in her body, including vital organs like the heart, lungs and brain. I was only 20 years old when this happened, and my siblings were even younger.
I think I accepted the fact that my mother was dying early on, and I asked God for the strength to bear the loss of her in my life. This disease pretty much turns a person into a child who can no longer do anything for themselves and is totally dependent on other people by the end. This gave my father, siblings and I the chance to serve her in many of the same ways she had served us over the years, which was a pretty awesome blessing.
I recall my mother’s faith in God being strong my whole life. In the bridge section I even included an audio clip of her voice that I ripped from an old family video where she is talking to me as a toddler on Easter Sunday. She asks me, “Jared, do you know why we celebrate Easter? You’ll find out in Sunday school today. It’s because Jesus was raised from the dead.” I know if God can raise Jesus from the dead, then he can certainly resurrect my mother, as well, and I will see her again in heaven where we will sing together some day.
How would you describe your personal brand of metal?
I drew influence from bands like Dead Poetic, Project 86, Norma Jean, Beartooth and Blindside for this project. I have always appreciated vocalists who can flip seamlessly between singing and screaming, so I try to do that in most of the songs I write. Staple and Chasing Victory are two bands that have really influenced my vocal style. I listen to a lot of modern metalcore bands, but don’t really like to add the chuggy breakdowns to my songs like they do. I really worked hard on writing choruses with memorable melodies for this batch of songs as well.
What’s coming up this year for Poetic Descent, and how can fans keep up with you?
We just recorded a new single called “Pariah” back in November with Jake Bryant, who used to play guitar in a band called Dangerkids. The song was originally written by our manager, Joel Holycross (Swamp Fawx Artist Collective), the founding guitarist in our old band Mayfly, who allowed us to make our own version of the song. We are hoping to have the song along with a music video released by the spring.
Other than that, we hope to do a few local shows and maybe a few festivals this summer. You can find out everything you need to know about the band by going to www.poeticdescent.com. There are links to our music, social media pages and a place where you can sign up for our mailing list there.
What do you see as your core mission as a band?
I just want to write songs that are honest. I don’t want our music to sound a certain way simply because it will make us more popular, and I don’t want to be afraid to share what God has placed on my heart, even if I know it will make a lot of people uncomfortable. I often struggle to express my thoughts verbally, so I think writing songs helps me to express those thoughts more clearly.
I have heard many Christian bands say that the only reason they exist is to make music for God. I don’t believe that’s 100% true. We make music because it’s fun. It makes us feel alive, but I do hope that God will use the songs I write to speak to someone as well. I hope our music gives us the opportunity to meet people in dark places, so we can remind them that light still exists.
I was 15 when I picked up the bass guitar and began playing with my older brother. The following year, my parents bought me a guitar so I could play at church and start writing my own songs.
Music has always been a way to express outwardly what’s going on inside, and the feeling of creating something so raw and vulnerable was extremely liberating for me. I had always loved singing at church and performing at various talent shows, but it’s a completely different feeling when you get to perform a song that you wrote.
In college, I was heavily involved in our campus ministry and met Greg (my now husband) through playing on the praise team. We had always talked about our love for rock music and desire to take positive messages of hope and grace into the dark parts of the world. We got married in 2011, and shortly after we broke away from the praise team to create Drive Thru Society. As most young rock bands, we had no clue what we were doing when we started, but we played passionately and fumbled our way into the scene.
The longer we wrote and pursued music, the more we started to draw material for songs from the stories of people we would meet at shows or online. Our song “Ghosts” stemmed from this exact scenario. My best friend had struggled with undiagnosed depression for years, and after some time of building our relationship she finally told me her story of her attempted suicide. She was 19 and felt that she didn’t deserve to live, that she wasn’t worthy of God’s love, so she decided to overdose on a bottle of pills. She didn’t expect to wake up the next morning, but was surprised when she did and was surrounded by nurses in a hospital room. She said it was in that moment of weakness that the Lord reached down and told her that He wasn’t done with her and started to re-write the negative thoughts that were in her head telling her that she didn’t have what it took and that she wasn’t worthy of His love.
I personally had never struggled with those things, but I felt the Lord had softened my heart to empathize with her story and used my mouth to speak for her by writing the song. While I was in the studio, she actually sent me some lyrics that made it into the song. I thought it was incredibly neat that it came straight from the source.
