Thursday, December 07, 2006

My Musical Journey

Growing up, my parents were very conservative fundamentalist Baptists. I know a lot of big words, right? Basically, what that means is that my parents believed that music and movies and everything the world had to offer were off-limits for Christians.

My dad actually had enjoyed the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel back when he was a kid. His freshman year of college he attended a "liberal" Christian college called Taylor University in Indiana and had traveled around to different coffee houses, playing his guitar and singing songs he wrote. But for some reason, he decided to move away from that and transferred colleges to a conservative Baptist college where he met my mom, which I guess was good because they made me, right?

I was born in Tennessee where my dad was the music pastor/youth pastor for a small conservative Baptist church. By the time that I was almost 3 my parents decided to take a music pastorate in Durham, NC. So, we moved while my mom was pregnant with my little brother and soon after my bother Jon came into the world.

So, my dad was a music pastor and he played guitar. Sounds like the start to a beautiful musical journey to me? Well, it took a while.

When I was 6, my parents decided to go to the missionfield as missionaries. They originally decided on Bermuda because there were no conservative churches in that country. Unfortunately right before we were supposed to leave, Bermuda denied our Visas, and my parents had to scramble to figure out where they were going to go. So, from the paradise of Bermuda they decided on the cold, dank country of Germany.

When my parents decided to go to the missionfield, they took part in a missionary ritual called deputation. This is where missionaries travel from church to church and try to get churches to support they mission work. Usually a church will give anywhere from $25-500 a month...most of the time in the $25-50 range. And missionaries (at least at that time) had to raise all their support this if they needed $5000 a month, then they had to get that from however many churches it took.

So, I spent 2 and a half years on the road, basically on a tour of America. Again - foreshadowing?

While we were on deputation, we lived in Chatanooga, TN. While there, I can remember climbing a tree and telling my 3 years younger brother that I had written a song. I can't remember if I had words for it, but I hummed it to my brother and then he climbed up the tree. I don't think he cared.

When I was almost 8, we hopped on a plane to Germany. I still remember my mom making me wear a wool skull cap. I hated it because it made my already wiry, curly haired head itch even more than usual. We got to Germany and my parents took a church in Weisbaden, West Germany (at the time you had to make that distinction) where we worked with the U.S. military. Basically, my dad was a chaplain without having joined the military.

My parents have told me that I was the loudest child they could have ever imagined. They said I sang almost constantly when I played and I would do all kinds of voices as I played with my G.I. Joes. I recently found some old tapes that I had recorded with a cassette recorder where I did G.I. Joe dramas where I would do several voices and then sing different theme songs. It was hilarious to listen to - mainly because I had an incredibly thick southern accent back then.

The first time that I remember singing was in my dad's church when I was 8. I sang "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" and I forgot the words. Forshadowing anyone? I was thoroughly emberrassed and decided that I wouldn't sing in church again for a while. I would sing off and on in Sunday School and stuff like that but never anything serious.

At home, my parents had discovered the records of a Christian recording artist who called himself Patch the Pirate. Basically, Patch would record a batch of Christian songs and form a play around it, complete with dialogue and a batch of memorable characters. As a kid, I thought that Patch the Pirate was the coolest thing ever and I learned every word to every song, as well as most of the dialogue from the plays.

Also, my dad had found old country artists that he enjoyed like Jim Reeves, Johnny Horton and ilk like that. My dad, every now and then, would put the records on and I LOVED it. I would play the records as much as I possibly was just really cool music.

Pretty much the pre-teen and early teen years of my life continued the same musically. I can remember when I was 10 hearing the song "Cocomo" by the Beach Boys and thinking that the harmonies were the coolest thing I had ever heard. My friend had the tape (yes, we had moved up from records by this point in my life) and we listened to it again and again until I had the words memorized. I came home and told my dad about it and he admonished me for listening to rock music with my friends and told me that I was grounded from hanging out with my friend. At twelve I couldn't understand how that music was bad, but I trusted my dad...he always knew what he was talking about.

Also when I was 10, I had a little girlfriend named Veronica who loved the New Kids on the Block. She would let me listen to them from time to time and I thought they were cool. Everyone said I looked like Joey. Hey - I was 10!!! And I was sheltered!!! What do you expect?

When I was 14, I was riding in my friend Warner's car, and Warner's parents let him listen to the radio (I was not allowed), and a song called "MotownPhilly" came on the radio and it changed my world. I remember it like it was yesterday. I got chills as I listened to these guys sing the crap out of something and make these amazing harmonies. I decided that I had to figure out who this was. I soon found out that the group was BoyzIIMen and soon after they had another huge hit with "In the Still of the Nite" and I went crazy for the acapella harmonies there, too. They followed these 2 up with "So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday" and one of the greatest songs ever recorded: "End of the Road". I can remember sitting in my room listening to my radio with headphones on and as soon as the song would start, I would record it on my cassette tape recorder. I would listen to those songs until the tape wore out.

I started using any money that I made to buy tapes as much as I could. I remember buying R.Kelly's first album, BoyzIIMen, Shai, Silk, Keith Sweat and anything that had harmonies. I also was influenced by my friends to check out rap and I actually really got in to M.C. Hammer, Vanilla Ice, Wrex'N'Effect and some other popular rap groups of the early nineties. My rap obsession didn't last for long, though. The thing I was really drawn to was great vocals and great harmonies. Originally my sole music taste was pop/R&B. My only real try at pop/rock was Ace of, I thought they were incredible.

