“‘Til The Sun Does Shine”

I thought about it recently: it’s strange that I’ve done all kinda of promoting on various social media sites for our recently released album, but I’ve barely mentioned it on the blog. It’s getting close to a month now, that it’s been released and I thought I should mention it on here to those who would be interested and aren’t on Facebook or Twitter.

Writing and recording music sessions between working full time or going to school is not an easy thing. We had a lot of fun going through the process of writing, tweaking, tracking, revising, mixing, and mastering together, but in the end it really came down to a lot of hard work. It was fun work, but exhausting work. We’re really grateful that, after a year of battling four different schedules, and the album changing shape numerous times, it’s finally finished.

We’d also be grateful, if folk music is your thing, (and even if it’s not, maybe it can become your thing) that you’d head over to CDbaby, iTunes, or Amazon, listen to some samples, and consider buying it. In case it’s unclear what sort of content the album contains, the songs are all originals and a reflection of who we are and where we’ve been over the past year.

We’re really quite happy with how it turned out and we think you might enjoy it too. These songs mean a lot to us and we’ve been overwhelmed with people’s kindness so far in telling us how certain songs are significant to them and how they’ve connected with the music.

This album is our journey and we’d be truly grateful and honored if you’d join us in it.

Note: at the risk of telling you something you know, the text in blue contains links to the sites where our album is available.

New Song: First Listen – “This Tree”

This is really special time for the four of us in Saints Alive, and in a lot of ways it’s hard to believe we’re at this point. It’s taken a lot of time, energy, and patience, but we’ve also had a tremendous amount of fun, and we’re satisfying to say we’re quite happy with the result.

The date is rapidly approaching when the first copies of ‘Til The Sun Does Shine will be available. With that in mind, I’m very happy to announce that we’ve uploaded the first song off the album to YouTube, and you can now listen to it here.

It’s a fun and folky song written by Arlyn and it’s one of our favorites on the album, and also to play live. We hope you’ll enjoy it too. If you do, we’d be grateful if you’d share it and tell your friends about it.

A Thing That’s Been Keeping Me From the Blog

Over the last year and a half I’ve had the incredible privilege of playing music with some of my best friends. We’ve played a decent number of local gigs at a coffee shop, the farmers market and other local events.

Around a year ago we started working on a studio album comprised almost entirely of our original work. I’ll be honest. I didn’t completely know what we were getting into by committing to this.

We set up our own studio in the basement of Arlyn’s house in a place called the tomato room and started working last fall.

It’s a ridiculous amount of fun. We laugh a lot. Like crazy. The lunacy in the studio is, I guess, a way to have fun, but also a way of dealing with the work.

Ah yes, the work.

It’s mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically taxing work. It’s not for the faint of heart, to be sure. In addition to giving this work your best shot, you are also brought to face some of your biggest fears as an artist and you get to stare them in the face while you work.

They often show up in thought form: Do I have any idea what I’m doing here? Can we even do this? Do our songs matter to anyone besides us? How long until we see some progress? These guys are much higher caliber musicians than I am– what am I doing here with them?

As scary as those questions were and still are, facing them has changed me. Now I’m at the point where I’ve pushed past some of those fears and they aren’t speaking as loudly as they were.

Now it’s fine to me that there are things that Jared, Arlyn, and Andrew are better at, than I am. It’s not intimidating like it was. In fact it’s been incredibly beautiful to see what strengths different ones of us bring to help the process along.

I find it pretty neat that none of us are what you’d call the total package and that we need each other to make this thing work. I’ve learned so much from these guys. I’m a more complete artist, a more complete musician, and a more complete person.

This past weekend we made a hard push for the finish line, and were blessed to see some really good results. The end is finally in sight. It’s pretty hard to believe. We’ve got a little bit of tracking left to do, and we’ve started working on mixing.

I’ve added a little video we put together last night. It’s a bit of a summary of our weekend: arrangements, recording, plenty of laughing, and a couple footraces on lunch break.

You can see other updates (both serious and otherwise) on our Facebook page and on Twitter:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Saints-Alive/338091499605300?ref=hl

https://twitter.com/SaintsAlive_

Failure, Wonder, and the Joy of Being Beloved

This evening I failed. I set out to accomplish something by the end of the evening and I didn’t get it done. I was planning to have a productive evening working on my music stuff and it just didn’t go well.

And here, I feel I should throw myself down the gauntlet so I have no choice, but to follow through. I’m working on a small solo project of my own: an EP of several songs I’ve written that are inspired by Kansas while our band takes a short recording hiatus, because, frankly, it’s summer, and summer is the time to be busy.

