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JFH Staff Blog | September 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

We Recommend - Five Iron Frenzy, 'The End Is Here'

I think I say this each time, even on things that are unrelated to Five Iron, but Five Iron Frenzy is my favorite band.  And I'm super excited about the release of their DVD this winter.  I know, it's not unusual for some deranged FIF messageboard geeks to start rumors about the band and its releases, so I wouldn't be completely surprised if this was another one of those.  But anyways, I'm excited.  While thinking about my love for the band, I thought I would recommend their final release, the two-disc The End Is Here.  Arguably the best release in their career, it's a great set, with a big ol' lyrics booklet (with some cool illustrations), as well as their final studio album (complete with an extra song than the original one sold at shows only on their Winners Never Quit Tour) and the live recording of their final sold-out concert.  The live stuff is great, amazingly-but-not-overly-produced, with a fantastic selection of their songs and even a medley of some older jams.  You can also find a great deal of their non-song live stuff tacked on at the end of the studio album, making it seem like not one second of their set was unaccounted for.  Honestly, the only thing that could've made this release better was if there was a DVD of the show making it a 3-disc set.  Maybe there will be some of it on the new DVD to come?  We'll see.....hopefully. ~ Scott Fryberger

Five Iron Frenzy
The End Is Here (2004)

Click here for a JFH Staff Review.

Our synopsis: "A perfect way to say goodbye to one of Christian music's most well-loved bands." (Recommended by JFH's Scott Fryberger)
Perfect For: Beautiful lyricism, fun and conviction
Song Highlights: I can't settle on just a few

So, what are your thoughts on and experiences with the album The End Is Here? Do you recommend it? If so, why?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Matters of Love and the Heart

I’ve been thinking about love today, and I haven’t gotten anywhere. This past week has been really dramatic and even terrifying for me, as I gave my heart—once again—too quickly to a girl. The problem is that she didn’t love me back, maybe because at times I neglected the “game” this world plays and chose to show her how I truly felt instead. So cast your stone if I’m wrong in this, but I still want to believe that it is better to love unconditionally and lose like a fool than to be a fake in your character and win the girl in the end. Maybe I’m just a romantic, or maybe it’s God’s nature in me. Whatever else I’ve learned about love over the years, I’ve realized that when it comes down to it, only two things remain that should leave you without regrets:

1)      Walking with God

2)      Following your heart

Obviously, you can’t only follow your heart, because your heart can be foolish and unwise at times. So if we must guard our hearts as well, then we also need someone to make the path for our hearts. You see, I didn’t fail in loving the girl; I failed in asking God exactly how he wanted me to handle the situation. Love is never the mistake, readers. Following your heart is a good thing. It is the only thing that is true for us to do, and it is the only thing that will satisfy us. Another question immediately comes into play, however: “How do I know if the person even deserves my love, or when do I stop?”

That’s where walking with God is highly necessary.

God can tell you to fight for that person’s heart, or to move on, or anything else he thinks is best. It sort of goes hand-in-hand, because that deep confirmation from God will somehow alter the desires of your heart and you’ll know more clearly what is right to do.

I don’t know a lot about love, it is way too complex of a thing to understand fully. One thing I know for certain, though, is that loving someone never promises they’ll love you in return, and if it is to be authentic—as it is your choice—you keep your Teacher close and love them unconditionally anyway, seeking nothing—Nothing—in return.. And God will leave the choice to you, the same way he left the choice to Adam and Eve in the garden, because real love, in its brilliance, must be left untamed.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Skelanimals

Long have I been dreading the day.  The day when I would discover a new trend and think, "Kids these days!"  Methinks this day has come.

Now, look, I'm only 25.  25 = not old.  I realize that.  But I just can't help but feel that way sometimes.  or at least feel like I'm gradually stumbling my way there.

I caught wind of this new Family Force 5 single that was releasing exclusively through Target called "Keep The Party Alive."  So I went to Target and sought it out.  I was dismayed (and irritated) that it was an EP of six FF5 songs for $5.99, three of which are on Dance or Die and two of which are on Dance or Die With A Vengeance.  So basically, since I already have BOTH of these albums, buying that EP would be a waste of six bucks (as it most likely also would be for anyone who likes Family Force 5 enough to care about one new song).  Needless to say, I put it back on the shelf and bought a bag of chips instead.

Some of that is irrelevant to the point I'm trying to make.  Possibly all of it.  Sorry.  But in case you're wondering, it's this new brand called PopChips.  They're delicious.