At 15 I tried to run away from home and during my 24 hours of freedom I bought a CD player and 3 CDs. When my parents caught up to me, they took the CDs but they let me keep the CD player but, of course, I was only able to listen to conservative Christian CDs. They also took away the 25 or so tapes I had of certain artists, and for a while I straightened up and flew right.

We came back to the states for a couple of months when I was 15 and after we came back I decided to not listen to any music my parent disapproved of. I really wanted to be a good Christian boy, but at that point I really started to get interested in songwriting. Also, one of my friends discovered a group called Acapella and soon after, I was hooked and I bought every acapella CD and learned every word, every part and decided that acapella music was the bomb.

My girlfriend at the time also introduced me to Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey and they were really the only women that I enjoyed listening to. I think that for me, music was more of an interactive experience so I've never really enjoyed women singers because their range was different than mine, so I just never really listened to a lot of female singers.

In my church, I decided to start an acapella quartet, and we would perform once a month for church was just me and 3 other military guys that could kind of sing. It was probably pretty horrible (if you've ever seen a hymnbook, you know the 4 parts weren't written for male 4 part harmonies), but it was a lot of fun for me as I started to figure out how parts worked and how harmonies worked. I actually had a low voice, so I sang baritone on everything, and I actually sang bass in my church's choir.

About this time, too, I really started to try my hand at songwriting. A friend of mine allowed me to use a keyboard that had drums and bass and stuff and I would take my two tape recorders, record a drum loop first, then play that tape back to and record another part to the other tape recorder and so on and so on until I had a whole track. Very primitive multi-track recording. I would do the same thing and record full acapella arrangements. The thing was that the original track that I did would fall further and further back into the mix with each successive recording. But hey it allowed me to exercise my creative demons, so to speak and I spent hours upon hours doing that.

However, I should note that I was never interested in doing music as a living. My real passion growing up was writing and I fell in love with John Grisham and Michael Crichton, both of whom had had a career before they moved into writing (law and medicine, respectively). As a side note: my dad would read the novels beforehand and black out every curse word and any section that had sex in it and then he would let me read them. Funny, I know. Anyway, I had decided that I would be a lawyer and eventually move into writing, once I had established a career.

In high school, I actually wrote several plays, short stories and I even wrote a 600 page novel. My teachers thought my writing was very, very good, and they all encouraged me to cultivate that. I read voraciously and would read books on constructing a great story and how to write professionally, etc. So, that was my passion growing up. And I really wanted to write screenplays. I can remember having notebooks full of novel and screenplay ideas. In looking back at the notebooks now, the stories were actually pretty good, though they were stories that have been told before - I just didn't know because I wasn't allowed to watch any movies over PG rated.

It was at 16 that I had my first performance of one of my songs. I wrote a song called "Heaven" after one of my dad's messages and my dad I worked out an arrangement with him playing guitar and singing lead and me singing harmony. It was pretty cool to hear all the people tell me how great a crappy song was. But hey I was 16. It was supposed to be crappy.

When I was 17, my friend Aaron introduced me to some more rock stuff like Red Hot Chili Peppers, R.E.M., Crash Test Dummies and several others...but the one that I fell in love with was an unknown group from South Carolina called Hootie and the Blowfish. I can remember listening to that CD time after time...then the band blew up. And you could not go anywhere without hearing their songs. And I liked them before they were famous.

The summer before my senior year of high school, we came back to the U.S. so that I could go to school in the States for my senior year in North Kansas City, MO, which is where my parent's sending church was located. They had a small Christian school of perhaps 200 K-12, and my graduating class was 12. Yeah, small Christian school.

During my first weeks of school, I formed another acapella group, this time of 5 people and I actually did some of my first arranging for this group. I would sit down at a piano and plunk out arrangements and write them sloppily on staff paper. It was ugly. But I enjoyed spending hours working out that stuff. And it began to really train my ear for harmonies. With this group, agian, I was baritone and I would never solo - I never thought I was a good singer, just a harmonizer. At this point of my life, I was still dead set on being a lawyer/writer.

My best friend at the time, Ryan Goss, was really into film scores and so we dove headfirst into buying almost ever film score soundtrack that we could find. We loved John Williams, of course, and James Horner was my favorite. Ryan was an immensely talented musician and he would write scores to videos and such for the school, and I tried my hand a little at writing some instrumental pieces. It definitely stretched my knowledge of harmony and melody and I even wrote some key changes that were, well, we'll say interesting. He and I wrote some songs together, but for the most part, I didn't really write that much during this time period except for soundtrack-type stuff.

I graduated from college and my parents gave me 3 choices of where I could go to college: Pensacola Christian College, Bob Jones University and Northland Christian College - all 3 were very conservative Christian colleges. I chose PCC because it was at the beach (and it was freaking cheap) and I went to school as a pre-law major.

Now, I should explain that PCC has very strict rules. They go on a demerits system. 150 demerits kicks you out. If they find out you have illegal music (read anything with a "rock or sensual" beat) gives you 75 demerits the first time...kicked out the second time. However unlike my parents, they didn't search through my stuff without cause to look for illegal music, so my first week of school after my parents left me, I went to the local Christian bookstore and bought like 20 CDs of various contemporary Christian artists that I had always heard about but never listened to: Michael W. Smith, 4Him, Michael English, etc. And I fell in love with this music like crazy.

First semester of that year, a few weeks in, I was walking down the hallway humming a Michael English song (for those of you who don't know, Michael English was the Christian version of Michael Bolton). A kid walking the opposite way heard me humming and came up and tapped me on the shoulder and told me he was starting a vocal group and that he liked my voice. I later went and sang for him and he put me in his quartet. I had written a song my first week at school called "Ransom" and I thought we might be able to do it. The guys loved it and from there on out, I wrote all the songs for the group - I would write a skeleton of a song, and then would sit down with Ryan (the guy who heard me in the hall) who was an amazing pianist and we would flesh it out with chord structure and everything like that. It was my first taste of fame, as we would sing for various school functions and people started recognizing me around campus.

