Mike Rimmer reports on the new trend and brings the low-down on six hot American acts, FOSTERSTHINKING, BLOOM, LESS THAN SEVEN, SALLY ANTHONY, THE ECHOING GREEN and FLOORED who are bringing their music to the public via the internet.
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Unwittingly, I was actually a catalyst for Mark writing the song "I Want You". We met when Mark was in England in 1998. He recalls, "Last year was without question the darkest year of my Christian life. In answer to a long-standing prayer of mine for God to reign in my life at all costs, he began to jealously remove the idols that had been thrown up in the temple of my heart. Mainly the two big ones for someone of my age, position and marital status: career and relationships. What he was asking me was, 'How much do you want me? Do you want me if I don't give you any of the stuff that you've desired for so long? Are you willing to lay it all on the altar and just live for me and my glory alone?' I made my choice in my heart, and the internal anguish that followed was testimony to how bad the problem was. For months I wandered in real darkness, with tremendous anxiety, sleeplessness and despair."
He continues, "That was the way things stood when I walked into the Cross Rhythms studio last August. But a couple of hours later I walked out with the answer, the Word from God that I had been seeking." He tells me, "You had no idea about it at the time; you just faithfully shared with me about a time of difficulty in your life and how God had brought you through it. And the thing you said, and it's no exaggeration, that changed the course of my Christian life was that worship had brought you through your tough time. Now, that sounds so simple but that's the power of the right word at the right time in the power of the Holy Spirit. At that moment, I knew what God was saying to me: that I needed to worship him and him alone. That he would heal me and set me free from bondage. So that very day I began to rebuild my Christian life from scratch on the basis of worship and my testimony is that God totally healed my heart! Through worship. Two days after I came home from England I sat on my couch and wrote 'I Want You'."
LESS THAN SEVEN
Mike Hagedorn and Ted Gardner from Houston based Less Than Seven are in England. They've been involved in a missions trip in Spain and are now taking in English culture for a few days. I tempt them out of London and we meet in Warwick Castle and travel together to Stratford for a quick bit of Shakespeare. Ted needs to buy souvenirs and we wander around checking out the tourist traps for suitable trinkets to be taken home. Pleased with a model of Big Ben for an aged relative, we retire to an Italian bistro for lunch and a chat.
Interest in the band was sparked by hearing their accomplished debut six-track CD 'Spin' but when we met I was eager to hear about the band's vision. "Right now we don't feel called to be evangelists or teachers or whatever. I know that a lot of Christian bands are. I think our call is slightly different. We try to set up a community at our show, so that all that we are on stage is all that we are after the show so that there is a basis for a conversation. And in the conversation there is the community and a basis to share an eternal hope, if someone is struggling with something. Another part of that call is just being excellent at our musical work. Perhaps the awakening of another to the beauty contained within a song is a ministry because it can cause that person to praise the creator for the beauty (just like in Psalms 19:1 -the heavens declare the glory of God, just by their innate beauty). I know that the time I spent in the Alps in Switzerland this summer caused me to praise God many times. But I think the best summary of our call would be this, serving God everywhere and in everything, because 'everywhere and in everything' is the dominion of God."
The origin of the band's name sounds like it could be interesting but Mike laughs when I ask him, "Most of our Christian friends think that it means-less than perfect because seven is the number of perfection, of God. The truth is a bit more mundane. When it came time to do the album, and after spending several months writing and rehearsing, we still didn't have a name. In fact right up to a week before we left, we still didn't have one. Then one day, our singles fellowship at church was eating Chinese food at a restaurant called Lucky Village in Houston. After the meal everyone was helping to settle the bill with the restaurant and someone put in nine dollars each or something. One of my friend's reply to that was 'No, no it's less than seven.' Everyone at the table did a double take and it was one of those magic moments when it was decided that that should be our name. So 'less than seven' means the price of a Chinese buffet at Lucky Garden."
Mike continues, "The killer cut on the 'Spin' CD is 'Schemers And Dreamers', written the day before we left for Nashville to record and was about the whole pressure of following dreams. At the same time lots of my friends were chasing other dreams by teaching in Europe or travelling or a host of other crazy things. You start to wonder if your life consists of the things you accomplish, which of course it doesn't, and so that's what that cut is all about. I wrote the lyrics as an exercise, to see what would come out if I wrote them as a stream of consciousness sort of thing (like REM) and since things were so stressful it was easy to have lots to think about and hence to say. That's where the whole 'what would Michael say' thing came from. I guess that sort of set that song up to sound real REMish, but it wasn't intentional."
Originally the song was written as a mellow ballad but when Mike came to do his vocals, the rest of the band had upped the energy level. He recalls, "Our producer Mitch Dane sent me back in with a mission to 'do it angry1." The rest of the band were in the booth trying to tick me off basically so that the track would sound right. And it worked. It's still my favorite song, and the track has attitude.
It does! My time with Less Than Seven over, I drop the guys at Stratford station and head home. A few miles down the road, I see it! A model of Big Ben sitting on the floor of my car. One of Ted's family aren't going to have a present from England!
Back in CR49 I waxed lyrical about Sally's brilliant 'One Word Poetry Contest' album. I took the opportunity to throw some questions at the gifted singer/songwriter from Indianapolis.
Mike: Since you called the CD 'One Word Poetry Contest", what
single word best sums you up?
Sally: "If I had to pick a single word it would be - Galimatias."
Mike: What do you find hardest about songwriting?
Sally: "Songwriting is the easiest thing that I do. I love everything about it. With so many diverse people, religions, countries and hardships in this world there is always something inspiring me. From the conception of a song to the birth of it on stage is such an overwhelming and passionate experience for me. No complaints here."
Mike: What is your most embarrassing onstage
Sally: "I will be the first to tell you that I am not the coolest person you'll ever meet! I can be a little clumsy at times, but who can't? Some just hide it better than others do. It takes a lot more work to hide it than to just laugh at it. I have had many embarrassing moments on stage! One time I did an entire show with my zipper open. I told my band that from now on they were all to check my zipper, my teeth, the buttons on my shirt, etc, before we went on stage!"
Mike: Where were you when you first heard your music on the
radio? Describe fully how you reacted.
Sally: "I was at home, in my kitchen making dinner with some friends. I was really honored and calm at the same time. Anytime some good news comes my way and I am in front of anyone at all, I try not to freak out too much because I don't want to appear vain. I haven't found a good balance between excitement and vanity just yet. Everyone around me thinks I'm a party pooper because I don't get excited enough. They tell me it isn't egotistical to jump up and down when you hear yourself on the radio or in a movie or something like that. I don't know, I hope that I will have lots of practice in the future celebrating like that!"
Mike: What single thing about what you do, do people most
Sally: "That is interesting that you ask that, because I feel like I am constantly misunderstood. People always want to put each other in little boxes and when that doesn't work, they make up their own theories about you. Christians think I am too angry and they are surprised when I say that I usually play clubs. Jesus didn't hang out in Christian coffee houses all the time. Non-Christians think I'm too religious. You get the picture. Therefore, I desire to look to God for what and who I should be, not to people."