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The Choir
Interviewed by Michial Farmer at Cornerstone Festival, July 5, 2000

The Choirís chief lyricist/drummer Steve Hindalong and saxophone player/manager Dan Michaels spoke with the Phantom Tollboothís Michial Farmer at Cornerstone Festival 2000.

City on a Hill
At the Foot of the Cross
Flap Your Wings
Looking Back, Advice
Production Credits
Writing
 

City on a Hill
Tollbooth: Youíre working on this project called City on a Hill for Essential Records. How did this come about? Were you looking to do another worship record, or did Essential approach you about it?

Steve Hindalong: Iíve wanted to do more worship music ever since Derri and I worked on At the Foot of the Cross several years ago. That was very fulfilling for us, artistically and spiritually, and so Iíve been waiting for an opportunity. And so I pursued Essential because they had a really good bunch of bands that I thought would be great to do a project with. They were very receptive immediately, but it took over a year to get it to happen. Derri (Daugherty, also of The Choir) engineered it, and we worked together on it. Jars of Clayís on thereÖ.Caedmonís CallÖ.Sixpence None the RicherÖ.FFHÖ.Third DayÖ.Sonic Flood. Iím thrilled with the way it turned out.

Tollbooth: How is it different from the At the Foot of the Cross series?

Steve Hindalong: Itís a little more pop-oriented. Itís a little more radio-friendly, more song-oriented but itís definitely got that ethereal quality that At the Foot of the Cross had. Thereís a lot of commonality between those projects. But all the bands, pretty much, are in their third album, at the top of their career. Itís definitely a higher profile thing. Whatís unique about it, as compared to other compilation worship albums, is that itís not a Sixpence song, and a Third Day song, and a Jars of Clay. Thereís a lot of intermingling of artists.

Tollbooth: Sort of like At the Foot of the Cross?

Hindalong: Yeah! We blended the artists, and so you have Dan Haseltine from Jars singing a duet with Leigh from Sixpence. You have Mac from Third Day singing with Cliff and Danielle from Caedmonís Call. Itís a real community feel, and a lot of the same musicians you know, cross-pollination or whatever. You come up with something very unique that way.

At the Foot of the Cross
Tollbooth: What was the difference between the production and recording of City on a Hill and At the Foot of the Cross?

Hindalong: At the Foot of the Cross was Derri and I as far as musicians, and maybe a couple other players. So we could create the whole thing. We brought people in to sing. And we had written pretty much all the songs with a couple other people. Whereas this one, I tried to really involve the artists creatively so they had ownership. They wrote some of the songs, and I used them as players

Tollbooth: Are you planning on making a third At the Foot of the Cross album? Iíve heard it was planned from the beginning to be a trilogy.

Hindalong: We had began to envision it that way, but it didnít have enough commercial success for a label to be interested. The only thing thatís stopped us from doing a third one is the interest and funds.

The first one was very broad: Father, Son, Spirit. The second one was very specific: Lent; the crucifixion of Christ. The third one would be focused on everything that happened after the death: the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Holy Spirit. More triumphant of an album. I was really excited about it, and, who knows? If, if City on a Hill has enough visibility, and itís successful, maybe Iíll be able to do whatever I want, in which case, we would definitely do a third one.

Flap Your Wings
Tollbooth: What makes Flap Your Wings, the new Choir album, different from the past albums?

Hindalong: We did it faster than weíve ever done a project, and it came easier than anything weíve ever done. It seems to get easier. I said that about Free Flying Soul, too. I said, ďThis is the easiest album weíve ever made,Ē because it took six weeks, which is half the time any other record had taken. But this one only took two weekends. And we like it. I think that so far, itís all our favorite record. Itís too early to make such a statement, but I really enjoy it. I usually take forever to write lyrics and really stress over it. I didnít have time. We were very busy. We walked into the studio, and Tim flew out from L.A., and I wrote six of the lyrics in two days. We used two songs from Derriís solo record, and then Tim (Chandler) came out another weekend and we wrote the rest of the songs. At this point in our careers, weíre not trying to prove anything. Weíre not trying to win a new audience. Weíre not thinking about radio. Weíre just trying to enjoy ourselvesÖ.express how we feel at that moment in time. Very little pressure. We had no record label. Total indie. So no pressure, you know? We just pleased ourselves.

Another thing thatís different about it: thereís no drum set on the album. I only set up things on the floor, and banged on things: a low drum, a snare drum, Iíd bang on a piece of brass or whatever. Derriís studioís really small now. Heís in his house, so it wasnít really big enough to set up a drum kit. So thatís something very different.

