Whole Notes

Earlier this year, guitarist Ben Kasica left two-time GRAMMY winning band Skillet to pursue new opportunities elsewhere. Through his publicist, Kasica shared the following letter to both fans and industry friends:

Dear Friends,

Many of you know after 10 years of playing with Skillet, I’ve chosen to move on. Many people have questioned why I would leave a band ‘at the top’ to pursue ‘smaller’ things. Here is my answer.

When I was 16, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime – to play guitar in my favorite band Skillet. I had been a fan since I was 12, attending loads of concerts, “moshing,” proudly wearing Skillet t-shirts, etc. I never thought I would ever actually be in the band. I was just a normal kid that loved God and believed He had the best for me. But, through a good friend, I got a call for an audition and somehow really believed in my heart it was going to work out. Two weeks later, I was on the road touring and playing in the band. Ten years, almost two million records, countless amazing fans and a myriad of priceless memories later, I’m here writing this memo.

Skillet (L to R): Korey Cooper, former guitarist Ben Kasica, John Cooper and Jen Ledger.

I grew up on Christian music and it maintains a special and unique place in my heart for the way it inspired and shaped me as a child and for how it has contributed to my maturity as a young adult growing up in the business. I often think back to when I was a 12-year old kid, lying in bed with my headphones blaring, dreaming about being a rock star. I think every kid has moments when they dream big dreams like these. The trouble is, most don’t really know how to ever achieve those dreams, even if they know a sense of calling from God. This next phase of life for me is committed to seeing others’ dreams become reality and encouraging people along in their destiny in God.

I recently formed a company called Skies Fall Media Group. The name ‘Skies Fall’ was inspired by the imagery of the Kingdom of Heaven coming down to the earth. The mission of the company is to facilitate a wide range of creative business development in the world of the arts and media. Initially forged as a small recording and production company in 2005, the company was expanded in 2008 to take on artist development, publishing and management and become an artist-centric independent record label, Skies Fall Records. Coinciding with the record company, we operate a full-service recording studio where we are writing and producing music with our clients.

To artists, I hope to be an encouragement to you to continue in your heavenly calling and that you would know refreshment in your work; that you would be reminded of when you were a young musician dreaming of doing music, when you were on a mission to make a difference in this world, speaking the most powerful language in the world through music; that the long drives and early mornings and the absence of normal church-life would be met by a renewed desire to live out the mandate of God on your lives; that you might actually live in the fullest measure of who God created you to be.

Pope Benedict XVI met with artists in the Sistine Chapel recently and said, “You are the custodians of beauty…you have the opportunity to speak to the heart of humanity, to touch individual and collective sensibilities, to call forth dreams and hopes, to broaden the horizons of knowledge and of human engagement. Be grateful, then, for the gifts you have received and be fully conscious of your great responsibility to communicate beauty, to communicate in and through beauty! Through your art, you yourselves are to be heralds and witnesses of hope for humanity!”

I hope that together we can make a difference in the world, that we can communicate the heart of God through creativity and inspiration. I hope that together we can set precedents in business, the arts and media worthy of being modeled by the world. I hope that our success not be gauged solely by sales and numbers, but by our honor for each other, by our excellence in our spheres of influence and by the measure we allow the Spirit of God to lead us. I’m privileged and excited to join you in these endeavors.

Sincerely yours,

Ben Kasica
Skies Fall Media Group

Best wishes to Kasica and his new venture. You can follow Skies Fall Media Group by clicking here.

Join us tomorrow for a sneak preview of the Whole Notes interview with Owl City’s Adam Young. We’ll have the full transcript next week.

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Here’s part two of Whole Notes’ interview with Royal Tailor lead singer Tauren Wells:

Bonham: As a band that feels called to engage the culture, it seems like the song “Control” is directly linked to that message. Does that counter culture message bear more weight coming from a band like Royal Tailor that’s comprised of younger guys with a youth-friendly sound?

Wells: I think so. I think people, especially students, look to us as purveyors of the culture because we know what’s going on. We have an insight. We know what’s cool and what’s not. That’s a unique place in life. That’s why I count it such a privilege to be put on a stage at this time because you only have this window for so long. So we’re going to capitalize on this moment that God has called us to and hopefully we can inspire a generation of students to rise out of the ashes of mediocrity and to be the cultural innovators that God has called them to be.

Bonham: With references to Lady Gaga, Kanye West and Katy Perry, were the lyrics of that song meant to be provocative?

Royal Tailor (L to R: DJ Cox, Tauren Wells, Blake Hubbard, Jarrod Ingram)

Wells: No, it wasn’t really a hit at them. What we’re trying to do with “Control” is—this is what happened. We were listening to Top 40 radio on our way into a writing session for this record. A song came on and it was like, “Take your clothes off. Take your clothes off. Take your clothes off.” Literally, those were the lyrics, and then even the messages of other artists like Brittany Spears, “Sin Is The New Thing.” Hearing all these messages, what we realized was that even outside of their message is how unapologetic they are about bringing their message to the front of people’s minds. It seems like the attitude of the church has become, “Well, we’re going to take our ball and go home and write worship songs.” Do we need those songs? Do we need songs that edify the church? Absolutely! But at the same time, I don’t think that we should be unapologetic about our Gospel or unapologetic about things happening that we disagree with in culture. That’s what Jesus did. He confronted people, cities, Pharisees. It was the church. It was sinners. It was everybody. He spoke the truth to them, and that’s what we’re trying to convey with our music—the truth of who Jesus is and the truth of who people are and how we live our lives and navigate our lives according to that truth.

