Ian Eskelin: I knew I was gonna get great questions from you. I mean, that's a legitimate question because why don't I just make them all one or the other, you know? Anybody that knows anything about All Star United knows that I get away with a lot of sarcasm and some bizarre social commentary in the format of All Star United. And it's almost like a different persona that I can get away with. I'm probably never gonna record a worship song with All Star United but if I would choose to do so, if I feel called or led to do that, I would probably do that. And you know I can get away with different things. I'm still Ian Eskelin. You know, I'm a solo artist and in All Star United but you know the format is just a little different. I'm the kind of guy who's overwhelmed with melodies sometimes. I know it's a God-given gift. I write truckloads of songs every year and I can't stop writing them. I write for a lot of different people. I won't get into that now, but to answer your question, the difference would be that All Star United is kind of a group of five or six of my friends that kind of have become this fluid community over the years. Whenever I feel like I have ten or eleven songs that I want to record, I pick up the Bat phone and call them and we're in the studio pretty much immediately. We live all over the place. One of the cool things about the new All Star United album, Love and Radiation, was that some of the guys from the original album, the first record, started filtering back through. You know, we're scattered all over the country and guys are filling in for different bands. People start coming in out of the woodwork. (John: You pull out the horn, "All Star! Assemble!!") *laughter* You think you're kidding, but that's exactly what it is!
Ian: Well, you know, Brian is one of those fluid community rock stars. He's been tied up with Audio Adrenaline and I'm just waiting for them to hang it up so we can get the band back together.
Ian: Oh, I do too. They're great. It's funny because Brian Whitman, he's all over the new All Star United record. He's sung everything from "Bright Red Carpet" to the new "Love and Radiation." And, you know, Audio Adrenaline has kind of stolen some of those guys in a good way. *laughs* It's not like I'm keeping tabs on everybody. Brian, you know, he's an original All Star United trekkie.
Ian: He has been, yeah. He's in the new one. (John: Yeah, he said he took that photo in his living room?) Yeah, well you know this album came out internationally, almost nine months prior. We do a lot of stuff with the guys from Delirious. They distribute our album to tons of different countries. That's pretty cool because we started early on thinking All Star United was going to be more of an international based concept. We just like that concept. But it came down to a photo shoot. Brian Whitman was out with Audio Adrenaline. Christian (Crowe), our drummer, was out in Los Angeles. It was like "Hey, we need a photoshoot by tomorrow, what are we gonna do? Everybody send me a photo and I'll comp it together and try to make it look great." It was hilarious. Talk about good art design people. It's all good. Technology. But it's gonna be a fun group of guys rolling over to Edinboro, Scotland on June 9th. That'll probably kick off a bunch of shows around the globe. It's gonna be good.
Ian: Frenzy Festival. It'll be our first show in a while. It's gonna be fun.
Ian: Yeah man, you know it's good. It's like you said. You pick up the big horn. *makes tooting sounds* All Star! Assemble! You're right, man, that's how it is. Dude, I've been in situations where, you know, I call the guys and say "Hey man, we've got a show in Bratislava, Slovakia." And it's literally like this, man... "Hey Whitman, I've got your ticket on United Airlines going through Paris. See ya in Vienna." A day and a half later, we see each other in the airport in Vienna and it's like "Hey man, how's it goin? Did you get a chance to go over the set?" "Yeah." And the next thing you know we're playing for 3,000 people in Bratislava. It's crazy. But the thing is that it's become kinda this bizarre little almost spy "club." It's fun.
Ian: I don't know. Maybe. It's at some hall there.
Ian: It's the United Kingdom *laughs*
Ian: You know, it's funny. You look back across an album and you write these things in a 3 or 4 month period. And it's a period of your life. You look back and you see that there are similar concepts across different songs. There's a bunch of songs on the album that talk about the concept that if we have God's love inside of us, we can't just hide it. It's our job to radiate it. I love a metaphor title like Love and Radiation. Everyone's like "What's that? Is it like… nuclear?" No, it's like if we have God's love inside of us, it's our job to radiate it out into the world. A lot of other songs on the album show up like that. There's a song called "We Could Be Brilliant" which is another idea of that. There's a lyric on that song that's fun for me: "Shine like diamonds shot with light / Burn like stars across the night / On fire / We could be brilliant / like an Oslo summer sun / Blazing when the day is done" And we've been in Oslo in the summer at 11 o'clock at night and the Sun is still out. Those kinds of things, especially with us trying to be a more global band, things like that filter into your lyrics. Its love and radiation and those types of concepts of glowing for God.
