With the recent release of their debut album 'It's All Gone Very Orange', Surrey-based four piece indie outfit IF ONLY are stepping on to the next rung of the CCM ladder to success. Andrew Long spoke to the band's guitarist and songwriter Sam Hargreaves.
Things are progressing nicely for If Only. Formed in 1994, in '96 they made it to the Cross Rhythms Fest Mega tent and now Meltdown Records have released their debut album 'It's All Gone Very Orange'?Like many Christian bands, If Only started in a church youth group, this one being at Cove Baptist Church. They visited Spring Harvest and it was this visit that inspired them all to do something serious for God. I asked Sam what happened there.
"The first thing was a real infilling of God's Spirit and thinking we've really got to do something for God and having the boldness to step out and do it," Sam recalled. "The second thing was that we saw TVB there and Eden Burning and it was the first time we'd really seen any decent Christian bands and we thought, 'Oh, this is obviously a valid form of expression and evangelism.' So that was a real encouragement."
Members of the youth group who could play instruments began to play Spring Harvest songs and organised a Praise Party in the church. They came up with the name If Only as a bit of a joke at first - "If only we could play...", and soon began to write their own material, which they admit was terrible at first.
The band learned the necessity of trusting in God's provision from the start - they had no drummer but someone, Ray Driscoll, volunteered to learn if a kit was provided. The kit was provided and the drummer brought his Christian girlfriend Nicola 'Nic' O'Brien along to sing. Together with Nic and Ray, Sam was soon joined by a bass player Matthew 'Maff' Gaylard from Somerset and this cemented the line up of If Only.
"We were mainly getting into youth clubs and stuff, we weren't really very good but people would tell us they really liked us," said Sam. "I don't know whether that was because they were trying to encourage us or what but everyone was quite encouraging anyway and it took us a while to realise that we had to be more critical about what we were doing. We'd never really done music before we did the band. I'd only been playing guitar for about six months so we had to learn quite a lot."
During that first year If Only played quite a number of gigs and gradually began to improve musically. After a year they cut a demo. It was at this point that they became involved with long standing Christian rock manager, Dave Williams of Meltdown.
"A guy called Chris came to our church from Yeovil - he's now our pastor," Sam explained. "He was doing a degree in the area and he started coming to our church and he'd been to Dave's Meltdown conference and said, 'This guy's a really good Christian music manager and I think you could learn a lot from him.' So we went to his In Tune conference and met him there on the Saturday night and he said, 'I really feel God is saying that I should do something with you guys. I can't get you out of my head, not because you're a good band musically or anything or not because I really know you at all. God's just definitely pointing me towards you.' It was really weird because he'd never really seen us play up until he started working with us and that didn't seem to be a problem to him. All that really mattered to him was that God had said, 'Look, you've got to work with this band.'"
Dave Williams was quick to point out to the band that the demo was awful and that their lifestyles were in need of shaping up. They took the summer of '95 out to re-focus their ideas and by the Meltdown Conference of that year they were ready to commit to some serious music ministry. Dave offered the band free recording time at Rock Solid Studios under the production of Paul May and once Paul was happy with the material they began to record tracks for the album. I asked Sam how he found working with Paul.
"I'd heard a lot of horror stories about Paul. A few people said he was a real hard taskmaster and very inflexible, but I didn't find him to be like that at all. He was very professional but he would listen to my ideas and we tried out a few things. There was one thing where we both played acoustic guitars standing opposite each other with a mike in the middle. That's on 'Shame' and if you listen to it, it's very sort of echoey because it's got the sound waves bouncing off each other. So I found him to be very experimental, more than I expected - I expected him to be quite regimented. The general arrangements and melodies are mostly ours but he tweaked quite a lot and sharpened things up, endings and stuff and he put in some new ideas as well, creative stuff."
When asked about the band's musical influences Sam, an A Level music student, listed a variety of artists from Eden Burning to Alanis Morrisette to the vocal styles of the Cranberries. "Radiohead really shook us up," he enthused. "We got loads of ideas from them."
If Only have been playing mostly Christian gigs so far and readers will be able to catch up with them at Cross Rhythms Roots And Branches in September. But they are keen to play secular gigs too. "We have a real heart for going and 'invading the culture' as Martin Smith puts it," Sam explained. "Getting out there and doing stuff wherever it's needed, so hopefully the album will be a tool for that. We went to see Delirious? and were amazed at their vision for revival and the feeling in the camp at the moment is that we really want to be a part of what God's doing in the country. It's not about making it in the Christian music scene. For us it's not about being a big band. It's about being a good band for God and really taking the message out to the lost."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.