Through writing this song and playing it live, I can’t tell you how many texts/emails we’ve received regarding the impact that her story has had on others, which made us realize the responsibility we had to encourage and steward those who shared their story with us.
Our heart to those who have personally struggled with suicide is that it is tough right now, there’s no denying that. However, it gets better. I think as teenagers and young adult its hard to see just how big the world is. We get so narrow focused on what’s right in front of us that we can’t even comprehend that we’ll ever get past this. But suicide ends the possibility that it’ll get better and doesn’t allow us to trust the Lord to use us and teach us through those dark times.
My best friend thought she was so damaged and that no one would understand her pain (after years of being rejected because of it), but because she allowed someone in (me) and received love through that, she was able to fully receive God’s grace for her decision and step into the freedom that He has for her. You are not defined or damaged by your mistakes. When you receive the healing power of Jesus, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done because He stands in for you and makes you clean.
Genesis 50:20 says “What you intended for harm, God intended for good.” This was coming from Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers and endured years of feeling unworthy, but ultimately saved them through God’s sovereign plan. There are so many moments where we intend to hurt ourselves (whether through believing negative things, self-harm or self sabotage), and we intend it for harm, but God in His grace and mercy can turn it around and use it for good like He did for my friend. Joseph was wrongly imprisoned for a time, but Genesis 39:21 says “The LORD was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love.”
Sometimes when we struggle with mental illness our minds can feel like a prison and that we are trapped to feel this way forever, but commit that scripture to memory and remember that the Lord has promised “never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 / Deuteronomy 31:6). It’s easy to only look at our current circumstances and think I’ll never make it past this, but even in those moments trust that the Lord has you and will get you through it. It may not be the way you planned, and you may be in that season for longer than you expected, but trusting the Lord always outweighs us taking things into our own hands and trying to solve the situation on our own.
Remember that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12. Remember who the real enemy is.
Through our understanding of scripture and listening to the stories of people that have been moved by our music, it encourages us to continue writing about difficult topics that our culture is facing. We know that music has a power that’s difficult to explain in words, but is more something you feel. We want to continue to write and create in a space that uses our platform to ultimately glorify the Lord and then encourage our listeners towards His goodness.
In April 2017, Greg and I experienced one of the lowest points in our music career and really had to re-evaluate why we were pursuing this in the first place. We had aligned ourselves with people in the industry that we trusted, and after a few months of working with them we realized that we were not on the same page and did not have the same convictions. I personally had felt attacked on a level I had never experienced, and my once confident demeanor was whittled to practically nothing. Self-doubt ran rampant, and I second guessed every decision I made because I was belittled in almost every sense of the word working with those people.
We stepped back and were now faced with a huge ok God, now what? moment. Everything we had been working towards since college had just been ripped out from under us, and we had to decide how we were going to proceed forward. I was given a book during that time called Follow the Cloud by John Stickl, and I had no idea how much it was going to impact me during the lowest point of my self-esteem. John talks about how God leads us one small step at a time to prune us along the way and to deepen our obedience to Him. It would be nice if the Lord gave us a giant roadmap and we could just move through it, but then it wouldn’t develop perseverance, plus taking one small step at a time refines our character and increases our trust in the Lord.
In a time where I wanted nothing to do with the music industry and felt completely disabled to write music, I felt the Lord telling me “it’s not over yet, just keep following me one small step at a time. It will make sense eventually.” It was all I could do to take those small steps day by day and slowly allow my heart to forgive and heal from the beating it had just taken.
Through that season of healing and restoration, the Lord showed me that it didn’t matter where I was or what the end game would be, but that I am making a difference even in the daily routine of life. I didn’t have to sell a ton of records, I didn’t have to have a top radio single, I didn’t have to look perfect all the time or meet certain weight expectations in order to be effective for the Kingdom, but that an open heart towards those God loves and obedience in the small steps were what God honored. It seems so simple now, but at the time it was revolutionary for me.
My encouragement to you is that you don’t have to know the big picture, you don’t have to have all the answers, and you don’t have to compromise in your personal convictions to be used by the Lord. We took almost a year off of music and finally felt we could start writing and creating again because the Lord realigned our focus with His kingdom in mind, and that’s what we’ve been doing ever since!
You are enough, and in those times when you don’t feel that way, God provides grace to make up the difference. Don’t let fear hold you back from being obedient in the small things and trusting God through the small steps. 1 John 4:18 says “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. the one who fears is not made perfect in love.” Step into the freedom that God has granted you through Jesus and set your fear aside because the Lord is with you!
