Consumed By Fire: Years of dues paying producing anointed ministry

Thursday 31st March 2016

Tony Cummings spoke to Jordan Ward of hitmaking CCM band CONSUMED BY FIRE

Consumed By Fire
Consumed By Fire

So much has changed in the Nashville-based CCM industry over the last few years. Like all other parts of the record industry, the CCM/gospel world has struggled to cope with the dramatic reduction of music sales and record companies have had to downsize their activities and reduce their rosters so that literally hundreds of artists were forced to give up music ministry completely or take the do-it-yourself road of the independent artist. However this trend has been spectacularly reversed by Oklahoma's Consumed By Fire. After nine years of independent artist ministry which has seen this trio of travelling musical evangelists journey all over the USA and even touched on the African continent, Consumed By Fire have signed to Christian label Inpop Records and seen the title track of their first EP 'Stand By Me' become a Christian radio hit across the USA and on Cross Rhythms' three stations.

Brothers Josh, Caleb and Jordan Ward were born in Georgia. Their pastor parents were committed to serving God wherever he would take them and the family relocated to Oklahoma. By their teenage years two things had been well and truly instilled in their hearts, a passion to spread God's word and a love of music. Explained Jordan, "We grew up travelling so we would always be introduced to new things everywhere we went. Dad got on a kick for a while where he would minister in black churches. The soul that was in their churches got to our blood real quick."

It wasn't just African-American gospel that influenced the brothers. Commented Josh in a press release, "Whenever our family got together, my mom's uncles and extended friends and family would all play music. They played Bob Seeger, the Eagles, Credence Clearwater Revival and all that kind of stuff. That was our education."

The trio were willing students. By 2004 the Ward Brothers, with Josh on lead vocals and guitar, Caleb on guitar and BVs and Jordan on drums and BVs, were performing in and around Oklahoma. Caleb explained how they got their name, derived from Jeremiah 20:9: "I remember we started throwing out band names and Jordan said, 'How about that verse in Jeremiah? How about Consumed By Fire?' And boom!"

It was indeed an explosive start. Prepared to gig anywhere and everywhere by 2006 the band were already clocking up over a hundred gigs a year. That year they made their first recording, the single "The Rise And Fall Of A Nation". It was followed by an EP, called succinctly enough 'The EP', then a single "I'm Sorry" before in 2009 recording the three-song 'The Breakout EP'. In 2010 the group released their first full-length album, the hard rocking 'Something Real'.

By then Consumed By Fire had been on the road a long time. Doing 120 to 150 shows a year with the accompanying realities of sleeping on people's floors, eating bad food and constantly zigzagging across America the group were exhausted and close to burnout. Offered another tour of the US the brothers felt disinclined to go but wise words from their pastor, Southern gospel man and popular TV preacher John Hagee, impacted them deeply. "Remember why you started," said Hagee. The tour became a new turning point for the band. As Jordan remembered, "It was the most productive tour we'd ever experienced. Hundreds of commitments to Christ and many, many people turning away from thoughts of suicide."

Consumed By Fire: Years of dues paying producing anointed ministry

In 2011 the band released the Christmas full length album 'Get Ready For A Holiday' and the following year recorded a single "All I'm living For" with the renowned producer Ed Cash. The band decided to pull back on some of the hard rock elements in the music and began to bring in softer, more melodic numbers, some of which the brothers had written years before but never previously included in their sets. In 2012 the group released the single "The Fight" and a year later the mini-album 'Blackbird Acoustic Sessions' (named after the Blackbird Studios owned by country star Martina McBride). It was a video of "The Fight" posted on YouTube which was to play a pivotal part in bringing Consumed By Fire to a new level of popularity. Renowned record producer and Third Day member Scotty Wilbanks was cruising YouTube when he stumbled across the video for "The Fight". He was so impressed that he contacted the band. Josh recalled, "We just hit it off with Wilbanks. It was a God thing. I just felt good. Now, he's like the fourth member of the band."

