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Walk On The Water

Britt Nicole

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Steven Curtis Chapman

stevencurtischapman.com

When it comes to Christmas, Steven Curtis Chapman might as well be eight-years-old all over again. Usually wearing his favorite Charlie Brown t-shirt and perpetually ready to launch into one of his favorite tunes, Chapman has never outgrown the wonder of the season each year as the world celebrates the birth of our Savior. That childlike faith and hopeful sense of expectancy reverberate throughout his new Christmas collection, simply and aptly titled Joy.

"After recording re:creation, I wasn't quite sure what next step to take in my creative journey. I started exploring the idea of writing and arranging some new Christmas music. I have to admit I was kind of surprised by the joy that began to surface in the process, considering the journey my family has been on these past 4 1/2 years. I think that I just started remembering my childhood and then really celebrating my family. Even as hard as things have been, and as bittersweet as it relates to things like celebrations and holidays, we have begun to experience that the sweet is starting to trump the bitter for us more and more each year,” says Chapman, referencing the tragic death of five-year old daughter Maria Sue in 2008. “Christmas is becoming a less hard thing for us each year. It’s not that it’s easier to get through because we are forgetting. It’s like we can remember now without it just being so painful and the memories can be sweet.

As Chapman entered a new creative season, he felt inspired to write original Christmas music and began working with friend and producer Brent Milligan to craft a new holiday collection. The bar was already set pretty high. After all, Chapman has won an unprecedented 57 Dove Awards, five GRAMMYs and numerous other accolades, and Christmas music has always been a vital part of Chapman’s distinguished discography. His first holiday album, 1995’s The Music of Christmas featured the hit “Christmas is All in the Heart,” which has become a perennial fan favorite. There was also a special top-selling Christmas collection released exclusively through Hallmark stores. Then in 2005, he released All I Really Want for Christmas, which included such classics as “Silver Bells” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem” as well as the delightful “Shaoey and Her Dad Wish You a Merry Christmas” featuring daughter Shaohanah.

“When I started writing these new songs I was really excited,” he says of his first album for Provident Music Group. “I’ve written a couple songs on this Christmas record that sound like they could have come off a Nat King Cole record or an Andy Williams album. They sound like the old stuff that I love. One of my favorite Christmas songs is Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song.”’ I just love that song and I love the Charlie Brown Christmas record.” Joy features six new songs and seven classics. One of the vintage sounding tracks that harkens back to those 50’s feeling albums is the debut single to radio, “Christmas Time Again.”

Among the other new songs is “Christmas in Kentucky,” a song that began as a heartfelt homage to Chapman’s rural roots and grew into something even more profound. “I used to stand at the window of my house on Christmas Eve and wait to see headlights come up our driveway because it meant that my Uncle Barry and Aunt Donna were coming and they always brought a lot of presents and they usually brought my grandmother,” Chapman recalls with a smile. “I’d see those headlights turn up the driveway and I would just start jumping up and down, yelling ‘They’re here! They’re here!’

“I have that great memory, so I wrote the song starting in that place.” Then the song began to evolve and Chapman’s creative vision expanded. “The chorus of the song says, ‘It’s Christmas in Kentucky. It’s Christmas in LA. In the desperate streets of India, in the African plains, listen and you’ll hear the angels heralding the news. Glory to God in the highest and on this Earth. God is with us wherever we are, everywhere it’s Christmas.’

“While it’s Christmas in my little hometown, Paducah, K, the amazing thing is that the truth of what Christmas is about, and what we’re celebrating is all over the world. Anywhere that anybody is acknowledging that God has come and given us the gift is why we are celebrating Christmas.”

One of the most personal tunes on the new album is a song Chapman wrote for his wife Mary Beth that gives him a chance to croon like Frank Sinatra or Harry Connick Jr. “‘Christmas Kiss’ says ‘your kiss is all I’m asking for this Christmas.’ It’s real romantic,” Chapman says of the tune that evokes a Nat King Cole classic. “It’s a sweet song. Every year we turn the lights down low and put on the music and dance. It signals the beginning of Christmas. We can’t do it ‘til the day after Thanksgiving, but we put on the Nat King Cole Christmas song and as soon as that starts, I’ll take her and we’ll sway back and forth, just slow dance around the living room and then it’s like, ‘Alright Christmas can now officially start. This is the beginning of it,’ so this song was my way to express that.”

Even though Christmas is a time of joy, it can also be a difficult time for those who are missing a loved one, struggling financially or facing another kind of challenge. As he thought of those who might be hurting during the holidays, Steven penned the poignant “Christmas Card.” “I literally had tears in my eyes thinking about how many people are just hurting,” Chapman says. “I wanted to write something for those people. I wish I could just send them a Christmas card and say, ‘Somebody loves you.’ It’s the whole meaning of Christmas. The whole reason we celebrate it is because God has come to be with us and say, ‘You are not alone. I’m with you in this troubled world that we live in.’ For me and my family, Christmas has become so much more significant because it represents everything about the hope that we have and that God really has come. He really has come to be with us in our pain and in our grief and wherever we are. That theme runs through a lot of the songs, but especially this one in particular. Hopefully it will encourage people.”

Recording Joy also gave Chapman a chance to record some of his longtime favorites, among them “Joy to the World,” “We Three Kings,” “What Child Is This” and “Christmas Time is Here,” the beloved song from the animated classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” “I've always loved that! I love Snoopy! I love ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas' and have always wanted to do that song,” Chapman enthuses,” so I did a version it, just me and a guitar. It’s really intimate. It sounds like I’m sitting around a fire singing it.”

