Interview with Chuck Shea, Guitarist
March 13, 2004
Electric Factory, Philadelphia, PA
cMW: If you win the Rock Album of the year Dove Award, what would you say?
Chuck: I don't know, but it's kind of funny. I hope we aren't jinxing ourselves, but we have been preparing ourselves with, "What would we say?" There are so many things you want to say. We are fortunate, we feel blessed and lucky to be nominated considering last year we really did not get a chance to tour because of Eric, our singer's surgery. He did not sing for most of the year. He had to learn how to use his voice again. After healing, his voice is now stronger than ever. We are going to try to push the album Believe this year since we did not get a chance to last year.
cMW: Many of the song lyrics seem to be from personal experiences. Is this true?
Chuck: Oh, absolutely. Eric writes a lot of the lyrics. We are both songwriters—we both write all of the songs on the record. But for him, lyrically, I know he does sing from real life experiences—life, love. Everything he writes comes straight from the heart.
cMW: Are you a Christian band being marketed to the Christian community on a mainstream label? Or a mainstream band with appeal to the Christian community? Or something else?
Chuck: What it is for us is I, guess what, it is for a lot of bands. You have a dream of getting a record contract and being in a band. All of us have played music all of our lives. When we all grew up, the 80's was a big inspiration for us. Just at that time and era was the 80's rock thing. And Stryper was probably the first one that we got turned onto. They were the first band that was playing just as good rock guitar and everything, but they had a good positive message, and it was real appealing to me. I thought it was great. So that was the start of a big change for me.
As far as Big Dismal, the songs that we write and everything—we all grew up in the church. And when we set out and started the band, me and Eric actually started Big Dismal together, we had no intentions of actually going in a certain direction. We had over 80 songs cataloged that we wrote—just me and him. All of them had that kind of feel about life and love. So when the record came out, we did not expect the Christian community to be so open and to take us in. We just did not have that in our minds at the time. And as that started happening, "Remember (I.O.U)" really started taking off on Christian radio.
Each day that goes by, each one of the shows that we have been doing, and even the Christian festivals that we did before this tour, it has almost been like life changing for us personally. I know for myself personally each one of these shows—I never would have dreamed that I was going to have the opportunity to be involved on the radio with the teen hope lines. I have never actually gotten to hear so many troubled people before. I have never taken all of that in. And it was still hard for me, but to have the opportunity to help people, especially younger kids. We never expected any of that. And that has almost been a sober warning. It is feels like God has given us our dream to play music, but we are going to do it His way, [according to] His plan. So we feel blessed and we are changing each day and getting a little stronger.
So like I said, we did not expect any of it. It just hit us, and we feel real lucky that we have been able to go this route. A lot of other rock bands have a dream and they just want to make it happen, but they just get caught up in the smoky drunken bars and that kind of stuff. We have been lucky to play shows in front of some positive young kids. You can't get any better than that.
cMW: With a lot of news in the music industry including record sales down, etc., why do you think people want to be a rock star?
Chuck: I can speak for me. I started playing guitar when I was six. Music was in my family. I grew up watching the guys on TV and the people screaming and stuff. That was appealing to me. Even in elementary school, I would play in front of the whole class. I don't even know what I was playing. I did not even know one chord, but I knew I was playing for them. It was the entertaining thing for me. I guess it was maybe the attention. I enjoyed that. Still to this day I love to walk out there and hear everybody scream. I mean now they are singing our songs. It's kind of surreal. It's exciting, a dream come true.
cMW: You have come along after many other successful bands with the same sound. How do you want to make your own identity when you are constantly being labeled as a copy-cat?
Chuck: For us, it has been tough from the beginning between us and some other bands. But we really think that the more time that the person will give our record a chance listening to our album in its entirety, you can really hear that there are not such similarities. We are actually a lot different from bands like Creed. Eric's voice has some of those tones that kind of lean toward Scott. But I think if you sit and listen to our record and give the whole album a chance, that you can actually hear that Big Dismal does have its own thing going on.