I felt like I should use the time off to sharpen my skills and this seemed like a good option.

To say it’s a lot of hard work is an understatement. It’s mentally, emotionally, and even physically draining. But I love it. Most of the time.

Things just went badly this evening.

I made a list of things I was going to get done.

I worked hard.

I played the parts again, and again, trying to perfect them.

I got frustrated.

I calmed myself, and told myself it was okay.

It wasn’t okay.

I repeated the process.

After several hours of standing and eventually, sitting, in front of a mic with my guitar, it became clear I wasn’t going to be productive anymore that evening. It was a discouraging revelation. Tangible progress was what I wanted this evening. Tangible progress–not a forlorn little clump of soundbites on my my computer screen that I probably wouldn’t be able to use.

My girlfriend, Rebecca, texted me and asked me how it was going.

I told her how it was going.

She was very encouraging and told me some things I wanted to hear and a few more things I needed to hear.

Feeling a bit better, I surrendered and put my things away, turning my studio back into a bedroom.
I trudged up the stairs, feeling pretty defeated, walked to the front door to see what it was like outside. I opened the door and stepped onto the porch.

What greeted me was a fabulous Kansas sunset.

Pink and orange were the dominant colors this evening. The sun, a lazy orange halo of fire, was at that magical moment when it’s just starting to slip away. That time where it sinks so quickly, you can almost see it moving. That moment that if you’re not paying attention for a bit, you miss it.

The instant I walked out, I knew this was what I needed. Not perfectly recorded tracks. Not a list of crossed off items to make me feel proud and self important.

I just stood there for a while, taking it in, then walked across the porch to the edge, and I slowly realized what had happened to me this evening.

I’d truly lost the joy during the earlier part of this evening. Lost the wonder. In pursuit of perfection, I forgot why I like to play music: because I love it; because it’s fun.

I pulled out my phone to take a picture. To chronicle the sunset’s splendor. It was out of room for pictures. So what.

When my phone had no room for pictures, it didn’t build on the frustration of the rest of the evening. I didn’t delete things to make room so I could show everyone what an awesome sunset I got to see.

I let go. I released. I didn’t care. I felt God saying, “Just enjoy it.” So I did.

It was then that my soul gave a sigh of relief. I sat down on the edge of the porch with my feet in the soft grass, and I stared at the colors as they played with each other.

I felt the weight of an evening of frustrations dissipate as I was reminded that we humans were never made strictly to perform. We were never made to just carry out tasks, mindless of the wonderful world around us.

We were made to feel the love of the Creator, and to let the beauty and wonder of that love spill into the things around us: our work, our people, our art.

And living in wonder is not the byproduct of a certain occupation, a certain locale, (or even a certain level of perfection). It’s when we’ve allowed ourselves to see the wonder of life as it is, not, as we wish it were.

This doesn’t mean we don’t hope for anything better. But when we hope for something better at the expense of the things we already have, it’s not hope anymore. It’s discontentment.

This also doesn’t mean I don’t hope for better, more productive times of working on music. What it does mean, however, is that this evening was not an evening wasted.

Not by a long shot.

Don’t You Want To Thank Someone

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing Andrew Peterson live for the first time. Even before the time I began writing my own songs, he was a writing hero to me. Jason Gray was there as well on what was known as The Storytellers Tour–and with good reason.

We spent the evening listening to their stories and music, and being filled full, and overflowing with the beautiful and profound, whether spoken or sung. Both men are incredibly vibrant and this vibrance can’t help but spill out in their songs and stories. But the purpose of this introduction is not so much to give a concert review, but to give you a preface to the man’s work I’ll be allowing you to sample.

Andrew Peterson: what to say properly without saying what’s been said before? The depths of life, of philosophy, of pain, of hope, of theology, that this man can plumb in a four or five minute song never cease to amaze me. He rarely uses filler content to finish out a song. Never succumbs to the simple, pat answer. He speaks eloquently about the mystery, but allows the mystery to remain. Everything syllable seems to be there for a good reason. Every word serves a purpose in the story he’s telling.

Like his smooth, unassuming, folk-type voice or not, you’d be hard pressed to refute the eloquence, the beauty, the reality of the words he sings. I was driving to town a while ago and was planning to listen a little Paper Route. I really was.

But I decided to finish a song I started earlier, from his new album Light for the Lost Boy. I finished that one and the next song began. I couldn’t stop because the mystery of the music pulled me in. A beautiful song of perseverance and hope. I skipped one and landed on the album closer: Don’t You Want To Thank Someone.

