cMusicWeb.com: What excites you about your career now that you have been around for so long?
Stu G: I think one of the things is that we are still able to do what we do. A lot of bands cannot sustain a long career. We have been going on for about twelve years now all together. And so what is great is that we are able to still be coming out. We don't feel like our job is finished by any means. We feel like there is a lot of music in us and there is a real purpose at the moment to what we are doing. It feels like God is opening up doors for us and we are still writing songs. We are working on a new album now. And it is just very exciting. We feel that we are on the cutting edge of who we are as people and who we are as a band.
cMW: Audio Lessonover? was a huge change of direction from your previous albums. But World Service was a return to praise and worship. Will you ever do another secular-leaning album?
Tim Jupp: With us you can never quite tell. I think in some ways I definitely sense that we have always had a place within the church to encourage and to write the songs that people can sing on Sundays. It is interesting with the World Service record. At the outset of making that record, we kind of felt — with the mainstream thing — we were not quite sure what more doors there were left for us to knock on and what we could do there. And we kind of felt, "OK, we will write the songs that are in us." And then they came out as they were. And some have been picked up and have become big church songs like "Rain Down" and "Majesty."
But then strangely enough over this last year we have had more mainstream success than we have ever had. In Germany one of the songs off our record was a big hit on radio. And we have been playing some big mainstream festivals over there. So that has been a surprise. All in all we can never quite tell. You cannot predict what one record is necessarily going to be like because I think your song is written from the heart and it is reflecting where you are feeling God is taking you any particular moment in time. And I think we always want to be flexible and hold on to where we feel the Holy Spirit will take us. Whether that is writing the songs that you sing on a Sunday morning or writing songs that maybe are more mainstream radio.
cMW: Why do you suppose World Service has received some attention in Germany?
Tim: Well, we have had some help from a label which is part of the BMG network, which is a big major [label]. So it had a good push. And I think it was just the right song in the right time in the right place. The track is "Inside Outside" from World Service. For their radio, it was just the right thing for over there and it just got picked up and the radio really got on board and people seemed to love it.
cMW: Are you still trying to get into the British mainstream?
Stew Smith: I think there is always a bit of a presence there because we have been around long enough and people know who we are. But like Tim said, at the beginning of last year, we kind of felt like we laid that down for a little bit to just follow our heart. And at the time, we felt that with World Service, we were going more for the sort of church thing. I would not be surprised if there is something interesting around the corner. We are just in the studio writing some songs and putting some new tracks down. We have tried not to define is as, "This is church and this is mainstream." What we have tried to do is just write songs and allow God to use them. Some are obviously more congregational in their style and fit a church service. Others are a little more poetic in their language in the way they communicate our faith and truths that would fit better on the radio.
We definitely do not write with one or the other in mind. We just write whatever we feel is inside of us and let it come out. "Inside Outside" was not really written as a mainstream track at all. And we were actually really very surprised when BMG phoned up and said, "We would like to release this single," just because in our mind we really would not have chosen that as a single. But they heard it fitting on radio, and we have already had over 10,000 spins on the radio in Germany. Those sort of surprises are still around the corner. There is not really a big Christian market in the UK anyway. So the mainstream thing is always lurking around in the corner to conquer.
cMW: If you could take away the distinction in America between Christian and mainstream music, what would you do to change that?
Tim: I don't know, I think one of the good things in America is that there is in some ways less cynicism to the whole Christian thing. People are used to the idea of Christianity. The church will ever be more a part of life as a whole. Back home in the UK and particularly the music scene, you will see more cynicism in the media. They can be very cynical towards our thing. There is great Christian music in America which historically stands up and does well against any other genre. Back home in the UK, historically a lot it has been quite poor because it is a small scene [and] it is under-funded and it struggles.
cMW: What is different about Christian music scene in Europe than in America that the people here may not understand?
