Josh Pearson: I think it came about pretty naturally. We actually did 8 or 9 demos back in October of last year. It was very similar to Live Like We're Alive musically, and even lyrically it was kind of more similar. And we had a couple guys at our label who said, "Let's just go and record this and put it out." And then we had a couple of guys who were like, "Let's keep on writing and see how we progress." At the time, we were all, "No, man, this is pretty much the record. These are the songs we want." But we kept writing at the label's request, of course, and it kind of shifted from a really, really energetic pop rock record - even though there are a couple tracks like that - into more of a thoughtful thing. And we realized that the songs on the first record that people really loved the most were songs like "Lover," "O Child," and kind of the more intimate moments and the more spiritual lyrics as opposed to some of the songs that are just more fun that we were writing. We just really concentrated on shifting that way with the whole new batch of songs we wrote this year.
AJ Cheek: Piano is natural, too. I mean, you hear it on our EP, From The Inside Looking In, which had hints of piano in it. When we were writing on the road, we would usually go to a piano behind stage and have a guitar with us and mess around with the melody, and we were like, "Hey, this actually sounds really cool with the piano." So that was just a natural thing, too. We wanted to bring it more in. It was probably six months after Live Like We're Alive was recorded, probably, that we wished we did more piano the first time. So it was one of the things we always wanted to do in the first place and just kind of thought out the vision a little more this time, as far as piano goes. It ended up being more piano than we thought this time.
Josh: It was great. It was a different experience altogether. The first time, we lived in Florida for two months straight and did the record. And this record we did in what?
AJ: Twenty three days! *laughs*
Josh: Twenty three days. So we flew through it, but there's probably a huge difference between producers. James Wisner was kind of a really analytical computer guy and Rob Hawkins... the new record's probably, believe it or not, a little dirtier in parts as far as tracking. So Rob was way more laid back. You kind of hear it on the record, but to me, it's more enjoyable that way. It's not as mechanical.
AJ: Yeah. We didn't really try hard, y'know? *Josh laughs* I know that sounds bad, but we wrote for eight months, just hashing out, over thinking, trying to figure out what our second record was gonna be, as opposed to being like, "What do we do best? What have we noticed during our live show that we can connect with." And it was songs like "O Child," "Lover" - it was more of that. Not that we wanted to completely detach ourselves from the more pop rock, a little bit of the pop punk influence, but we definitely wanted to steer more in that direction, y'know? Have more "moments" on this album. We're pretty much softies at heart, really. We listen to Cold Play, piano-based stuff like Jack's Mannequin, stuff like that. The Rocket Summer. Those heart songs, y'know? Their slow hits really influenced us to dabble into that a little more.
AJ: Mmmhmm, yeah, that's what people say.
AJ: That was actually our goal the whole time, to just simplify it, y'know? Not in a way where it would be like, "let's just get to the part and do it and move on," but we'd have four guitar parts, cool little candy parts, and at the end of the day, we'd ask ourselves "Did this actually help make that?" And we'd say, "No, it really didn't..." and we'd take it out and still love it and that core part is still there. There's still stacked strings - there's still a lot of stuff that makes it full that we used this time as opposed to just stacking six guitar parts the first time, that we can't do live. *laughs* It was easier with the first record because it was more energetic - musically, it was easier to do it. With the slower songs, they're more vulnerable, so we tried to find new ways to fill it out.
AJ: At first, I think so.
Josh: Yeah, at first. With the first batch of demos we wrote last Fall, a lot of those songs were shallower themes about being on the road and missing people back home and stuff like that. But I really feel like God took us through kind of a transformation. We were home a lot in January and February and then we went into the studio in March, and when we were home, we got plugged back into our churches, cuz a lot of times, we travel on Sundays, and we got plugged back into our churches and families and really got to rest. There are a couple of songs, one actually called "Rest," that talk about resting and I really feel like that's where the songs came from - the more intimate, more thoughtful songs. When we wrote that first batch of demos, we were just tired. We were on the road and all these songs were talking about being on the road and being tired.
AJ: Being in a van. *laughs* How can a kid relate to being in a van, y'know? Only a small percentage. *laughs*
Josh: It really came naturally. We can even see - we looked at some photos from last Fall that we took and then looked through some photos from the beginning of this year. I think we even looked healthier. So I think a lot of the songs came out of that place of rest and really finding peace with God.