About half-way through the 2nd semester of my freshman year, I began thinking that I really wanted to be a music major. More and more I was spending all my time working on music and loving it. I hadn't written any prose in months...just song after song, trying to work on the craft of songwriting. I looked at the school of music at PCC and realized that it was okay, but I really wanted something great. So, I transferred to a school called Bob Jones University - one of the 3 schools my parents would help pay for. It was probably a mistake, in retrospect, but I didn't want to have to pay for school on my own and the music department is well-respected...but it is solely classical.

When I went to BJU, I originally really tried to stay within the rules. They had even stricter rules than PCC did, and so, following their leaders advice, I broke and threw away all of the "sinful" CDs that I had and really tried to follow the rules. The worst that I listened to at this time was big band stuff like Sinatra and Nat King Cole.

I dived into music on all cylinders and found that it just made sense to me. I had never had theory, but I made great grades through all my theory classes. I sucked at piano, but worked to get better. I had chosen voice performance because it was the only music major that got to have electives, so I had to take private classical voice lessons. At first, it was tough. I breathed completely opposite than you should and I had to learn the basics of tying in breathing with singing. Also, my teacher told me that I was in fact, not a baritone as I thought, but a tenor.

I scoffed, but within a year, I was singing tenor very easily. At school I was very involved and nearly every semester at college, I wrote and performed in skits for the student body meetings. I also put together various men's groups that sang at functions around school. My sophomore year, I started a 10 person mens acapella group. I took ideas from the acapella groups I had loved when I was younger and would arrange conservative hymns and such to perform around school for various functions. We sang several times in Student Body.

It was during this time with the acapella group that I really began to write voraciously. I wrote a lot of sacred material and then worked hard on my arrangement skills with writing for the mens group. Taking cues from more classical groups like the King's Singers, I really began to fill up my chord vocabulary. It was at this point that music really started to make sense to me.

On a more personal level my music tastes ran some into opera, as I had learned love it by listening to it a ton in order to pass my vocal exams and to learn my songs. But mainly for pleasure I listened to a lot of vocal jazz. I LOVED Harry Connick, Jr. and owned every one of his albums. I also got a couple of box sets from BMG...I had every song that Frank Sinatra recorded for Reprise, and I had every song that Nat King Cole ever recorded. I also loved me some Tony Bennet and Bing Crosby. I really enjoyed vocal jazz, though because of my upbringing, I think, jazz for the most part eluded my comprehension.

A natural progression for me that was somewhere in between jazz and the classical music I was studying was Broadway. For about a year, I thought very, very seriously about trying to make it on Broadway. I loved musical theater and I was a drama minor while I was at BJU and had acted in several (non-singing roles) plays at the University. I loved acting and I loved music. Broadway was a natural progression. I even took playwriting class and wrote a full-length musical for the class.

But then my 3rd year at BJU, I discovered pop music again. At this point in my life, I felt compelled to only listen to Christian music and as I traveled off-campus I would turn on the Christian radio station and listen from time to time. I can still remember the first time I heard a song called "Dive" by Steven Curtis Chapman. I literally almost ran my car off the road. I pulled off to the side of the road and listened to the song completely and decided that I HAD to get that album.

Soon after, I began my foray back into the pop music buying with Steven Curtis Chapman's CD Speechless and I also found a new artist called Bebo Norman. Both of these CDs were extremely influental in who I am today, as strange as that may seem. First off the SCC CD was extremely groundbreaking as a pop/rock album. The songwriting was incredible and the production was bad to the bone. I ate this album up. I literally would listen to this album 10 times in a row. The Bebo Norman CD changed me in a different way. It also is one of my favorite album from a songwriting standpoint and his voice is still to this day one of my favorites. But it was this album that made me say that I wanted to play guitar. I went out the next week and bought an old Epiphone acoustic piece of crap from a pawn shop.

A little backstory: my dad played guitar my whole life, but I had never really been interested in it until one of my friends picked it up, so I learned a few chords and learned how to play every guitar player's staple - "Stairway to Heaven". However, after a few months I got bored because I really didn't have any music that I was allowed to listen to that involved guitars, so I didn't have any reason to keep on making my fingers bleed. Then 4 years later, I still had a few chords under my belt, but I really applied myself, and now music made sense because of my education. I picked it up very quickly. Everything that is except for rhythm. BJU doesn't exactly teach you rhythm.

My CD collection grew steadily, and Broadway more and more started to fade from my mind. By my fourth year at BJU, I knew that I would be a rock star. Or at least do something with that kind of music. With my acoustic guitar I began to write a ton of acoustic pop songs and soon I would sit around and entertain groups of friends with my songs. Looking back, they weren't quite good yet, but they were getting better.

During this time period, I was listening to all Christian music. Bands and artists that I loved were groups like 4Him, FFH, Bebo Norman, Andrew Peterson, Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Caedmon's Call, DCTalk, Jars of Clay, etc...pretty much the who's who of Christian music from the late 90's on.

Then at the end of the 2nd semester of my senior year, on the last day of the semester I got called up to the Dean of Men's office and was told that someone had turned me in for going to a concert. I had been to several concerts that semester, but the one that I was in trouble for was one 2 days into the semester where my best friend and I drove up to Knoxville, TN to see 4Him and FFH (2 cheesy Christian pop groups - sorry, I didn't know what I was doing at the time). Basically, the school allowed me to keep my credits for the semester that was ending but kicked me out with 7 credits left to graduate. That was in December.