I wondered why they had a single releasing already.  John Reuben is releasing a new single per month for four months, but that's because he has a new album coming out.  But FF5 is still on the heels of a remix album, and they have a Christmas album coming out soon.  I like FF5, but I don't think I can handle this much of them.  But come to find out, "Keep The Party Alive" is all part of this big Halloween ad campaign for Target and these things called Skelanimals.

Now I had heard the name "Skelanimals" before in association with FF5, but never put any research into it to see what it was.  Well, JfH had a News Short with the promo video in it, so I watched it.  And, unless I'm missing something, Skelanimals are just little cartoon animals that have all black bodies except for the skeleton of the animal.  That's it.  Don't get me wrong, they're freakin' adorable.  But yeah, that's all they are.  And they've somehow become a sensation with emo kids, young kids (two ten-year-old-looking girls passed me by at Target wearing Skelanimal apparel while talking about their Skelanimal clothing and frantically searching for the Skelanimal section...no exaggeration) and they even have Skelanimal bands on their website.  FF5 is included in that section, along with bands like Meg & Dia, Silverstein, Chiodos, and even As I Lay Dying (which may be the weirdest one to me.  I mean, why would a metal band be all about some cutesy little animals?)

I'm not trying to sound angry, or be a jerk or anything.  If you like these guys, that's perfectly okay.  I just would like someone to explain to me if there's some validity in this, or if it's just another passing fad like Trolls, Pogs and slap bracelets?

Or am I just getting old?

Friday, September 18, 2009

The John 15:11 Challenge

These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” John 15:11 (NASV)

I challenge you to ask yourself what does this verse mean to you? I find it interesting to take a step back and look at how I tend to perceive/translate the word of God. So many times I will relate “joy” to what I feel during the events surrounding my life. But is that really the “Joy” that God talks about? I sure hope not. Because how many times has that “joy” turned into sadness, anger, depression, fear, or hopelessness. All of these feelings might not come at once or even under the same circumstances, but we have all felt them at one time or another. Are you tired of living in your own created “joy”? I know I am. It’s a process that I have to continually rely on God to overcome. I stopped looking at the situations in my life to define how I feel and act. I even stopped creating solutions within my life that would bring me “joy” and meet my needs. This is more of a challenge than one might think. Whether life is amazing or it is a struggle at the moment, it is vital to live life connected to God. It is in my opinion that God should be the main source of our fulfillment. So it is in God’s hands and His hands alone that I choose to turn to and receive “Joy”. The funny thing is God’s way is so much simpler. I simply get out of the way and let Him do what He does best.

One way that I get in the way is that I will look to actors, bands and other forms of entertainment as a place to find “joy”. And as much as I hope that my music and entertaining antics bring a level of “joy” to everyone’s life, I challenge you to never allow it to replace God’s pure “Joy”. Entertainment as a whole isn’t bad it just shouldn’t replace our need for God’s “Joy”. When we replace God’s “Joy” we start to loose the strong foundation that life in God provides. Our life begins to feel shaky and we struggle with the things that before, were so easily conquered.

So what does God’s “Joy” really look like? For that question to be properly answered it is a must that you turn to the Bible. God’s “Joy” is so multi faceted that there isn’t just one definition. In Galatians 5:22 “joy” is described as one of the fruits of the Spirit. So to begin, “Joy” is a product of God. In James 1:2 “Joy” is what we are recommended to consider when we face trials within this life. Simply put “Joy” is our security when things in this life prove difficult. 2 John 1:12 speaks about “Joy” as a face to face relationship, a pure communion between to like-minded believers. Needless to say the Bible mentions the word “joy” 242 times so one has to note that this is a subject that is dear to God’s own heart. So I challenge you embrace God’s “Joy” and learn to live in it.

God has nothing but great things for you and me. He believes in you more than you can ever imagine. Trusting God to provide “Joy” should be the easiest thing we do. The sad part is it is not always the natural thing to do. We have all been trained one way or another to trust on our physical circumstances. That’s why I want to leave you with this, that you strive to truly let God’s “Joy” be in and through you. Simply start relying on God to provide for your needs and focus your attention on him and off of your issues at hand. I encourage you to stop looking at man made “joy” to bring you fulfillment and find out what God’s “Joy” is really like. Till we see you at our next show, may God bless you and keep you!