Ian: You obviously know a about All Star United. Anybody will tell you that if they're writing about things, they're writing about things that are close to their lives. You know, I've been in the Christian music industry for a long time, 12 years. (John: It's been longer than that, hasn't it?) Yeah, maybe even longer than that. It's been about 15 years almost. I can't even remember, I'm as old as the hills man. But you know, there have been some songs that have showed up across different records like "La La Land" and "Smash Hit," which kind of talk about the industry in a sarcastic way. And you know, it all seems to come back around. Even in a song like "The Song of the Year." The irony in that song is hilarious considering the fact that I'm actually up for Song of the Year this year for a song called "Me and Jesus" by Stellar Kart. The irony is hilarious because, you know, on our new album we have a song called "The Song of the Year" just so we could have a sticker on the front cover that says "All Star United: featuring The Song of the Year." We thought that would be really funny, which, you know, there is a sticker on the front of the album. (John: Are you serious? That's fantastic!) Yeah, it's great. So you know, ultimately in all of those songs I always end up poking a little fun in the verses and then end up telling a redeeming story in the chorus. And that particular song "The Song of the Year" talks about why we're doing this. If we're gonna write songs, they shouldn't always be about our glory. They should be about something bigger.
Ian: Well you know it's funny, because we've been testing it a little bit on the radio and half of the stations are freaking out because they want to play it and the other half are terrified of us. You know what I mean? We could put that song out and make it a half-big single, or we could pick something else. The thing is, it's got such a great message, but it's still tongue in cheek.
Ian: You can definitely stack the cards in your favor if you want a hit on Christian radio. There are certain things you can do, but at the end of the day, if you're a writer or an artist, you want to infuse truth into your songs and passion. Chris Tomlin is doing the right things with his songs. He's pulling heartstrings of the masses and people are loving it. I think he's doing it for the right reasons. I've written some worship songs before that I've been passionate about, but I don't do that every day. Like I said earlier, I almost have two personas. When I do some stuff for me it's this type of stuff. When I do stuff for All Star United, I have a lot of leeway. It's fun because quite honestly, no one else is doing it and if I can push the envelope a little bit that's great.
Ian: Well I'm finally in a situation now where we've found All Star United a lot of different lables. Even as a solo artist I've been on a lot of different labels. It's very difficult to manage ministry, music, and commerce. It's like labels want this, they want to sell this, and they don't want you to do this. It's very complicated. You know, I'm in a situation now with All Star United where I've fallen in with 7 Spin Music which is this cool indie label. But I'm in a situation now where whenever I feel like making records, I can do it. It's great. I used to do 300 shows a year and just grind it out, but now I'm in a situation now where if we want to make a record, we'll make a record. If we want to go do some shows, we'll do some shows. There are some interesting things in the works right now. You gotta do it while you can.
Ian: I wanted to make my decision carefully about when it came out. Like I said, the last thing I wanted to do was to dive into the label everyone thought I should've gone to. Ultimately, at the end of the day, I wanted control. I've been there, done that. I wasn't in a hurry to get it out. I wanted to make sure it had the right avenues and the right people where I could say "I want to do this cover artwork" and I can do that. There's a lot of song and dance that happens in the industry and it's not a bad thing, it's a good thing. A lot of bands are up and coming and they need that molding. All of us in All Star United have been friends and making records for nine years. I think it says in my bio that All Star United is just an outlet that I crave. I totally thrive in the All Star United environment and I love the outlet that it gives me to say some things on my heart that I'll never be able to do with writing songs for Joy Williams or Avalon or whoever may come across my studio.
Ian: Yeah. Well it's funny because I've got a handful of songs written. Like I said, we've kind of spent a lot of time touring in a lot of foreign countries. We've been all over the world. We had such a great relationship with Furious? Records. That was a built-in thing. I took my time to make sure that I made the wise choice, and fell in love with 7 Spin Music, which is really really great and really fun. We're on a schedule now where things are starting to happen. This album (Love and Radiation) is coming out May 29th. It's started to be about time where international people have had this record for almost a year. And I know that 7 Spin wants to get another one out. I'm in a cool situation now where I can just do what I need to do. So yes, there's another album coming out.
Ian: Yes, I actually had a lunch today to talk about that. We're going to do some dates in the fall and a few dates at some summer festivals. I don't know what they are though, I just found out about them yesterday. So we're gonna do a handful of things like that. We used to do 300 shows a year and grind it into the ground. We're just in the process now of reintroducing ourselves. I just finished a long All Star United radio tour. I went to all of the Christian Chart stations and kind of rekindled those relationships and it's been great. We've broken into the top 30 this week. It's been five years since we've really had a song on the Christian charts. So it's been fun. It's called "Jesus on the Radio."
Ian: I think it's always easier to write for other people. (John: Really?) Absolutely, because you over-think it a lot when you write for yourself. A lot of artists that I write with are up and coming younger artists and they've spent three or four weeks on this song that they can't finish. They come to me and they need an outside perspective. I think one of the biggest things you can learn in songwriting is to learn to force yourself to finish a song. I remember the song called "Smash Hit" when I first started really writing, and I had that song for three months but I didn't really have a bridge. It was becoming time where I needed to really finish the album. The problem is, you write these songs and so much of it is so good that you're nervous to finish it because you don't want to ruin the rest of it. With enough experience and enough songs under my belt, I usually tend to do hopefully the right thing.