In February my best friend (who also got kicked out) talked me into going to truck driving school. I went to truck driving school and it was fun, hanging out with this completely new brand of people. Truck driver really are a culture all unto themselves. While up in Kentucky for 3 weeks learning to drive a big rig, I wrote a lot of songs, several of which ended up being on my first solo album.

We came back from KY, and we looked for a job as team drivers and after a couple of weeks, we got hired by a place up in Nashville. We took the job and began to train, but they let my friend and I know that they would be splitting us up. At that point in my life, I knew that I could not handle the temptations that the road would constantly throw my way, so I rented a car and cut my losses and drove back to Greenville. I took a job at Domino's Pizza (where I had worked during college) and began to work my way up the ladder there.

In May of that summer (2001), I saw an ad up on a bulleting board at a local coffee shop that said that a local studio would record an album for free. That looked like a pretty good deal to me, so I called the guy. Basically, the deal was, he would record my album for free if I would release it anonymously. Wierd, right. Well, I wasn't too sure about it, but over time I came to trust the guy, so we recorded the album. I was anonymous anyway, so why did it matter if my name was plastered all over the album? It was a chance to put down on tape all these songs that I had been writing.

We recorded 13 original songs and a new hymn arrangement. Listening to it now, it all sounds like crap, but I was so proud of my work at the time. And really, for a Christian CD, the songs are not that bad. Sure, they were a little wordy, but Berg:Vessel as the album was called was my first foray into writing and recording an album. It was very poppy/inspirational and was very acoustic guitar based. Very different from where I am now, but it has all been a progression.

Soon after, I began to play shows around town acoustic. I never felt comfortable enough as a guitar player to do it solo, so I used some of the musicians from my church and put together a make-shift band. We played a ton of shows together, but after a few months, the band members started to drop out one by one because they all had families and real jobs. I was still working at Domino's.

In August of that year, I decided to go back to college and I decided on North Greenville College, a small Baptist University in Tigerville, north of Greenville. It was a breath of fresh air. These people actually had liberty in their faith! It was incredible. Sure, there were still rules, but they were strictly biblical: don't have sex; don't get drunk, etc. There wasn't a bunch of rules that were meant to control as I had seen at BJU. It was refreshing and as I met more musicians at the school, it opened up my world to a lot of different music. And my palette started to grow. Quickly.

And my album dropped in September.

In February of 2002, I put together my first real band. They were all high school kids, but we were all committed to getting better. I was writing a ton, and had plans for another album. We started to play a bunch of shows and the new songs were receiving a good response.

In March of that year, along with going to school, I decided to put together a music company. I joined with some local business men and we formed a small company that would basically provide a financial backing for me making albums. The one album that we did was recorded from March to May of that year at a very nice studio in Greenville. Unfortunately the guy who owned the studio didn't know how to make his half million dollar studio sound better than I could've gotten on half thousand dollars of equipment. The album sounded like crap. In retrospect, I should've taken more time to write songs and explored more options for recording, but I was new to all this and no one gave me good advice. In my mind if you have half a million in equipment your stuff will sound good. Not true.

Looking back and listening, the songs were okay. Some of them were good. But the album sounded like crap. Because it sounded like crap, sub-consciously I had a hard time overselling it at shows. The album didn't sell even though we played over a hundred shows in a years time. The business fell through and that was a major setback, emotionally if nothing else. Also, around this same time a long-term serious relationship fell apart and all of this made for a tough time in my life.

One highlight about this time was in the beginning of August 2002, I entered a national songwriting contest with the Gospel Music Association and won 2nd place, so that was interesting. It opened up doors with record labels.

However in August of 2002, I met a girl named Sarah at church. I had noticed her at some of my shows, and she had had this girlish crush on me because I was a singer and she loved my CDs. We had our first date August 26, we got engaged December 12, and we got married May 9, 2003. It was a whirlwind, but, oh, so right.

After the failure of the business, I really started to think about a lot of things about what I wanted my career to be, etc., and I really started to lean towards going the John Mayer type route. I wasn't really interested in the Christian music industry any more. I had been courted by record labels and nothing ever happened and it didn't seem like the Christian music industry was really the place to make a living doing music. I also was toying with the idea of just giving up music and getting a "real job". I had received a lot of pressure from different people to simply throw in the towel because I hadn't gotten signed yet. So, I toyed with different possibilities.

In early 2004, I met a guy at church who was kind of a local hero because his band had gotten signed to a label up in Nashville. We got to be friends, and I started to find out that he was not happy in his band. Then, after Sarah and I got back from our honeymoon (to Bermuda by the way) I found out that he had left his band. So, Joey and I started to toy with the idea of putting together a band that would feature both of us on lead vocals. I knew that in August, my band were all going to college and the band had planned on breaking up then anyway, unless we go signed, which didn't seem feasible at that point. So, Joey and I planned and dreamed together while I finished out my responsibilities with the Chris Sligh band.

In August of that year, I returned to GMA again, this time winning 1st place in the songwriting contest. Another highlight. That was cool.

At this point, musically, I was a little adrift. I was beginning to discover some secular music and finding how much better this stuff was that anything that was being put out in Christian music at the time. It was around this time that I fell in love with Counting Crows. Since about 2002, Counting Crows have been my favorite band. I respect Adam Duritz and idolize his songwriting. He tells stories that are so different and good and lyrically I think he's one of my favorites of all time. Around this time I also discovered Ben Folds, the Black Crowes and several other mid-90s bands. And I fell in love with all this new (old) music. And my palette extended even more.