In recording the album, Chapman, Milligan and some of Nashville’s finest musicians traveled to a studio in Lexington, Ky. to get away from the hustle and bustle of Nashville and focus on creating the right holiday vibe. “I dug the Christmas tree out and we took that up with us. We took Christmas lights and strung them around the studio, but my biggest form of inspiration was wearing one of my favorite Charlie Brown Christmas t-shirts,” Chapman says, proudly noting that the collection started with one shirt he would wash and wear over and over again. The collection has now grown to about 10 shirts, mostly gifts from his mother-in-law.

“I have red, green, blue, white and grey shirts and every day, from Thanksgiving through Christmas, I wear one of my Charlie Brown Christmas t-shirts,” he says with a laugh. “They all have a little different scene on the front of them. They’re decorating the tree. They’re making snowballs or sledding and they’re just awesome! I love them. I took them with me to the studio so I got to wear them two times this year, which I’m very excited about. I wore them every day I was in the studio to provide the proper inspiration.”

For Chapman, the greatest sources of inspiration are his faith and his family. The songs he’s written about his life and loved ones have provided a soundtrack for other believers for more than two decades, and it seems as though he’s most excited about the chapters ahead. “I’m a grandpa,” he says proudly, noting that eldest daughter Emily’s little girl will be turning one in November. “We have our grandbaby and it is absolutely amazing. I’m sure that’s where a lot of the inspiration is coming from for some of the new songs and new music. It’s new life and new beginnings. It’s the season for a lot of new beginnings.”

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Tenth Avenue North

tenthavenuenorth.com

All right, if you want to get personal with Tenth Avenue North, there are some things you should know. First of all, Jeff is a cyborg. Half human, half robot, half Irish, half Asian. That’s a whole lot of halves, but if you do the math you’ll see it all adds up. We call him half-and-half for short. Jason can build things with his hands. Big things. Complicated things. Things like magic lockets, cars, houses, and babies. Not real babies, but ones that look real, and would probably look good on an old lady’s porch next to the yard gnomes. My name is Mike, and I am a Native American. My Indian name is Squatting Moose, and according to ChaCha, I could beat Al Roker in a fight. Roker may have the power of the weather behind him, but I have the power of God!

We met in sunny West Palm Beach, Florida, almost a decade ago, at Palm Beach Atlantic College. And that was before it became a university, and before Tenth Avenue North was more than just a street name. That all changed though when Jason and I moved into some student housing off of that street and named our band after it. That’s where the magic happened after all, and we don’t ever want to forget it.

Jeff came down to Florida from Indiana a few years later. He was new to the south and he even admits that he had a hard time fitting in at first. What with being part robot and all, can you really blame him? If you think humidity messes with your hair, you should see what it does to a central operating comprehensive mainframe! But after a few years, a few bands, and several member switch outs later, he came to be at home with himself and with the Florida weather, and eventually became the permanent electric guitarist and fixture for the band. Scott materialized almost a year before that, and started playing with us through a common position at a local church called Christ Fellowship. A few years passed. Scott exited and Ruben Juarez III entered.

We won a few Dove Awards and put out The Light Meets The Dark. Brendon Shirley joined the band and then we released our third studio album, The Struggle, but we’re still just trying to find our way in the Christian music industry, “dodging traffic at the intersection of art, faith, and commerce,” as Jon Foreman once put it. We all come from church backgrounds and families, and therefore, are not satisfied saying the same old things in the same old ways. What we’re hoping for with this music that we’re making is to not just entertain people. I think it’s safe to say that we already have plenty of that. What we’re wanting is to see people encounter truth. Remember, we all worked at a church for some time, and there we saw plenty of emotion. We saw plenty of people having a good time, but it wasn’t long until we realized that if emotion isn’t being evoked by truth, well, then it just doesn’t last. And we want this love in hearts to last. I guess you could say we’re done just trying to get emotional from blast beats and hip guitar lyrics. Instead, we desire to be cut to the heart. To be honest, genuine, and faithful to what we believe is truth.

Nobody said it would be easy, but if easy isn’t true, then who wants it?

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Mandisa

mandisaofficial.com

Often an artist’s strengths inspire their best work. But for acclaimed contemporary Christian singer Mandisa, it’s her very human flaws and frailties that gave birth to her stellar third album, What If We Were Real. The three-time GRAMMY ® nominee knows that nobody is perfect—and she wants her fans to realize that, too. Her latest career-defining project, released on Sparrow Records, reminds us all that everyone struggles. The concept of the album—which follows 2007’s exploration of inner grace, True Beauty, and 2009’s look at personal emancipation, Freedom—came to Mandisa as she bared her soul to her almost 100,000 followers on Twitter (@mandisaofficial).

“A lot of people think we as Christians have to put our masks on and pretend that everything is great. But I was really amazed at the responses I’d get when I’d Tweet that I was struggling, or needed prayer with something, or having a bad day,” she explains. “People said, ‘I’m glad to know I’m not the only one.’ Or ‘I need prayer for that too.’ It surprised me that people thought I had it all together. The truth of the matter is I have bad days too and am still learning to bring that to the Lord and let Him lift my burden.”

That learning curve is evident on the vulnerable but empowering What If We Were Real. “Where I was at the beginning of this album and where I ended up are two very different places,” confirms the Season 5 American Idol finalist and multiple GMA Dove Award nominee. (She scored consecutive nominations for Female Vocalist of the Year.) “It’s been a process.”