A lot of people heard the first single, "Remember (I.O.U.)" and the way we recorded it. It was our first record, and we felt that we did not quite maybe nail the recording quite right. Maybe it sounds a little bit more like some of the songs that were on the radio the way we recorded it. So we actually went back in the studio recently and recut the song with Eric's new vocals. He has got a little more higher range now that he had his surgery. He has got more of his own sound now, which is awesome. It seemed like a bad thing at the time, but it has turned out to be a blessing. He sings better than he ever did.
cMW: Name some upcoming album releases this year that you are looking forward to purchasing?
Chuck: New Pillar. The reason I say that is because I am getting to know those guys and we are becoming good friends and I got a sneak listen. They took me on the bus to listen to some new recordings. It is really good and they are beautiful people.
cMW: Are you guys working on anything new for Big Dismal? You said earlier that you had 80 songs before your first album was recorded.
Chuck: We have a studio back home in Tallahassee. Even though we are from all different areas, our singer is from there. He lives on a farm. So that has been for the last couple of years. We have a studio there and there is no one around us. So it is like every day is writing songs. You get up in the morning and write songs. So we have plenty of songs. We always write. Even for the See Spot Rock tour we are only getting 20 minutes to play, which is the hardest part because it is our first big tour, but we are only getting 20 minutes. We are used to putting on two hour shows. That is probably the hardest thing for us. We are trying to add in some new songs that people have not heard yet, and some songs off of Believe. So we will try to mix it up—test out some new songs and see how they go over.
cMW: Do you have a plan to put out a new album?
Chuck: I think we are going to spend this year - they are going to re-release Believe with an added track 11 being the new version of "Remember (I.O.U.)." So there will be two versions; a rock version and a pop version. And a mainstream video for "Remember (I.O.U.)." And probably next year we will release a new record. By then we should have about 700 songs. <laughs> I mean in another year we may have… Actually, when we did Believe, this is kind of a funny story. When we were sending our record company probably about 15 songs a week and it got closer to the record and they were like, "Please stop. Don't send us any more, we can't take it." It's so hard to know what to put on a record. Even still now we are like, "Wow, we wish that song had made it." Between the label and the band and the producer, everyone is trying to pick. It was hard but we brought that on ourselves. Some other artists do our songs. We write a lot of different stuff, too. We have some country oriented kind of songs that are not quite Big Dismal. But you can probably hear some of that southern influence in some of our songs.
cMW: You should do like Thousand Foot Krutch and write a lot of different songs and create a new band.
Chuck: We have thought about something like that.
cMW: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Chuck: I hope I am just doing what I am doing. To be out there and play music; to do what I love to do. And continue to have this opportunity to help people. Like I said, for me personally, and I know it has been for the other guys, too, that has been the biggest thing. I take that in a lot. I love the opportunity to get out there and help somebody. As long as I can keep doing that, I think that I am pretty blessed to be where I am at. God's got a good plan for me.
When we signed the record deal, I had never flown, and I am completely terrified of planes. So we started doing our first couple flights and it was really bad. It was the second flight that we did and there was a snowstorm. They held all the planes and nobody took off. We sat there for three hours on the plane. So I am already scared and I just wanted to get off. They were trying to de-ice the plane, and they decided to let us take off. And as we are going down the runway, the engine exploded. And we could see the side of the plane lighting up in flames. And me and our lead singer Eric—we are both just bawling. And all of a sudden I am thinking, "I knew it! I knew it was going to be a plane!"
That was a major experience for me, and as time has been going on and all these things that have been happening to us, and all this attention in the Christian community, I can get on a plane easily now. Actually the last flight that I just did was the best one I ever had. It was the most comfortable I have ever felt. I wasn't sweating. I know that it is strictly having God that much closer. He is closer to me than he has ever been. And I can feel His presence. I never had that. So that's pretty awesome. And even getting on the bus the guys are scared because it is wobbling at night when you want to go to sleep at night on the bunks. I tell them, "No worriers on this bus. He has got his hand on this bus and nothing is going to happen."
[September 11] was the big moment for us where things really started to change for us—our outlook on life—Eric and I both. Big Dismal was still trying to get its thing going. We had our record contract but we were still trying to put the band together. We feel we are part of a little movement right now to where I think people want to be positive and have good lives and be healthy. I think people want to have positive lives and a positive outlook and to all get along.
We have had enough bad things happen to us and I think we are seeing it. When we come to these shows and see all these kids; the parents bringing their kids to the shows. We just think we are part of a movement that has always been around but it is even more now. We are pretty lucky.