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Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
The Afters have turned heads in both mainstream and Christian markets with their meteoric rise up the charts and burgeoning record sales. They are one of the rare bands to simultaneously launch careers in the mainstream music arena as well as the Christian market. Simple Records owned by Bart Millard and Peter Kipley provide exposure to the Christian community while EPIC is aggressively marketing through mainstream radio and retail channels.
Havens and his longtime friend Matt Fuqua had a rather auspicious beginning to their music careers. They were both working for Starbucks and when they weren't brewing coffee strummed a few chords on their acoustic guitars for the patrons. One of those customers happened to be a young woman named Cara who was in charge of coordinating the music for a mission conference taking place at Dallas Theological Seminary. She invited them to play at the conference. Little did Havens know at the time that Cara would eventually become his wife and it was the beginning of a music career that is now in its seventh year.
It wasn't long before The Texas twosome found they were far removed from the acoustic sets at Starbucks and strapped on electric guitars while performing regular gigs at The Door in Dallas. It was during these performances that they were eventually joined by Marc Dodd on drums and Brad Wigg on bass guitar. They established a hardcore following and their concerts were well attended.
On their website Wigg talks about their early success. "We were able to draw people in at our live performances initially through our onstage charismaespecially Josh. He has that sort of dreamy, wistful look of innocent vulnerability while maintaining a degree of confident charm."
It was during 2000-01 that the band really hit its stride. Dumping their original name the Screaming Mimes (hey, everybody's got to start somewhere!) and adopting the name Blisse they entered the studio for the first time recording a six song EP. The sale of more than 2,000 units gave them enough cash to return to the studio and create their debut independent release When The World Is Wonderful. The album enjoyed phenomenal success for an independent band garnering sales in excess of 25,000 units sold.
In 2001 the group opened for Mercy Me at an event Havens refers to as a Halloween alternative gig. At the time the blockbuster "I Can Only Imagine" was still somewhere over the rainbow for Mercy Me and the two relatively unknown bands hit it off. Bart Millard and Josh Havens kept in touch. Havens recalled, "When Bart and his producer Pete Kipley had the opportunity to start an imprint label called Simple through INO, he called us and told us they wanted The Afters to be their first signing.
Peter Kipley said, "The Afters were the flagship artist for the start of our label. we were so fortunate to cross paths with these guys, they were making incredible music, and after seeing them live once, we knew they were the perfect match for what we are trying to accomplish as a label. We are so proud of what they have accomplished in such a short period of time, and we look forward to more great music from them in the years to come."
"We were talking to several labels at that time but because of the personal relationship that we had with Bart we knew we could trust him. He's an artist, has been in our shoes and he really looked out for us," said Havens. He describes the label as having a family atmosphere.
Soon afterwards The Afters hooked up with classic rocker Geoff Moore and his manager / partner David Lipscomb who own Overflow Management Inc. Moore recalled those early days, "You don't want to say I knew this would happen but there were moments when I would stand in a room listening to them play for a few people and I really felt like there would come a day when a lot of people would know their music. They just have a lot of components working for them. They are a great live band, they are great in the studio, they are great songwriters and they are people who genuinely feel like they are trying to work out their calling with fear and trembling. They have a great sensitivity to a seeking culture. They have a great heart to encourage believers. From that standpoint it doesn't surprise me (the band's success)."
Part of that success was the recent affirmation the gang from Mesquite received for the video Beautiful Love. The group was recently awarded a Streaming Woodie. For the less informed the Woodie is handed out by MTUV. It is the equivalent of a MTV video award for the signal that is carried to major university and college campuses throughout the United States. You can catch their award winning video at www.mtvu.com . The award came on the heels of a nineteen week ride in the top thirty for the song "Beautiful Love".
Moore said the decision to sign on as the manager for The Afters was a no-brainer. "It was pretty simple. We had a conference call with them to make sure (it was a good fit)." He makes the analogy of house hunting and walking into a house you never want to live in but being polite enough to look through the rest of the rooms and say some complimentary things. "We wanted to make sure it was a house that all of us wanted to live in." He went on to say, "The initial contact went well. We went to Dallas, met the guys and spent time with their families and them."