That process began with a disheartening battle with a familiar enemy. “I will always struggle with my weight. It’s the thorn in my flesh,” she says, recalling how a disappointing morning on the scale prompted her startling online confession that things are not always rosy. “I had gained weight and was so frustrated at that moment that I said so on Twitter. I said, ‘I’m fed-up and over it.’ I was feeling embarrassed and ashamed. I realized that I had only talked about how great things were. I never let people in when they were not. It was then that I decided I’d talk about the bad things too—that I’d be real.”

And so she is, through 11 songs of struggle, worship, and redemption, starting with the title track. Propelled by a blaring rock guitar and Mandisa’s distorted vocal, the song explodes, signaling that, yes, something different and new is on the horizon. “That song is going to throw people for a loop! It’s definitely showing a different side of me,” she says, clearly excited by the notion of adding some grit to her angelic vocals. “It couldn’t be the kind of song that only sounded happy and joyful. It needed to have some angst to it.” It’s also one of songs Mandisa co-wrote for the record. “That song came pretty easily. I got together with my co-writers and I wasn’t in a good place. I said I’m tired of smiling all the time and acting like it’s all perfect. Sometimes I just want to scream.”

Or shed some tears, as the album’s most revealing track, “Just Cry,” allows. Also co-written by Mandisa, the song reassures listeners that it is acceptable, and even healthy, to release one’s feelings and emotions.

“I’ve always been trained not to cry, and to keep my emotions inside for the sake of making other people feel more comfortable,” she reveals. “But the best thing to do is feel those emotions and let them out, not hide them. I meet so many people in my autograph lines who tell me their stories and say, ‘I’m so sorry I’m crying!’ And I tell them, don’t apologize. Let it out.”

Still, after all the crying and even shouting, Mandisa stresses, there is the promise of God’s new day. She sums up that gift in the joyous “Good Morning,” which, with its buoyant beat and uplifting refrain, may be her answer to Johnny Nash’s iconic 1972 hit “I Can See Clearly Now.” “God’s mercies are new every morning. That was at the heart of this song. The darkest part is right before the dawn, but morning does come,” she says. “I wanted a feel-good song to get me out of bed and make me remember that I am starting fresh.”

It’s a good morning, wake up to a brand new day, she sings in the chorus. You give me strength You give me just what I need. And that strength—to persevere, to overcome, to be real—is the focus of the album’s first single, “Stronger.” Inspired by the belief that surviving hardship makes us more resilient, the tune sums up the past year of Mandisa’s life.

“That song is very appropriate for me. When I look back on this year and reflect on the difficult things I’ve gone through, I realize I’ve grown the most not from when things were great, but from when they were hard,” she says. “‘Stronger’ is encouragement for anybody who is going through a difficult time. As long as you’re still here and still walking through, you’ll be stronger in the end.”

Mandisa is certain of that fact. Because she is living it. Because she is overcoming her own trials. And because she knows her Lord and Savior is with her every step of the way.

“A struggle is a struggle, and Jesus is there through it all. He is there in compassion and grace. I have found that what He has spoken to me through these songs has been encouraging and I think that’ll be true for other people who are going through their own hard times,” she says, pausing to reflect on how far she’s come since she first began her What If We Were Real journey. “I feel I have a closer intimacy with the Lord than when I first started. He is the reason I’m still here.”

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Thousand Foot Krutch

Sometimes the best way to move forward is to go back to the basics, taking all of the raw energy and emotion of the past and channeling it into the present, coupled with all of the progression and knowledge obtained in the intermediary years. And that’s exactly what Thousand Foot Krutch is doing on the aptly titled The End Is Where We Begin, which doesn’t just showcase the group’s thunderous musical pursuits coming full circle with its most cutting edge album to date, but also finds Canada’s favorite modern rockers voluntarily walking away from record label life altogether (even after a slew of profitable offers came along) to reignite the passionate DIY work ethos that first emerged over a decade ago.

“The End Is Where We Begin summarizes everything we’ve been through as a band, and where we are now- the closing of one chapter and the beginning of another,” confides front man Trevor McNevan. “We’ve been through every transition you could face as a band in the past year, aside from the band line up, and our entire team couldn’t be more excited. Against all odds, not to mention some pretty lucrative record contracts, we’re following what we feel is the right thing for us to do, and at the end of the day, that’s our responsibility. We’re very thankful to have the support and trust we do with our audience; they’re as much a part of our team, as anyone else. We’re growing together, and look forward to each new step we take together.”

For those who’ve been following the Ontario-bred players since their formation in 1998, it’s been a continuously escalating highlight reel that includes best-selling albums, four top 25 Active Rock hits (including the top 20 smash “Fire It Up”), plus a slew of soundtrack slots. In fact, the group has literally infiltrated every facet of pop culture, from ongoing ESPN appearnces, to various NASCAR, MLB, NHL and NFL airings (including the 2010 Super Bowl), along with the “GI Joe” movie trailer, WGN-TV’s “Smallville” and EA Sports’ “NHL 2010” video game.

That trend is continuing at breakneck speed with the new project, which even prior to hitting streets, found the lead single “Let The Sparks Fly” and fellow adrenaline-infused rocker “Light Up the Sky” picked up by ESPN. Both tracks also serve as the ultimate tone setters for the sonic explosions contained within The End Is Where We Begin, which could be considered the ultimate Thousand Foot Krutch mix-tape showcasing a myriad of full-throttled personalities.

