In the vast world of Christian rock, Fireflight have been one of the many constants. With a career spanning over a decade, they\’ve always been one of the go-to bands for fans. Their new album, Innova, which released in May, shows the band taking a new, fresh approach to their music. Rather than a raw, straight-forward rock sound, they\’ve incorporated many electronic elements to the music, making for a more comprehensive sound. Singer Dawn Michele took some time recently to talk about the band\’s new sound, going independent and how their ministry has evolved over the last 15 years.
FRR: We’re coming up on a month removed from the release of the new album Innova. Do I have the pronunciation right on that?
That’s right, Innova– you’ve got it!
FRR: It doesn’t feel like it’s been as long since the debut but we’re a couple years out from the debut. How does Fireflight now compare to Fireflight in the beginning?
Dawn Michele: Gotcha. Well it’s been a long time. We’ve been together for 15 years now, which in band years, band years are like dog years, so we’re basically like 100 years old so we’ve definitely changed a lot. We kind of grew up together. I was fresh, literally graduating from high school when I joined the band and since then while we were building ourselves up I went to college. I’ve gone through just about every major life change there is between then and now and so has everyone else in the band. We’ve grown so much as people and as musicians, hopefully. You hope that you’ll slowly get better.
But I think we’re in a pretty cool place actually. Starting out you’re just sort of desperate to move forward. It took us 5 years before we got signed so I always try to be an encouragement to young bands to keep trying, keep working and get better and better because when you start you’re probably awful, and that’s okay because we all are. We all were. Our first CD that we recorded ourselves, we cringe when we hear it! If someone handed that to me in the bus and say “hey, give a listen to this, you think you want to pass it along?” I would say “No! Absolutely not!” And honestly, I think not passing it along is some of the best favors that people do for each other in the industry because you need to give it a little more time before everybody listens to it.
So I think we definitely progressed a lot from the beginning and within the last couple of years we decided to go independent for this latest album which is really scary but also really exciting. It’s been a time of renewal for us, hence the name Innova, which is Latin for renew. So much has changed…we’ve all kind of grown up a lot and then also I think we’ve changed so much and been able to pursue this whole independent project thing which has kind of been a rebirthing and a renewal so instead of feeling like everything is old, 15 years old, we feel kind of brand new in a way.
It’s really reignited our passion for music and writing. I know it has for me because typically when we were on a label we had to go along with their business plans and we had brilliant minds formulating brilliant business plans but they’re usually very structured and rigid and the timeline only ever gets shorter. It never seems to move backward in your favor, it always seems like “oh no, we’re gonna have to have it a month earlier because such and such is happening” That puts a lot of pressure on you when you’re trying to write and be creative, structure isn’t always the most inspirational kind of thing. Before we would have barely enough time to finish, so we’d be lucky if we got 10 songs we were happy with, usually we’d have about 9 songs we were happy with and 1 song we weren’t that great about, but we had to make the album.
But with this album we just worked and worked and wrote and wrote. We took time off the road and stepped back from travelling and all that stuff so we could take time for writing. We wrote and wrote and wrote and then we had 24 songs and we had to pick the ones that were gonna make it to the album and instead of barely making it to ten we could barely part with 12, so we ended up with 12 on this album and it’s just been a totally different experience and being that way we’ve come out of the end of it still loving music instead of hating life, and so I think that’s where we’re at right now.
FRR: You mention Innova is Latin for renew, which I think fits this album perfectly. Musically it’s a bit of a departure, there’s a lot more electronica and pop, very different from what fans are used to. I feel like you guys have really reinvented yourself for this project. What was the inspiration for that?
Dawn Michele: I think when we were sitting down for our initial meetings we were like “okay, it’s been almost 15 years guys, are we going to keep doing this?” There’s been so many changes in the economy, it’s gotten super hard to tour. I call it the Winter Jam era, and don’t get me wrong, I love Winter Jam. We were on one of the first Winter Jams and it is one of our favorite tours ever, however you get to pay $10 to go see 15 bands in an arena and in the history of bands travelling you might pay $10 or $15 to see 3 or 4 bands, half of which you’ve never heard before at a church in your area or at the fairgrounds, and it was how you discovered new music. That doesn’t work anymore. Basically Winter Jam tour works really great and everybody else’s tour for the rest of the year don’t work that great. The fact is, we all, God bless our hearts, we’re still renting and you have to pay that rent and they don’t accept IOU’s. If you go out and people aren’t showing up for shows because they’re like “well, I’m just gonna take my youth group to Winter Jam in a couple months” it really wreaks havoc on everybody else’s fiscal plans and ability to survive. So it’s not been an easy road at all especially more lately, and with the recession too, we’re kind of far from the golden age where people loved going out to shows.