Cheers,

Jon Haire

MIKESCHAIR (bassist)

Monday, September 14, 2009

We Recommend - Jars Of Clay, 'The Long Fall Back To Earth'

This Spring, one of CCM's staple acts, Jars Of Clay, released one of their strongest albums yet, the epicly titled The Long Fall Back To Earth. Over this past weekend, I caught the band's live performance at Disney's "Night Of Joy" festival and the foursome put on a great mix of old and new favorites. Their alternative/pop blend reaches different heights for the guys on The Long Fall... and even as we reach the Fall season, it still remains to be one of the highlight album releases of this year. As the guys get ready to embark on the Creation Festival Tour with TFK, FM Static, and Mark & Will from Audio Adrenaline (as "AA Talks"), we can't be more thrilled about the upcoming event. 15 years into their career, I cannot wait to see what the Jars boys have up their proverbial musical sleeves next! ~ John DiBiase

Jars Of Clay
The Long Fall Back To Earth (2009)

Click here for a JFH Staff Review.

Our synopsis: "This 2009 highlight is a catchy but deep look at relationships - human and spiritual alike. One of Jars Of Clay's best!" (Recommended by JFH's John DiBiase)
Perfect For: Relationships, Love
Song Highlights: "Heaven," "Don't Stop," "The Long Fall," "There Might Be A Light," "Heart"... pretty much the whole thing.

So, what are your thoughts on and experiences with the album The Long Fall Back To Earth? Do you recommend it? If so, why?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Music, Moods and Emotions

It just occurred to me recently about how centered my life is on music. If everyone sat down and thought about it, I'm sure a lot of people would feel the same way. I mean, I have a song to play for every mood or emotion that I deal with.  A few days ago I was going through a lonely period, and the first songs that came to mind were "All Around" by The Glorious Unseen and "By Your Side" by Tenth Avenue North. So I played them, and something just connected. It's kind of funny how it works.

In a way, playing songs that relate to how we're feeling can really help put things in perspective. With all the distractions in the world (Twitter, Facebook, obsessive BlackBerry use, etc.), it's a daily struggle for me to find God time, but I can always fix this problem with a really deep worship song ("How He Loves" from the upcoming David Crowder Band release has been doing the trick recently).

Then there's my nightly ritual of listening to music before I go to sleep. Jon Foreman and The Fray have really been my heroes in this category. Raw and real music like that really helps end the day on a good note.

Music and emotions can go a lot further than just speaking to how we feel though. There have been more than enough times where I've turned on a song in relativity to my mood and have found the lyrics not only addressing my situation, but really saying something to me. I've found that music is one of the best ways that God can really communicate with us. So many times I find myself wondering "what is God trying to tell me through these lyrics?"

Just dwelling on such a trivial topic like this and really giving it some thought have really brought things to light - and all in all, I've learned that music isn't something to be taken for granted. It's there for a reason. We just have to listen.   ~ Logan

Monday, September 07, 2009

Attack of the EP!

It's kind of funny. As I sit here reading over staff reviews for the latest  EP releases, it reminds me just how many dang EP's are being released these days (Roger's going to eat this blog up!)! I know that the music industry is in a weird state right now - and the economy isn't helping! - but as the labels try not to lose their shirt on debuting new artists, the safest way it seems to go may be to release an EP. However, I've often had mixed feelings about EP's myself.

I remember the mid-90's or so, when labels would take a chance on new artists and release a full-length debut album. It gives artists a chance to really show listeners what they can do. Imagine, for example, if Jars Of Clay's debut album was an EP. What would their self-titled record be without "Worlds Apart" or "Boy On A String?" I suppose you can try that little exercise with any of your favorite bands -- If Thousand Foot Krutch's Phenomenon was just 6 songs or Hawk Nelson's Letters To The President ? Or if Third Day's self-titled album was without "Thief" or "Blackbird?" However, on the other hand, a debut EP does give us the listener less of a financial risk. "Well, I only had to shell out 4 or 5 bucks on this EP and it's just 'OK.'" ... but that proposes yet another thought... does a full album place more stress on an artist or label to make it a solid debut? Does an EP leave room for error? ("We'll save some of the best tracks for when our full-length comes out"... what if that was their thought process?). In this day and age when a lot of new artists are putting EP's out first -- do you the consumer and music fan prefer that? Does it leave you wanting more? Or do you feel a little cheated afterwards?