Tim: Maybe this is a generalization, but the impression we get is that in the US things are definitely put in boxes. So you have the Christian thing, you have the Country thing, the R&B thing, the Pop thing. And people like to find which box they feel you should belong to and put you in. Whereas maybe our radio scene is a bit less formatted. In particular, like Stew said, we do not have the strong identity of the sub-culture of the church that you have here in America. We do not have that in the same way back home in the UK. So we do not have the thing where the church scene can supply everything you need for life. Whether it be education or entertainment or socially — all those different things. Because the church may be more of a minority back home in the UK. As an example, the kids in our youth group mainly listen to mainstream radio and mainstream music. They would probably not know who most of the American [Christian] bands are. They probably would not have heard of the bands from the Christian scene because they just have not had the opportunity to be introduced to that in the same way.
cMW: Why did you accept an invitation to play in Morocco at the Friendship Festival in May?
Stew: We have been coming to the Creation Festival for a number of years now. And it has always been one of the things we look forward to very much. And we have good memories of it and I think that Pastor Harry is a great guy and a great visionary. When he mentioned to us the opportunity of the festival in Morocco, we were very keen to be involved with that kind of thing.
cMW: What was the best show you ever played?
All: Creation! (laughter)
Tim: I think that is really difficult because there has been so many great things. There have been a few club shows that we have done with a few hundred up to doing [festivals] like Creation. I think Creation is probably one of the biggest crowds we ever do get an opportunity to get to play in front of — 80,000 people. That is an extraordinary experience. In particular when you get the dynamic of church — all those people together focusing on the same thing. That is quite a powerful thing. And then we have done some mainstream things. We have opened up for Bon Jovi and others. Those kind of things in their own way have been very special because they feel very much a part of our journey. The fact that we have had an opportunity to do that — to sing the things that we sing in front of people who are not believers — that is very special. And yet sometimes playing in our own church on a Sunday leading worship is again a special thing. Where you feel at home with people who know you and love you. And you are able to really focus on drawing people into the presence of God in a more intimate way where you are not feeling a sense of need to perform. So, I think it is very hard to pick out one particular thing.
cMW: You have been in the studio. What can you tell us about the new album?
Stu: The new album is top secret, of course! Now I am about to tell you everything. It has been great. We spent two weeks in the studio. We took in some demos and ideas that Martin and I had come up with. We went in with about five or six tracks and we came out with about fifteen tracks that are potential for an album. We are very excited. It is really quite interesting. Musically we feel like we are getting more creative and getting better at playing. So that is encouraging. Lyrically, it will be kind of along the lines of World Service but some of the lyrics are quite hard hitting. We are at the moment in our lives and our career wise where we want to get serious. We want to get serious with God personally and try to encourage others to do the same. We have friends who have fallen along by the wayside and we don't want to see that happen.
The working title is Now is the Time. We are feeling that now is the time to stand up and be counted and be accountable for your faith. Not just be a believer, but be a follower as well.
cMW: Are there any changes musically?
Stu: That is always difficult to comment on when you are in the midst of it. We are doing the best to push the bow out musically and arrangement wise and [with] production. But it will be markedly a delirious? album.
cMW: You get to share the stage with all of Christian music's "finest." Are there any bands that you regard with any particular fondness?
Stew: Switchfoot is probably the flavor of the year. We toured with them in the UK — I was just talking with someone from the radio station — about five or six years ago. We have become really good friends with them. We have also done some stuff with them in America. They are great guys. We are so pleased with them in that we have always appreciated them not only relationally as friends but musically. They have always written great tunes. So to see it really happen for them and to know their heart and to know that they are still rooted in the church and still in love with God. It is great to see.
We have recently been out with a band called Rock N Roll Worship Circus who we are big fans of. We think they are really talented guys and again they are fantastic people. So that always helps. When you meet people and you like them, you tend to like their music as well. They are great people. There is an interesting guy called Mat Kearney as well — he is certainly new on the scene. There is some good stuff out at the minute — really good.