Some of the most popular bands in Christian music history will perform at Second Baptist Church on April 25, including NewSong, Rebecca St. James, Avalon and Nichole C. Mullen.
The Courier News published an interview with NewSong on March 27, and had the opportunity to speak with other bands for this week’s edition.
Rebecca St. James
Rebecca St. James said she has not toured consistently for about seven years, but is feeling called to return to her songwriting and singing roots.
“Soon after I got married, I pulled off the road,” she said. “I have toured twice in the last year. One of those was the first round of the Greatest Hits Live show and the other was with For King and Country.”
For King and Country is a Christian band formed by two of her brothers, Joel and Luke.
St. James and her husband Jacob Fink, bassist for Foster the People, have two children: Gemma, 5, and Imogen, 10 months.
“It’s pretty crazy to think that when I first toured I was only eight years older than my daughter is now,” she said. “I realize how little I was.” She said that despite the pressure and hectic schedule, prayer got her through the rough patches.
“I felt young in some ways, but I felt like we practiced for weeks and that I could do it. Then when we got to the first show, I just remember being flat on my face asking God for the strength to do it. Prayer has always been a big part of what I feel like I can handle,” she said. “I have to pray; otherwise I couldn’t handle it.”
When she went into music full-time at the age of 16, she said it often seemed like people expected her to have it “all figured out.” Taking time away from the industry has been good and refreshing for her, but stepping back into the music world doesn’t sound as exhausting as it once did.
“About a year and a half ago, I had an experience on stage with my brothers for a particular show, and encountered God in such an amazing way while I was on stage,” she said. “It made me realize that I miss that connection with him when I sing. I felt that he called me back into it, which was surprising. I’m excited to see what he’s going to do.”
When she initially took a break from touring, she thought she may never sing again.
“And I was fine with it,” she said. “It was a different season of life and I felt called to lay it down.”
If she could change anything, she said she would have built in more rest time.
“Not pushed so hard and said yes to so many things,” she explained. “At certain points, I was touring and writing a book and working on an album. I probably would have paced myself better. But when you’re a kid, you don’t understand balance as well. You feel like you can handle it, or you need to handle it. I learned the hard way about the importance of rest and sabbaticals and taking time to renew so you have something fresh to give.”
Her next album is a worship album with a different kind of “sonic, fresh approach,” she said.
What makes this Greatest Hits Live tour special, according to St. James, is that there are a lot of songs that have impacted people’s lives.
“They take you back to a place in your Christian life that feels a little sacred,” she said, “that impacted you at an earlier point in your life. A lot of people today are needing hope and encouragement. I’m very aware of how different the world is, and part of the process of God calling me back into it is writing songs that are filled with hope.”
That’s something her brothers do with For King and Country, and something she grew to love while she toured with them.
“They feel very called to write songs that are filled with hope,” she said. “A lot of people write to them online that struggle with suicidal thoughts, cutting, hopelessness. Being involved in that helped me feel the pulse of what’s happening today and it definitely impacts the writing for my new project.”
Avalon is a Christian quartet that was founded in 1995. Greg Long joined the group in 2003 after a successful career as a solo artist. His wife, Janna, was a founding member of the band.
“For me, it was about family,” Long said. “I was blessed to have eight No. 1 songs on Christian radio, but Janna and I fell in love. She was touring with Avalon and I was touring independently, and it became pretty clear that I should maybe lay aside my solo stuff and become a part of this band.”
Their most popular songs include “Testify to Love,” “Everything to Me” and “New Day,” and after a couple of decades of touring regularly, they stopped about 10 years ago when the Longs accepted the position of worship pastor at a church in Houston, Texas.
“And we’re still here,” Long said.
In fact, when NewSong’s Eddie Carswell called and asked if they wanted to join the Greatest Hits Live tour, the Longs told him it could only be for a couple of weekends because they couldn’t miss church.
“So we did it two weekends in the fall and had a blast,” he said. “I think this tour is really special.”
He said that if you’ve been a Christian music fan over the past 20 years, you will recognize pretty much every song.
“We’ll even sit in the audience and sing with Point of Grace and Bob Carslisle, and it engulfs you for that couple of hours that you’re there,” he said. Everything in the Christian music industry has changed since Avalon first became popular, according to Long. Everything is streaming, and the style has changed tremendously. But now, for the first time in a decade, Avalon is working on a new record.
“We’re working with Jay DeMarcus with Rascal Flatts,” he said. “We’ve known them for 20 years or more and we’re the first artists on his new label.”
In the ‘90s, Christian music played on the radio was a lot different than what was sung at church, but now they’re much more aligned, according to Long.
“Now they’re kind of blended together,” he said. “Being worship leaders at church, we have a huge appreciation for that. There’s room at the table for all of it.”
Their new record will reflect that change.
“It’s very fresh, but the message of the Gospel permeates throughout,” he said. “The music styles change around us but the Gospel of Christ — what he means to us, that he’s what gives us hope — that stays the same.”
Like St. James, Long has been performing since he was a child. The son of a preacher, he would sing on stage from the time he was three. Having three daughters of his own has changed his perspective in more ways than he expected.
“I realized so much when I became a father,” he said. “I promise you, there’s not a thing they could ever, ever do that would make me not love them. I don’t care what it is. I’m an earthly father with an earthly child, and my love is just a touch of the love our heavenly father has for us. His is overwhelming and everlasting. The unconditional love God has for us is what I’ve seen the most of. God looks at me that way. He loves me no matter what I do.”
The new album will reflect that love and will also focus on peace.
“Anxiety is at an all-time high, and that is not from the Lord,” he said. “That’s not what he promised us. He can bring it (relief); I’ve experienced it in my life. He is a God that is alive and his spirit lives inside of us, and that is available to us.”
Nicole C. Mullen
Nicole C. Mullen started out touring with Amy Grant and CeCe Winans in the ‘90s.
“We’ve all been around for a long time,” she laughed. “We run into each other, and we’re all still here by the power of Christ. We all love each other and I have a great respect for them all.”
She said that knowing that these same people are still around and doing great things is encouraging, and “to be numbered among them” is humbling.
“I was just a little girl who loved to sing, whose dad played music but worked a blue collar job,” she said.
Mullen has gone on to become the only African-American artist to win a Dove award for Song of the Year and Songwriter of the Year.
Her most popular songs include “My Redeemer Lives” and “Call on Jesus.”
“‘My Redeemer Lives’ was written when I was writing for a Point of Grace album,” she said. “But it was too late to go on the album by the time I got finished with it. It became a comfort song to me. I was going through my own night season, and it was a blueprint on how to move through that. He shows up in the midst of the night season.”
Mullen just released a song last week with Kathy Lee Gifford called “The God Who Sees.”
“It’s probably one of my finer pieces,” she said. “It’s about Hagar, Ruth, Mary of Magdela. I was so moved even after doing the demo of it.”
They produced a short film to go along with the song. It’s a song about the women in the Bible who had challenges in life but were “seen by God,” according to Mullen.
“It’s really just remembering the stories of the different people in the Bible,” she explained. “The response from nonbelievers and believers alike, I’ve never seen before in my 20-some years of music. It’s not the writing, it’s the power of the Holy Spirit that still moves and gives songs in the night.” For Mullen, the song is deeply personal.
“Even in my night season, even in my hardship and heartbreak, he’s been able to use that shame and disappointment, and taught me to forgive. Even through the things I wouldn’t have chosen to have gone through,” she said. Mullen still tours all over the world and will soon host a retreat for women in Texas called the My Redeemer Event.
For more information on the concert, visit greatesthitslivetour.com.