As one of the first bands to sign with indie label Come&Live!, The Ember Days recently released their latest EP Finger Painting for free download through the site. The Ember Days guitarist and vocalist Jason Belcher took a little time out of playing some shows to talk to JfH's Scott Fryberger about the EP and about their forthcoming 2011 full-length...
This interview took place in September, 2010.
Jesus freak Hideout (Scott Fryberger): First off, congratulations on the new EP.
JFH (Scott): Yeah, I listened to it and it's beautiful. I'm so in love with all of the music on it. And it's a prelude to a full-length, right?
Jason: Uh, pretty much. We recorded all of the sixteen songs at the same time. And we were gonna release a double-disc, but there's some different developments happening at the moment with what Come&Live! is doing and what we're doing and so we decided that we would just hold off on the album until next year, probably April. But we had these five songs that worked really well together live, and so we figured we'd put an EP together, and it just kinda stands alone. And actually, it's about as long as a lot of full-lengths are, so it's almost like a full-length but with only five songs, you know? Like, technically, it's not an EP because it's too long. So, yeah, there you go. Haha.
JFH (Scott): *laughs* So then, that's why most of it is instrumental, 'cause the songs just flow together that way?
Jason: Yeah, a lot of what we do live in instrumental. I mean, it just depends, but we see a lot of value in instrumental music. There's a lot of other bands that kinda consider it a waste of time, but it's fine really. We have a lot of awesome worship experiences in that, just 'cause everyone can kinda sing their own song, and it's great. It's really, really good. The next album is gonna have only one instrumental on it and ten or eleven songs on it. So there's only gonna be one instrumental next time.
JFH (Scott): Do you guys have a title for the new album?
Jason: Possibly, yeah. I think it's gonna be called Emergency. But, yeah we'll have to wait and see.
JFH (Scott): Okay cool. Now, you guys are with the independent label Come&Live!, so I'd like to know how you guys got started working with them.
Jason: Well, Chad [Johnson] started Come&Live! a few years back. He was working at Tooth & Nail and had an idea to start something new; something that wasn't really a label, but was really a community of musicians that want to establish the Kingdom of God. So, pretty much what happened was that, right from the get-go, the vision of Come&Live! is what we're about. I mean, we weren't really that interested in signing a conventional record deal, per se, just cuz a lot of the record companies will kinda restrict us in what we're wanting to do as far as just giving away our music freely, and also just ministering in the way that we do. So Come&Live! was a smart option for us. We just had the same heart as what Chad wanted to do, just to see God's presence impact people's lives. And that's what we wanted to do, so we partnered with them about... well I guess it was right from the beginning, really. Before Come&Live! even was, we were on board. So, yeah, that's kinda how that happened.
JFH (Scott): Were you giving away your music for free before you signed up with them?
Jason: We weren't able to give it away for free online...except we were giving it away through NoiseTrade. That was the only way we could do it back then. But at our shows we were giving away free CD's, which was really expensive. But it's awesome having the download cards now, cuz we can just give away endless amounts of music, and it doesn't cost any money. So we can actually give away more, you know? So, it's awesome. We love being able to give our music away and just bless people.
JFH (Scott): The first time I saw you guys in concert, it was before I knew who you were, but you were opening up for Showbread. Now they're actually on Come&Live! with you guys. And I know that Abel recently signed up as well, and some guys from Facedown [Records] are always contributing stuff too. How does it feel knowing that it's not just a bunch of indie bands that got together and that it's actually making an impact in the music scene?
Jason: It's encouraging. I mean, more than the bands that are on the label and the people that are noticing it, the most amazing thing for me is more the fruit of the ministry that we're seeing at all the shows, like people getting healed and people getting to know Jesus for the first time, people getting free of all this junk, you know? It's just being able to love on kids, kids that maybe the Church's arms just don't quite reach to, or maybe don't even try to reach out to. And being able to see the Kingdom come in the most bizarre places. So, for me, that's encouraging, and it's encouraging to do it with bands that we love. Like the Sleeping Giant dudes, those dudes are awesome, and all the bands on Come&Live! And Come&Live! and Facedown [Records] have a pretty close relationship; Chad and Jason [Dunn] are very good friends, and all the Come&Live! bands have very good comradarie with all the Facedown bands, and a lot of the Facedown bands have a very good ministry focus, you know? So, it works really well playing together with those guys. It's kinda just like a brotherhood.
JFH (Scott): So you regularly hang out with the other Come&Live! bands?
Jason: Oh, all the time, yeah. We're very good mates with Ascend the Hill; we tour a lot together, we're on the same page. Sometimes when we play, we'll actually play as one band. We'll just play each other's songs and play together and it's really, really fun.
JFH (Scott): That's really awesome.
Jason: We're just like brothers. And we've been getting to know the Sons of God guys, and they're great. I'm loving getting to know the Facedown dudes as well. We're good mates with the Abel dudes - I was talking with them today. But yeah, it's a great community, man. That's the beauty of Come&Live! It's not about profit, it's about people.
JFH (Scott): Definitely. So you said you've toured a lot with Ascend the Hill - are you still touring with them or is that tour over?
