With big selling American rockers LIFEHOUSE set for a UK tour in November, Tony Cummings surveys the amazing upsurge of the Californian band.
Once back in the old days everybody knew what crossover was. Artists born and raised in the Church who had begun their recording career singing songs about God switched to songs about romantic love. Doing so, some artists sometimes hit paydirt though inevitably they brought on themselves disapproval of the Church and sometimes (Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick and countless other gospelto- R&B performers) wrecked their Christian faith in the process. In the last few years though the concept of "crossover" has become much more blurred. Some CCM acts like Amy Grant have switched from God songs to man-woman songs and back again from album to album. Other acts have secured recording contracts with Christian record companies but insisted on recording songs which wouldn't be out of place on any mainstream label. Similarly, Christian artists like P.O.D. and Dana Glover are recording for mainstream labels songs which only sometimes lyrically express their faith. In recent times a Los Angeles rock band have added some more material to the What Constitutes Christian Music? debate. With roots in the Vineyard stream of churches, two members of Lifehouse gained their early musical experience playing in a Vineyard worship band while both of singer/songwriter Jason Wade's parents are ministers at Vineyard. But since the release of their 'No Name Face' album of 2001 with its radio mega hit single "Hanging By A Moment", Lifehouse have had their fair share of criticism. One reviewer in CCM magazine suggested that their album espoused "a particularly humanistic faith." Gradually, though, a less blinkered view is winning through. Their second album 'Stanley Climbfall' has received considerable Christian radio play alongside its mainstream radio exposure.
The band's frontman Jason Wade and bassist Sergio Andrade met in the Malibu, California, Vineyard. After Jason and Sergio got involved in the church's youth group and began playing in the worship group they recruited drummer Rick Woolstenhulme and guitarist Stuart Mathis. Originally known as Blyss, the group toured America's West Coast for two years. Their Pearl Jam-meets-Matchbox Twenty sound duly got them noticed by a talent scout working for Steven Spielberg's label Dreamworks. With the release of 'No Name Face' and the huge radio exposure of "Hanging By A Moment" the band were catapulted into the big time. Constant touring ensured that 'No Name Face' enjoyed two million sales with "Hanging By A Moment" - described by Mark Allan Powell's Encyclopeadia Of Contemporary Christian Music as "a prayer to God for help" - becoming the most played song on American radio in 2001. The song's unprecedented radio exposure actually began to get on Jason's nerves. "Honestly, sometimes I'd hear it and I'm like, 'Oh man, if I don't hear this song for the next two years, I'll be fine.' It got ridiculous. Sometimes it would be on MTV and two different radio stations at the same time. Or I'd be working out in the gym and it would come out of the speakers. You couldn't get away from it. It was like, how did this song that happened so quickly in the studio get everywhere so fast? It was really surreal."
With 'Stanley Climbfall' the band have taken their music to the next level. 22 year old Jason Wade told HM magazine, "The reason why we decided to call the album 'Stanley Climbfall' is because the phrase seems to sum up, lyrically, how this is an action record. It's about movement. That character means to me, literally, 'Stand, climb, fall.' And that to me is life. You're gonna be up, you're going to be down, you're going to be everywhere in between. He just represents that." Wade's internal struggles come through in songs like "Anchor", with the line, "Hold my hand/While I'm sinking in the sand/No one else would understand/You are my anchor."
"I didn't realise while I was writing it that the song can be taken in two ways," Wade reflected. "You can love someone, but they can bring you down, too." In fact, many of the songs Wade writes can be taken two ways. One camp points to Lifehouse numbers as songs to and about God, while others find no spiritual significance in the songs. Either way, Wade says he is influenced by his faith. "I've come to grips with the fact that pretty much every song I write is going to be inspired by my beliefs," he stated. Sonically, not a whole lot has changed for Lifehouse, but that's not all bad when you because we made the best record we could," Wade claimed. "And I think it reflects where we're at right now. We didn't try to duplicate what made the first record special, because this is just as special in its own right."
With that said, 'Stanley Climbfall' is not 'Sgt Pepper's'. At least one critic has observed that Wade's vocals sound uncannily like Creed's Scott Stapp at certain points in the album and some of the songs could have come from any number of modern rock bands that one will hear on today's stereotyped FM radio. Wade explained that much of the album's sound came through experimentation. "I just turned all these frequency distortion pedals up at the same time and started playing these harmonies and weird wah-wah things. and some crazy stuff came out of them." The sessions that produced 'Stanley Climbfall' have more than one amusing incident. "We started rocking out on 'Spin' and my headphones fell off. When your headphones fall off in the studio all you can hear is drums because you, like, have your own little world in there. So the phones fall off and all of a sudden I'm rocking out and I can't hear anything except Rick. I walk around the corner out of my little protective shield and then all of a sudden Ron (Aniello) was playing with us, too. Our producer throws his head back and throws his headphones off and Serge does the same and we all can't hear anything but we're still playing. That was the take that we ended up using. It's a little sloppy but it's a really cool memory."
One outstanding song on 'Stanley Climbfall' is "Wash", with the line, "You wash over me like the rain/You wash over me like the sunshine." Of the song's juxtaposing imagery Wade said, "The truth is, you can't have one without the other. In a sense, they're both good, because of what can come out of something bad. You can't truly know happiness without experiencing sadness."
"Am I Ever Gonna Find Out" is another song with metaphysical connotations. "I ask myself questions all the time," Wade commented, "like, 'Where am I? What am I doing here?' or 'Why was I put here?' For me, the joy of music is when I hear feedback from someone who the songs have helped get through a rough period in their life. That's most meaningful to me." The effect of Lifehouse's music on their fans can be profound. Jason recounted, "This one girl told us she was going to commit suicide and our record helped her through a year of the worst depression she's ever gone through. That was amazing. You don't realise that music can have that much of an impact on someone. Some of these fans, it gets inside them and it becomes a huge part of their lives."