I do like the EP when an artist I already enjoy decides to put out something new to tide us over with. Rock N Roll Worship Circus' The Listening EP is one of my favorite EP's of all-time and a solid collection of songs from start to finish. Would it have been a stronger release with 4 more songs? I don't really know. But it was certainly a satisfying EP at six songs. I enjoyed last year's Closer EP from Jars of Clay. It gave a glimpse at their upcoming release plus added two redone classics and a rare song - three tracks you could only get on that EP. That kind of an approach seems like an ideal EP format. But what about how Forefront Records handled new artists Abandon and Philmont? They both released digital EP's last Summer, then both of those EPs released in CD form this year with 1 bonus track on each one. On the same day as the release of Abandon's EP on CD this past April, they released a SECOND digital EP, this time of all new tracks. Then, selections from both EP's made it onto Abandon's recently released full-length album Searchlights, with the addition of about 3 or 4 new songs. Is this kind of approach to debuting a new artist a little goofy, or something you think makes sense?

One last thought I wanted to add... in the 90's, with some of these aforementioned debut full-length albums, there was no way to buy tracks by themselves... now there is a way -- between AmazonMP3 and iTunes especially, we can just download single songs instead of the full album. So isn't there less stress on the consumer already if they just want to buy half the full-length album instead of the full thing. So why bother with an EP as a debut if listeners don't want to commit to a full album? They can just buy the tracks off the full-length that they want!

Just some 4am musings here. What do you guys think of the notorious debut-album-EP and the way labels are releasing them at an increased frequency these days (or not even the debut EP's but the more frequent release of multiple EP's from your favorite artists in place of a full-length album?, like the Future Of Forestry Travel EP's, for example)?

Friday, September 04, 2009

Jon of Hawk Nelson Recounts The Recording Process of Live Life Loud

A blog recounting the recording process of Live Life Loud:

So it's been a few months since we finished recording "Live Life Loud", and I'm sitting down to sketch out what I can remember about the recording process..... Thankfully I'm blessed (and equally cursed) with a crazy detailed memory for things like this, and I could probably write this in just as much detail a year from now. Haha. This is the point at which the rest of the guys would make a "push your glasses up your nose and adjust your pocket-protector" gesture and laugh at me. ( I can definitely nerd out when it comes to studio time, techniques, and equipment, so I'll do my best to keep the nerding to a minimum, and place the NERDIEST stuff in big ol' parentheses. )

We recorded the album in Nashville, in two chunks..... because of our touring schedule. We were doing a tour called Winterjam (alongside tobyMac and others) that stretched from January to March, and another tour called the Rock and Worship Roadshow (with Mercy Me, Jeremy Camp, and others) that stretched from March through the end of April. Altogether we played in front of roughly half a million people during those few months, so it wasn't exactly a "down" time set aside for making a record. Even so, we found some time during Winterjam to record 6 songs (Live Life Loud, Meaning of Life, Eggshells, Alive, Never Enough, and Shaken), and some additional time after the Roadshow tour in which to finish up.

The recording process in both of those cases started with the 4 of us in a room with our producer, Steve Wilson. Jason, Steve, and I would each grab an acoustic guitar, Dan would have his bass and a small amp, and Justin would have his small practice kit set up. We would go through existing song ideas one by one, in order to get an idea how we'd like to arrange them for this recording. Sometimes these would be Jason's song ideas, and other times they would be ideas that were created from a collaboration with various friends that we've written with over the years. In any case.... it was here that we generally decided the feel of each song.... the length of each verse, chorus, and tag.... and the tempos of each song. Once we had come to a place where the song seemed to sit well in our minds and on paper, we would record a quick scratch guitar and scratch vocal. These scratch tracks were used to remind us of the arrangements, and would also be used when the recording process began in ernest.

This is where things got serious (and for us that means fun).... We went over to  Quad Studios in downtown Nashville to record the drums. This studio is simply amazing... one of my favorite in town. The main room sounds killer for drums, and this is where Justin Benner laid down the fat beats you will experience on this record. :) I'm sure he was inspired by the platinum Amy Grant records on the walls.... (I sure was!). I won't get into the nitty gritty of the gear used on the drums, but it was pretty killer (SSL console, plenty of Neve. UA, and API goodness). Justin had the scratch guitars and vocals to play along with, so he had some idea of where the song was headed. Justin also keeps CRAZY DETAILED notes. He's definitely the most methodical and mathematical musician in Hawk Nelson.