Josh: *smiles* Um...
AJ: He knows!
Josh: We were in between writing songs for the new record and when you're doing a record, there are a lot of voices. A lot of people are putting their hands on it, saying, "Do it this way and do it this way" and there's a line in the song that people are always asking what it means that says "Your helping hands are more like suicide" and it's not a literal suicide. It's like death to your art. So that song kind of came out of frustration that people were just trying to kill your art and make it just this "Christian radio friendly," glazed-over, whatever. And, honestly, we were just really frustrated and I wrote the lyrics in one sitting, sent it to our label and our A&R guy listened to it and he said, "This is about the record industry, isn't it?" And I was like... "I don't know?" *laughter*
AJ: It's actually really cool because it's one of Blaine in A&R's favorite songs on the record. He's like, "I love 'Cross My Heart!'" I think one day he said, "I can't help but think it's about me?" *laughter* But it was amazing, he just went with it. I love the honesty. He thinks it's real honest. And you can't really argue with that, y'know? The honesty in it. Yes, it was a frustration that we were going through at the time, but we learned even through that that it actually turned into an amazing partnership at the end of it. The label - everybody's happy, we're really happy with them pushing us in that direction, obviously. And the other thing is, as far as speaking to people in different ways, a lot of people take it as peer pressure. And that's exactly what it falls under. You can take that song and run with it as far as, in today's generation, being pressured into stuff they go through. They're like, "Man, that's helping me!" So it's cool. Honesty makes a difference!
Josh: The bridge at the very end was the last thing we wrote. It's talking to God, saying, "You make all things new," and what we realized at the end of the day was, assuming people that we work with in the industry are believers and we're believers, and assuming God is making our hearts new daily, then you can always find a compromise, you can always find brotherhood and a common ground, so hopefully that's the point of the song. And the funny thing is, actually, I kind of fought against it being on the record at first. Because I didn't want to look like we were angry or anything. *laughs* And I said, "Are you sure you want to put it on the record?" Blaine was like, "Yeah! I want it." And I said, "...We have other songs we can put on the record!"
AJ: *laughs* Well you know how bands get. It's easy to be like, "Man, this our thing!" We didn't want to come across like that. But he loved it and he ran with it.
Josh: It's on the record! *laughs*
AJ: That's a funny story, too.
Josh: Yeah, we actually wrote that for the first record, Live Like We're Alive, so it's the oldest song on the record. At that time, we had just signed with Provident and Flicker and we were going through a lot of different changes and hopefully it doesn't sound shallow, but that song back then was kind of similar to "Cross My Heart." Those are the two that kind of group together on the record, for me. Cuz we kind of had a lot more hands in the pot and we were seeing some of the things - like some of the liberties and freedoms of being an indie band - being taken away from us, but it turned out better in the end. And that's when we wrote that song. We said, "Y'know what? God knows what we need to sharpen us" and that's why it says, "I needed this all along." It says, "You'll never hear me say that I wanted it this way, but I needed this all along" and that song just kind of laid dead for about a year and a half. Our A&R, Blaine, when we were picking songs for the record, said, "What about that 'I Needed This' song you wrote a couple years ago?" And we all listened to it again and then just added our new spin on it and everyone liked it, so we put it on the record.
AJ: It's almost like we needed a way for it to actually be more fitting. Like, we went through a year and a half of touring and all kinds of craziness and personal stuff going on and ups and downs and then, at the end of the day, we needed this all along -- what God has brought us to. So it's kind of cool that we waited, and it fit right in with what we were going through at the moment.
