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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Anyone who attended this year's Soul Survivor will have encountered the intense cathartic music of an unusually named American. Although his parents gave him the Billy Somervilie moniker, he has chosen the artist credit Floored for his CD debut. I began by asking the Atlanta-based singer/songwriter about that credit. "Although I wrote all the songs and played several instruments on most of them, I wanted to make a very clear statement: This is about worshiping our Creator.' When someone purchases the CD and peels off the plastic wrapping, I want them to be thinking, 'Why should I be floored? What does that mean?' not, 'Who's Billy Somerville?' Even the photos inside support this anti-hype philosophy: somewhat abstract in nature, they serve an artistic purpose and manage to avoid glorifying the good folks that put this record together. That's what Unimpressed Music is all about."
Floored/Billy had recorded a demo in a studio before but this was his first full-length project. "It was very inspiring to be in an environment where my primary responsibility was to create. Since producing records is one of my long-term goals, I watched Dave Carr (the engineer/producer of 'Floored') and a member of Third Day intently as he set up the studio for the sessions. Even during tracking, I would play a part and then run into the control room to see what was happening at the mixing board. Dave was really cool about listening to my ideas and giving me a certain freedom to build the songs as I had originally envisioned them. But he came up with great ideas that really took the songs to a new level."
The founder of Unimpressed Music is John Poitevent, no stranger to the world of CCM. In fact, John travelled with rock gospel superstars Third Day for a few years as their road pastor. During the sessions for 'Floored' almost every member of Third Day visited the studios at some point. Remembered Billy, "Brad Avery spent a whole day with us during the lead guitar tracks, sharing his opinion in a very constructive and beneficial way. He seemed really interested in the project and willing to help out. The difference between 'Floored' and the records they make are perhaps less pronounced than you would think. Every Third Day album has moments of pure worship on it. As much as they rock, the guys know what it is to enter into the presence of God."
The 'Floored' album has a distinctly British sound, as Billy frankly admitted. "From a philosophical standpoint, no artist or group has been of greater influence on me than Delirious. Martin Smith et al seemed to ride the crest of a praise and worship renaissance. To me the 'King Of Fools' record is exemplary of this. It is a peerless recording in terms of songwriting and production, and the lyrics are hauntingly honest expressions of worship. I ordered 'King Of Fools' from Furious? when it was unavailable in the States, and was so excited to receive it in the mail several weeks later. I remember putting it in my CD player very late at night and staring transfixedly at the liner notes until the whole thing was finished."
Despite the major British influence, Billy is far from being a Martin Smith/Matt Redman clone. "In terms of songwriting, I find myself neatly sandwiched in between the contrasting styles of Redman and Smith, in that I value congregational sing-alongs AND more complex, confessional pieces that would not fare as well in a congregational setting. On the 'Floored' CD, 'Open Your Hand' is a friendly three-chord song that any worship leader could pull off, while Too Good To Be True' is a rhetorical musing built on top of a strange chord progression that might not necessarily work for a sleepy Sunday morning crowd."
I asked Billy how he found playing at Soul Survivor. "I'm used to playing with a full band," said Billy, "so I felt very naked when it was just me and my guitar playing for the cafe crowds. I got great responses, though. Because of the short sets and light mood, I did not attempt to lead people in worship. I simply played thought-provoking songs and thanked them for their attention. The final spot I did was the next day, on the Cross Rhythms radio outdoor stage. There was another band playing right before me, so I asked them to join me on a brand new reggae tune I'd finished that morning. They got the hang of it, and we launched out together on a happy disaster. I started the song too slow and made quite a mess of it, and it ended up being pretty funny. Especially because an entire dance team (also at my invitation) had joined us on stage and were contributing to the chaos in their own unique way."
Billy is a member of the Atlanta Vineyard. "It maintains a difficult and wonderful balance between subjective experiential-ism and objective doctrine -I love being a member there. One of the great things is the role I have in helping to oversee our Sunday evening service for young adults, called Vineyard Sunday Night. I and another guy in his mid-20s take turns leading worship, and consider it a unique and marvellous privilege. For the most part, we show up and do what we know how to do, trusting God to make it significant. Occasionally there are monumental services that will not be forgotten, like the time a normally two-hour meeting turned into a five-hour meeting as people came to the front one after another to confess their sin. Or the wake that we held for a 28-year-old friend who had just died of cystic fibrosis. Or the production called Soteria, created by a 23-year-old girl, which saw over 600 people fighting their way in the door to find out the definition of 'salvation.' God gives us those moments to remind us of his nearness and inspire us to seek him more, but there are a lot of 'valley1 experiences between those mountaintops."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.