Imagine. Thanks to GMA’s 2009 Dove Award nomination, thousands of people did. And, frankly, many liked the way it sounded. So what if Fireflight was a modern rock act nominated alongside six of Christian music’s biggest giants? The future had arrived. Now, with the release of the band’s double-taker of an album, For Those Who Wait, it’s time for everyone else to catch up.
Granted, the past few years have been a whirlwind. Back when the Floridians launched their Flicker Records debut, The Healing of Harms, in 2006, the versatile quintet rocked two No. 1 radio singles, toured relentlessly, and, best of all, discovered a growing fanbase that reciprocated the band’s passion. Next up, Fireflight’s 2008 sophomore album, Unbreakable. Before the record released, NBC repeatedly used its title track, the lead single, for prime time television promos. The fuse had been lit. As operation Google “Unbreakable” began, the album debuted at No. 10 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart. One domino tipped another. Fireflight won Taco Bell’s fan-voted “Best of the Beat” contest and then performed at ESPN’s “Winter X Games 13.” As Fireflight logged additional audio exposure on ABC, E! Entertainment’s “Style Network,’ and even SyFy, Christian rock and pop radio fanned its own flames, sending three more Fireflight singles—“Unbreakable,” “The Hunger” and “Stand Up”—to No. 1. Before the smoke cleared, the “Unbreakable” music video logged more than a million plays on YouTube, and the song itself had been confirmed as a future download for the wildly popular Rock Band™ video game.
The table has been set for the highly-anticipated third project, For Those Who Wait. With its stunning new 10-song collection, Fireflight exceeds expectations. As drummer Phee Shorb puts it, “For Those Who Wait sounds as good as I’ve always hoped we could sound.”
Front and center? One Dawn Michele. With all due respect to exceptional peers such as Paramore and Evanescence, not all female lead singers are created equal. Armed with an arresting voice that’s drawn comparisons to Joan Jett and The Pretenders’ Chrissy Hynde, Dawn actually makes authoritative gut-rock sound beautiful. And her bandmates? With her every step of the way and, at times, elevating the proceedings. From the moment Fireflight’s new album hits speakers, one thing’s for sure: This is 2010.
While some might speculate the band had a huge recording budget or tapped the talents of an iconic mainstream producer, Fireflight guitarist/support vocalist Justin Cox explains the record’s fuller, more muscular sound is the result of taking a different approach and different equipment into the studio. When the rock quintet—which also features Fireflight founder/guitarist Glenn Drennen and bassist Wendy Drennen (his wife)—reunited with Rob Hawkins (Jackson Waters, Rush of Fools), who also helmed Unbreakable, Justin told the producer he “wanted this album to be way heavier and way bigger.” For much of the recording, Fireflight also switched to high end solid body electric guitars that yield richer tones, and—much to the band’s credit—a superior amplifier known for unforgiving clarity if you make mistakes. “The results were phenomenal,” says Justin with a satisfied smile. “It wasn’t about being as heavy as we could be, it was more about impact and dynamics. Because the soft parts, you just need those to sit back. We wanted this album to sound more epic, to sound like a journey from start to finish.”
An epic journey? In more ways than one. In fact, Fireflight’s first three albums have been a thematic travelogue of sorts. While the band’s debut emphasized resiliency amidst hardship, Unbreakable focused on emerging victorious beyond such difficulty. And For Those Who Wait? “This album is a maturation in understanding that sometimes you don’t appreciate why you’re on the path that you’re are,” Dawn explains. “A lot of times, we get bogged down thinking about things that we’re waiting for. As soon as I get my bills paid, then things are going to be great. As soon as my family member’s not sick anymore, then things are going to be a lot better. And when we do that, we totally miss out on what’s happening in-between now and our goal. God has times of waiting in our lives because He has something for us to learn. Hard things that happen, that throw us off of our plan, become the most important things in our lives because God will take them and use them to shape our character and who we are.”
This insight not only drives the album’s dynamic title track—a defiant rocker which shatters the “Unbreakable” mold—it frames the entire record. “This album is filled with even more personal stories of our own, our families’, friends’, and our fans’,” relates Dawn, who, along with Justin, writes the band’s lyrics. “It’s our lives, our hearts, and our pain just poured out. We worked to take the things that we struggled through and faced to leave a trail of bread crumbs, in hopes that other people would be able to see what we went through and find hope in that.”