In September, I took a job as a youth pastor for a local church and Joey and I started to audition different people for the new unnamed band. We decided to take our time putting together a band. We went through quite a few people till finally settling on two of the members of my old band for bass and drums. We hadn't quite found a lead guitarist, so we decided that I would cover the guitar parts.

Originally, the band was set up for Joey to be the frontman, and I was supposed to be the guitarist and I would sing occasionally. Joey had this very interesting image and had a great, different voice that I thought we should capitalize on.

Then, in October of that year, Joseph Bunn who had been the keyboard player/guitarist for the Chris Sligh band was killed in a car accident. It was a pretty devestating blow for all of us since he was only 18 and he was so excited about life. That was tough for all of us in the band to work through.

After the death of Joseph, we decided to take Andrew, CSB's old guitarist as our lead player. We decided on a name: Half Past Forever, and we began to work hard on songs and started to play some shows after several months of just working out stuff and learning how to be a better band. Within the first couple of shows, though, I began to realize that Joey wasn't a frontman. He was content to simply sit at his piano and never engage the audience. I realized quickly that I had to step up and be the frontman, which I myself was not very good at either, but I knew I had to quickly learn.

Another problem that we ran into with the new band was that Joey was not very prolific as a writer. His work was slow and plodding. Everything he wrote was pretty good, but he took so long to finish a song, that we ended up using a ton of my songs, as I wrote almost every day at that point, and very few of his.

In May of 2004, I decided to go ahead and leave my job at the church to focus on the band more. Joey and I had decided that we really needed to find a great producer in Nashville to produce our stuff, and that no one in SC would do. We also knew that in spending the money it would take to do this that we had to have a more serious band. Tim, our drummer at the time, was playing with several other bands and we had to give up shows because of his schedule. Andrew, too, had never been fully committed, and was never actually a member of the band. So, we began to scour the Upstate for new members.

In May, too, we opened up for a major label band called Downhere. We did very well with the show and after the show, a guitar player came up and told us that if we ever needed help that he would love to play with us. A couple of weeks later, we called him up and from there Chad became part of the band.

In July, Tim finally decided to leave the band and we met a drummer named Russ who ended up being exactly what we needed. In July, also I took a worship pastorate for a small church and from there on out that was where the band practiced. From the moment that Russ first set up his drums and played, we knew that he was the drummer for this band. We finally had our Half Past Forever.

In August we got the name of a producer named Stephen Leiweke who had produced Jars of Clay's first CD and we decided to start on the album in November. Between August and November we recorded a ton of demos and I wrote a ton in expectation for recording. We ended up sending up 22 demos - 12 were songs that I had written, 5 Joey and I wrote together and 5 that Joey wrote. When we showed up in Nashville Stephen had pared it down to 7 songs I had written, 2 that we wrote together and 1 that Joey wrote. It was tough pill for Joey to swallow and it was really the writing on the wall.

We had a great time recording the album, and I learned a buttload of stuff about recording and producing from Stephen. And we all worked on friendships with Stephen, but it was tough as the band moved from Joey being the frontman before to now me being the obvious frontman. It was a power struggle and no one was trying to be a jerk about it, but stuff just happened.

The band hung together for another few months, but in September of 2005, 2 weeks after we celebrated our CD release party, Joey left the band. The rest of us took a few weeks to figure out what we wanted to do, then we all decided to go ahead and give it a go with the 4 of us.

On a personal note, this is where my musical direction definitely started to change. Earlier that summer, Russ and I had started a side project band with a guitarist named Mike and a bassist named Cole. We did Blues-tinged rock and we used bands like the Stones and Faces and Lenny Kravitz and the Black Crowes as our basis. We wrote 20 songs together in literally 5-6 practices. It was incredible how well we worked together. It was definitely not a Christian band, though all of us in the band were Christians. We just wrote hard rocking blues/rock and rocked out. After a several years of drifting trying to find who I was as a musician, I realized that I just enjoyed making music for the sake of making art - and the Exciting Mr. Brown, as we were known, made great art. I loved worship and I loved leading worship, but I realized at this point that I did not have to do worship in order to please God. As long as I was not doing anything immoral, I was free to worship him through music that did not necessarily mention His name. This was a crucial point in my musical existence.

In HPF, though, Joey was dead set on being a worship band. So, when he left, it freed me up to change the focus of the band. Very quickly I started to write a bunch of songs that I liked. Some spoke about a relationship with God. Some didn't. It was that simple. I wrote what I wanted to write, and it was incredible freeing.

As far as personal music, at this point, I was listening to a lot of different stuff. In my CD player any given day, you could find Coldplay, The Rolling Stones, The Black Crowes, Gov't Mule, Hookah Brown, U2, the Beatles, Switchfoot, the Afters, and a bunch of other bands. At this point, my music tastes were ranging from everything classic to a bunch of modern stuff. It was awesome, my musical taste buds were tingling almost all the time. I was discovering all this new music!

HPF plugged along for a while with the 4 of us, but I quickly started to realize that the othe 3 guys, especially 2 of them, were just along for the ride. They weren't really willing to make the sacrifices needed to make the band work. I was doing the work and they were along for the ride. I began to really ride the guys to get on board more, but ultimately my pushing is what pushed them off-board. Hey, it was bad at the time, but it had to happen sometime.

The final straw I think came when we went up to Nashville to start recording the new songs. We worked and worked and worked and nothing happened. We were all frustrated and we were fighting. Stephen heard our stuff and said that we needed to get prepared because this was a record deal. And the guys somehow couldn't reconcile that, it all came to a head and the band decided to play out the rest of our shows and end on a good note.