“If I had to use one word to describe the sound of this record, I would say ‘uninhibited,’” ponders McNevan. “From the beginning, the architecture of this record was different from the others. I knew this one was something special when I felt the need to go back- back to just sitting on the bed with a guitar with no outside voices- and being inspired by just the simple possibilities. The past songs and records have always been honest- that’s something very true to our hearts as musicians and always will be- but this was something different. There’s something that happens when you turn the sound down and just listen. I’ll never forget those moments.”

Throughout that period of simplifying and waiting for inspiration to arrive, McNevan popped in the band’s very first project, That’s What People Do, which echoed respected rappers like Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys, cross-pollinated with the rhythmic grooves of Red Hot Chili Peppers. Those inspirations return throughout The End Is Where We Begin, alongside the group’s continuously marinating blend of towering choruses, razor-sharp rhythms, epic arrangements and stadium shaking rumbles.

"As a songwriter, Trevor’s always been one to keep his thumb on the pulse of what’s going on in music at any given time,” explains drummer Steve Augustine.

“This record in a lot of ways, is a bridge going back to where we came from, traveling all the way through where we’ve been, to where we’re going,” states McNevan.

One key sonic ingredient that runs throughout the album is a raw grit that mirrors the group’s unrelenting live sound. To capture that sound, Thousand Foot Krutch teamed up with good friends, producer Aaron Sprinkle (Deftones, Anberlin, Pedro the Lion, The Almost) and mixing engineer J.R. McNeely (Paramore, Underoath, MXPX, Relient K). Sprinkle co-produced with McNevan, as well as produced Masquerade.

“I work on a lot of the song arrangement/pre production in the writing stages of the record, and then get with the guys to add their input and work through what’s best for the rhythm sections of the song,” says McNevan. “Steve and Joel are two of the best players out there, so that part’s always a treat. Making the record, Aaron and I ran between his studio in Seattle and mine in Nashville, working on everything there and overseeing things remotely, while Steve and Joel tracked bass and drums in their home studios in Canada. It’s an interesting process, but seems to work well for us. We’re a very hands on group of guys.”

“We aimed for the sounds to be pretty raw and to reach back on purpose, like [2003’s breakthrough record] Phenomenon, which had a certain kind of energy to it that we weren’t able to find again until now,” says Augustine. “We wanted to do a raw record where we’re not replacing sounds or realigning parts to fix things, but going in with strong takes the first time around and having that translate towards more energy.”

The lyrical make-up of The End Is Where We Begin is just as urgent and insistent, while continuing in the group’s positive and proactive tradition. Hardly a moment goes by on the album where listeners aren’t being motivated towards a call to action, much like how the band literally risked its whole career to put its unadulterated artistic vision on display.

“Without trying, this record has a very militant theme to it, with songs like ‘War Of Change’ and ‘Courtesy Call’ painting more of a visual for that,” states McNevan. “There's an urgency to it and I think the timing feels right. This record's heart can be summed up by ‘Be The Change,’ the album’s lyric and phrase seen throughout the album artwork.”

Continues Augustine: “We’ve always felt we’ve made music for everyone, whether that be rock or whatever style we happen to be recording at the time. We try to make good music anyone would enjoy, but with a positive message that talks about what we believe and what comes from the heart.”

When it comes to Thousand Foot Krutch’s vast array of listeners, which include a half million Facebook followers from literally all walks of life, few bands can boast having such a loyal following. Not only do the guys make it a point to sign autographs after shows and stay feverishly connected on social networking sites, but they even provided a hands-on opportunity to get involved with the making of The End Is Where We Begin. Fans are taking literal ownership of the record after contributing to the group’s indie efforts via Kickstarter.com (a new venture that allows artists to “fund and follow creatively”) and in return, the band provided an all access glimpse into the recording process.

“Since day one we’ve actually been uncomfortable with the term ‘fans’ because these people mean so much more to us,” assures McNevan. “They’re the friends and family of the band so to speak and I think they’ve grown to trust us over the years, which is something that’s been built between us and not manufactured…Teaming with Kickstarter allowed us to launch the idea of recording this record and open the door for anyone who pledges support to be a part of the process. It’s not just about asking for money, which would’ve made us feel pretty uncomfortable. It’s about being able to create packages with various levels of exclusives, from Skype calls with the band, to exclusive vinyl, handwritten lyrics and just a closer connection in general. We had no idea what it would amount to and if we’d even make our goal, but we ended up going quite a bit past it.”

When it comes to the subject of surpassing goals, The End Is Where We Begin doesn’t just find Thousand Foot Krutch’s new career direction taking off like a tour de force, but also serves as a creative pinnacle that blends the most innovative elements of yesterday with the ground-breaking strides of today. “I think this is a step forward in a new and inspired direction for us musically and as a band,” sums up McNevan. “It’s everything we could’ve hoped for and we’re excited to head into this season. Sometimes we need to go back to go forward and remember where we came from, which connects on a lot of different levels. We hope to keep making music that’s honest to us and continue to grow together with our audience.”

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Sanctus Real Bio

sanctusreal.com

Modern Rock Album of the Year winners Sanctus Real could barely muster the will to write and record, let alone deliver the new album its label anticipated. Discover how the four band members found the courage to fight back.

Recently, members of the Dove Award-winning Sanctus Real discovered their greatest joyâ ”making and playing music together as the best of friends. Today, with the release of their third national record, The Face of Love, Sanctus Real comes of age, pressing forward to carry a compelling image of hope to an eager world. With this album, the four-member, Toledo, Ohio-based rock band is poised for 2006 to be its breakout year.

