Back in the summer of 1984, I attended by first music festival. As a 16 year old set loose in a world of music for three days, it was a whole new world opened up to me. It was the first Cornerstone Festival, held in Grayslake, Ill., and I was up early and out late, absorbing everything I could.
One of the first bands I remember seeing was a trio from Southern California that went by the name Youth Choir, a group that I came upon on a warehouse type side stage (the festival was held on a country fairgrounds) at roughly noon, as everything was starting to get underway. Over the years, I continued to follow the band as I grew up and it grew up -- eventually shedding the "Youth" to become simply The Choir, releasing 13 studio albums and even garnering a pair of Grammy nominations.
This past summer, Cornerstone finally shut down after 28 years and The Choir played the last set of the night. That appearance gave the group the distinction of both the first and last band to play Cornerstone during that festival's tenure. More than just a festival band, however, The Choir has been a band that I, like many others, have grown up with.
Yes, Cornerstone was primarily a Christian music festival and The Choir started out as a Christian band. It still is, I guess, but that's always been secondary. The key to the group has always been its songwriting and how it presented life and its struggles -- not just with faith, but with families, relationships and personal issues.
Many consider the band's 1990 release, Circle Slide, to be the group's high water mark, garnering acclaim from both critics and fans alike and breaking ground both sonically and lyrically within the Christian music genre. For myself, Wide Eyed Wonder (1989) was always the album that resonated most, especially as I got older and had my own family, as the songs related to family, children, love and putting others before yourself.
After laying relatively low for over five years, The Choir has released a trio of its most personal and impressive albums to date: O How the Mighty Have Fallen, Burning Like The Midnight Sun and The Loudest Sound Ever Heard (released in 2005, 2010 and 2012, respectively). Parlaying the success of those albums, the band has also resumed touring, taking a special show on the road which arrives in Tulsa at The Vanguard Monday night, Oct. 8.
This particular tour is special in two regards. One: This is the first time the band has played in Tulsa (or Oklahoma for that matter) since the Circle Slide Tour stopped at ORU in 1991. Two: The band is not only showcasing its new material, but also playing its 1988 release, Chase the Kangaroo, in its entirety during the current tour, revisiting the album for its 25th anniversary.
With the current fall tour preparing to kick off, I was recently able to speak with drummer and lyricist Steve Hindalong at length, discussing the tour, the band's history, the new material and how the band's catalog all ties together. Before getting to the new material, however, I had to what led the band to revisit Chase the Kangaroo, nearly 25 years after it was released.
Hindalong was incredibly candid when discussing the tour, stating "I think Chase the Kangaroo was when we really started to come into our own, creatively, and it was pretty successful as well, so we really learned from it. It also seems to be the one our fans keep reminding us of and referring to, but we have mixed feelings about it."
"I understand that the people following us tend to be nostalgic and that record puts them in a place where they discovered us, but we're also proud of the new record and want to play our new songs as well," he explained
"Basically, we said 'I wonder what it would be like to revisit that?'" he continued. "It's fun to go back in time and have that nostalgic experience, but at the same time I think our new album holds its own and for me personally, I feel like I've grown and have more to say than I did when I was in my 20s."
"It's mixed feelings," he said, "But if I saw U2 or James Taylor, I'd want to hear 'Pride in the Name of Love' or 'Carolina on My Mind,' so I understand where the fans are coming from as well."
When reflecting on the band's past and not only how it has matured, but how it's catalog has stood the test of time, Hindalong shared that "I find it interesting how cyclical music is and how our songs sound relevant again."
Of course, for many fans, the band's music never lost its relevance. The trends in the music industry and return of synth and guitar-driven pop with the likes of The Killers and Imagine Dragons (to name just a couple), however, have definitely created an environment where The Choir's albums from more than 20 years ago sound just as fresh and current as the new material.
When looking back, however, Hindalong shared that "I think our strength as a band is melody and it always has been. Derri's (Daugherty, guitarist and singer) gift is melody. He's not very flashy, but he plays very melodically and me, I'm a lyricist and drums are secondary."
"When we write, Derri starts with a musical idea," he said. "A song almost always starts with the music and it's usually a good hook that Derri came up with. Tim Chandler is also a very melodic bass player, so it's always been a strength for us and it's lucky for me to be able to offer words that are strengthened by great melodies."
"For most people, when they think of Bob Dylan, they think of his lyrics," Hindalong continued. "To me, though, his lyrics are maybe third and his voice second. First to me has always been his melodies, which many people don't think about for Dylan, but that's what I've always love about him and Peter Paul & Mary and The Byrds."
Of course, the melodies are what often make the songs stick in our minds, but it's Hindalong's lyrics that make the most impact and create the personal connection that makes The Choir's fans so loyal. That's part of what makes The Choir's resurgence so intriguing: While the new songs are very melodic and layered musically, they are also the band's most mature and thoughtful to date.
Historically, the band's albums have also been thematic. When asked about this tendency, Hindalong shared that it wasn't anything premeditated with each record, but that each album is written at a particular time or season in life and the songs reflect that.
"Derri offers something musically and I feel something," he said. "I always feel an emotional response to what Derri has written and that's what comes out."
Hindalong did admit, however, that with the band's latest album "I wanted it to be a little more universal. The last album (Burning Like the Midnight Sun) was very personal and I felt like people might be a little alienated by that, so I wanted this one to be a little more relatable."
"I came through some difficult times," he continued, "and I wanted to encourage people with this record, which makes it very different, I think."
When looking at how all of The Choir's albums tie together, however, Hindalong shared that "There's always ultimately a redemptive thread in all our music, with themes of mercy and redemption, but we just take it one record at a time and write about what's going on in our lives. There are just certain turning points that tend to show up in the albums."
Almost 30 years into the band's career, The Choir has hit a new plateau. Although Hindalong may fear that Burning Like the Midnight Sun is a bit too personal, that's exactly what makes it so engaging as one of the band's most intimate albums about personal relationships and friendship. In turn, The Loudest Sound Ever Heard is more broad, touching on redemption and renewal and has an appropriately layered and more wide reaching sound.
The fact that the band is touring again is reason enough for fans to celebrate, especially as it revisits a classic album in its entirety, then follows up with new material on the current run of dates. This is a great show for those new to the band as well, though, as the new material is some of the strongest and most immediate of the group's career and this is one of the few bands that can recreate its studio work just as effectively in a live setting.
If you're a fan of classic Christian alt-rock or just great, universal songwriting, you don't want to miss the Choir when the band makes a rare Oklahoma appearance at the Vanguard this Monday night, October 8. Tickets are still available for $10 and Scales of Motion will open the shows, beginning at 8pm.
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