Right as the band was about to break up, I had brought in another guitarist named Adam to free me up to sing a little more without playing. Literally his 2nd practice there, the band imploded. But Adam and I had started a friendship. Adam had been in a band called Nova77, and I had somehow gotten one of their CDs and I was blown away by the production and professionalism this little Greenville band had gotten on their debut CD. The lead singers voice wasn't that great, but the CD was awesome. His band had basically done the same as my band: one person did all the work while everyone else kind of road the coattails. So, we developed a friendship.

When the band broke up, immediately, Adam and I came to the conclusion that we wanted to be in a band together. We both worked hard and we both wanted to make a living doing music. It was natural. Now, we just needed to find people to fill out the band.

I bought back all the merch from the old HPF, and I owned the name, so we decided that, though the new band would be a completely different thing, we would keep the name Half Past Forever. We quickly added Cole from the Exciting Mr. Brown on bass and decided to use several drummers for shows instead of just throwing somebody into the band and having it not work out.

From April to about August of 2006, I wrote and wrote and wrote some more. We would record a demo for every song I wrote and finished. By the end of demo-ing, we had like 30 songs demos. And almost of all of it was the best stuff I'd ever written. I was writing stuff that was great to perform, people could sing along with easily and we were making great artistic choices to deliniate the music from other music in the modern rock arena.

The music that I had really been listening to a ton over the last few months was catchy pop/punk and rock stuff: Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, Muse, MuteMath, Cartel, the Darkness, and some older stuff like Switchfoot and the Afters. And finally, I was writing the music that I loved.

So, here we are in the present. The album is completed for the most part (with the exception of a few string parts that need to get recorded). And things in my life may change very soon. That is my musical journey.


jon said...

Don't give it up, Chris. You've worked hard to get this far. By the way, sorry for climbing the tree upon hearing your song. I was still at the age at which my emotional stability was directly linked to the presence of my teddy bear--not really mature enough to become a decent music critic.

Nathan Duvall said...

Hey Chris - enjoyed reading your bio - I can relate a ton to what you've come through to get to this point. Sounds like we have similar roots. I've been meaning to introduce myself, I work at L1, just always in the middle of something when you come over to my side of the building. Best of luck this week and wherever else your musical journey takes you. We've been praying for you man and will continue to do so. Shoot me an e-mail sometime, would love to meet you:

Jeremy Duncan said...

DUDE!!! I saw you on AI tonight, and I was like - I KNOW THAT KID!!!

This is Jeremy Duncan. You hopefully remember me from Spring '97 at good ol' PCC. Email me at if you get a chance. I comment on this post because it sounds like we've had a very, very similar journey in faith (and music). I listen to alot of the same stuff. Check out Relevant magazine sometime. Anyways, I hope you remember who I am.


dave stanley said...

Hey man, I just want to wish you good luck on your quest to be America's Idol. I've never gotten into that show, but by chance I saw the end of last night's episode and saw you perform... you were outstanding, man. I read your blog and got a little chuckle when you talked about Warner... That guy was a different sort, but hey, he played into your musical journey. By the way, you probably don't remember who I am, but I was in your Grandad's church in Panama for years and as teenagers we sat outside the church and tried harmonizing on some BoyzIIMen songs when your family came to visit. Anyhow, it's great to see you "makin it" and best of luck, brother.

Bambi said...

After seeing your audition on AI last night, I think you are going to be very successful! Reading your bio is fascinating too, you have a great future.

Anonymous said...

Your problems always seem to be everyone else's fault, but never you. Watch your pride Chris! It'll sink you.

ChrisSligh said...

Hmmm...I love it when anonymous posters leave dubious comments condemning someone. I just went back and re-read the entire post and I can't find one time that I assessed blame for anything that happened...just because I don't say that something is my fault doesn't indicate that it is necessarily someone else's fault. If you want to leave a comment like that, leave a name.


Catherine said...

Chris, I enjoyed reading your musical journey story. I thought you were great the other night on Idol, and it made me want to look you up and find out if you were a Christian - sure enough, I thought right. God has certainly blessed you with talent and I'm quite sure He has great plans for you.

I'm a full-time professional musician (and a Christian) and have worked in the pop music industry for approximately 20 years. I think you'll go far.

Anonymous said...

A PCC guy on Idol - I'll bet Arlin announces that in chapel!!!

Good Luck!!!

Josh Byers said...

Hi Chris,

I also really enjoyed your bio - as I kept reading I couldn't believe how many things we had in common - from the growing up in the strict environment (I went to Faith Baptist Bible College and my uncle is a prof at Northland...) to the love of "the harmonies" and the revelation found on SCC's Speechless. It was always my dream to be the "Hip American version of the King's Singers."

If you want visit my site and drop me an email - it would be great to converse with you.

I'll be rooting for you hard on AI - good luck.

The Ritz said...


Just read your "journey". Amazing. I walked parts of the same trail you did. Missionary kid. Church pastor's kid. Small christian school (a dozen or so graduating). Pensacola Christian (my parents were on staff). BJU, voice performance, writing, etc.

I can relate to so many things you've said!! Except the band part. I went off into the business world, marriage, and brooding over my crippled faith. I was finally healing about the time I saw you 'round NHCC.