Jason: That's over. We're just out by ourselves in California right now. And we actually leave for New Zealand on Saturday. And we're touring New Zealand with a band called Tokyo Keys in October, and we're touring with a band that's associated with Facedown in New Zealand called Saving Grace, they're like a hardcore band. We're touring with them in December. And then we'll have some time off for writing, and then in January we're touring with Ascend the Hill in New Zealand, and Chad and the whole Come&Live! crew are coming over and it's just gonna be a Come&Live! tour of New Zealand. I'm really excited about what God's doing with Come&Live! and just taking it over to New Zealand and just seeing what happens with the kids there, because I think it's gonna be awesome to see what happens. Then we come back here in February. And then we're touring with Ascend the Hill back here as well. Touring with them January there, and February here, and we're just going across the south [in the States], cuz we're trying to avoid the snow. So California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, Florida... all across the south. That's the plan.
JFH (Scott): It's a good plan. I don't blame you for wanting to avoid the snow. I have to live in it, and it's not fun.
Jason: What part of the country are you in?
JFH (Scott): Kansas. About an hour and a half from Kansas City.
Jason: Oh awesome, we love Kansas City. We play at Main Street Cafe a lot, and that place is so great.
JFH (Scott): Yeah, it's a great place. You gotta come back soon!
Jason: Definitely, man.
JFH (Scott): Well, going back a little, you guys are actually from New Zealand. How many of you guys are from there?
Jason: Janell was born and raised in downtown Chicago. And then Jedidiah, our new bass player who just took over from Tim this year, is from Indiana. And then Logan, our guitarist, he is from New Zealand. He's actually [our drummer] Jordan's brother, and Jordan is from New Zealand, and I'm from New Zealand.
JFH (Scott): So when you guys aren't touring and traveling and everything, where do you call home?
Jason: When we're in the States, we stay in Nashville, and when we're in New Zealand, we stay in Auckland. Mostly Nashville, though.
JFH (Scott): Now I know that Australia's worship music is widely influenced by Hillsong. Do they have a huge impact on New Zealand's worship music?
Jason: Yeah, I think Hillsong has a big impact on the whole world of worship music in general. Like, they made electric guitar okay in church, you know? But yeah, they have an impact in New Zealand, for sure.
JFH (Scott): Do you listen to a lot of their music?
Jason: To be honest, I don't really ever listen to Hillsong. Musically, it just doesn't do too much for me, but I really admire what they do, and I see a lot of fruit from what they do, and I really appreciate that they do what they do. But the bands that I listen to personally are bands like This Will Destroy You, Sigur Ros, the Foo Fighters, Coldplay, Copeland, Jimmy Eat World, Ascend the Hill... a lot of different bands. Oh, and Thrice. A lot of Thrice.
JFH (Scott): Oh yeah, Thrice is good. When you guys write your music, do you take a lot of influence from the bands you listen to?
Jason: We listen to the bands we do 'cause we love the sounds that they come up with, and we write the music we do 'cause we love the sounds we're making. We just try to write honest music. Words that express our hearts to God, and then music that expresses the same thing. We're just trying to write some real music, you know?
JFH (Scott): What are some of your favorite Ember Days songs? Maybe songs that have come out better than the others, or whatever.
Jason: Let's see. I think maybe "Finger Painting" is awesome. I really, really liked that one. And then a song that's coming out on the next record that's called "Unite Your Bride." The songs that I like are songs that had something special happen when they were written. Like with "Unite Your Bride," we were in the studio playing it, and we didn't have a bridge for it, but we were just in worship, and it just happened. It was so crazy and technical and ridiculous and *laughs* I still don't know it happened! But it happened, and we tracked and recorded it, and... wow, it just happened. We didn't even talk about it. But "Finger Painting" was kinda the same thing. That song... it just happened. We never actually sat down and said we were gonna write a song. Tim just started playing that bass line, and everything just happened. And eleven and a half minutes later we were looking at each other and everyone was just bawling their eyes out. And I said "Well, let's do it again 'cause I don't wanna forget it!" *laughs* So we did it like four or five times and, yeah, that was "Finger Painting." So that one's special to me. But it's mainly songs that have some sort of divine inspiration or some connection with God.
JFH (Scott): Cool. Well, I'm definitely looking forward to the new album. I love what you guys have done so far, and I know that the next record is gonna be just outstanding. Early 2011 right?
Jason: Yeah, probably April or May-ish? Somewhere in there. It all depends on what's happening. But the next record is gonna be a bit more aggressive. Like Finger Painting is more ambient and reflective, but this next one is quite a bit more in-your-face. Yeah, it's good, I'm excited. Cuz it all sounds like what we do live. The first two records, I felt like it was our songs, but it just didn't feel like it was what we do exactly. So yeah, I'm stoked about this record and the next one.
JFH (Scott): I definitely see what you mean. Listening to Finger Painting, it does remind me of your live show, cuz you do a lot of instrumentals live. So, I'm excited as well.
JFH (Scott): Is there anything you would like to say in conclusion?
Jason: Well, if anyone would like to hear our music, you can download it for free or with a donation at comeandlive.com. Also, check out Ascend the Hill's new hymns record. You can download that [also at comeandlive.com], it's amazing. Check out Lovelite's new record [Nearness], that's amazing. Support Come&Live!, and yeah, that's all I've really got to say.
JFH (Scott): Thanks a lot man. I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us.
The Ember Days's new EP, Finger Painting is available now for FREE download at ComeandLive.com.