Seldom has a rock-orientated praise and worship album made such a musical and spiritual impact as Survivor Records' 'All Around The World' release. Mike Rimmer spoke to the musicians who put the project together.
It's the night of the Dove Awards in Nashville and I am in the company of Jason Halbert and Dwayne Lairing, formerly of the band Sonicflood and now making their mark as record producers. In a small cottage they have set up a rather intimate recording studio. The studio is called The Refuge since it provided a place of peace in the painful aftermath of Jason and Dwayne leaving Sonicflood. Details of the demise of the original lineup of the band are beginning to emerge in America but clearly God has led Jason and Dwayne into a new fruitful place.
Dwayne comments, "It's amazing, we actually named the place because it obviously came about just as we went through a rocky time with the whole Sonicflood thing. It really has been a blessing to have this place and be able to shut the door. It really is almost like a refuge being a stone and brick house. Spending a few months doing this record, just coming in here and making music with the world outside was actually a healing time."
Inside the studios, in one room Dwayne's guitar toting brother David noodles around trying out a few experiments. Dwayne himself is scanning the internet for news of the Doves. He is up for an award as a songwriter for something he co-wrote with a number of other people. To be honest, he seems to only be mildly curious about the outcome. A year earlier I had accompanied the band to the Dove Awards and witnessed them walking away with an award for worship album of the year. In the astonishing 12 months since then everything has changed with the current lineup of the band not featuring any of the original members who recorded the debut Sonicflood album.
In the main studio area, Jason fiddles with faders and tests my musical knowledge by playing me a track he's been working on. I have to guess who is singing a worship song from the '80s. A huge sound blasts from the speakers and a state of the art worship track unfolds. Fortunately my reputation is intact as I correctly identify that it has to be Petra! Jason and Dwayne's work on this track is later strong enough to secure them the role of producers for the new Petra worship album!
Ever since Sonicflood first visited the UK, I've known that these boys held our worship leaders in great esteem so after they left the band, it seemed an obvious move for them to produce an album featuring Matt Redman, Neil Wilson from steve, Paul Oakley and Tim Hughes. In the studio, Jason plays me the latest mixes of the album, titled 'All Around The World', and asks me what I think. Their trademark cutting edge production erupts into the room and the effect is startling. Immediately it's apparent that this is one hot album.
Dwayne and Jason sit comfortably on the sofa in the lounge area of the cottage and Dwayne explains the concept of 'All Around The World'. "The idea was to do some of the songs that are more well known in Britain and introduce both the songs and the worship leaders to America and to the world." Jason adds, "We already started building a relationship with these guys at the Worship Together conferences because we were there with Sonicflood last May in America and we'd already done a song with Matt Redman on 'The Father's Song' so the relationship really developed out of that."
Various trips across the Atlantic have seen the pair make friends with those involved in the worship scene in the UK. The music for the album was recorded in the studio where we're talking before they spent three weeks recording the worship leaders in England. They have some very enlightening stories about the different worship leaders and their experiences recording. Tim Hughes sings a vibey version of "Beautiful Saviour" complete with jangling guitars, atmospheric strings and other treatments.
The song itself was included at Jason's request because it had impacted him when he was playing in dc Talk. He shares, "This song was really special to me whenever I was on the road on the Supernatural tour. I just found a CD out on the road, and my wife miscarried during that time. For some reason I was really attracted to that song, I think it was because Titanic was out at the same time, and it had the flute whistle, and 'Beautiful Saviour' had the little tin whistle. The song really ministered to me a lot and I was looking forward to doing a new version of it."
Soul Survivor's young worship leader Tim Hughes was invited to sing the song and Jason remembers, "He actually turned up and didn't know any of the words." Dwayne laughs. "He was like, 'Isn't this a kind of more adult, an older folks song?' And we told him it may have been, but not any more! It's a different song now, it's got tons of strings and Indian vocals and loops. So, there you go."
Another song which stands out is the new version of "Because Of You" with Paul Oakley singing. When I point out he is singing higher than usual, Dwayne comments, "Paul is singing a lot higher than most anybody in England has ever heard but actually that was him standing on his tippy toes screaming as loud as he could in the other room!" So why did they pitch the song that high? It was actually a mistake. Jason confesses, "I actually hadn't heard Paul sing when we arranged all these songs and we recorded all the tracks in Nashville. When I listened to his CD and heard his voice, I thought, 'Uh oh!'" Dwayne chuckles and chips in, "It was like Barry White doing worship, you know!"
The guys describe Paul's enthusiasm as he scrunched on his tippy toes and danced about recording his vocals. Dwayne remembers, "He asked me what key it was in. I told him it was in C. And he said he normally did it in A, which is much, much lower. I said, 'No, I think you're right, I think it's in A. Just go ahead and sing it, you're right it's in A.' He just kind of went, 'Yeah right!' Then he tried to sing it and little spurts of blood were hitting the wall." Dwayne laughs and continues, "But it was great, we had a lot of fun and I think we got a good result."
One thing that is apparent about the studios is the expensive technology employed in making 'All Around The World1. Jason clearly loves all the latest gizmos and I tease him that he is a technology anorak. He responds, "Yeah, I am, it's almost an obsession, actually. I think it's a conspiracy 'cos every time I get everything all up and running with the latest software, I get an email from somebody and version 5.79 is out, and something impulsive in me has to go out and get it." He deadpans, "It really hasn't made my records sound any better, but at least I can say I have the latest version of it! We're suffering from one of the great injustices of the world, which is that once you can actually afford to buy music equipment, people start giving it to you for free! So we're just trying to figure out how to work it. We just got a truckload of new computer gear so I spent all day trying to figure that one out." Dwayne takes pity on his colleague and adds, "Many headache tablets to follow!"
It's hard to believe that amongst all the flashing lights, faders and buttons that worship music could be created within these walls. Isn't it a very artificial way to make a worship album? Dwayne admits, 'There has been a lot of talk about that, like in the Vineyard circles and different places. There's a suggestion that the only way to make a worship album is if you're really worshiping and if you're doing a live record. The biggest scam of all though is that none of these live records are really live records."
Surely not! I act surprised and Dwayne continues, "When it gets down to it, for us worship is more than the actual act of singing the song. For us the whole record making process is an act of worship. Whether it's programming the loops, doing the arrangements, the whole process. When you're doing it all as unto God, as an act of worship on these worship songs, you come out with a studio album that people are really touched by. Like the Sonicflood record and Delirious?' albums and this 'All Around The World' record which already, just within the industry, has really ministered to a lot of people. I think God's hand can be on all kinds of different things, whether it's a studio album or a live album, whether you're using tape machines, or the most high tech computers I think that God's just in it and can bless it."