Tony Cummings spoke to Sam De Jong and Omega Levine of worship aggregation the PARACHUTE BAND
Anyone who is a long-time follower in the ongoing development of contemporary worship music will know the part the Parachute Bands have to play in the story. Why "Bands"? Well, the New Zealand-based aggregation who pioneered the brand name were formed in 1995 to lead worship at the Parachute Festival - New Zealand's hugely successful event which amazingly sports the biggest annual attendance for any Christian fest outside the USA - and between 1997 and 2005 released eight albums. The second version of the Parachute Band which shed the original lineup's soul-influenced pop sound in favour of a full on guitar-driven rock approach to worship began in 2006 with a "complete generational changeover". Since the release of 2007's 'Roadmaps And Revelations' and 2008's 'Technicolour' there have been changes to the Band's lineup but with the release in February of what everyone feels is their strongest ever album 'Love Without Measure' things are looking well for the group now consisting of Omega Levine (lead singer), Jeff Parsons (guitar), Callum Galloway (keyboards), Elliot Francis (bass) and Sam De Jong (drums).
I met up with Sam De Jong and Omega Levine. Sam is the son of Mark and Chris De Jong who founded the Parachute Festival back in 1989. I began by asking Sam why the Parachute Band had so drastically changed its lineup? He responded, "It had naturally run its course as our festival is a Youth Festival, so it has to stay fresh really. It was also because the leading couple had young children and felt they were away too much."
Tony: Are there a lot of full time Christian musicians in New Zealand?
Sam: Yes, there is a growing number. One of the main goals of the Parachute Festival was to see young people making a living and doing really well with their music, also influencing other young people with their music. When the festival started, there wasn't that much happening except a few church bands. But now for example, at the festival we have about 160 bands performing. 15-20 are international, and the rest of them are from New Zealand. A lot of our young mates are in Christian bands and doing really well on secular radio and TV, so it's exploded, it's great!
Tony: One of the healthy things it seems about the New Zealand scene is there isn't the same division as in other countries. Most record shops are carrying Christian music, often in the same racks as everything else.
Omega: Totally, we don't think there should be a divide; there is, and we have to deal with that and try to change it. But wouldn't it be amazing if the music in our country was sharing the message of Christ without having to be labelled something weird? We believe music is a vehicle for a message and one of the most powerful tools to get a message across.
Tony: Omega. Is that your real name?
Omega: Yes, I'm the last child in my family.
Tony: The first one was called Alpha?
Omega: No, unfortunately not (laughing). Hopefully somewhere down the line someone will be called Alpha. But they must have been sure that I would be the last child.
Tony: What was your musical involvement before the Parachute Band?
Omega: "I grew up in Church so I was involved in our band and leading the choir. I've always been around music. I was looking to go to a performing arts school in Auckland and was looking for a local church. I met Sam through that Church and that's how I got involved with Parachute Band. It's been a long journey but I have always been involved in music."
Tony: Tell me about the albums 'Roadmaps And Revelations' and 'Technicolour'.
Sam: 'Roadmaps' was when we had just started. We changed lineup in January '06, in February we were in the studio starting recording. We hardly knew some of the guys, we weren't all best friends, and we were just getting to know each other. We had a few great songs, "Media Head", the song "Mercy", and we learnt lots. When we came to 'Technicolour' we had travelled for just over a year and were really close. We found this more enjoyable because we knew what we were doing!