A few months ago with this renewed heart the Lord has provided multiple opportunities for Drive Thru Society, including our song “Ghosts” being featured in an upcoming movie called Worthy. We’ve talked with Bruce Snyder (head of the project), and our hearts towards ministry and art are definitely in alignment. He’s been encouraging from the beginning and affirming that we are where we’re supposed to be. We’re very excited to be working with him and the rest of the Worthy crew on this project!
Greg and I have one more single to release, most likely in early 2019, and then we will record a full length record. We started writing a few months ago and are excited to tell more stories and share more art with everyone. We’ve talked about playing a few shows here and there, but have no immediate plans.
I hope you’ve felt encouraged to stay the course and be persistent even in moments when it doesn’t make sense and you can’t see what’s around the corner. Remember that you are loved and that you never know where the Lord will lead you next. You matter and you’re making a difference!
On a noisy Nashville rooftop during the Winter Jam launch party, Jen Ledger shared about being a part of Winter Jam 2019, the success of her debut LEDGER EP, and what’s on the horizon for the “Skilletverse!”
While Dawn Michele has crafted a powerful music identity as the voice behind the hopeful rock anthems of Fireflight, the past few years have seen her mission and her ministry expanding. From mentorship to worship leading, the past few years have seen the already seasoned singer taking new strides towards encouraging and uplifting listeners.
The ultimate result is Surrender, a solo album that is currently available for fans to be a part of launching through PledgeMusic. In this second part of my two part interview with Dawn (see part 1 here), we caught up on the journey she has been on towards this newfound passion for vertical music.
So where has the solo project fit into all of this? As you’ve been recording the Fireflight singles and playing a couple shows– when did the solo songs for Surrender happen?
My solo project has been kind of a labor of love over a couple years now. Just out of nowhere I kind of felt this pull, this tug on my heart.
It all started maybe 5 years ago. My husband got asked to go be on a Christian radio station in Albuquerque, New Mexico. So we packed up in Nashville, and we moved to the desert. I always joke that Jesus had to wander in the desert, and so did we! [laughs] So we moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and at the time Fireflight was still touring pretty heavily, so I was having to fly from Albuquerque to Nashville like every month to keep touring with the band. It was a heck of a commute.
A couple years into that, we did start pulling back a little bit. As we were starting to pull back, me and my husband had our little boy, Johnny. So life was so different. I was thinking, what’s life going to be like? What am I going to do? God, what should I do? I knew I didn’t want to quit touring and quit doing music ministry, but life changes a lot when you have a kid. You have to figure out how to make ends meet if you’re not going to be doing a ton of shows. In order to have a kid, you kind of have to have a career to support that kid, but if you have a regular career, you can’t be traipsing off to go do rock shows.
So I was like “God, what do You want me to do?” Circumstances aligned for me to meet with some incredible people at a huge church out there called Sagebrush. I went out and sang one of the featured songs with them on a Sunday morning and was super blown away by the heart of that church. I’ve never really been into the megachurch model so much, probably because I just always liked a nice, quiet service because I was so often out on the road and on stage for a big, loud show.
But man, I was blown away by the heart of this church. Every third Sunday, all of the mechanics in the church would come out to the parking lot and serve the community by helping the single moms and the elderly, taking care of their cars and stuff. They were stocking all of the food pantries in the city, regardless of what the affiliation of the food pantry was. I was super impressed by how yes, they were a megachurch, but they were using the favor that they had and the power God had given them to really do God’s work. It wasn’t like a country club for Christians, you know?
A month or so after I did that, they approached me and said “hey Dawn, what would you think about coming on staff as a worship leader and a mentor for our female worship leaders?” I was kind of scared of doing that, because in general I’ve seen some of the less fun sides of church culture for a long time and kind of been burned in the church. I had always thought “I’d never want to work at a church, it’s a lot of pressure and a lot of disillusionment.” But everything they were talking about fit every prayer specifically that me and my husband had, like “God, You’re going to have to provide this, this, and this for me to be able to continue doing music ministry.” That’s what they came to the table with, so I was like “Lord, I can tell that this is what You want me to do.”