Ian: I'm constantly producing other songs. I just finished up producing Everyday Sunday and produced some songs for that and I just finished working with a band called Eleventyseven. That album turned out great. They've been walking around GMA this week with a robot. They have a robot in their band. I also just finished a band called Overflow. I produced a bunch of songs on their new record. Their record sounds fantastic. I've been working with everyone from them to getting ready to start another Stellar Kart record. I wrote with Krystal Myers last week. I'm constantly writing songs with people but I really enjoy that aspect. Before I sat down to write "Me and Jesus" with Adam Agee (Stellar Kart), I let him steer the ship. It's his band. Whatever comes out I just try to organize. With All Star United, I'll go to the coffee shop with my buddy and we'll sit down and just make titles… we'll make like… 30 titles. And it's funny because a year later we'll look back on those titles and see how many are cut on records. A lot of the weird ones always get put on the All Star United Records like "Love and Radiation" and some of them are just too weird to actually make a hit. We had a song called "When You Wish upon a Brick." That never made it.
Ian: You heard that because you are in the know. Yeah, you heard that on the Revolution record. The Revolution record was actually supposed to be a European release only. Then they decided that they were going to start Furious? U.S. with All Star and Delirious? being their flagship artists and it didn't take off so well. So both of those records, Delirious? and All Star United kind of got canned. But we've lived to fight another day. And that's another reason why it took so long to make the U.S. decision, I wanted to make the right decision. The little known fact is that it's really easy to get a record deal but it's really hard to keep it. Anybody can have a record deal these days.
Ian: One day it would be really interesting to sit down with Damon Albarn. I'm a big Blur fan. (John: Cool. Anybody else?) As far as Christian music is concerned, Nashville is kind of a small circle. I've pretty much met a lot of people and everybody kind of knows each other so I've been fortunate enough to have those relationships and friendships. As far as working with people, you know, I'm a big soccer fan. Maybe I'll meet some soccer stars.
Ian: God has been teaching me a little bit of patience. I usually have my laser set to stun. When I have an idea, I want it done immediately. I'm always like "We gotta do this; we gotta make this happen now. We have to get this song to radio tomorrow." I always want it in my time and not God's. My favorite Bible verse is 1 Peter 5:6-7. Long story short, He will life you up in His time not yours. He knows all your fears. He knows your cares and He cares about you. Sometimes you gotta just do what you do and be creative and sit back and wait for it to happen. It was hard for me to wait 10 months for the new All Star United record to come out but ultimately, it turned out to be a really great thing. It got pushed back but the timing was better.
Ian: It is funny. I noticed on the charts last week that "Jesus on the Radio" was right above "Together" by Krystal Myers which I wrote too. *laughs* But in the end of the day, they all have their way and they all have their time. I'm realistic about All Star United now. Would I love a massive resurgence and all of a sudden headline some festivals in the states? That would be incredible. The climate has changed a bit and people go through times. All Star United was king of the crop for a while and then you get some mainstream labels sniffing around and and it changes and then we decided to not do the mainstream route. And then I got married, started writing songs for other people, started producing records, started doing the solo thing. The next thing you know, you're a few years down the line but that doesn't mean that I still don't have the desire and the passion to be creative. One of the reasons it took me a while to figure out exactly what I wanted to do was that I wanted to set myself up to where I can fulfill those passions and have that outlet. If we end up having a number one song in the next 18 months, that's awesome. It's great. I feel that I can write it. And if I don't write it for me, maybe it'll be for someone else. Maybe another thing that God's doing to me is that I'm learning to be content in my discontent.
Ian: Of course I want all of my All Star United songs to be number one, but I'm also smart enough to know that "The Song of the Year" is gonna just tick some people off, but 50% of the people are gonna die laughing. For me, at this point in my career, I don't need to do 300 shows. I can take those risks and have fun with it and along the way if I can stumble across some song that really connects with people and all of a sudden it's just a massive smash, that'd be great man, sign me up.
Ian: It's part of my ploy and I'm not gonna lie, it's been a good ploy. It's been pretty cool. Honestly man, the cool thing is that I feel connected with the radio people and I've been trying to keep on top of what people are listening to and what they want to listen to. You know, with All Star United, when you do two albums in Christian rock music and you do a couple hundred thousand units - for a Christian rock band, that's kind of the pinnacle. You either go mainstream or you don't. Or you can keep status quo and keep doing that or you go worship. Or you can have a career of five hundred thousand units and keep going. But you know that's vast generalization. After a couple of All Star United records I was forced to say to myself "Do I keep doing 300 shows a year, a hundred thousand units, or do I start at least chasing some other dreams? I might have to." But now after all of these years I'm doing it all and loving it. And not many people can say that. Sometimes I think "Am I shooting myself in the foot by doing not enough of one thing?" The thing is though, everybody goes through phases where you wanna do things like go on vacation. I just find myself being really creative when I do different things for a season.
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