Rose Edwards reports on the faith and history of the critically acclaimed rock team CIRCLESLIDE
When Circleslide play their next gig on 24th August at the Celebration Life Family Church in Camden, Maine they'll have clocked up 10 years of solid gigging and built up a reputation as one of the US Christian music's best live acts. The Nashville-based rock band took their name from The Choir's album of that name rather than the Michael Jackson dance move. It's not just their music that makes Circleside a popular fixture on the US Christian music scene but also their unbreakable faith even when facing some major disappointments.
The band reached the iTunes Top Christian Gospel Albums for their 'Echoes Of The Light' album released in 2010. Circleslide started in Nashville in 2002 with YWAM (Youth With A Mission) where lead singer Gabe Martinez along with his wife, Debbie, now manager of the band, were both missionaries. Their debut album 'Uncommon Days' was released in 2006 on Centricity Records with the original line up of Gabriel Martinez (lead vocals, guitar), Tim Martinez (bass), Aaron Gillies (guitar, keys) and Mark Alvis (drums). It was greeted with major critical acclaim and several tracks including "Uncommon Days", "Noah" and "Weather Boy" made it to the Cross Rhythms playlist. In its Spirit Of Rock And Soul column Cross Rhythms wrote about the track "Home", describing it as "a mid-tempo song of reflection." CR continued, "'I was a fool fading away' goes one line in the verse before bursting into an anthemic chorus. There have been countless songs penned down the decades dealing with the theme of finding our spiritual destination but this beautifully crafted piece of pop rock (credit to producers Tommy Collier, Marc Byrd and Steve Hindalong) is as good as any of them."
After the success of 'Uncommon Days' the band's second and only other album 'Echoes Of The Light' was released in 2010 with the lineup Gabriel Martinez (vocals, guitar), Jonathan De Anda (electric guitar, vocals), Eric Vickers (bass, vocals) and Lee Yoder (drums, percussion, vocals). A track from the project, "Samson", made it to the Cross Rhythms playlist.
In the period between their two albums the band encountered considerable record company problems. Eventually, however, Save The City Records released the much-delayed 'Echoes Of The Light'. Gabriel spoke about the project, "The whole album kind of talks about that journey and how the struggle and the idea of maybe giving up. . . There are many times after a show, and maybe there weren't a lot of people there and maybe a lot of people didn't respond the way you thought they would, and then you have all these hours to drive to the next place. I was always comforted by this idea that we were designed, we have been created to do something and I just know that there were people along the way who I thank God for: the fans who kept saying 'please don't give in' and some people who heard the new music but knew it wasn't on a CD who said 'that has to get out there' and our management and my incredible wife, Debbie. Maybe somebody else would've been able to quit but my wife is one of those people who has allowed me to keep doing this and she travels with us and she's incredible. As long as she was still up for it, we were still able to do what we do."
The second challenge for Circleslide came in the shape of the Nashville flood of 2010. Gabriel's house was flooded and they lost most of his and his wife's possessions. A friend managed to save a few vintage guitars but everything else was lost. Said the lead singer, "A lot of people didn't know about it as it was a small little story because there was a lot of other things that took up the headlines. But for us in Nashville it was a big deal and my house in particular was hit pretty hard. I was visiting my sister on a weekend - we weren't doing a show or anything, we just happened to be visiting my sister and having some family time - and we didn't check our phone because we didn't want to be bothered, but there were 20 missed calls from our neighbours and friends and that's when we knew something was wrong. We heard a voicemail saying 'your house is under water'. So we were about three or four hours away and we drove straight home. We couldn't believe it: our house was just a wreck. Five feet of water, our cars, our trailer with all our band gear was flooded. My garage where I kept all our instruments had about five feet of water in there and drums were floating and our equipment was floating. It was devastating. Nobody prepares you for that, it was a total shock. But there were churches and there were people who started coming to our house the next day and immediately started offering us food and offering us help. There was a church called Otter Creek and their volunteers just came out of nowhere and they totally took good care of us. Friends started pouring in and helping so we've been blessed."
"Eye Of The Hurricane", a track from 'Echoes Of The Light', is based on the event and the devastation left after the flood. Gabriel commented, "That's the whole point of this song, the idea that in the midst of disaster and in the midst of great tragedy there are little reasons to rejoice and there are reasons to maintain hope. We're an example of that, although when I wrote that song, I'll be honest with you, I had no idea we'd have to live that out because I wrote that before the flood. There's a couple of songs I wrote after the flood and a couple that existed before and there's a little bit of 'OK, God, I see that I'm going to have to live out what I'm singing about here. I'm going to have to really dig into who you are as my source of faith and strength and all of it.' Not very well. The thing was I had a friend who was at the house: while I was gone he was there with his family and was taking care of the house while we were on vacation and he's the hero of the story. He waded in five feet of water and started taking my guitars to the second floor of the house. He went and actually turned off where we've got the electricity coming into the house - and that was crazy for him to do that, I don't know what could have happened if something went wrong with that - but he turned off the electricity because things were plugged in and started taking guitars up."
However, in true Christian spirit Gabriel managed to use the experience to enhance his faith in the Lord. He explained, "There's nothing more humbling, especially for a guy like myself - I try to be strong, I think I've got it all together, I think I'm cool when I put on my sunglasses, I think I'm Bono or whatever - but I have no idea of how to clean up after a flood and here come some guys who show me how to tear up the carpet. . . And people have to bring you food because you're in too much shock to even think about food. You're in too much shock to think about what you're next step should be so, yes, it's very humbling. It's been an extremely humbling process and I'm grateful for it though. I'm grateful for this opportunity to become less like - this idea that John the Baptist said 'I must decrease so he might increase' - this idea that you get a better sense of who you are. I'm very grateful for that. Not that I want another flood, I don't, but you know what it did? It got this band closer together. We're closer now. When you're humbled you don't think so much about some of the foolishness of being in a band and you begin to say 'hey, we're friends, let's reach out and be there for one another.' That's been a tremendous thing."
He continued, "I'm definitely more aware of the fact that God is good. I know that seems weird but he is good, he does give us grace. The Bible says, 'Humble yourself before the Lord and he will lift you up'. God gives grace to the humble but opposes the proud. I can see little things where if I'd been doing well and maybe have been extremely successful for all these years and not struggled through this, that I think I would have missed the big picture that Jesus was a man of sorrow and Jesus was a man of suffering while he was here, and yet children wanted to be next to him and people wanted to be around him. He wasn't bitter or cynical, he was full of love, he was full of life and he had extreme methods of God's hope and peace and restoration and we should be the same, even if we're going through a really horrible time. There's his love and his goodness that sustain us."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.