Wherever you go from here keep your grip on Christ, brother.

stephen endres said...

chris, i think your story is fascinating, and you are a good writer! though I am not a musician per se, i love music and it is a huge part of my life. much of what you say I have contemplated myself. may Christ and His work on the cross forever be your focus.
also, i think i understand how you feel about a place like bju. not that you are necessarily doing this right now, but be careful to not paint with too broad a brush. there are a LOT of rules @ bj, however, the intent of those rules is not to be a means of righteousness or anything like that (as i know you are aware) - more like guardrails set in place for 5,000 sinful teenagers so they can grow in Christ. i hope during your time there you were able to sense a sincere desire from the faculty/staff to see the students grow in grace.
i think people in your position can easily be misunderstood as bitter or resentful when referring to parents rules, former churches standards, etc. and i believe that misunderstanding can do damage to the unity of the body of Christ.
well, i am definintely pulling for you. keep up the hard work. hey! maybe in one of the next rounds you can break out "dining common girl"!??

Anonymous said...

I have enjoyed all your blogs. Good luck on AI!! I hope you do really well but don't win..... cause they always mess up the winner's album.

(Not ANONYMOUS!... just not a googler ) misushavoc

Robert Pooley said...

Hey Chris,
Enjoyed reading your bio... saw you on AI and then found out you were with Chris Surratt, so I started investigating. My name is Robert and I pastor Coast Community Church outside of Pensacola... (BTW- not sure how you survived PCC) We are an ARC church just like Seacoast. Good luck to you guys... listened to some of the music on your myspace... very good. said...

Hi Chris - I loved your bio since I can totally relate! As I was reading it I could picture myself doing the exact same things. My dad was an administrator of a Christian school so I know about the bubble you grew up in too. I had the same 3 choices of colleges you had. I chose PCC first for a year then BJU (should have gone to Northland).
Anyway, I constantly battled with music and the guilt until I finally realized that not all music needed to be worship music. There could be a balance, but in my bubble growing up, there was NO balance! So, I appreciate your testimony that you've shared and I hope it will inspire others to search for their "Christian balance" in life too.
Take care and I'll be voting for you on AI! Keep it real.

Leigh said...


I just had to comment, because your story sounds so much like my husband's. (Dad worked for BJU, etc, learned to play on the same kind of guitar at BJ, etc) He worked at the Dominos Pizza on Haywood Rd. about the same time you did. He gave up on pop music and we left the Greenville area around 2000, but he still composed classical music for a while until life pushed that aside as well. Now he's getting his ThM. Check out our site and see if you know who we are. You guys might know some of the same people. Good luck on AI--I like all of those old songs. I was at a father-daughter banquet and some girl sang a Patch the Pirate Song--"I Want to Marry Daddy When I Grow Up." What's that supposed to be? I'm about to bust the Patch on my kids any day now. Entertaining with more than a little touch of brainwashing--love it!

szetoness said...

Hi Chris, you don't know me, but I've been looking you up since seeing you on AI. I just wanted to say that was really encouraged by this post, your testimony, and the fact that your bio says "I am first and foremost a Christ-follower." Praise God for such a living faith and the gifts He's given you!

Rev. Mark Jones said...

Yo Chris!
what a fascinating story. I grew up IFB as well. We're loving you on Idol and hope you go all the way.

I know you're busy as all get out, but if you have any net time...shout out to us on the Fighting Fundamentalist's at
There are hundreds of us who post there and all of us have a connection with Independent Fundamental Baptist and we all will relate to your story. Come by if you can. Lots of PCC and BoJo types, along with former Hyles Anderson (you know that term?) folk.

Dude, the "make David Hasselhof cry" thing was gut-busting. I knew I liked you from that moment on.

Blessings to you...and I pray that the Lord has touched your life and you've discovered the true freedom of knowing Him and walking with Him. I'd love to see you go all the way on this season of Idol.

Anonymous said...

How refreshing it is to hear someone announce they are a Christian first and a rock artist also. I think you are awesome already. You got my vote! God bless!

L's Lair said...

Man. Reading your bio was weird. I related to SO much of it. Um, except that you're a boy. (I am not.)

I, too, spent high school years in Germany -- came "this close" to going to BJU -- actually DID end up at NGU (loved it) -- have worked through my "all secular music is straight from the devil" upbringing issues -- and, most important of all . . . I also thoroughly appreciated the single tear shed by The Hoff in last years AI finale. Priceless. Was definitely worth rewinding. ;-}

My husband and I are both singers and appreciate really good vocalists. We're pullin' for ya, no doubt. Your personality speaks for itself BUT (no matter WHAT Simon says!) soooo does your voice. Show 'em how it's done Chris.

Spencer said...

Very interesting read. Long, but deep. I wish you and your band luck. I hope you guys can come over and play at Spirit West Coast or something.

Anonymous said...

Your blog is great! Also from a very similar background, some of my family are still stuck in it and give my daughter a hard time for singing the evil music! I loved you right away on AI and I will be voting for you all the way!

John said...

My wife dug your style from day one.

Best wishes to you, man.

Anonymous said...

Hey Chris, just remembering you from College at PCC. I'll bet you're hearing from all the old "friends" now. Just wanted to say hi. If you get a chance, give me a call sometime.
Ryan "door-kicker" :)
Fort Lauderdale Baptist

Anonymous said...

Ha! There IS a backdoor still opened to reading about all things Sligh. :)


baptistgirl said...