For some reason I don’t believe I’d ever heard it before. The title was simple enough. I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t expecting that much… I assumed a nice, simple closer. It started out well enough: a slow wash of soft synth and percussive echoing guitar that was more than a bit reminiscent of The Joshua Tree era U2.

The part I wasn’t prepared for was an epic nearly 10 minute song filled with beautiful poetry and imagery. This songso marvelously explores the tension between faith and doubt, beauty and pain, sin and redemption, it’s hard to fathom it all. I spent most of the song with goosebumps and at some spots had to fight back a few tears as I drove.

More of my own words really won’t do justice to this piece of art. I have nothing more to say about it but to offer you his poetry and a link to the song. Wait until you can pay attention to it, maybe put on a pair of headphones, enjoy, and reflect.

Don’t You Want To Thank Someone

Can’t you feel it in your bones
Something isn’t right here
Something that you’ve always known
But you don’t know why

‘Cause every time the sun goes down
We face another night here
Waiting for the world to spin around
Just to survive

But when you see the morning sun
Burning through a silver mist
Don’t you want to thank someone?
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

Don’t you ever wonder why
In spite of all that’s wrong here
There’s still so much that goes so right
And beauty abounds?

‘Cause sometimes when you walk outside
The air is full of song here
The thunder rolls and the baby sighs
And the rain comes down

And when you see the spring has come
And it warms you like a mother’s kiss
Don’t you want to thank someone?
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

I used to be a little boy
As golden as a sunrise
Breaking over Illinois
When the corn was tall

Yeah, but every little boy grows up
And he’s haunted by the heart that died
Longing for the world that was
Before the Fall

Oh, but then forgiveness comes
A grace that I cannot resist
And I just want to thank someone
I just want to thank someone for this

Now I can see the world is charged
It’s glimmering with promises
Written in a script of stars
Dripping from the prophets’ lips

But still, my thirst is never slaked
I am hounded by a restlessness
I am eaten by this endless ache
But still I will give thanks for this

‘Cause I can see it in the seas of wheat
I can feel it when the horses run
It’s howling in the snowy peaks
It’s blazing in the midnight sun

Just behind a veil of wind
A million angels waiting in the wings
A swirling storm of cherubim
Making ready for the Reckoning

Oh, how long, how long?
Oh, sing on, sing on

And when the world is new again
And the children of the King
Are ancient in their youth again
Maybe it’s a better thing
A better thing

To be more than merely innocent
But to be broken then redeemed by love
Maybe this old world is bent
But it’s waking up
And I’m waking up

‘Cause I can hear the voice of one
He’s crying in the wilderness
“Make ready for the Kingdom Come”
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallalujah! Hallelujah!
Come back soon
Come back soon

Read more at http://www.songlyrics.com/andrew-peterson/don-t-you-want-to-thank-someone-lyrics/#0IPLos46SF1C7p8X.99

“If Pain Produces Harmony . . .” – Songs About Suffering

There’s something really special about songs that are written about the difficult times in life. Something really beautiful in the human spirit comes out through them. Maybe it’s because the heart is more vulnerable then. There’s less concern about what other people think, and more concern about just being honest. I like honest songs.

The reason I like them so much is because it’s often a real struggle for me to be that honest with myself, much less other people, when I’m going through something tough. I admire people that have the guts to put that into a song. To put the heart out there for everyone to see, even after it’s been ripped out, is not an easy thing to do.

Here are two of my favorite songs about struggle the struggle in the human experience:

In the first one, there’s a lot of beautiful imagery about the pain in our lives producing harmony with the people around us. We all experience pain, and that pain helps us identify with other people. But there’s something else involved. God takes all the ugliness and pain we experience in life and actually makes a beautiful piece of art out of it.

Abandon Kansas is an alternative group from nearby Wichita, Kansas. I think that’s neat.

Where Else Can We Go” – Abandon Kansas

If pain produces harmony, we all have a note.

If God conducts the symphony, no one sings alone.

There’s no easy answer when the question starts with “Why?” but

Where else can we go? Where else can we go?

Where else can we go?

 

I’ve walked through the valley, I’ve seen enough death

Can anyone hear me? Am I wasting breath?

 

There’s help I have prayed for, but relief never comes.

I’ve cursed at the sky ’til I can’t feel my lungs.

Then somewhere in the distance a wave of sound rings.