The Face of Love contains hard-hitting songs portraying universal themes of love, brokenness and the sometimes elusive sense of God's presence. Inspired by real-life heartache and rediscovered joy, the emotions behind each track are vulnerable and undisguised, making this album the band's most accessible project. Further, Sanctus Real members Matt Hammitt (lead vocals), Mark Graalman (drums), Chris Rohman (guitars) welcome newest addition Dan Gartley (bass), a protégé of producer Mark Townsend. Gartley replaces former bassist Steve Goodrum.

Popularly known for its trio of chart-topping hitsâ ”"Everything About You," "The Fight Song" and its cover of U2's "Beautiful Day"â ”Sanctus Real's The Face of Love comes on the heels of two seasons on opposing emotional poles, one of success and one of trial.

After the critically-touted Fight the Tide released almost two years ago, Sanctus Real fired cleanly on all cylinders through the end of 2004. A relentlessly touring outfit, the band gained its first headlining slot, and fans responded enthusiastically, especially through popular online outlets like MySpace.com. Sanctus nabbed Radio & Records' most played Christian rock band of the year title, and in early 2005 it added four more Dove Award nominations to its success tally. Further, with Graalman's first son about to be born and guitarist Rohman preparing to be married, all indications pointed toward another banner year for Sanctus Real.

Then, turning on a dime, life dropped absolute heartbreak into the mix.   â It was devastating'.
The "Fight the Tide" tour was drawing to a close and Graalman, a stalwart family man like the others, elected to rejoin his wife before their son was to be born. A couple days later, Benjamin was born at a local Toledo hospital. But shockingly, two hours later and one floor below the happy celebration, Graalman's father was diagnosed with cancer. Tests proved there was nothing doctors could do. Mark says, "I remember thinking, â God, what are you allowing to happen here?'"

The news overwhelmed family and band alike. With limited time to share with his father, Graalman came off the road indefinitely, and the band was forced to continue with a replacement drummer to meet its professional obligations.

Also at this time, the grandmother of vocalist Hammitt became gravely ill. She eventually ended up in a local hospice care facility in a room next door to Graalman's dying father. The final straw came when the band's bass player at the time, Goodrum, decided leave to pursue other interests. Kicked in the gut and breathless, the guys came face-to-face with just how fragile and capricious relationships could be. And despite being tapped later that spring for the band's first Dove Awardâ ”2005's Modern Rock Album of the Yearâ ”Sanctus Real could barely muster the will to write and record, let alone deliver the new album its label anticipated.

"It was devastating dealing with these things and truckin' through it," Graalman acknowledges. "We were backstage at the Doves, for example, doing press interviews. Everyone was congratulating us, which I was grateful for. But my dad had just died; my heart was very far away from all the hype. And in the midst of all that was happening we were supposed to be making a record and writing songs. But we had nothing."

â Confessions of Brokenness'
Enter producer Chris Stevens (tobyMac, Shawn McDonald), who helped the band channel its complex emotions into songwriting, their grief-stricken passion into powerful, emotive studio performances. Taking a page from the Psalmist's playbook, the band found strength in confessing to God its fears and frustrations. Peace began to replace the guys' emptiness, and in their brokenness they found they could again sense God's love. Combined, The Face of Love is the band's most mature and personal record yet.

"All the lyrics we'd written shifted to the stuff we were going through at this point," Hammitt says. Band members credit producer Stevens for walking with them through their dark night of the soul experience and coaching them to their strongest record yet. Rohman says, "Chris was willing to put it all out there. He believed in the songs and believed in this band."

The album's opening confessional and first radio single from the album, "I'm Not Alright," locates the singer in desperate human brokenness, requiring him to move closer to God for strength. "It's been an unbelievably hard year for the band," drummer Graalman reveals. "But we've learned to rely on God's grace, and we've learned to be honest and transparent.  Being honest and transparent means not faking it; it has to be OK to say, â No, I'm not alright'."

Inspired by Brennan Manning's The Signature of Jesus, the album's title track, "The Face of Love," became an unabashed anthem of unconditional love. "All the stuff we went through sparked an excitement for life and the journey," Hammitt reveals. "We don't know what Jesus really looked like, but we can know who Jesus is. We can then discover who we are in Christ and hope beyond hope to become the face of love to all those around us."  The final track, "Benjamin," adds an effective coda to The Face of Love. A bittersweet tribute to Graalman's family, written by Hammitt, the song recognizes that life is lived from dependence to dependence, cradle to grave.

With The Face of Love, Sanctus Real recognizes change throughout life is hard, even gut-wrenching. Yet it can finally usher empowering expectations. More to the point, death does not get the final word. Love does, and it happens every day, in a child's birth, in deciding to press on searching for another chanceâ ”even in making music with your best friends. This is the hope to start again, and in them are images of love.

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Meredith Andrews

meredithandrews.com

We live in a world that moves much too fast. Demands rush towards us and expectations hover over us, making it difficult to simply stop and take time to hear from God. Meredith Andrews knows those challenges all too well, yet as the songs on her sophomore album demonstrate, something remarkable happens when we seek God’s voice and are willing to wait As Long As It Takes.

Following her 2008 Word Records debut, The Invitation, Andrews’ ministry expanded dramatically beyond her duties as worship leader at Chicago’s Harvest Bible Chapel. Her insightful songs and engaging voice made her one of the Christian music community’s most acclaimed new artists. Songs like “You’re Not Alone” saturated Christian radio and Andrews found herself touring with Michael W. Smith on his “A New Hallelujah” Tour.