Josh: Man, that's actually, so far, the song that's getting the most talk. What made us write it, actually, was just the interaction with kids at shows. When we first started touring, we had no idea that kids would just spill their guts to us. Kids would even say statements like, "Nobody knows about this. My parents don't know, my youth pastor doesn't know, 'so and so' doesn't know - but I'm addicted to drugs." And you're like the only person they've told! We just realized that kids often don't feel close enough to their parents or their youth pastors to really open up and be vulnerable. And I think, a lot of times, that's because we don't understand grace. I don't want to get off topic too much, but I think if you understand grace and how everyone needs God, no matter who you are, then you'll understand where these kids are coming from. I think, sometimes, adults who have been out of adolescence for a long time now can become kind of insensitive to it and don't identify with these people. And that's why it says, "We avoid the topics" and then it says, "We make the kids have secrets," because that's what we make them do, y'know? If they're not telling anyone, they're just holding it inside. And it can eat you alive. I like the bridge the best, it's a prayer to God, "You gotta save us. We hide behind faces that we make to disguise the things we're ashamed of." I'm not saying to tell everyone on national television your laundry, but we should have a group - people that are older than us - always, that we can go to and ask for wisdom and help. It's kind of my prayer and our prayer. And really, the song just came naturally. We were at a show, AJ and I were just messing around with stuff (musically) and the lyrics just came very naturally as a result of talking with kids. So we wrote that probably about a year and a half ago. It's probably the second oldest song on the record.
AJ: I think just another reason why we wrote that was because of realizing, "Hey, a kid comes up and spills his guts to me, I'm gonna be gone in three hours," y'know? There's only so much we can say and do. It's more of a wake-up call to the community in the church to be aware of it. Start breaking down these walls so people can be honest.
Josh: "Longshot" is the funnest song on the record. It was in Franklin, TN, and AJ had this guitar part. And man, I just thought about all the times I was in youth group and there's always that girl you want to talk to, y'know? And you have all these things in your head you want say and you don't know what to say? It's the most lighthearted song on the record. It's kind of giving a voice to those kids. I had a guy come up to me the other day and I said, "What's up man?" and he said, "Dude, I want to tell you what song on your record really, really encouraged me." And I'm thinking it's going to be "Rest" or something like that. And he's like, "Longshot!" *laughter* And I'm like, "Are you serious? How?!" And he said, "Man, that's exactly how I'm feeling. Like, I want to talk to this girl and I have all these things I want to say to her, but I don't know what to say." And we just figured, man, you gotta have one song on the record like that that's just fun.
AJ: It's a pretty heavy record and there was a moment where we were wondering if it even fit. But I'm so glad we did it. It's definitely a refreshing break from any heavy topic, just having a good time.
Josh: *AJ laughs* Dude. That's funny, actually, we did that last minute. Was it like 2 in the morning or something?
AJ: Yeah, we were in the studio finishing background vocals and Rob said, "Get in there. This sounds like a party. Let's just have a party." And we were just acting stupid into the mic and he kept everything. And Josh was like *makes silly monkey-like sounds* And he says something like - if you listen closely - "Rob Hawkins? That guy doesn't know what he's talking about!" or something like that. *laughs*
Josh: I said, "Neverthe-WHAT?!" *laughter* It's in the track, in the back. And they decided to keep it on the record.
AJ: You do even the little like monkey singing til the end.
Adam Rowe: It doesn't even sound human either, sounds like a synth or something.
AJ: I remember the conversation. We sat down the next day and were like... "Guys... we have 'Topics' on the record and then like..." *laughs*
Josh: It's almost like you sinned or something. It was like the next day we came in, it was almost like conviction. You were like, "Dude, I don't know if we should have done that last track." *laughter* "Maybe we should take all those tracks off!"
AJ: *laughing* Like all these heavy topics and then "Whoa-AH-AH-oh-oh!" It was perfect though, it was fun.
Josh: *AJ raises his hand* AJ sings that part on that and then he sings the second verse of "It's No Secret." That's his voice as well.
Josh: *laughter* I'm prepping him before I leave the band *joking* Trying to work him in. ... "I Found My Way Back Again"... I'm not sure how much detail to go into. I had a friend call me one time who was at a really, really low point and actually kind of suicidal. He said, "Nobody loves me," and we kind of hashed that out. And I said, "Your family loves you," and he explained to me that his Dad had been gone since he was a kid, his brother was in jail, and his mom was never around, y'know, this and that. It was a really, really hard conversation and I don't know if he is a believer or not, but he says he's a believer... I don't know. So I told him, "I really believe that God loves you," and he said, "I can't feel that and I don't know that." And I said, "Maybe you can't reach over and physically touch him, but imagine that you have this door and you just locked it. And God, this whole time, your whole life, has maybe been showing you you can't do this alone and now you're at this point of depression and He's still saying you can't do this alone." And that's why, at the end of the song, it says, "Let Him in, let Him in." And the rest of the song up until that point is kind of depressing. It's the story about this guy who's down and out. And it even says, "This little Hell," because sometimes, if you're under the control of Satan, it is like a little Hell, y'know? And you're at this really low point. We wanted to end the record like that and end the whole record with the words "Let Him in," because that's the main thing, and that's the main thing for us. There's going to be real high points in your life, but there's also going to be really low points. In both scenarios, God is at the door saying, "Let Me in. You need Me in the good times and you need Me in the bad times as well." So the lyrics were kind of inspired by that story. But also, we tried not to be too specific because it's inspired by all of our stories. It's inspired by depravity and our need for God.