Until this past summer, Havens, who was nurtured on the music of Cold Play and Radiohead, served as the lead guitarist for the group. He has since laid aside his Fender Telecaster and Guild Starfire to make room for newest band mate Preston Martinez. While Havens slid sideways to man the keyboards, Preston, a veteran of Dallas based bands Crimson and Linden, took on a more prominent role playing his Fender '62 Jazz bass. Wigg moved back to his natural position finding deep grooves with his Fender Telecaster.
Havens said, "It really fills out the sound and provides a new dynamic to our live show." He continued, "By adding another member we're able to better replicate the record. There are a lot of effects and subtle nuances that we couldn't pull off live as a 4 piece. We didnít want to use tracks so we added Preston."
Talking to Havens, one gets the impression he never really gave much thought to just how good the band's rock anthems and sweeping melodic ballads are. The main focus for The Afters has always been ministry. His conversation was peppered with comments like, "We always said we would play our hearts out for whoever showed up to hear us no matter how few or how many."
While there have been several bands in recent years that might be viewed as having their eye on the golden ring and simply using the Christian market as a stepping stone, that cannot be said of The Afters. They have become a role model for bands to follow.
In fact, one of the more astounding things about their young careers is how their deal with EPIC Records evolved. Prior to signing with Simple Records both Millard and Kipley made it clear to the band that if they were intent on building mainstream careers the label was not the correct one because Simple only served the Christian market. The Afters signed because that was their primary audience anyway. As time went on Jeff Mosely the president for INO Records parent company to Simple Records phoned Overflow Management to advise them that he had been contacted by the people at Sony (parent company of EPIC). Long story short, the mainstream label wanted to fly their marketing people into Dallas to hear the band perform.
Moore believes, "The Afters just made an album aimed at the Christian market place and watched God take it other places. They don't dodge their faith. They aren't willing to be everything to everybody"
The Afters echo those sentiments with the songs on their album I Wish We All Could Win. "We realized that a theme of hope and love had developed. Because of Christ, we have hope for a future that is void of the problems that plague this life. We can also know that regardless of what may come our way in this life, we can rest assure that our lives are in the hands of the God who created us and His love will never let us down," said Havens.
The themes of hope and love are also something Havens has clung to in his personal life this past year. Despite all the success the band has enjoyed it has been bittersweet for him because he hasn't been able to share it with his best friend, his father who passed away in October of 2004.
Havens was surprisingly composed when discussing the loss of his father. Ever personable he said, "I was fortunate to have a dad that was there for me in every way. I know that there are many people who don't have parents who are there for them, who don't have fathers that love them the way that they should be loved. One thing that I've learned since my dad passed away is that even though he's not here anymore, I still have a Father in heaven who loves me so much more than my dad ever could. It's also been amazing to see how God has protected and cared fore my family in the last year. It's shown me that no matter what comes my way, God will be with me. When life is hard, when work is overwhelming, when the people around me let me down, I can rest assured that God will never let me down. Knowing that provides comfort and peace."
One of the songs on their album, "All That I Am" has taken on special meaning for Havens. "It's a song that really ministered to my dad during his last few days. I remember coming home from tour and going to visit him. It was at a time that he was so weak that he couldn't even stand up and he could hardly talk. He had that song on repeat and listened to it over and over again. He had his hands raised as high as he could lift them and he was singing at the top of his lungs, which really wasn't even that loud. Here was my dad on the verge of going to be with the Lord and he was singing, "Jesus, You're calling me closer" and declaring his love for the God he would soon see. Of all the things that my dad taught me and all the ways that he was an example to me, one thing I'll never forget is that until the day he died, he was worshipping God! I hope to do the same. I can't think of a better way to go!"
If you are one of those groupie types that can't get enough of your favorite singer / musicians then you will think you died and went to heaven when you log onto The Afters website at www.theafters.com . Whereas now we almost take it for granted that bands will have blogs on their sites the band members have taken this practice to a new level. They maintain a daily phone blog. Each day a member of the band will phone in and leave a message that you can listen to. Plans are in the works to eventually give their fans a daily video blog. If you still aren't satisfied you can always download The Afters ringtones.
If you want to catch the
group on video and listen to their music you can go to the website www.livefromstudiob.com
and enjoy their awesome tunes.
By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved
Joe Montague is an internationally
published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory
of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18.
All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.