Needless to say, when she met with producer Jason Ingram to begin work on her new album, the young artist felt the weight of expectation and the pressures that accompany success. “Jason and I had scheduled a songwriting appointment and I just told him ‘I don’t have any ideas and even if I did, I feel like they would be inauthentic, contrived and I just never want that,’” she confessed. “I wanted the songs to be genuine and things that God was teaching me, but I had nothing, just a numb feeling like I had nothing to give. I was empty, tired and feeling this pressure. It’s the music industry and when you’re writing for your sophomore record, they say that’s the hardest to write. I was trying to prove myself.”

As Andrews poured her heart out to her friend, the title track, “As Long As It Takes”, was born. “I was saying all of this to Jason and he just started writing it down,” Andrews recalls. “I got tears in my eyes because it started ministering to me. It was the honesty of it all and saying to the Lord ‘Okay God, this is where I am. I’m helpless. I’m empty and dry, but I’m just going to sit here until you fill me and wait until you speak… until you move me. I don’t think God is afraid of our questions. I don’t think God is afraid of us coming to Him with our honest heart. When we get alone with the Lord and say, I’m just going to wait for You, in His love is where we find our rest. That was it for me. I just needed to stop striving so much and trying to prove myself and to rest in the grace that God had already extended to me.”

Andrews became familiar with that grace at an early age. A native of Wilson, NC, she began singing in church when she was only six, and by the time she was in high school, she was writing songs and leading worship. Andrews went on to attend Liberty University, majoring in family and child development. An only child, whose parents adopted three of the many boys they had fostered over the years, Meredith originally planned to work at an orphanage, however, during her junior year at Liberty, she felt God calling her into music ministry. He continued to guide her path, opening the doors for her to lead worship at the 12,000-member Harvest Bible Chapel and then to achieve a national platform as a recording artist with Word Records.

As she did on her debut album, Andrews wrote or co-wrote every track on As Long As It Takes. “It means a lot to me to be able to say the things that are really on my heart,” she says citing such songs as her new single “Can Anybody Hear Me.” “Co-writing is a blessing to me because when you get another perspective in the room, it opens up a whole new door to the song. That’s why I’ve enjoyed writing with Jason and other writers. It’s just great to be able to say what’s really on your heart and to have others help you do that.”

Among the collaborators on her new album are acclaimed worship leader Paul Baloche, whose credits include such anthems as “Open the Eyes of My Heart” and “Above All.” For her new album, Andrews, her husband, Jacob, and Baloche collaborated on “How Great is the Love.” “I’m just honored that we got to do that with him because I’ve learned so much from him,” says Andrews. “He poured into us and fed us. I just loved to hang out with him and his wife. It was the neatest experience and songwriting came naturally. We were in his living room and started praying and this song came out of that prayer. It was a really sweet moment.”

Two of the most powerful songs on the new album were inspired by people dear to Meredith’s heart. “What it Means to Love” was inspired by a little boy named McKinsley she met doing mission work in Haiti. “He just has this sweet spirit and this wisdom, even as a six-year-old little boy,” says Andrews, who just returned from a trip to Haiti right before the devastating earthquake hit. “I don’t know if he fully understands HIV and the disease he has. He just loves life. He just has such a vibrant personality. I just know the Lord has a plan for his life. He’s already used this little boy in my life. I wouldn’t have written this song if I hadn’t been so stirred and moved by him and by my experience at this orphanage.”

“Come Home” is a poignant song written for her brother that not only expresses the unconditional love of a caring sister, but also the mercy and grace of our eternal father. “I’ve just watched the Lord do such a work in his heart,” says Andrews. “He’s wrestled with a lot of things and struggled with alcohol since he was 14 and now he’s 20. He got in trouble with the law, but it’s crazy how God can take things like that, our mistakes, and then reveal himself. He revealed his mercy and grace in the midst of that. My favorite part in the song is in the bridge where it says ‘you’re not a disappointment to me, you’re just like the rest of us struggling through the journey,’ and it’s true. For some of us it’s a harder struggle than others, but God is just writing our story and showing us his love.”

On As Long As I Takes, Andrews continues to write songs that share her story and strike a chord with other believers. “This is my life and what God has been teaching me in the last year,” says Andrews recalling one particularly powerful moment late at night. “I just sat straight up and it’s like the Lord just spoke to me so clearly and said ‘Meredith, your life is not the story of your pursuit of me, but it’s the story of my pursuit of you.’ It changed everything for me because my pursuit of God is so inadequate, faulty, and inconsistent, but God’s pursuit of me is constant, relentless and unfailing.

My hope is that in these songs they’ll see the love of God more; maybe these songs will challenge them in their walk with the Lord and in turn, they’ll just run after him. That’s my hope.”

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Rhett Walker Band

rhettwalkerband.com

Now there’s an understatement. Rhett Walker is not like any rising Christian musician you have met before or will meet again soon. The outspoken 25-year-old son of a preacher was born and raised around the South, his mellow yet animated voice a sure mix of Georgia and the Carolinas. In that drawl, he tells an intense wild oats story tempered by God’s grace, a testimony that fuels the deep-fried rock and deep- down worship on Rhett Walker Band’s debut, Come To The River.

Indeed, Rhett is a shining example of faith, family, and country values today—an experienced man who teaches that grace comes with a calling, a clear message in his transformative single “When Mercy Found Me.” But nearly a decade ago, no one would have predicted as much.

“We moved away from my hometown when I was 16, and I didn’t like that. I just went nuts, doing whatever I wanted to do in the moment,” he says. “I mixed with the rough crowd, got into fights and drugs. It wasn’t long before I was expelled from school—just always in trouble. So they sent me to this Christian school, the only one that would take me, and I met this girl. It wasn’t long after that we found out she was pregnant. That was the stop in the path for me.”