Josh: I have a favorite. My favorite one is "It's True." I think that's the most definitive song on the record. Personally, I think that. Just because it says, "It's true, I believe in You. We've made it hard to see the light through the things we do." Cuz people get that mixed up. People get the sometimes flawed actions of Christians mixed up with a Holy God and a perfect God. And I don't think we can mix that up. So, to me, that's my favorite line on the whole record. It's just so definitive and I think it's true.
Adam Rowe: My favorite changes all the time. And that's probably my favorite characteristic of the record - that I can listen to it everyday and find a different favorite one. But, I guess right now, my favorite is "Augustine." I feel like it just takes you for a ride. At the end, you feel like you watched a movie or something. *laughter*
AJ: It definitely paints a picture, yeah.
Adam Wann: Yeah, as a musician, it's my favorite song musically. I don't have any say in lyrics or whatever, but the music - it was cool to think about something and try to recreate it with a guitar or make it give different emotions musically, instead of trying to make emotion with the lyrics.
AJ: That was probably the one song on the record that we tried to paint a picture with the music as well as the lyrics and they intertwine. The strings are real washy and the chorus says, "Love is an ocean caught in a storm," and the guitar parts are just slide guitar parts. It was fun to see that come together.
Brad Jones: Favorite to play live is "Longshot," just cuz it's fun. I don't know, like message-wise and stuff, I remember back when writing the songs for the record -- of course, I don't write the lyrics or anything, but -- I remember "Topics" as well, because I guess I had kind of a small connection with it. I was one of those kids back when I was younger who didn't really feel that I couldn't really open up to anybody, so I thought that was kind of cool. Hearing the song, I knew that there were kids out there that needed to hear that. I think it's a really good message and I think there's tons of people that can relate. So it was always something that I insisted, "You gotta keep that song." I remember back doing demos, because I would do these rough acoustic demos in my house for the two of them, and they weren't wanting to demo the song for the longest time. I actually had to force them to demo that song. I was like, "I want a copy of it. If it never makes it to an album, I at least want a copy of it." So I kind of got them to demo it once and everyone kind of started liking it after that.
AJ: Man, Adam and I were talking about the record in general. It was almost like we kind of had to do it this way. We definitely slowed it down. Even the lyrics are thicker. They're heavy. It's one of those albums you kind of gotta spend some time with. You can't just pop it in on a sunny day and listen to "Topics." *laughs* It's a little more of a mood kind of thing. But I really feel like, honestly, God wanted us to make the record like that. Cuz, man, I tell ya, we love rocking out - that's all we listen to. Right now, our favorite record is Academy Is. It's a band that just released a record and it's that power pop, just happy, fast-driven songs. Maybe the next record we'll lean more towards that again. But it was one of those things where, in this moment, it's just definitely a better picture of what we're going through and stuff we could pull from, lyrically, from the experiences and stories that we had.
Josh: I think it can work as a great filter. First of all, I think you can't say "Christian" is a genre. We've told people we're in a "Christian band" and they're like, "Oh, so you sound like Steven Curtis Chapman?" And we're like, "...No, it's a rock band." And they're like, "Oh, so you're in a 'rock band,' not a 'Christian band.'" And we'd say, "Well, no. We're Christians, but it's a rock band." *AJ laughs* And they're like, "Well, what are you like? Steven Curtis Chapman? Or Led Zeppelin?" *laughs* Y'know? Some people don't understand. It can serve as a great filter as far as screening music and things, but I think it can also be dangerous because a lot of parents will say "Here, listen to this." And, how do I know that every Christian artist under the sun is saying the right things and saying Biblical things. So I think you still have to be active in engaging any kind of entertainment in any kind of music - same as movies, all that kind of stuff. I don't know. I don't know how to answer that as far as the industry goes. I understand wanting to break down walls as well, cuz one of my pet peeves is keeping everything in a bubble and being scared of the outside world, because I know that we're called to go out into the world as well, y'know? Some of my favorite parts about our shows are not necessarily on stage, but after the show - like we were talking about "Topics," some of these kids may be just lost and don't even know Christ. And they need that from a band. If they can get that from us instead of some mainstream band, we're more than happy to give that to them. So, I don't know...