Tim Chandler had a lot more creative input than heís ever had before. He came out very inspired, had a lot of chord progressions to contribute. Four of the songs came through him. He even played a lot of electric guitars, so itís got his signature on it more than any other album.

Tollbooth: Are you planning on shopping Flap Your Wings to a label at all, or are you maintaining complete independence?

Dan Michaels: No, the goal on this record was just to create it and release it independently. Iíve been working at a label for many years now, so I can figure out how to handle the marketing part of it, through the Internet, through media and radio and everything. Itís available on the website and if we play a live show, like here at Cornerstone. It is coming out through Ministry Musicís Resolve Records imprint, which is Diamante Distribution, later on in September. The goal in this was to be sure we kept the masters, kept ownership.

Tollbooth: Iíve noticed that you (Dan) wrote a lyric on the new album, ďHey Gene,Ē which is obviously about Gene Eugene. Do you write a lot of lyrics?

Michaels: Oh, no. I can barely put sentences together often enough. At Geneís funeral, I had written a little poem, a little eulogy, and read it at his burial. Steve and I were talking on the phone when he was working on the lyric, and I said, ďIf you need any help, I did write some stuff about Gene in this eulogy,Ē and he picked some ideas out of there and put it into good poetry.

Tollbooth: Derri also wrote a song on the new album. Iíd ask him about it, but he isnít here. Does he write a lot? Is he going to be featured as a lyricist on upcoming Choir records?

Hindalong: Derri wrote all the lyrics on the first album, Voices in Shadows, and he has never written any lyrics since for The Choir. Itís something Iíve always been disappointed in. I started doing that early on, and he just kind of let me take that over. He wrote some lyrics on a solo record that he started but hasnít yet finished and the song ďMercy Lives HereĒ was my favorite on there. Itís a fantastic song, and it makes me all the more disappointed that he didnít write lyrics all these years. I would hope that he would write more. I canít say that he will or not, but thatís a great lyric.

Tollbooth: Talking about solo albums, you did a couple songs from yours here at the acoustic show. Are you planning on doing another solo album at all?

Hindalong: No, I have no plans to do another solo record, but I had no plans of doing one in the first place. Somebody just approached me about doing it. I write songs alone, and I got the courage to do that a couple years ago. I went out to do some live gigs, but Iím terrified to do live gigs with just a guitar and me. It created a great deal of anxiety. I had a couple gigs that went okay and a couple that didnít. I enjoy being behind the scenes. I love playing the drums, and also being in the studio with other bands, helping them to do what they do. I donít have a need to get out and be the frontman. Iím not that great at it, and itís very terrifying for me. So I donít think Iíll do another one.

Looking Back, Advice
Tollbooth: Youíve been in the industry for a long time. Do you have any regrets about things youíve done?

Hindalong: Iím certainly not bitter, if thatís what you mean. Itís wonderful, all the relationships that are intact after all these years. There are times you get frustrated. There are times you get mad. But weíve kept things intact. Iím not bitter. Yeah, weíve had a lot of disappointment, and you wish for a lot more commercial success, but at this point in my life, I feel like what happened was supposed to happen. Personally, yeah, I have a lot of regrets, as far as things Iíve done and said; my behavior. But tomorrowís a new day. Living in the light each day. This is a new day.

Tollbooth: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming musicians who might want to get involved in the Christian music industry?

Hindalong: Donít quit your day job. I donít really have any advice to them, because theyíre gonna pursue their course, but Iíd like to advise all women out there donít marry a Christian rock guy. You can marry a lot better. Marry a doctor or a lawyer, someone whoís gonna make a living.

Production Credits
Tollbooth: Youíve done a lot of production;. Do you have a favorite experience?

Hindalong: There are things that you really enjoy doing, and there are things that you love the outcome. My mind kind of rattles at that thought.

The thing Iím proudest of, and there are several, but one would be Christine Glass, Love and Poverty. No one heard it. It sold probably the least of almost anything Iíve ever produced, and it is absolutely beautiful. Iím very proud of it.

Common Children was as good a band as any band Iíve worked with. Marc Byrd is one of my best friends. Iím really proud of both albums, Skywire and Delicate Fade. I think Delicate Fade is a masterpiece.

Iím proud of Mercury, with Prayer Chain, sorting that situation out and coming up with that kind of album.