With this in mind, Fireflight renders lead single, “Desperate.” Performed with hard-rocking urgency and emotion, the song takes you to the end of the rope and literally demands the only hope there is. For Those Who Wait unveils the band’s thickest groove yet with the song, “Fire in My Eyes.” The instant its steroidic guitars kick in, the operative word is big. And just when you think it’s reached its height, Dawn’s soaring chorus shows you how exquisite powerful vocals can actually be.
Even as Fireflight stakes its most authoritative claim in high-decibel rock, the multifaceted act also renders two masterful piano-based ballads. When Dawn assures us of God’s personal and intervening nature in the strings-enriched “Name,” it’s immediately evident her emotive vocals are equally poignant in an intimate musical framework. Its counterpart, “Recovery Begins,” is an artful vibefest as the band gently invites the Still Small Voice to speak forth.
At a time when countless Americans are struggling with feelings of inadequacy in today’s fragile job market, Fireflight offers the ascending rock track “All I Need to Be” as a prayerful reminder of where a believer’s identity should truly reside. As Dawn explains, many people of faith experience recurring anxiety as they seek God’s will for their lives. Instead of seeing their calling to the Christian life as being definitive, believers often obsess over vocation as a potential calling. Says Dawn, “I went through a time when I was seeking God intensely, asking, ‘What is the path You’d have for me? Where should I go?’ And I felt like He said to me, ‘My path covers the whole world, and I walk in love.’ I felt like what He was saying to me was that as long as I am walking in love and listening for His leading, it doesn’t matter where I go or what I do, that I will have fulfilled His purposes.”
Even as Fireflight wrote the songs for For Those Who Wait, Dawn, who tragically lost a brother during her youth, saw another—Hunter—diagnosed with brain cancer and have to have surgery. “It really was like reliving your worst nightmare, having it come true again,” she says. “I just cried out to God, ‘If we lose him, what will we do? It will destroy my family, because we’ve only barely recovered from the first time.’ And God really impressed upon me that all great people have gone through impossible circumstances. But it’s those things that have defined their character and made them who they are now. That helped me to have faith and to have strength to make it through that whole situation, and now Hunter’s doing wonderfully.” Dawn echoes this insight as she sings, “I’m not what I have done/I’m what I’ve overcome,” in the moody yet explosive modern rock standout, “What I’ve Overcome.”
“We pray earnestly that God will give us good songs that will be able to help people,” she says. “And He’s come through for us, especially in our weakest moments. That’s when we’ve really gotten the best stuff.” This awareness of God’s magnificence amidst personal weakness is a defining trait for Fireflight. It not only frames the band’s songwriting, it empowers Fireflight’s rejection of “rock star” entitlement and enables genuine relationships between the group and countless fans. “We work collectively as a band to answer every MySpace and ShoutLife question we get,” says the lead singer. “We believe first and foremost the Christian faith is relational. We try to show people God’s love, and you just can’t do that unless you care about them.” This manifests itself most directly as the band proactively interacts and prays with fans who “need to talk” after concerts.
In the most urgent cases, Fireflight connects its fans with ministry partners such as To Write Love on Her Arms, which helps individuals struggling with self injury, depression and addiction, and Dawson McAllister’s HopeLine, which gives life guidance to teenagers and young adults. In fact, in a highly unusual move for a band, Fireflight recently took a hope coach from Dawson McAllister’s team out on tour for its fans’ benefit.
Beyond immediate relational needs, Fireflight also flexes its muscle in far-reaching compassion and justice efforts. Explains Dawn, “We’re passionate about helping people both in America and in developing countries, where just a little can do so much. Jesus was extremely interested in the orphans, and the poor, and the widows. That was such a big part of what He did and what He emphasized to Christians, what they needed to be doing. As a result, Fireflight’s work includes a focused partnership with The Legacy of Hope International, a ministry committed to serving the most immediate needs of Cambodia’s poorest children.
This active commitment to compassion and justice also serves as a signpost for fans as Fireflight’s music encourages them to move beyond their personal struggles and reach out to a world eager to know healing in the waiting. Yes, learn while you wait, but love others in the process. This is the message Fireflight proclaims loud and true, whether appearing with Franklin Graham at an outreach event, singing on national television, or rocking for thousands on 2010’s “Winter Jam Tour Spectacular.” That’s because, when you get down to it, if it’s for those who wait, it’s for everyone.