With a breathtaking new album, that trio from Columbus, Ohio, ANOINTED, are shaping up to crossover. They were quizzed by Mike Rimmer.
It's been three years since one of Christian music's most talented vocal groups graced us with a new album. Self-titled albums are normally the domain of new kids on the block. It's interesting that Anointed have waited for four albums to go self-titled or is it? Perhaps this is the album that will see the band launching a new phase into the mainstream.
Although their previously released albums have upped the quality as each one has hit the shops, there's something about this new one that feels like the band are starting over. At last the group have released an album that could be a serious contender in the mainstream, so does it feel like a fresh start? Nee-C Walls responds, "In a way, it does feel like a new beginning because, from record to record, we never know what God has in store for us. With each record we have done, different doors have opened for us. It's always an adventure."
Da'dra Crawford Greathouse isn't so sure, "Yes and no. It is exciting to see all of the new opportunities that are developing for us. But we can't forget the past either, because we've gotten where we are today because of where we've been. We were just teenagers in a choir 10 years ago but we really felt like God said, look, I want you guys to come together as a group and just watch what I'll do.' A lot has happened in those years, but now it feels like we're just getting started on a whole new level. It's like that was all warm-up and now we're standing at the starting line and the race is about to begin."
The new sound of Anointed combines the powerful vocal
performances of the past and sweet soul harmonies, but adds a
contemporary edge to the proceedings. Basically, the band are sitting
on an album that could easily be a
huge R&B hit. Nee-C remains calm whilst the pundits prophesy pop hits, "If that happens, then that's fine," she says. "We've had mainstream success before with the song 'It's In God's Hands Now' (a US R&B chartmaker). We hope we get all of the opportunities we can, but we won't compromise our message and being vocal about the Lord and his Love. We want people to know there is peace in God - whether they are in the mainstream audience or the Christian audience." Da'dra proves to be similarly understated, "If this album enables us to crossover to mainstream, that will be fine. If it doesn't, that's fine too. I feel like whatever is meant to be will be. I will rejoice either way."
Grammy-nominated and multiple Dove award winners, Anointed, certainly have the support and admiration of the Christian music industry. It's been three years since their last release 'Under The Influence', so why has it taken so long? Da'dra explains, "Since 'Under The Influence', we have been on the road almost non-stop! We have been doing tours, youth camps, churches, festivals, theatres and more. When we're down to the wire, we had to choose producers. Naturally, since the producers we wanted to work with are all very busy, we had to try to work around everyone's schedule. Challenging!"
So what was it about these specific producers that the band liked? Da'dra responds, "Keith Thomas put Brandy on the map. Although he was not added to her first project until the end, he wrote and produced the songs that Brandy became known for. Also, we wanted to reach a younger, more urban crowd and we felt Keith could do that. Tony Rich is a great songwriter who has a broad appeal and we were looking for someone to produce songs that could have a mass appeal. Hopefully it worked!" Steve Crawford chips in, "It was always part of our original vision to create music that everyone can feel and be touched and changed by. Anointed has always been about bringing people together across musical boundaries and across racial and denominational lines, as well as across generations."
One song which has the chance of appealing across the board is a simple but beautiful love song, "Ooh Baby". Love songs are something a little bit new for Anointed but this one sounds like it could be a sweet soul hit single! Nee-C explains, "The song is about our spouses. Tammy (Steve's wife) asked Steve to do the song originally, and I had the same idea about the same time. It's good to talk about marriage in a positive light, since there's so much negativity out there. It's a fun song." Da'dra continues, "As you may or may not know, everyone in the group is married. We all have been blessed with such supportive spouses that we felt like it would be sweet to write a song for them and record it. We also plan to sing it to them live on stage whenever they have a chance to come out with us and we are doing our tour. We feel that God smiles upon marriage and we pray that we can somehow be an inspiration to other married couples to keep the romance alive."
Now there's one song I must market test as soon as I can arrange a quiet evening with my wife Pippa! Hmm moving on! Looking back at the recording of the album, Da'dra has many memories of the recording process. "I think I will remember the spiritual talks and prayers we had with the mainstream producers most. We discovered we had a lot in common as far as growing up in church and experiencing similar things in the music industry." She also confesses, "I also couldn't forget watching The Wedding Singer over and over again while recording in LA. We love that movie!"
Things didn't always go smoothly. The band hooked up with songwriter/producer Tony Rich (best remembered here for the Tony Rich Project hit 'Nobody Knows') and his song "It's All Good" is one of the highlights of the album. But alongside the conversations and friendship that developed in the studio, Da'dra confesses, "I mostly remember the equipment being broken in the studio for about eight hours, and we just sat playing cards until they could fix the machines. When we did finally begin recording, it went extremely fast. He was really cool to work with."