Bonham: Were you aware of Katy Perry’s background as a Christian artist when you put that line in the song that references “Teenage Dream?”

Wells: Yes.

Bonham: I just found that line to be particularly interesting as it speaks, somewhat, to her story and to the story of any young person who might aspire to achieve fame or popularity.

Wells: Yep, that’s exactly what we were trying to do with that. It is by no means a shot at Katy Perry or any of those artists. If the opportunity was there, we would be friends with those people. Our heart breaks for them and we want them to realize the gravity of what it is that they are doing. They have tremendous influence. They have a tremendous voice to speak to people and when they speak, people listen. If there was any way to get them to say more positive things to inspire people, especially from a biblical viewpoint, then that would literally change the world—literally.

Bonham: How did you guys get discovered?

Wells: It was very much playing shows. We played over 300 shows in two years. One of those shows was at the Moorings’ church. Leeland and Jack Mooring’s parents pastor in Baytown, Texas. So we played a show there and Leeland was actually there. He heard us play and we exchanged numbers and developed somewhat of a friendship over that next year. GMA week came up and Leeland asked if we were going and I told him we weren’t able to go. And he said, “Alright, let me call you right back.” He called me back and he said, “You can’t say know to this. We want you to come to GMA week. We’re going to pay for your hotels and introduce you to people.” We went there. They put us up. They showed us around town and introduced us to tons of people. They invited us to their listening party for their label, Provident Label Group, and at that listening party, they introduced us to Jason MacArthur, the vice president of A&R and he got our demo and lived with our music for a little while and really liked it and we started talking and now here we are.

Bonham: Even before you told me that story, your voice and the way you speak reminded me a lot of Leeland.

Wells: Well that’s very cool. I take that as an honor. We really look up to Leeland and the rest of the guys as artists and definitely as followers of Christ. You’re not going to get better guys than Jack and Leeland and Mike.

Bonham: What are some exciting things that have already happened with the album and what are your expectations going forward?

Wells: It’s been a great response so far. Our single “Hold Me Together” is climbing up both AC and CHR charts. It’s resonating with a lot of people. I think it’s ministering to a lot of people that are going through some situations in their lives. We have many records being sold. We feel like the first week was incredible especially since we’re a new act. We don’t feel like anybody really knows about us yet. Everything’s going great. We have a good touring lineup set up through the spring of next year. Everything’s looking and we’re appreciating the journey and trying to soak it all in.

Bonham: Were you aware of the vacuum that exists within certain stylistic elements of the CHR and Adult Contemporary radio markets and are you happy to be filling that gap and helping diversify the industry?

Wells: Yep. That’s exactly what’s happening and I think that’s what has to happen if the church is going to be the influence in the world that we’re called to be. We’ve got to embrace all different races, styles and sounds. That’s what makes a culture beautiful is when it’s a mosaic, when it’s all of us coming together and being ourselves and being what God’s created us to be. We’re just fortunate to be a part of an industry that has a great mission.

Bonham: Do you feel like you’re part of a new era within the industry?

Wells: I think it’s a resurgence, not to say that the Christian industry has been dead, but I think maybe we’re expanding the target audience. It is now something that’s going to be for everyone of all ages.

To follow Royal Tailor, check the official band site here.

In case you missed part one of this interview, check it out by clicking here.

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TUESDAY CONVERSATION: Tauren Wells of Royal Tailor

Every once in a while, an artist comes along that shakes things up and challenges the status quo within the Christian industry. You don’t have to go too deep into Royal Tailor’s debut album Black & White to figure out the Houston-based band is one of those artists.

Whole Notes had a chance to talk to lead singer Tauren Wells about its unique sound, it’s vision for today’s students and how growing up in the church shaped the band members as individuals. Check it out in part one of this interview:

Bonham: How did the band come together to develop such a uniquely diverse sound?

Wells: It’s just all of us being who we are and coming together and making something that we’re proud of. What I really love about our band is that we didn’t go into the studio and think, “I wonder what secular band we could be a Christian version of.” We believe that believers can create the template and they can make something new or as original as possible. I think we’re blessed and God has given us favor to do that. We all grew up listening to a lot of different stuff. In this band, you’ve got everything from bluegrass to black gospel. You never know what somebody’s going to answer when people ask what the influences are because they’re so varied. We just are who we are and we do what we do.

Bonham: It feels like you guys put a bunch of stuff in a blender until something unique came out.

Wells: It’s a very tasty smoothie.

