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Cool Hand Luke's The Fires Of Life: The Interview
[ gma week 2004 | nashville, tn | april 27, 2004 ]

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Cool Hand Luke PhotocMW: Your music does not fit into the "radio friendly" category. Sometimes I wonder if the definition of "radio friendly" will ever change. What do you think?

Mark: We have been talking a lot about that today. I honestly do not think it is going to change that much. It is just going to take people not relying on radio quite so much to find out about music. To me, I think the standards for Christian radio is a lot more narrow than general market radio, which I guess is neither here nor there. Our songs tend to be straying further and further away from being three and a half minute pop songs. I don't really see any new trends of radio music changing. It seems like people keep recycling the same formulas. I'd like to think that maybe it will change, but it hasn't in a really long time. I think we are just going to have to rely on word of mouth and other avenues of music besides radio.

cMW: The new album, The Fires of Life has more piano. What led to this decision? Will we hear this on the live tours?

Mark: Since I am the drummer and the singer, as far as the music goes, I don't really have the melodic input into our songwriting process unless I hum something, which is what I have done in the past. I have been interested in piano and have been playing just for fun. It ended up when I would come up with a melody or a lyric I would put piano to it instead of trying to hum it to the guys. Because that is how the song was presented, a lot of times that is what the song ended up being. It was structured around a piano part. So that is why there is piano on the new record. I think that will be a consistent thing from now on because it seemed to work well. We are praying and looking for a piano player right now and we do intend on taking one out on the road and have piano live. We are just waiting to figure out who that is.

cMW: Your guitarist recently left to pursue other interests. I have noticed a lot of changes recently with so many bands. What helped make your decision to replace your guitarist rather than calling it quits?

Cool Hand Luke PhotoMark: Jason gave us a good six months of notice before leaving the band, so it gave Brandon and I a lot of time to think and pray about it. Brandon and I actually did not even discuss it at all it at first I think because we just wanted to pray and find out, "Ok God, what are you doing? Are you wanting us to continue this?" Because we did not want to talk with each other and get ourselves—you can talk yourself into things and we just wanted to make sure we were waiting on God. I honestly thought the band would break up at first, but after praying about it, Brandon and I both felt like God is using the band and we would like to continue doing it. We felt like that is what we are called to do.

The first conversation we had about it, Chris's name came up immediately because we had known him for a few years. His heart was in line with ours—and what our ministry is about. And we knew that he was a really excellent guitar player. So we approached him about it and asked him to pray and over the next few months. God just started lining things up and making it clear. It ended up being a really smooth transition. The first time we practiced with Chris he knew all the songs that we played—literally better than we did. In fact, he had to correct us on a few things where we weren't playing like the record!

cMW: You originally had planned to be in the studio in December, but it was delayed until January. Why the delay?

The Fires of Life - Click to view!Mark: The record would have been horrible if we recorded it then. We just got off tour in November and we had three songs, and they were like, "Ok you have got a month." And we were like, "We can't write a record in a month." It was not like a, "Hey I think it would be cool if we take some more time." It was just like, "Oh, we don't have enough songs for a record." So it was pretty much a necessity and the extra time helped us write more songs and it helped us refine some more songs that we had already written that probably would not have been quite so good. I am not saying that they are quite so good now, but they would have been worse.

cMW: What was the hardest part about making this album?

Chris: Waking up in the morning and driving to Nashville.

Mark: I think the time constraint is always a stresser—like putting a deadline on the creative process. Since we don't sell millions of records, we do not have a huge budget and four months in the studio or whatever. So we are working against the clock and did not completely get to do everything we wanted to do for the record. For me, that was the most stressful part.

cMW: Name some differences in making this album from the first?

Chris (laughs): I can't answer the question.

Cool Hand Luke PhotoMark: The piano of course is a big difference because there is more of that. And there is also harp on a couple songs and cello on a couple songs. We worked with Skye McCaskey who is our engineer and Steve Hindalong produced. So that was the same as the last record and we were comfortable with them. But it was a different studio. To me the setting being different can affect things. Because we had a couple records under our belt this time, we went into the studio knowing what we could do and what we wanted to get out of it. And I think we had more production ideas and what we wanted to get out of it. And we had a week of pre-production with Steve Hindalong and Marc Byrd which helped them hash ideas out. I felt like we were a little more prepared this time and the guitar process was a little different because we had Mark Byrd co-producing this time. He was great with guitars and getting sounds and just really involved Chris in that process.

Brandon: And we were in one spot pretty much the whole time. Last time we had to move a couple of times due to a country artist complaining about the sound in the studio. So it was stable, and it was just a really cool set up. It was really comfortable.

cMW: Do all the songs on The Fires of Life have a common theme?

Mark: It is not a concept album or anything like that. The title comes from Isaiah 43:2. The second half of that says that when you walk through the fire, you will not be burned and the flames will not set you ablaze. The songs were all written in a small amount of time, so what I was going through spiritually all went into the song lyrics. The point of it was pretty much—I had a hard year as far as having family problems and a broken heart and different things like that. A lot of the songs are just about the Christian life and the relationship with Jesus and the hope that we have in Christ.

The two main things are, one, When you are in the middle of suffering, it is important to realize God's sovereignty in that when you go through trials, it is actually God refining you with fire. It is actually Him showing us favor and wanting to discipline us like children. The second thing is that rejoicing comes in the morning and it gets better and God is going to deliver us through this.

cMW: What is one song on the album that you can't wait for people to hear?

Mark: I am excited about "Sequence No. 3" because it is a weird song structurally and there are a lot of weird textures in it and it has a lot of different elements to it. It was enjoyable to write and to see how it evolved over time and once we got it in the studio we were making changes to it. I am excited about that one.

Cool Hand Luke PhotoChris: I would probably say one song just because it is my favorite musically, though I am excited to hear how it comes out because we have not fully gotten everything down about how we are going to pull these songs off live. "Friendly J's" is one of the songs on the album that I think has a different tone musically and just all around I enjoy that song. Just to play it is going to be fun.

Brandon: I am going to say "I am Not Ready." I think it is probably the simplest song for us to put together and the structure is—there is nothing super weird about it—it is very straightforward. But at the same time it really slightly foreign to us. The first half is just piano and vocals and the last half is the whole band. I am interested in seeing how our audience, our fans take that. I guess it is the same for all the songs. It is a good, big step away from our last record. I think in general I am just excited about all of them.

cMW: If someone listened to the last album and was indifferent, what would you say to encourage those people to have a listen to this album?

Chris: I say this a lot, not being in the band for the full six years that they have been a band, for some reason I still hear this album as a fan of Cool Hand Luke and not so much as a part of the band. I just think that it has more interesting turns in the sense that things are not expected. The songs in themselves are—I don't know of a better word but entertaining or pleasing to the ear. I don't want to use the words "more interesting" because it sounds more degrading to the last album, but at the same time I really do think that there is something more to this one. I definitely think that comes with growth and anybody can listen to this album up against the last one and say, "Wow there is a lot of new stuff there and it has progressed." I think to me each song is interesting in itself, and perhaps we all would agree. We enjoy each song, whereas the last album there were a few favorite songs but not all of them were as enjoyable.
- Kim Flanders
May 2004
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