Melodies I’ve never heard, but somehow I know all the words,

And I can’t help but sing.

 

If pain produces harmony, we all have a note.

If God conducts the symphony, no one sings alone.

There’s no easy answer when the question starts with “Why?” but

Where else can we go? Where else can we go?

Where else can we go? 

The second one, surprise, surprise, is from another alternative group, Switchfoot. I don’t know how Jon Foreman does it, but he has a way of putting in writing so many of the things inside my own heart. I don’t know of another songwriter who has done that more consistently. A lot of his songs touch something deep inside me that’s difficult to put into words. I think it’s the honesty thing again. There’s just no pretending with him. The man wears his heart on his sleeve and I appreciate that tremendously.

The song “Sing It Out” also deals with God making music out of the ugliness in our lives. It talks about when life seems to be completely wrecked, He can “Take what is left of me. Make it a melody.” When I think of how badly I’ve messed up my life sometimes, even after I’ve called Jesus, the Lord of my life, the idea that God takes the twisted wreckage of our lives, and can still work masterpieces out of us, is nothing short of miraculous.

Something else amazing happens in the bridge of the song. When I’ve given up and let God take over, I can actually “fall in love, with the ones that run me through.” When I’ve owned up to my own brokenness, even the people that are partially responsible for  the havoc in my  life can receive love and forgiveness. That also, is something only the supernatural can explain.

It’s also interesting in the bridge that he uses the phrase, “My world is a lie, that’s come true.” No one. I repeat, no one can begin to understand God’s grace unless they’ve experienced it themselves. That’s part of the mystery. Even we who have, cannot fully explain this crazy idea of a God that can give us enough grace to have joy in the worst of circumstances.

There’s a lot more in this song but those are some of the themes I chose to explore.

I love the way the music in this song starts with haunting agony, basically a brooding bass solo with occasional washes of foreboding guitar creating a bleak backdrop for Jon’s forlorn voice. The song continues to build all the way up through the bridge until it’s all unleashed into a heart-rending, desperate cry the last time through the chorus. As the cry to God ends, the final measures of the song give way to some resolution and hope as strings take over and fade out.

“Sing It Out” –Switchfoot

I’m on the run

I’m on the ropes this time

Where is my song?

I’ve lost the song of my soul tonight

 

Sing it out

Sing it out

Take what is left of me

Make it a melody

Sing it out

Sing out loud

I can’t find the words to sing

You be my remedy

My song, my song

I’ll sing with what’s left of me

 

Where is the sun?

Feel like a ghost this time

Where have you gone?

I need your breath in my lungs tonight

 

Sing it out

Sing it out

Take what is left of me

Make it a melody

Sing it out

Sing out loud

I can’t find the words to sing

You be my remedy

My song, my song

I’ll sing with what’s left of me

 

I’m holding on

I’m holding on to you

My world is wrong

My world is a lie that’s come true

And I fall in love with the ones that run me through

When all along, all I need is you

 

Sing it out

Sing it out

Take what is left of me

Make it a melody

Sing it out

Sing out loud

I can’t find the words to sing

Come be my remedy

My song, my song

My song

I’ll sing with what’s left of me

Call me a melancholy but, I’m a real fan of these types of songs. Maybe it’s because the human element is so obvious in all of them. Others include Eric Whitacre’s “When David Heard” (an epic seventeen and half minute choral piece depicting David’s sorrow for Absalom’s death), Jars of Clay’s “Silence,” and “Surely He Hath Born Our Griefs” and “Thy Rebuke Hath Broken His Heart/Behold and See if There Be Any Sorrow” from Handel’s Messiah. I’m also reading quite a few of the Psalms right now, which have a lot of similar content in them.

What are some of your favorite “suffering/struggle” songs? Let’s discuss them in the comments.

The Screaming Toddler

Several nights ago I was lying in bed with my eyes closed. My mind was in that mirky spot between sleep and consciousness. I was replaying a particular mistake I had made that day.

For no apparent reason, suddenly the image of a toddler appeared in my head. He sat on the floor, his mouth opened wide in a wail, his eyes in slits, and his cheeks streaked with tears. A benevolent parent was standing over him, handing him toys. It wasn’t helping.

Each time the child’s parent handed him a toy, he took it in his hands and angrily heaved it aside. The picture faded.

I need to make sure I remember this,” said my drowsy thoughts.

I reached over to my bedside, grabbed my iPod and opened Evernote, (my trusty “stay-organized-in-spite-of-being-dreadfully-forgetful” app.) My sleepy fingers typed in a memo and I went to sleep.