Once drums were tracked we went back to Steve's studio to record everything else. Daniel tracked the bass through a Sansamp and his Ampeg SVT head and 8x10 cab. He generally finished quite a few songs in any given day, and got to sit back and enjoy watching the tunes grow from that point on.... Up to this point, his main bass had always been a Fender US P-bass, but in recent months he's been playing a Fender Jaguar bass quite a bit, and it was this bass that got used for most of the parts on this record. You might not know this, but Daniel actually learned to play the bass when he joined Hawk Nelson.... so with that in mind, it is so inspiring to see what a confident, skilled player he is now. He laid down some grooves that feel SO good... and he and Justin meld together quite nicely.

After the bass was completed, it was my turn to start tracking guitars. Naturally, as the guitar player, I tend to think of this phase as the time when the songs really take shape. That may or may not actually be true. :) Since guitar is often the first instrument to be recorded in multiple layers, I feel like that's where songs begin to come into their own form.... but if I was the singer, I'd probably think that the vocals were where the mojo was really at. Since I'm the one writing this blog, however, you get to experience my own perspective, even if it is slanted and unfair. Haha.

We had pretty great collection of amps and guitars to play with, including a Bad Cat Hot Cat 30r, a Marshall JCM 800 ('84), a Marshall 100w Super Lead ('73), a Vox AC30, a Peavey Classic 50, and an Orange Tiny Terror. For guitars, I relied primarily on my Paul Reed Smiths..... I never go to a recording session without these bad boys anymore. They hold tune like no other, and sound so balanced and musical. On LLL I used an SC245 extensively, as well as a Mira, and Singlecut Hollowbody. I also used several Telecasters, a Stratocaster, an Epi Sheraton hollowbody, and several SG's. I couldn't help but notice how much more tuning I had to do when I wasn't on a PRS. I'm just sayin! (Gear Note:We tracked all the guitars through UA 610 preamps, and a blend of Audix i5 and Royer 122 mics).

Once the guitars for each song were tracked, Steve and I spent a good amount of time toying around with percussion, organs, rhodes, and other miscellaneous sounds. Steve and I both really enjoy this part of the recording process, and place quite a bit of value on the extra effort (or love, as Steve calls it)  of placing interesting percussion and synth parts in the various corners of each song. We spent time with tambourines, shakers, and even a vibraslap! If you're not familiar with a vibraslap, it's in the song "Live Life Loud" in a few places.... and it sounds like a crazy rattling wooden box.

I also got to experiment with a theremin on that song, which is a crazy instrument that emits a tone that's based on your proximity to an antenna. The closer your hand is to the antenna, the higher the pitch. Some theremins have a second antenna for controlling volume, but the one we used had a knob for that. As far as I know, the theremin is the only instrument out there that you play without touching. Quirky, right?

Once Steve and I kinda wrapped up our craziness, it was time for Jason to come in and track vocals. For you nerds out there, we used a Lawson L47MP condenser mic for most of the songs (an SM7b was used on a song called "The Job"), through a Vintech x73i preamp, a Distressor, and Crane Song Hedd converters. Nerd alert, I know. Steve and Jason are both pretty talented with vocal arrangements and background vocal parts, so they had a great time arranging all the BGVs. There are "nanana"s, "sha-la-la"s, and all kinds of little background goodies to listen for! Jason even sang every part of a barber-shop-quartet style vocal performance on "Ode to Lord Stanley".... haha.

We brought in a bunch of friends to help us record gang vocals after this.... All the "Hey!!!!" shouts and such..... various friends of ours dropped by to help us for this part... including a very special appearance from Brandon Heath! We sang gang vocals on probably about half the songs on the record, including nearly choir-type arrangements on "Tis So Sweet" and "Final Toast".

That pretty much wrapped up the tracking of Live Life Loud. Our good friend J.R. McNeely mixed the record (he also mixed our first two albums, "Letters" and "Smile") at his studio in Franklin, TN, and Ted Jensen over at Stirling Sound in New York mastered it.

All in all, I think the four of us put a lot of ourselves into this record. The recording process was done near our homes in Nashville, with a producer whom we feel quite close to (love you Steve...), and both of these factors contributed to the personal touch that feels more evident on this particular album. As we move forward and grow as a band, we're still sort of discovering our voices and figuring out who we are. Every record seems to have a personality all its own, and this one has some personal and heartfelt touches that may not have existed on previous albums to quite this degree....

Myself and the other guys are quite excited to share this new album with you, and we hope you enjoy it immensely!

Jonathan
 


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