I was amazed when I read about you - I can so relate. I am a PK (preacher's kid) my dad went to bible college at at strick IFB - I could only wear coulottes (sp?), no music (except christian with NO beat), no movies, 6 inch rule with opposite sex. You get caught doing something wrong - depending on whose kid you were - you either had to apologize in front of the whole school at chapel, or you were kicked out. We had hair check for guys, dress check for girls. I once got demerits for sitting 'unladylike' at a basketball game.
I too snuck around and recorded "evil" music on my cassette. I to sung into my cassette, then played it back singing harmony until I had a "trio". My dad searched through my stuff, and found my music too. I was not even allowed to listen to contemporary christian. When we left bible college, we went to a smaller town, and I went to a ACE school where there was one - yes I said one - other girl in my grade. We ended up best friends (which choice did we have?) and at first I wasn't allowed to go to her house because at home - she wore PANTS! Finally my parents realized that they had no choice but to let me be friends with her -after all they HAD moved me to this place, and what did they expect me to do. She introduced me to Michael W. Smith, and we would drive around cruisin' with the our boom box in my lap - she didn't have a cassette player - we would stop before we got to my house, get out and lock it in the trunk. We always had to be careful never to leave the cassette covers where my dad could see them through her car window. It's all funny when I look back on it now - but at the time - I was miserable - I just wanted to be normal. Even though I do not have a good singing voice - I can harmonize with ANYTHING, ANYTIME. I play the piano. But music has always been my love since as far as I can remember. I have all grown up now - my parents have chilled - heck my mom even wears pants and our weekly fun is watching American Idol - no Joke. My mom even likes some of the songs - and I point out - that was what I wanted to listen to when I was a teenager. Are my parents backslidden???? No, they just finally realized the important things in life - my dad still pastors a IFB church - where I teach Sunday School. We are still very straight laced - absolutly no contemporary music, no tape music with solo's, don't approve of pants at church - BUT we do not to into peoples personal lives and try to control what they do, and condemn them for it - it is between them and the Lord. I am married now & have 3 boys. I am careful to have boundaries but not smother them. I still listen to all types of music, and realize I did not turn out bad for listening to all the "music of the devil". I feel it would have been much nicer to be allowed some freedom, because I did it anyway - I just had to sneak around and lie to my parents. I do not want that for my boys. I just pray I raise them right.
Your blog -just brought out alot of old emotions & memories. I was amazed at your voice in your original audition, and you are definately a favorite of mine.
I agree - with another poster - if you actually won the AI - your album would probably be "cheesey" but you are now a household name (to anyone who watches AI) and you will do fine.
Remember your roots, and make some good music that I can let my boys listen to! ;-)
We are all going to see Taylor Hicks this month! Just good clean fun - with some awesome music!
Thanks for reading.!

Nette said...

My husband and I both went to PCC. My husband lasted a year and a half. I only made it one semester and we left to get married. Our parents treated us more like adults than the college did and we couldn't stand being controlled any longer. I'm so glad those schools didn't kill your spirit. We are big fans of yours and will keep voting for you!! Keep up the good work and remember that no matter what happens AI isn't the only place to take your talent!

Karen Burns said...

I have to say, your journey is amazing. I love the part of meeting Sarah. You do have a way with words, in writing and songs. Don't give up the idea of writing a few books. Would like to read them.

-Di. said...

Teh internets can be a surreal experience. Even 5 years ago would you expect to go online to find any of the American Idol's blogs?

I really do hope it is really you. really. totally. like for real. It seems unreal to be communicating with someone known who is not a podcaster. You should go into podcasting.

Anyways, in a weird way I feel like I've known you for awhile. I have just been aware of you existence from American Idol. It is weird because this is the first season that I've watched Idol.

You were in Germany the same time I was. But I was in a small town near Munich (markt schwaben) Ok, there is NO way you'll know where that is other than that it is near Munich. HA!

I've been reading your Theology blog. I'll have to post my response to those there. Very good stuff---It's starting to wake up philosophy side.

Do you read all of the responses that you get? I have to admit that I'm surprised you do receive more.

Love & Peace,


Betsy said...

"Basically, what that means is that my parents believed that music and movies and everything the world had to offer were off-limits for Christians."

So, *that* is what you mean by 'fundamentalist'! We are going by two very different definitions. I'm conservative, but certainly not the sort to add additional commandments to God's law! A fundamentalist, by the definition that I'm familiar with, is just somebody who believes the Bible is the Word of God, and that Jesus, through his death and resurrection, is the way to salvation (to the Father). It is the essentials of our faith, plus a commitment to follow Christ. That is it. So, when I read you going on about how you are a 'former fundamentalist', my next thought was, "Oh, he's one of those Bishop Spong heretics." I guess I was wrong in assuming that.

I didn't know that such (legalistic?) Christians existed who banned secular music and movies. Wow. It strikes me as both sad and odd.

As for your musical journey, I could relate to your discovery of Christian music. When I came to Messiah in my late teen years, I heard a song by Michael W. Smith that almost made my head explode. I had literally never heard of Christian music before. Soon thereafter, I discovered that the singers of one of my favourite songs on the radio at the time ("Flood"), Jars of Clay, is a Christian band.

Now, I take a great deal of guilty pleasure when I listen to Christian music on net radio.

Unbeliever comes in: "What's that? That sounds awesome! Who sings it?"

"O.C. Supertones"

"Who are they?"

"They're a Christian band"

Then, a disappointed, "Oh", and they walk away.

That simply amuses me like no one's business.

claritarejoice said...

Wow Chris, your whole entire life story - again, thank you. You should write a biography (like Fantasia :) ) - seriously, I would read it. You're an MK? Me too! Where did you live? It's a blessing to hear your upbringing was conservative but you didn't rebel (too much :) ). After reading your blog entries I realize more and more that TV seriously doesn't show anything about the real person. I can tell my husband and I would get along really well with you and Sarah (my husband is hilarious just like you) - if you're ever in Los Angeles and need a place to stay . . . :)

Holly said...

Hi. I'm a big Blake fan but I am starting to really like you. You're pretty much starting to amaze me, man. I like how you respond to negative comments by other users. And I can't help but get the feeling you type really fast.