Julian Drive: A grassroots rock band from Georgia moving to the big time

Sunday 27th September 2009

Tony Cummings reports on a band of practitioners of Southern-tinged pop rock, JULIAN DRIVE

Julian Drive
Julian Drive

Such is the enormity of the American Christian music scene that a band can toil for years building up a sizeable local following without coming to the attention of the Nashville CCM gatekeepers. This in truth is what happened to George-based Julian Drive until a talent search saw them winning out over a staggering 2,000 contestants. That was the catalyst to the band going full time. Now with the release of 'My Coming Day' album on Inpop the band are playing a vast number of gigs sharing the stage with the likes of Rush Of Fools, David Crowder Band, Israel Houghton, Building 429 and many more.

Shane Bowers (vocals, guitar) and Shaun Bennett (keyboard) formed the nucleus of the band in 1999 while leading youth worship at church in their small hometown in rural Clarke County, Georgia. Guitar wizard Jesse Triplett came along when he was barely out of his teens and immediately elevated the level of intensity from just another youth group worship band to a full fledged, no-holds-barred, ministry-oriented, Southern alt-rock band. The turning point for the band was the 2004 Christian music national talent search Exalting Him. Shane told journalist Tracy Darlington, "We'd been in the same local circuit for many years and as many of the guys turned from youth to young adults, the desire to branch out had become quite evident. We threw our name in the hat and sent in a demo song as an afterthought. We never expected much from that because it was sponsored by TBN/Daywind. We weren't sure that they were even looking for a rock/worship band. As it turned out, there was a ton of diversity and we were blessed to come out as the winners of it all. That eventually proved to be the catalyst to going full time."

The following year the band recorded a self-titled independent album and it was the year after that that Julian Drive took the giant step in pursuing a full time music career. Said Shane, "I'd been hearing it even longer than that. I knew God would have to show me clear signs before feeling confident in knowing it was him versus my own passion and desire. I had a stable job and income, but something inside of me knew that I was called to something else. After years of doing all we could to be obedient, the right platform and doors opened. I ran the numbers and really felt we could do it. I knew the season was finally here to step out on the water, so to speak, in the spring of 2006. That's when we went full time."

Julian Drive quickly clocked up dozens of gigs across America and along the way added bassist James Nitz to their line up. Snatching moments between gigs, primary songsmith Bowers continued honing the intimate lyrical style that now defines Julian Drive. Many of the songs on 'My Coming Day', including the title cut, were birthed from his morning devotional studies. Some, like "Always There" and "You Can", were collaborative efforts with one band member riffing off another until the end result just coalesced. Others, like Julian Drive's debut single, "From Your Hands", evolved from the difficult circumstances of life. "We were sitting on the side of the road with our bus broken down," Shane recalled. "Nobody knew what to do, and some of the guys just climbed into their bunks and went to sleep. Jesse started playing around on the guitar and came up with a very cool country-rock melody and chord progression. I started writing lyrics to match. We never realised it was going to be a song. Strange how things work out sometimes."

Julian Drive: A grassroots rock band from Georgia moving to the big time

In early 2007, the band's songs caught the ear of Lynn Nichols, the legendary musican and producer who'd once been a member of Steve Taylor's Chagall Guevara and who'd produced albums for such acts as Delirious? and Switchfoot. Nichols agreed to produce an independent album for Julian Drive. While Nichols brought a calm and steady hand to the recording process, he was also sensitive to the musical influences that defined Julian Drive; musical influences as diverse as Shane's country and gospel background and Jesse's rock 'n' roll roots. Instead of chiselling away at the band's eclectic sound, Nichols moulded and shaped it, allowing the music to intertwine and connect in unexpected ways, resulting in a project that is comfortably challenging, both musically and lyrically. "Lynn gave us the freedom to express our ideas," Shane noted. "Then he helped tweak our music to make sure it was not only creative, but relevant to our culture."

Nichols was so impressed with the resulting 'My Coming Day' album that he urged Julian Drive to seek a national platform for its release. Consequently, Inpop Records president Dale Bray got his hands on a copy of the project and signed the band. About Julian Drive he said, "The band has a great work ethic as well as wonderful musical and spiritual depth. It's been a while since I've heard a new artist so suited to both our retail and radio markets."

For their present activities and future focus Shane is concise and clearheaded. "Our goal is to get the positive message in our music into the hands of those who might benefit from it as well as folks that just want some good music." 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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