So I went on staff there, and that was my first time having a job where you went into an office since I worked at the city rec center right out of highschool. It had been a long time, because I grew up in Fireflight basically. I joined Fireflight as I was graduating highschool. So I didn’t know what to expect, but the culture of that church totally wowed me. I got to work with the women who were leading worship and help them break free from all the chains that they were under that the enemy was trying to drag them down and convince them that they didn’t have what it takes to fulfill the calling God has on their lives. Which was such a blessing to me, since I’ve had to walk that road and that journey in my own life.
Being up there Sunday mornings, it was a totally different feeling than when you’re doing rock shows. People come to a rock show, and they’re ready. They’re ready to have an experience, they want to connect with God, they want to connect with community. But people walk in on a Sunday morning cold off the street, and they’re just trying to connect with God any way they can. And I was really blown away by how it seemed like a lot of people were really struggling, really weren’t connecting with worship.
So I guess a burden just came on my heart that I really wanted to help people connect, because worship is such a powerful time in your life. When you’re truly worshipping God, the things that you’re doing, the things that you’re saying, the thoughts that you’re thinking are all lining up with the truth of God. And when all those three things are in alignment, God can work supernaturally in your life in ways that we’re blocking Him from working at any other time. That’s so powerful. It’s one of the best parts of our life here on earth, and if people aren’t connecting in that way, they’re missing out on some of the best moments of their lives. No wonder we struggle, feeling unfulfilled and depressed and all these things, if we’re missing out on some of the best moments.
I went to my friend Rusty Varenkamp, who is an incredible producer. He was one of the producers on INNOVA. And I said to him, “hey man, I think I want to do a worship album and write some songs to hopefully help more people connect and feel that power.” So he was like “well, let’s find some investors!”
We started working on it, and we got a great buddy of mine who has been a benevolent benefactor of Fireflight, helped keep us going for many years, fell in line to help get the ball rolling with creating the album. Since then, it’s just been trying to figure out ways to release it. So we’ve finally fallen on a fan-fund situation with PledgeMusic where we can just get the final funds we need to get it mastered, get the music put out there where people can see it– and not just everybody who happens to follow me on Instagram, but more people. Hopefully, we can get this music into the hands of people all over the world. And hopefully God can use it to influence, and hopefully people can have their lives changed as they connect to God with power.
That sounds extremely purposed, and maybe in a different way from Fireflight. Do you feel like these projects are achieving different things?
I don’t know that I would say it’s different things for me, since I find myself able to worship in any genre. They give different genre names to worship than they do to rock. But definitely there’s a lot of storytelling through Fireflight’s music and narratives there that aren’t always directly speaking to God one on one. So this definitely is different in that nature because this music is completely focused on one on one with God. I think there’s a power to that and a cool new aspect.
We’ve always strove to help people be encouraged and feel God’s love and use that power in their lives, and I think this is just kind of like a fulfillment of that, even more so.
You mentioned the PledgeMusic model, which has been inviting fans to be a part of it in a whole new way. And in particular, your PledgeMusic packages are extremely personalized.
Yeah! I came up with this logo with a friend of mine who is an incredible graphic designer. I just had this idea of putting some symbology together. There’s a triangle that’s pointing upwards like an arrow, pointing heavenward, which obviously is where our hearts and minds are supposed to be focused when we’re worshipping God. The inside is a rose, which is my personal favorite flower. There’s some imagery in the Bible referencing Jesus, referring to Him as the rose. So putting those together, then the name of my album is loosely based on one of the tracks, which is “I Surrender All,” which is going to be the first single released. The album is called Surrender. And I think ultimately that’s what we’re looking for in this life right now, is to let go of all the things that we’re holding onto and trying to achieve, let that all go and instead push up towards God. He’s the one who needs to be holding the wheel. Hopefully with the symbology itself, the design is supposed to be reminding us that we need to live our lives in surrender. I know I need to be reminded of that 24/7.
On top of that, another way to make things more personal which I haven’t seen done before is that almost all of the items in the Pledge campaign are handmade by me. We do have a bracelet that’s a really cool, tiny livestrong style bracelet that’s great for a reminder as well. But everything else has been made by me in some way. Even the most basic package, you get a lyric sheet that is basically a poster. We reproduce them, but I hand painted three different posters of lyrics of three different songs, and you can select out of three different choices.