Bonham: Were you aware of the fact that you guys were mixing together a compilation of sounds that was fairly unique to the Christian market?

Wells: Oh yeah, absolutely.

Bonham: So are you guys all from Christian upbringings?

Wells: Yep, we all grew up in church. We all grew up loving God, going to church. Blake’s mom is actually the music minister at her church. We all went to Bible college. Blake, DJ and I went to Indiana Bible College and Jarrod went to Gateway College of Evangelism.

Bonham: I always enjoy talking to people who grew up in church and aren’t bitter about it.

Wells: No, I’m very thankful. It’s the church that kept me. I had a very influential student pastor, David Morehead, who really inspired me and made me realize that there’s a calling on my life and to embrace that and to chase my dreams. God has really shown us favor and allowed us some really incredible opportunities. There’s no regret here. We’re thankful for the church and we love the church.

Bonham: There have been a lot of comparisons made between the band and some other artists out there. You do share some of the same sensibilities with Maroon 5. Your vocals at time bear an uncanny resemblance to Michael Jackson. Are you humbled by those comparisons or do they frustrate and maybe annoy you?

Royal Tailor (L to R: DJ Cox, Tauren Wells, Blake Hubbard, Jarrod Ingram)

Wells: We’re very humbled by it. We’ve been given some great comparisons to other artists that our sound evokes. One thing I think that’s kind of funny about it is if you asked any of the people we were compared to if we sounded like them, they would probably say “no.” It’s like this. I don’t know if you’ve ever had this experience. Someone will come up to you and they’ll be like, “You look just like my brother!” Then you see the picture and you’re like, “Oh, we’re both humans.” It’s kind of like that. The biggest thing is when we get compared to Backstreet Boys. To me, that’s a stretch, mainly because we’re not a choreographed dance band and we all play instruments.

Bonham: Do you think the varied comparisons pop up because of how diverse the band is from one song to the next?

Wells: Yeah, and I think that’s cool because (listeners) can identify with it and really appreciate what we’re doing.

Bonham: Having read your blog, it seems pretty obvious that you see this as a calling. How does that translate into your performances and your lifestyle away from the stage?

Wells: Well, we believe that student culture and culture as a whole has suffered from the symptoms of a visionless life. We are dealing with a myriad of issues that are all coming from two core dilemmas. One, it’s visionlessness as far as getting a true glimpse of who Jesus is and what He’s about. The second thing is getting a vision of who we are in Christ and what that means for our lives. If we can give people a vision of those two things, who Jesus is and who they are, then we can effectively create change in the world. In everything that we do in live performance and message in between songs and story thread videos and small group resources and student ministry resources, everything that we do is geared towards showing people who Jesus is and who they are in Him and inspiring them to connect the dots between the two so that they can be an effective world changer for the cause of Christ in their own unique way. They can use expressive art or science or whatever they want to communicate Christ to the culture.

To follow Royal Tailor, check the official band site here.

Click here for part two of Whole Notes’ interview with Royal Tailor lead singer Tauren Wells.

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Dara Maclean drops “Suitcases” ahead of debut release

Her debut album doesn’t even release for three weeks, but new artist Dara Maclean is already making a significant mark on the music scene with the hit single “Suitcases.” It’s just a taste of what listeners can expect from the July 12th Fervent Records release of You Got My Attention, produced by Dove Award-winner and Christian music veteran Ian Eskelin.

Maclean wrote or co-wrote all 12 of the tracks on the album and will be taking her soulful pop style on the road for over 100 shows through the spring of next year. The Fort Worth, Texas, native has been singing at the age of eight and has since led worship and been actively involved in youth ministry.

Check out a video of “Suitcases” below:

To keep up with Maclean’s music and tour dates, visit her website here.

Norman Hutchins looks forward to seventh solo album

Tomorrow marks the release of If You Didn’t Know, Now You Know, the seventh album for gospel artist and preacher Norman Hutchins. The project continues to share pieces of Hutchins’ engaging story, which includes a past bout with blindness and issues with his estranged father.

Much of the album came from his recent experiences leading worship in the church.

“While we were singing, God dropped these lyrics in the atmosphere,” Hutchins said in his latest bio. “We would start out with a familiar song that everybody knew and somehow in the midst of singing I would hear another melody. Words would just begin to drop in the atmosphere and I would look at the keyboard player and tell him to follow me.”

To keep up with Hutchins’ music and ministry, visit his official website here.

Upcoming album releases (June 28):

Relient K – K Is For Karaoke EP (Gotee Records/Digital Release)
Planetshakers – Nothing Is Impossible (Integrity Music/Digital Release)
Falling Up – Your Sparkling Death Cometh (Independent/Digital Release)
Darlene Zschech – You Are Love (Fair Trade Services)
Norman Hutchins – If You Didn’t Know…Now You Know (Impact)
Various Artists – iWorship Resource System DVD (iWorship)

Upcoming album releases (June 30):

Various ArtistsSka Lives Vol. 2 (IVM)

Join Whole Notes tomorrow for a conversation with Tauren Wells, lead singer of Royal Tailor.