Wilbanks helped the band arrange a showcase gig in Nashville attended by representatives of all the major Christian labels. The result was every unsigned artist's dream. Offers of a contract on the table from all the companies and the band had the difficult task of deciding which offer to take up. Jordan explained why they decided on Inpop. "They left the musical direction completely to us and they shared our hearts about making music that would connect with those in the church and those currently outside it." Scotty took the band into the studio and recorded an eminently catchy plea for people and nations to love each other, "Lean On Me", which lyrically spoke humanitarian truth without cheesiness and musically used handclaps and percussion to make something infectiously radio friendly. It was a hit across America's Christian radio stations and was the taster for their record label debut album 'Giving Over'.

The album is full of good things. "He Waits For Me" is a song inspired by seeing new believers baptised in a lake when they were kids. Explained Josh, "It's where we went on our family gatherings and where we had our baptism services. It's a special place. And this song comes back around full circle to the title of the album 'Giving Over'. It's about surrender. When we make that decision to follow Jesus, the whole time we think we're waiting on God to do something for us, like 'God, I'm waiting for you to change this thing around me.' In reality he's saying, 'I've done everything I'm going to do with the cross. Jesus paid it all, once. I'm waiting on you to receive it. I'm waiting on you to surrender.' That's what the song's about."

"Walk Trough The Fire" was specially written for the film Four Blood Moons, a docudrama based on the bestselling book by Pastor John Hagee. The film sets out how certain lunar eclipses are tied to world events and brings together Scripture, science and history. Jordan spoke about the powerful song used in the docudrama. "'Walk Through The Fire' was largely influenced from two different scriptures. We found ourselves in Matthew 24 where Jesus was speaking of what would happen in the end times. It would be very easy to get apprehensive and even fearful after reading this passage, but we have such a blessed assurance in the Father's love for us and the protection we have through the blood of Jesus. We were reminded of an amazing Scripture in Isaiah 43 where God is speaking to Israel, his people, and it was clear no matter how perilous the times may get, no matter how dark the world may get, there is always a refuge and a light in our everlasting covenant with God through Jesus." This theme of divine courage being imparted to those who follow the Lord is echoed in another powerful Ward Brothers composition, "Hold The Rain" ("They say if the storm keeps coming/And if the water keeps rising/And if the levee starts caving/Then we're sure to quit/Oh but I know that you won't let me go/Lord I know you'll keep me from this storm").

The closing track on the album is particularly poignant written as it was by the Ward brothers' father. Said Jordan, "'Crossroads' is a song my dad wrote when we were kids and he thought he was about to die. The doctors told him he only had a few months to live. He battled sleep apnoea and he had congenital heart failure and a lot of health issues at that time." Josh added thankfully, "He's still alive today. He's still a pastor and worship leader. God healed him and he's doing amazing."

It's not only the lyrics of 'Giving Over' which are strong. One of the most appealing things about the album is its rhythmic textures produced by an artful blend of electronic drums and real kit. Drummer Jordan showed an enlightened attitude towards the more pop direction now taken by Consumed By Fire. He said, "I know many drummers are very opposed to electronic percussion. But I think a blend of both types of drums gives the band the rhythmic variety and pop sound we were aiming for. We said at the beginning of sitting down with Scotty Wilbanks that we wanted to make the best album we could after all these years of playing together. I believe we've achieved it, we've been able to bring in one or two surprise elements too, like the horn players from the Dave Matthews Band on a couple of tracks. Scotty put it all together really well."

It's not often that one hears an album which brings in all the electronic vitality of modern pop music and yet retains its sense of authenticity and the feeling that this is much, much more than just a band trying to please today's Christian radio audience. Jordan summed up what 'Giving Over" conveyed to me and will, I have no doubt, be communicated to tens of thousands of others. "There's a struggle on this record, and there's victory at the same time. You're not just left in the valley. We do talk about the mountain too. But just being honest in saying, yeah, we've been both places. And were moving on and moving forward." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.


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