Adam Rowe: I think there are two sides of it. I think the Christian industry gives a good place for Christian music to grow and to build. I'm trying to think if I were a parent who was raising a Christian family, it'd be hard to filter the radio where there's like Marilyn Manson and then there's Switchfoot, and then there's... you'd say, "Well, just don't listen to that station," so that's kind of hard, but on the other side of it, being an artist, sometimes you feel restrictions to stay within certain artistic parameters...
Josh: Well, if we're just being straight-up honest - even radio, like when you're making a record, because they have to sell records, people say, "Well, if this isn't spiritual enough of a song, radio's probably not gonna play it." I'm like, "Well, it is spiritual, listen to it deeper. We're all Christian men writing these songs, just go back and listen to it." People call it "The Jesus Meter" - JPMs, how many times can you say "Jesus" in the song to put it on the radio. And, to me, I'd rather sing a song like "Longshot," that's kind of fun and about a relationship, than see how many times I could fit the name "Jesus" into a song. Because if it's not from my heart, y'know, I believe it's in vain.
AJ: I was talking to a radio guy and it kind of opened my eyes. He was so straight-up and practical about it, but he was like, "The reason why people started making Christian radio stations is because when Christian rock started getting big, if you'd send it to a mainstream station, they wouldn't play it. They were like, 'No, we're not going to play this, this is offensive.' So, in a practical way, they almost had to [start their own station to] get it out there. That's how Christian radio started, I think. Don't you agree?" I was like, "Oh! That's true. They probably wouldn't let you play it, so you had to start your own station!" *laughs* And then it did grow. I honestly believe Christian music is more accepted [now]. People are more open to it. It's definitely in the past five years, I hate to say it and it sounds kind of cheesy, but it's got a lot of cred, y'know? Bands have gotten out there and really worked hard, through grassroots marketing and put their music out there. Like Switchfoot has really broken through. There are bands like that that have really done it and people are like, "Man, this is awesome!" When P.O.D. broke out, that really made people open to Christian music. I think it's still a good thing, but I guess there's still that two-sided thing that you can be on in whatever mood you're in. Like, whatever mood you're in, you could say one thing and be frustrated one day and be like, "Man, I just truly want to write from my heart!" and, like [Adam] was saying, people are making me feel restricted, even sound-wise! I definitely believe Christian music shouldn't have a certain sound.
AJ: Honestly, if we all just ban together and just be true artists, y'know? Probably, you would see "Christian bands" being like, "Yeah! We're a 'Christian band!'" *laughs* Y'know? But now, it's not like that.
Josh: It'd be awesome if we treated it like a brotherhood - we're all brothers and sisters in Christ and we're all family together, and we all live from the inside out with our hearts, and maybe this is like a utopia or something - but if that could happen, like you said, we'd be proud and be like, "Yeah, we're all in Christian bands here!" Now, it's like, "Yeah, we are, but we don't sound like that!"
AJ: To me, that's probably just the problem. Like, musically and lyrically. People are just trying to stick with what works and it did probably work at one time, but now it kind of has fallen behind the curve, y'know?
AJ: Maybe that's going to help. I know it's definitely more of a desperate time, musically. Maybe people are going to be more open and just try something?
Josh: Favorite record of the year is probably Cold Play. Just love it - creatively, musically, everything, just love it. That's more of a musical thing. Another record, spiritually, is Leeland's Opposite Way. That SONG "Opposite Way" is probably one of the best songs I've ever heard.
AJ: Leeland's a good example, man, of what we were talking about.
Josh: Yeah, totally! To me, Leeland's a band that is living inside out with their writing. You can tell that's just what they want to write, y'know?