Then I have all of the clothing, like the t-shirts, we have cool jean jackets, and hoodies, these are all being hand-painted by myself. I took my design, and I used a plastic cutting hot knife and transferred it to a stencil. Then I use that stencil to hand paint each of the shirt designs with screen print ink. So anyway, it’s going to be a LOT of work! But they look pretty cool. I’m pretty exciting about it, I kind of want to hand paint a bunch of my own stuff to wear around!
Then I also have canvas clusters. It’s not just one canvas, which is what I’ve done before with Fireflight. It’s like a cluster canvas– each one will be a set of three canvases that will fit together geometrically. They’ll be hand painted, then on top of the painting I will hand paint the lyrics of whatever song that they choose. Hopefully a Fireflight song! I mean, I guess, they could do George Strait, but it would be better if it was me! [laughs]
Then also, I have been working on a devotional for maybe four or five years. The devotional is taking what we know from God’s love and the Bible and incorporating it into what we know from the study of psychology and counseling, putting it together to get a daily devotional that you can read and find encouragement. So I have that built up over time, this devotional that I’ve written, and it’s going to be the Surrender Devotional to go along with the album. And what we want to do is we want to incorporate other people’s stories.
That package is really interesting, because typically you see like a Skype package where people will get to call in for an hour, hang on Skype. So this one is an interview Skype package, but I’m going to be interviewing the person who pledges. I’m going to interview them for an hour, and we’re going to come together and decide on some sort of testimony or story, whether it be one of victory or something that they’re still working through and asking for prayer for. And then we’ll feature their story in the book. So they’ll be featured in the book personally.
We’ll work together to write the piece, and then they can edit it however they want, if they want to change names. We’ll do that in that hour, we’ll go back and forth, then they’ll get to approve the final one and they’ll get a free digital copy of the devo.
That’s super personalized in a really cool way! You mentioned the track that the title came from. What are some of the other songs that you’re really excited about sharing with people?
Well, we started off thinking we would do half covers and half originals. But we just fell in love with the writing and decided that we were going to do like seven originals and three covers. So most of it is original music that I’m really excited to share, but then also some really powerful covers. One of which is I think what we’ll start to release next– an old hymn. We’ve taken it and reworked it and kind of made it sound like an epic movie trailer song, you know? It’s super dark and edgy and ethereal, and I really can’t wait to share that one. I’m excited to share all of them, but I’m really excited about it I guess because it just makes me get pumped like when I see a trailer for a movie I can’t wait to see.
You’ve already shared a lot of this, but how can fans come beside you and support you in this season? Are there specific ways they can pray, specific ways they can spread the word? What would be helpful to you as you prepare to release this project to the world?
Absolutely pray for the success of the endeavor. Unfortunately, it takes money in order to hire the right people and get things released. So that’s my biggest goal, that the most people possible will have a chance to know about this album. That’s what we’re trying to raise money for, is basically to be able to get as many people as possible to hear about it when it comes out. So pray for that mission, that as many people as God wants to hear this music are going to get to hear it.
If people want to, we have some cool big packages that are really awesome, but if those fill out, the digital download is just $10. And if a bunch of people just wanted to throw $10 in, they’ll be getting something for it, then also they can make sure that the music is going to get out, get into the hands of people who hopefully can be impacted and encouraged by it.
Overall, however they can like and share– everything is driven so much by social media right now. Sometimes if you don’t like something or share it, then a lot of people will never see it. They’ve got all these algorithms now that hide things. So anything you can do to like and share and tell people about it, I’m hoping there are people who don’t even know it’s going on that could find out from your influence.
So prayer would be so coveted, then on top of that, if they wanted to throw in even $10 for the digital download, that’s going to be the grease on the wheels that helps this thing roll forward.
If you could summarize briefly what the impact you hope this album has on people will be, the core thing you’re trying to communicate with releasing these songs?
My goal is that people who have felt distant during worship, or they just didn’t get it, or they weren’t able to connect, or maybe they feel like they’re too far away and they’re not good enough to sing and to worship God, that they would feel connected to this in a living and passionate way, the same way that they might connect to other music in their lives. And in those moments, that they might be able to open themselves up as a conduit of grace from God to move and work in their lives, to finally see themselves as God’s child who is fully and completely loved, and to celebrate and glorify the Creator of the universe– which reinforces the fact that He wants to work in power in our lives and help us overcome.
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.
Read Part 2 to learn more about Dawn’s solo venture and how to support her PledgeMusic campaign!