Very proud of At the Foot of the Cross, especially volume one. Very harmonious, very good time, very good for us all spiritually and in our relationships with ourselves. I think the reason that, after doing that, that Iíve been compelled to continue doing worship music is what it did for me personally, drawing me to the source of my faith, drawing me back to the Scripture and focusing on Christ. Itís good for me in my walk. So Iím really proud of those At the Foot of the Cross records and really happy that I did them.

 Iím sure Iím missing out. I love Luxury. I did Amazing and Thank You, their first record. Those guys are great. Iím sure Iím missing some things. Iíve done about thirty bands. Itís a bit of a wash. Am I missing something really important?

Writing
Tollbooth: Donít want to offend anybody! On the new album, youíre not doing as many love songs, and youíre not doing as much stuff youíre known for. Youíre doing more worship songs. Youíve got the remake of ďBeautiful Scandalous Night,Ē ďMercy Lives Here,Ē  and ďFlowing Over Me.Ē

Hindalong: I think itís pretty similar. I think weíve always had that integration, with the exception of Kissers and Killers, which really went in a love song direction, and Speckled Bird. That period. I think itís very similar to Circle Slide. Circle Slide was intensely Christian and spiritual, but also dealing with romance and love.

The new record is warmer than any other record, because I think that weíre in a good place. Weíre growing up a little bit. This whole lifestyle perpetuates adolescence, and here we are, forty, finally starting to mature a little bit and value things. It reflects where we are, which is in a pretty good place spiritually, emotionally, and relationship-wise. But I like to think itís integrated with Christian themes, and weird, bizarre themes. Itís reality. Tension is reality. If thereís no tension in music, then I donít think itís reflecting honest emotion, honest feeling. I like to think that The Choir really inspires people, and moves people because it reflects the reality of life. I hope that tension is there. I think it is.

Tollbooth: One of my favorite songs on the new record is ďShiny Floor,Ē but itís a weird one. Can you explain it at all?

Hindalong: I donít know. I havenít explained it yet. Itís obvious itís not literal. Yeah, I spilt on somebodyís floor. But like I said, I wrote all the lyrics in two days. So I spilt on somebodyís nice floor and wiped it up with my sleeve, and that was in my mind. Itís probably about not ruffling anybodyís feathers. Musically, a lot of the time, with The Choir, because weíre left of center a little bit, we often felt like we were bothering somebody. I often had to call record store chains to explain the lyrics, to apologize or qualify them.

Tollbooth: [incredulous] Really?

Hindalong: We were always bothering somebody. Donít want to spill anything on your shiny floor. Iím the kind of person that you can be yourself around. You could take a hammer and hit my car with it, put a big dent in it. I donít care. I donít have very much value of material things, and Iím not very judgmental. I like being around people like that so I can be myself and not have to walk on eggshells. So itís just that emotion. It was a clever idea and I went on and on with it, and itís just ridiculous.

Tollbooth: Another one of my favorites is ďCherry Bomb.Ē Is that about one of your daughters?

SH: It kind of encompasses all of them. I started out thinking about Shane, Derriís youngest. Sheís a cute little cherub; a cherub-faced force. We got a lot of these little girls, they just come in, and theyíre a whole lot of trouble in your world. Theyíre just wonderful. You love them more than anything else, but they are forces. And so I ended up kind of combining. There are things about my older daughter, Emily, whoís twelve, there are things about Shane. Itís sort of like a mixture of the little kids in our lives that we have to deal with.

Tollbooth: I kind of saw ďCherry BombĒ as sequel to ďWide Eyed Wonder Girl,Ē almost.

Hindalong: Sure. The first verse refers to Emily, who is Wide Eyed Wonder Girl. I started off trying to write it about Shane, the little one, but I couldnít help but mix up stuff about my daughter, because thatís who I know better.

Tollbooth: What did the yellow skies in the song ďYellow SkiesĒ represent? What was that song about?

Hindalong: Oh, just good times. Happiness. Joy. Sunny days.

Tollbooth: Usually, when I think of yellow skies, I think of a tornado.

Hindalong: Well, not in this case. Just sunny days. Not rain.

Tollbooth: How about ďWeather GirlĒ?

Hindalong: Weather GirlĒ? Just sexual temptation. Just people in your life who are tantalizing, and exciting, and dangerous. And that temptation that all of us are vulnerable to. Youíve gotta watch it all your life. If youíve been married twenty years, or if youíre single, you know what I mean? Thatís what thatís about.

Tollbooth: Alright, well, I think weíre done. Thank you!

 
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