I didn’t forget it. Even though I was drowsy, I had kind of decided I already knew exactly what it meant.

I am sometimes only a bigger version of that toddler. Just in case a strange image of a twenty-three year-old guy sitting on the floor screaming while his parents try to give him toys, has just popped into your head, and that twenty-three year old guy looks a lot like me . . . I honestly don’t do that anymore . . . much. Seriously, I don’t.

The problem is, too often I do the grown-up equivalent of that scenario with my Heavenly Father.

Jesus tells us that if our parents know what’s good for us, how much more capable is our Creator of doing the same. I’m sure there were a lot of times when God wanted to bless me, wanted me to notice the beautiful, the good things that He was putting into my life so I could see into His goodness, get a better idea of what He’s like.

It’s not fun to think about how many times I know I’ve missed that just because I was too busy wanting something else. Something that I thought was newer, or trendier. Something I thought would make me happy and fulfilled if I was just willing to part with enough money. It’s also no fun to think about how often that’s happened when I didn’t even notice.

I wonder how many times this happened:

God: “Here, look at this nice sunset I made you tonight. Look at the attention I gave to the blending of the oranges and pinks with the dark blue clouds.”

Me: “That’s nice, but uh, would it be morally wrong for me to buy a new computer monitor? A widescreen LED would really be nice. Or to get a Fender Telecaster? They sound incredible and plus, wouldn’t it look great in my room?”

God: “You just don’t get it do you?”

Me: “Oops.”

I think I’d be surprised out of my mind how much God would like to bless me, but He doesn’t very often. Either that or I just don’t notice.

I’m too busy blessing me.

I’m all caught up in trying to buy something that can’t be bought. How many times does God put stuff into my life that’s intended to be blessing, but it doesn’t even make a dent in my mountain of self-blessing, because I’m already stuffed and overflowing with stuff I’ve given myself?

I have a lot. I don’t know about you, but it’d be really tough to give most of it away and bless other people, because I’ve deceived myself into thinking my happiness depends on it. I can think of a gazillion ways that I’d like to try making myself happy with the money I have. I’m not rich by American standards, but I’m way beyond comfortable.

I think I’m not used to needing blessing because I’ve already taken care of that by myself. I’m bloated. I have way more than I need.

What if I would give until it hurts? What would happen? I don’t know because I never really have, but I imagine the smallest deeds of kindness, the most subtle gestures of generosity would seem huge. I think it’d be easier to see life for the big beautiful gift it is, rather than this warped consumerist idea that it’s about getting more stuff.

What it boils down to is this: have I become calloused to the blessings of God because I don’t have the discipline to keep myself from using what He gave me to buy my own happiness?

Granted, I think material wealth is a blessing. I really do, but I really think that it’s only a surface blessing. There are things so much deeper, so much more fulfilling, so much more beautiful than the the things that can be fetched with the dollar.

When we have so much stuff and put so much stock in the material, we “begin to believe that all we are is material.” I think we lose our hold on the idea that we “are souls and have bodies.” We think instead we are “bodies that have souls.” But when we spend so much time, so much energy, so much money chasing the material, it’s pretty hard to convince ourselves otherwise.

There’s a big world out there packed with beauty just because God delights in beauty and he wants us to delight in it too. It’d be awful to get near the end of life, and find out I missed out on the parts of Him that can only be experienced and felt through the things He made, and that I’d spent this time thinking it was something I could order from Amazon or purchase on iTunes.

“4:12” by Switchfoot

You’ve been having trouble staying asleep

You’ve been waking up at 4:12

You roll the voices over in your head

And you try to put them neatly on the shelf

 

You watch the sun rise

Saw the darkness had no choice before the dawn

With your own eyes

And then you broke out laughing from a yawn

 

I’m so sorry I’ve been so down

I started doubting things could ever turn around

And I began to believe that all we are is material

It’s nonsensical

 

So you walk outside and everything’s new

You’re looking at the world with new eyes

As if you’d never seen the sky before this blue

As if you’ve never seen the sky in your whole life

And then the phone rings

As it turns out you are already late

And now you’re wondering

Is peace just a temporary state?

 

Waiting tables and parking cars

You’ve been selling cell phones at the shopping mall

And you began to believe that all we are is material

It’s nonsensical

 

I’m so sorry I’ve been so down

I started doubting things could ever turn around

But I still can’t believe that all we are

And that all of our dreams are nothing more than material

 

Souls aren’t built of stone, sticks, and bones . . .”