That was how it was when we started and it’s not that way anymore. So we were like, are we going to keep fighting this battle, is God trying to tell us that we need to do something else? What are we going to do? Just really trying to decide whether we were going to move forward and in those discussions where we felt God was still telling us to do this in spite of, you know, there are plenty of people serving in Africa that things aren’t easy for, but they’re doing what God wants them to do. Far be it from us to compare ourselves to what they’re trying to do, but even though things are tough, sometimes that doesn’t mean God doesn’t want you to do it anymore. So that’s what we decided and then we discussed topics like we’ve been at it for 15 years and if we sound exactly the same as we did when we started 15 years ago we are so incredibly dated! We’re not going to have people coming out to our shows or listening to our music, so we really wanted to give ourselves that freedom and since we have grown so much and changed as individuals just because15 years is a long time we all have new interests and new ideas about what we thought sounded good.
What we wanted to do with this album was to bridge the gap between where we’ve been and where we want to head towards in the future and most of all we wanted to give freedom in writing the music to let it to become what it would, without putting any parameters on it saying it’s gotta sound like this or so and so’s going to hate us now or whatever. You just really can’t write to please the people who are going to hate you if, you know? If those are the people you’re trying to please you’re probably never going to be happy because you’re always going to fall short of that. So we just really tried to give ourselves freedom.
Our last album, we really tried to push more electronics and we didn’t get as far as we wanted to because of scheduling and juggling producers and things like that, so this was us, I think our last album would’ve been more of a bridge to this one had things gone according to plan so it does make this one feel a little bit like more of a departure. Overall, our songs, we always strive just to be authentic, to be communicative and be able to say what we’re trying to say in a way that other people can understand, to feel our pain, feel our joy, and hopefully identify and be able to share the experience through a lot of their own situations. So that’s what we feel like what we push for in our music most of all and as long as we did that we really were the same Fireflight.
FRR: You mentioned Winter Jam, and while I feel they’re really good for someone like me I prefer the tours because you get the full set. With WJ there’s always going to be 5-6 songs that you’re not going to get because there are just so many band. I feel like there needs to be a resurgence of people going to tour shows now, because they’re missing out!
Dawn Michele: It’s definitely the abridged version, but sadly our society is moving towards the abridged version. People don’t buy albums anymore, they buy singles. They go online and they spend like 10 seconds on each page or whatever. We’re just getting used to taking in so much information so quickly, and anything longer than that just starts to feel like ages! I think that’s why the Winter Jam model works so well.
FRR: You guys used pledge music and a lot of bands and artists are going that route. How did you decide to go that route and why Pledge Music?
Dawn Michele: It was a big choice. Leaving our label and deciding to try to do this on our own is like jumping off a cliff and doing a pledge fund is like hoping your fans are at the bottom of the cliff and are going to catch you, so it’s really scary.
We looked at all the different websites that are available. Obviously KickStarter is tremendously popular and are used to hearing it and I trust the name so it was kind of a hard choice there’s this new up and coming called Pledge Music and we really loved the site and we loved how it focused on music. KickStarter is anything- it could be your book or your new keychain that glows in the dark or whatever. But Pledge Music is all music, so we really liked their format. There’s also some layers here. When you sign up at the website it has to do with how they’re going to help you carry out your packages, because you’re signing up for all of these different packages for people to pledge for, and how those are going to be delivered and how they’re going to be created and how they’re going to help you with the marketing of your push and how they’re going to present your project in the first place. There was a lot of different options to weigh.
So we went with Pledge Music because, number one, we had recommended to us by a trusted friend, actually one of the producers on this project. He had a friend who worked there who was on the ground floor of launching that company. For me, in this day and age when you go online and Amazon and see 568 4-star reviews and you think “How many fo these were written by a drone?” We’re living in an age where we’re coming to trust word of mouth more than anything else, so having a good recommendation was a huge thing for us. So it came with a good recommendation, and we liked their form and function, and we decided let’s just give it a chance and it worked out for us and we’re really happy with it because you just never know. We had plenty of people say “Why didn’t you do KickStarter? I’ve never heard of this website before, I bet you would’ve done better with KickStarter”
You get nervous but it came together. You get nervous but it came together so we’re really thankful for the partnership we had with them and we recommend them. Overall we’re most thankful that our fans came through for us and we owe them the biggest thanks because they’re the ones who made it possible for us to make this new album that we’re so proud of.