Walker grew up in church; he knew the answers to the questions on Sunday morning better than other kids. He’d gone on to play drums in the praise band, too, but generally just stopped caring. Presented with a ton-of-bricks reality at 17, Rhett could stay on the downward spiral or step up.

He stepped up.

“It was like, Man, what am I doing?” he remembers. “I’ve still got my senior year left, but I’ll have to leave this religious school where I’m high most of the time anyway. My girlfriend’s having a baby, and I have no job. I finally sat down with April, who is now my wife, and said: We’ve done everything wrong that we possibly can. Let’s do everything right from here on out.”

Rhett and April got married. He rededicated his life to God, and she accepted Jesus for the first time. He got a diploma, and she made their $300-per-month apartment into a home. They welcomed a daughter, Rileigh, and became active in church where Walker began leading worship.

As they matured in faith and expanded their family (a son, Jett, was born two years later), a growing number of opportunities for Rhett to lead worship at other churches and on college campuses helped him let go of his construction and factory work. It was a dream come true.

“I always knew I wanted to do music, but I couldn’t sing as a kid; I was just terrible at it,” he says with a trademark matter-of-factness that is charming and disarming. “So I was a drummer at church growing up until one day they called me out front to sing ‘Grace Like Rain’ by Todd Agnew, and I never went back to the drums. The more I sang the more things started opening up.”

With a bold trust in God that most people—let alone teenage parents—don’t exhibit, Rhett and April chased this calling laid on his heart to pursue music and songwriting. First, they moved six hours away from the security net of local family and friends for him to take a conference-based worship leader position. After that, the next stop was Nashville, where Rhett Walker Band and the grace-themed, movement-inspiring songs for Come To The River would begin to take shape.

“I’ve loved covering Passion songs as a worship leader, but I feel like some of the crazy things I’ve done and need to sing about don’t always fit that mold,” he explains. “So I want to write music that isn’t really congregational worship but still inspires a movement that champions what grace really is. That’s what got me excited about coming to Nashville and doing an album.”

And with so much experience packed into so few years, Rhett Walker had a lot to say about human nature, God’s mercy, and how it should look when those things collide. Like his life, his songs are a gritty and graceful open book, direct statements thickened with Southern rock influences—Third Day, Black Crowes, Lynyrd Skynyrd—and hints of praise, even poetry.

It wasn’t long before his music won independent songwriter contests and gained the attention of Provident Label Group (Third Day, Casting Crowns), who signed Rhett to Essential Records knowing that his no- bones Christian message would reach the heart of the industry as well as the rough edges.

“There’s just nothing we can do without grace; we’re all dirty, messed up people, but Christ still loves us,” he says of the drive behind Come To The River. “So there’s two things we must do. One: rejoice, because now we have a purpose on this earth—to share that grace with others. Two: take up the calling. You can’t just take that love and not tell the story that goes with it.”

“Gonna Be Alright” opens the set with a wall of electric guitars that soon falls back to a single acoustic, making space to highlight Rhett’s instantly appealing Mac Powell-meets-Mark Hall voice. The title track follows with a cool country-folk stomp no one would see coming—a brand of wild and free worship that celebrates God’s provision with around-the-campfire abandon.

To get the full sense of Rhett Walker Band, listen to the soaring, “When Mercy Found Me,” a song that radio could get used to fast across every format from adult contemporary to rock.

“That’s the one song on the record that showcases most everything about me, and it just about whooped us,” Rhett admits. “It’s radio friendly, but there’s an edge, and it doesn’t shy away from my story. That old life just about broke me . . . this is my testimony.”

Quoted earlier, “Get Up Get Out” is his status quo-buster; an I’m-going-with-or-without-you call to tell the world what Jesus did. He hopes fellow believers will join him instead of going soft on the defense of God’s absolute truth—a trend Walker sees in today’s church and laments.

“What’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong,” he says. “I’m headed to conquer. I want this to be a movement. We have all these other people in the world with non-Christian beliefs that aren’t scared to speak their minds. They don’t hide behind anything; neither should Christians.”

That isn’t to say Walker lacks compassion for people who don’t think like him—it’s quite the opposite in fact on the album’s most defining cut, “Brother,” an introspective worship duet with All Sons & Daughters’ David Leonard. Built upon a mournful steel guitar and escalating toward eternal hope, they sing about how we’re all beggars and thieves in need of the very same grace.

Sure in his purpose and ready to sing about it, Rhett has seen his past mistakes washed clean at the river. The rebellious teenager has become the courageous family man; those two scared kids who did everything wrong just a few years back are, by God’s grace, striving to do everything right and even counseling other couples now. Still leading worship at his home church, Walker is excited to take Come To The River through every door the Lord will open.

“I’m someone living my dream through the grace of God,” he concludes. “I’m blessed with a beautiful wife and two children who have walked with me every step of the way. My faith, my family, and my country are the most important things in my life. Come To The River tells all that.”

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Holly Starr

hollystarrmusic.com

It’s a story that’s so very modern but nonetheless charming and quaint: local farm girl writes songs, makes music, is discovered on the internet, and now she’s making albums and touring the country. In reality, though, this dream is still quite rare. And for her part, Holly Starr had not the slightest expectation that it would happen to her. That’s just how God wanted it.