Already gaining the band some attention is "Revive Us", the opening track on the album. Built on a solid slab of R&B energy with a groove that's powerful enough to eject the most world-weary from their seats and onto the dance floor, the sheer joy that leaps from the speakers guarantees this is a sure fire R&B classic. However from Da'dra's description of the writing of the song, it's amazing that the song is so full of life. She explains, "I remember meeting with Mark Heimmermann and Steve to write, and we were so exhausted that we decided we could not write a slow song because we would fall asleep. From that writing session came 'Revive Us'. Needless to say, the song is a bit energetic." A modest understatement methinks!
So which songs on the album are the most significant for Da'dra? "You know, different songs become significant to us for various reasons, depending on where we are at any point and given time." She continues, "For example, 'The Call' was extremely significant when we wrote it because we were just beginning our recording career/ministry, and we didn't know exactly what the future held for us. Even with the insecurities, fears and doubts, we found a way to believe in what God called us to. Now it's been 10 years, and we're still going strong. 'God Is All Around' has also been a song that has been significant from time to time during those lonely moments on the road. From the latest project, 'Anything Is Possible' is significant to me personally, because I can hardly believe that God would use me to be in this ministry. Moreover, the fact that Keith Crouch and Tony Rich were so enthusiastic about working with us on the latest project proves to me that anything really is possible!"
One of the most compelling aspects of the new album is the sheer vibrancy that permeates every song. Whether it's the intensity of the ballad "Something Was Missing" or the classy vocal arrangements of "Godspot", Anointed's performances grab attention and seem to claw at the soul for a response. This is surely one of the most important elements for a band wanting to make an impact in the mainstream.
Some people will be worried that going for mainstream success will mean that Anointed will have to compromise their message? Da'dra replies honestly, "We have been fortunate in that we have never been asked to compromise our message. We would never record a song that directly went against our beliefs, and if becoming famous required that we compromised, I guess we wouldn't be very famous on earth, but the heavenly rewards would be great!"
Steve Crawford expands the idea as he adds; "Our purpose is to share with others the experiences of our lives as Christ changes us, helps us and walks through the daily challenges with us. We want to let people know that God is present, and able to help them in every facet of their lives as well. That's why we talk in our songs about our spouses, about relationships, about reconciliation when hearts have been damaged. We want people to begin to see how God is in the midst of every aspect and every moment of their lives. We want to offer the hope and encouragement that, even in a bad situation, God is at work and he can redeem it."
There are two songs on the new album that really highlight the ministry aspects of Anointed's music as described by Steve. The first was penned by Tony Rich and "It's All Good" has a prophetic feel as the lyrics are written from God to the listener as an encouragement in dark times. The second is the stripped down understated groove of "Head Above Water" which invites the listener to discover "A friend of mine and believe me you can trust him with your life."
The band continue to have evangelistic concerns even with all the talk of crossing over. Their songwriting remains uncompromised, and their desire to encourage and challenge others is intact. Nee-C explains about her song "Something Was Missing" and she says, "It's a song I wrote about that place you come to, after you've tried everything else, and found that nothing could satisfy that hunger inside. Ultimately, only God can." That should settle the hearts of anyone fearing that their favourite R&B vocal band might be selling out to the mainstream.
The ministry of the band is clearly founded in the belief that somehow
God can move through the singing of songs and the process can change
lives. Da'dra comments, "I can't say that I understand how it happens,
but every now and then a song reaches a person in such a way that it
becomes an experience to them and somehow lifts them, encourages them
and gives them hope. That's what we hope our music will do for more
people. Playing live gives us the opportunity to really share where
the songs come from and gives us the chance to interact with the
audience in a way that can't be done through the CD alone."
As for the future, Nee-C shares, "We're planning on going out on tour and doing more videos. We like to do in-stores and meet with people. But we don't know what the Lord is going to do...we're continuing to pray and be in his will. Sometimes our thinking can be small compared to what the Lord has in mind." Da'dra explains that a couple of tours have been booked which demonstrate the wide appeal of the band in the Christian marketplace. She reports, "We are planning to tour this May and June with Fred Hammond and RFC and Virtue in the gospel market. We also have a tour booked for later in the year in the CCM market with Avalon." Da'dra also confesses, "I'm excited about the various touring opportunities we have coming up spanning the gospel and CCM markets. It also looks like we may have some opportunities to do some mainstream things. I'm also very excited about going out with the band and moving toward headlining our own tour in the near future."
And hopefully, that tour will involve a trip to the UK! On the strength of the new release, Anointed have the musical and ministry power to break wide open. But it's going to be a busy time for the band. Da'dra explains, "For us, this season of life is filled with a lot of activity. We have our families at home and our ministry that's suddenly starting to take us places we never dreamed of. But what I've found is that I have to intentionally find time to get away from business and music and everything else and just rest in the presence of God and study his word. That's where I draw strength from. That's it for all of us. It's through resting in God that we find the strength to continue to do what we do."