Adam Rowe: I love this question but I also hate it cuz whenever they ask ya, [my mind's] just POOF, gone. *laughter* Musically, I think one of my favorite, favorite records that came out recently is the new Augustana record. I just can't stop listening to it. But, lyrically, I don't want to copy Josh, but Leeland just rocks my socks off. It's just so good.
Brad: The new Tenth Avenue North CD...
AJ: Yeah, I was just about to say Tenth Ave.
Brad: I don't want to put them in that Leeland thing, but he's really coming along as the next little Leeland. *laughter* He's probably actually the same age, I don't know!
AJ: No, he's like nine years older! How old is he...?
Brad: Well as far as musical career goes or whatever, but there's a couple of songs on that CD that are just really amazing. But musically, I listen to all sorts. Like, I guess that's my lyrical point since everyone's doing lyrical music. I like listening to all kinds of random stuff. I know Death Cab For Cutie just came out with a CD not too long ago that's pretty awesome. It actually sounds more like their really old stuff.
Adam Wann: Lately, I've been having a hard time, I don't know, I guess cuz we just got done doing a record. I was listening to a lot of stuff before then. I've just kind of plateaued on that, I hadn't really found anything that I wanted to listen to other than that. I don't know, I literally haven't put my iPod on in months.
Josh: You swore off music. *laughs*
Adam Wann: I almost have, cuz - and this is really being blunt - I can't really find anything that makes me happy, musically. I listen to the same things I listened to the last few tours -- Lovedrug, Copeland, The Working Title. I listen to a lot of bands that influence me musically. I always listen to those, I guess.
AJ: Over the summer, after Josh bought it, I got into Tom Petty's Greatest Hits. *laughter* I loved that. We were home a lot in the summer and I'd drive around town, just roll down the windows, listen to Tom Petty. It was fun.
Josh: A lot. A lot, a lot. Recently, this is going to sound crazy, but we have gotten back into the idea of spiritually encouraging one another. I know that sounds crazy because you should always do that, but it's kind of like - you start the band, and every aspect is there: the musical aspect and this and this, and there's a spiritual aspect, when you pray together. And we've always prayed together before the shows, that's one thing, but when business gets in the way sometimes, it becomes a job and you kind of keep your job here and your other things here. And recently, we realized that we have to merge those once again and we're not just coworkers, but we're brothers in Christ. Actually, we brought our road manager out, Bryant. Bryant got us this really cool book called The Man That God Uses by Henry Blackaby, and before every show, somebody leads a discussion and we go through this book together, and we're seeing the band grow closer to each other and closer to God through that. Because there was a period probably 6 months or a year ago when we still prayed before the show just because it was like a routine. But we weren't really purposely spiritually encouraging each other, cuz you have to do that, y'know?
Adam Wann: What's cool about the book is [Blackaby] takes a topic and he'll tell you something just to get the ball rolling. Like "faithfulness," we had that yesterday and it kind of asks this question and says something about it and at the end, we're all putting our personal things into it so we connect better. Like, I don't know Henry (the author), but we all put ourselves into it and then the next thing you know, it's actually being very beneficial.
Brad: It's kind of a conversation starter.
AJ: We definitely needed it. We were getting really burned out, almost to the point where - it was so blunt and honest, but I almost felt like being in the band was bringing me down sometimes. Because you have to have that community. When you're around four other guys 24/7 and you're not doing that, it will bring you down -- to be around anything. To be by yourself and not do anything. It's the same exact thing. It's been amazing. We've really gotten to that point where we look at it like a discipline thing. We're moving forward and you can see a difference for sure.
Josh: I have a really good friend who lives in Minneapolis, MN and we were all hanging out after Sonshine Fest and we went to St. Paul and we went to this huge Catholic church and we were sitting outside on these benches and talking, it was probably 10 or 11 at night. And I remember how he kept wanting to bring up spiritual topics - this was not too long ago at all - and I was so tired and I was like, "Yeah... yeah, that is cool... So what do you want to eat?" or something. And I remember he put his hand on my shoulder and he said, "Dude, if we're going to be friends, we've got to purposely talk about spiritual things with each other." And it was one of those things that hits you, y'know? And it's mildly offensive that somebody would say that to you, but it's true. It's so true. If you're going to be Christian friends, you need to purposely talk about the Word of God and topics like that. You can't assume all that stuff's taken care of and blow it off.
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