Starr, with the fresh face, bright sound, and made-for-music name (it’s not a pseudonym!), releases her third full-length album, Focus, on October 2, 2012. It brings a collection of songs reflecting growth and maturity alongside a vibrant pop sensibility and a heart for worship. Starr herself is in many ways a study in contrasts. She’s still a fairly new artist but she collaborates with some of the most sought-after and lauded writers and producers in the industry (Chris Stevens, Ian Eskelin, David Garcia, Chuck Butler, Rusty Varenkamp just to name a few). She’s only 21 years old but she’s already toured the country. She’s a guitar-playing singer-songwriter but she still loves to play the tambourine onstage. And she crafts breezy pop songs alongside a new hymn.

Starr was raised in a Christian home in Quincy, Washington. Her church youth band put a few songs up on MySpace, and Tacoma artist/producer Brandon Bee happened to hear them. Starr recalls her surprise: “I was skeptical, and assumed it was a scam. We called another band that we knew and asked if they knew this ‘Brandon Bee’ guy. They said he was really sweet and a really good producer. I was amazed by how humble his spirit was, and we did a couple of songs. I liked where it was going, and that’s how it began.”

By the time she turned 19, Starr had released the well-received Tapestry, played some of the biggest festivals in Christian music and opened for LeAnn Rimes. Life had gotten decidedly busier. Starr found that an internal struggle had emerged between two desires: her empathy toward and desire for deep relationships with the people in her own life, and her calling to minister to the masses. “I want to be around,” Starr says, “to be able to disciple kids that I really love in my life. But because of this calling, I’m not constant in people’s lives. Learning to balance all that has been a challenge for me, but it’s been a huge blessing to see how, when God calls us to something, He provides, and He gives time.”

That’s where the theme for her latest release emerged: focus. “It’s ironic, the title being ‘Focus’, because it’s been a hard year of doing that. But at the same time, God is teaching me. Before every show, my prayer with my band and my team is, ‘God, I believe with all my heart that if I’m focused on You in the midst of this, whenever I’m on stage, or in any area of my life, then You’ll flow through me to whomever I’m ministering to.’ That communion with Christ from second to second, minute to minute, day to day, year to year, that’s the thing that can continue to rejuvenate our spirit and give us life.”

Through it all, Starr embodies a firm desire for ministry and a well-established plan. It stems from a single word: grace. “God’s grace is not just a word. It’s something that really changes everything we do. If you believe that God is bigger than everything we can see, and that He’s more powerful than anything you’ve experienced, then you know that God’s grace can intervene in any situation in your life. The impossible is not impossible.”

Holly Starr knows this firsthand. When she, the introverted small-town girl, takes the stage to share God’s message in front of thousands, she knows it couldn’t possibly be her own doing. In her own words, she imagines what God is saying: “Holly, this is what I do. It’s not because you’re trying to do it. It’s because I’m doing it for you and through you.” With her newfound Focus, she stands to do this for years to come.

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The Neverclaim

theneverclaim.com

Nothing typical comes out of Portland.

So, it makes perfect sense that The Neverclaim may be, perhaps, one of the most atypical worship bands presently impacting church culture.

“We’ve developed an eclectic musical style that seems to separate us from any other worship circles we’d experienced,” Carlson says. “It’s at once youthful and folksy, new and familiar. With our goal being to stir revival in multiple generations, it’s encouraging to see such a span of ages in the audience and how our songs are connecting to so many generations in the Church.”

In a relatively short time, this sextet has evolved from local, to regional, to national and now international levels. Playing regularly with some of Christian music’s biggest acts such as Kutless, Tenth Avenue North, Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, Matt Maher, Phil Wickham and many more. The band’s first taste of regional and some national attention derived from its involvement with Cultivation Generation – a youth conference set in Boise, Idaho – including original songs featured on a Vineyard Music-released live album. Another huge break came in the form of winning a national talent competition in Austin, Texas, which opened doors for the band to play a Christian music festival. There, they caught headline act Third Day’s attention and subsequently joined them on a series of tour dates as an opening act.

Perfectly complementing the momentum and mass exposure of that two-week tour, The Neverclaim released its debut full-length REVIVAL in Spring 2012, featuring the first radio single “My Soul Longs” and live favorites “His Glory Is Rising”, “Burn” and the heart-stirring title track.

‘Revival’ has always been our flagship song – kind of the crowd favorite,” Carlson says. “I think it speaks something into people’s hearts that they’re most likely already feeling: their desire to be a part of what God is doing and believe that we’re here for a deeper reason than just existing.”

Capitalizing on the band’s “atypical” roots, each band member performed multiple instruments on REVIVAL, including most of the string and horn elements.

The Neverclaim have already begun settling in for an intense touring schedule throughout 2012, which will be punctuated by a fall tour with Newsboys. This Summer, the band will tour in support of Father Of Lights, a new documentary by Wanderlust Productions (Finger Of God, Furious Love) in which The Neverclaim are featured on its soundtrack. They have also been featured on two of the last Worships Leader Magazines “Song Discovery” Compilations and will be one of the featured worship artists at the WLM worship conference along with Lincoln Brewster and Kari Jobe. Having recently signed to Night Vision Artist Management, The Neverclaim are sure to become a force to be reckoned with in The Christian Music Scene.

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Jonny Wright Band

jonnywrightband.com

Congratulations to our 2013 Guitarfish's Opening Act winner — The Jonny Wright Band!

The Jonny Wright Band is made up of longtime friends and band mates; Jonny Wright, Josh Pickerign and Phillip Wenzel. The three began collaborating together and formed the Jonny Wright Band in 2011. Their debut album, "Let Your Light Shine", was released in November 2012.

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