FRR: You guys met 125% of the original goal- you eclipsed it massively! Fans obviously came through plus more!
Dawn Michele: For sure.
FRR: One thing I wanted to talk about was the ministry side. A lot of bands the ministry evolves. Has the ministry of Fireflight evolved or changed, or what is it now for you compared to what it was originally when you first got signed?
Dawn Michele: I think for us it’s grown. Obviously our music is about our lives and experiences, and we’re all Christians and God is an integral part. We strive to not just make God number one on our list but the paper that we write our list on. He’s taught us so much through the years and through a lot of pain and suffering and certainly that’s where a lot of Fireflight music has come from, is from the suffering. People have been able to turn to our music when they’re in their dark times and hopefully walk away with God’s love for them and a message of power and encouragement to help them overcome, that’s really been our life’s goal.
We’ve also tried to be really involved with our fans online. You only get one night with them at a show, but with the way social media is now you can talk to them every day online. We’ve always been the ones to answer our messages on Facebook and in doing so we’ve built this family of all these people who at one point or another kind of reached out to us about what they were going through and in doing so we’ve built a lot of friendships and some mentor relationships.
At this point we’ve obviously just launched this album so these songs are just starting to do what they’re going to do in the lives of people and whatnot but historically what we’ve done is we’ve built this group of people that we’ve interacted with and now have just tried to send into their lives and we’re just so thankful because that’s pretty much the reason why we’re still doing this, because we still get so many messages and so many people still reach out to us telling us how the music has impacted their lives and helping them have strength in times that they felt alone and helping know that God loves them and that’s the most important thing for us. As long as we’re doing that, that’s number 1 and then also as the band has grown we’ve been able to partner up with other people in other arenas.
We do travel internationally to tour but mostly we’re here in the USA. We’ve partnered with World Vision a company that works in third world countries all over the globe helping children have clean water and food and medicine and hopefully a future. In doing that God’s really opened our eyes to the ways that it’s so easy to help people who are really hurting, especially the children all over the world, and it seems like this big impossible problem but you can help in such an easy way. So that’s one thing we’ve made part of our platform as we travel, spreading the word of how easy it is to help people in need in other countries and even here they work with the underprivileged in our country. Mostly just trying to help everybody remember, because we’re so distracted too in the United States with our own problems that we forget that one of our big acts of worship is helping widows and orphans and those in need and we all say “What Would Jesus Do?” and what Jesus would do is he would feed the poor and he would care for them, so that’s basically our ministry in a nutshell.
FRR: Before too long you’ll be hitting the road, doing the festival circuit this summer. You’re also hitting the road with Seventh Day Slumber and Shon Loc. This festival tour, how much is going to be new vs. classic material, and how do you balance it?
Dawn Michele: It is a challenge. Honestly, it depends on how long the set is, because that depends on how many songs you can do. And when you’ve been a band as long as we have and have 5 albums, there’s obviously certain songs on each album you want to play and they’re the ones that the fans are asking for. So it’s like how do you make room for new stuff now, because you’ve got to introduce it.
I just had a baby 2 and a half months ago and we just had we had our first show back last Thursday in California, and the funny thing was that it was a 70 minute long set which is almost twice as long as we normally play. Its like, “are you kidding?! Our first show back in 6 months and we’re going to do a 70 minute set?!” We flew out at 5:55 in the morning central time and didn’t play until 8 o’clock Pacific time, which is like 10pm. It was crazy but it went really well. We had 70 minutes so we played like 5 of the new songs.
When we’re down to a 45-minute set night after night depending on the timeslot we get we can’t always do that. Honestly, that makes my head hurt just trying to think about it, so Glen, our guitarist, we call him the Master of Ceremonies because he’s always the brains behind our setlist. He’s like “Hey, what do you think about this setlist?” and I’m like “looks good, bro!” so I’m gonna leave that in Glen’s plate!
Probably what we’ll do is take certain songs that were super popular from each album, we’ll probably make a hierarchy. “Okay, what was the number one single from each of the past albums? Okay, those are obviously going to make it. Alright, what was number two? How many new songs can we play, what’s our next single coming out?” Stuff like that. So you balance it all out that way by sort of prioritizing what the fans are looking to hear with what you’re trying to expose them to, that sort of thing.
FRR: Well it’s gonna be a fun year, it’s just getting started. You’re gong to be touring for a while on this new album I would assume.
Dawn Michele: Hopefully!