For the past 12 years, the members of Collective Soul have been making beautiful-often deeply spiritual-music together. In the mid-'90s they were signed to Atlantic Records and had much success with radio hits "Shine" and "The World I Know," among others. Their latest full-length album, "Youth," released independently under the band's own label, El Music Group, has produced the singles "Better Now," currently part of a Special K commercial, and "How Do You Love," which will be featured in the upcoming movie, "Bee Season," starring Richard Gere.

Guitarist Dean Roland talks to Beliefnet about growing up a preacher's kid and the band's new beginning.

You and your brother Ed [Collective Soul's lead singer] grew up as sons of a Southern Baptist minister. Did you get the freedom to listen to what you wanted to?

My dad was a music fanatic. He was a huge Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis fan. When he decided to go into the ministry he went into the music side of it. For the first, I think, 15 years of his ministry, he was the minister of music at First Baptist Church in our hometown [Stockbridge, Georgia]. So music played a huge role in our lives.

One of my earliest memories is Sunday morning, my dad singing and my mom playing the piano before they went to church-he was warming up for his gig. Later on he felt the call to go into the preaching/ pastoring side of things.

When we were kids, they put restrictions on what we could hear. It was really out of love. They wanted to make sure we were protected.

Were they too strict?

On Sunday we didn't get to listen to rock music. We weren't allowed to go to movies. It was a day of rest, literally. It was a day of pure boredom.

At the time, I convinced [my dad] that U2 was a Christian band so [I was allowed to listen to them]. When we went into high school they got more lax-especially for me because I'm the third son.

What kinds of bands did you listen to?

A lot of the early-'80s stuff. I was really into U2, the Police, a huge INXS fan, a major Prince fan, a lot of the early '80s New Wave type stuff. Then, when the parents weren't looking, we were busting out the "Highway to Hell" and "Back in Black" [by AC/DC].

How do you define your spirituality now?

I share the same general faith [as] how I was raised. It's around the teachings of Christ. It's all about forgiveness and trying to attain unconditional love.

Are you still a practicing Southern Baptist?

No. I don't practice any religion, per se.

Is it general spirituality but with elements of Christianity?

I'm in search of truth and I don't live in the future and recognize the past doesn't exist. [I'm] always searching for the eternal now. It would fall under more spiritual terms but a lot of times that becomes such a cliché.

Is playing guitar meditative?

Yeah. It can be. Playing on stage, there's a lot of different things going on. You're playing the role of entertainer, so it becomes less personal. But you're always trying to make it personal-to share that experience with thousands of other people [in the audience] and the four guys on the stage.

The title of your latest album, "Youth," brings up images of new beginnings and rebirth. What are you looking forward to in your new beginning?

We've been in this business for 12 years now, and the first eight we were on the road or in the studio and we made a bunch of mistakes. We took three or four years off, and it was the first time in our career that we had time to reflect. With us owning the record label and everything falling on our shoulders it has been a really great experience.

How have you changed over the past 12 years?

We enjoy it more now and don't struggle with it as much. It's really about doing the work and putting your best into what you're doing. But also, allowing things to happen as opposed to forcing them. For so long it was us trying to force things-feeling the pressure of trying to make other people happy, whether it was the record label or management-and now we're sitting back and enjoying it, having fun and letting the success happen on its own.

So many of the songs that you guys have written over the years have spiritual themes-especially heaven and angels. Do you believe in heaven?

Yeah, I do.

What is your vision of it?

I believe that our spirits are here and we're in this earthly vessel and our spirits are eternal. I think there's definitely another place beyond this. Things are almost formless. Heaven is this utopian culture where everyone serves each other. That's the ideal culture anyway. When people find their niche and connect with the gifts that they've been given, then they use those gifts and they serve others. Jesus was the greatest example. He was the ultimate server. I've learned that from my father. My dad dedicated his entire life to serving his community, his congregation. Whether it was a phone call at 2 a.m. when somebody was having a heart attack or if there was some [other] dramatic thing going on, he was there to serve and it wasn't for personal gain. He was serving something greater than himself.

Why God is a tease...

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  • One of the songs on the new album, "Home," is full of spiritual imagery. When Ed sings, "God is a witness and God is a tease. Pick up your faith and everybody come with me," what is he talking about?

    My take on it is that we're here on earth to learn lessons, and I believe the teasing element is that His love for his children is unconditional, but our souls are here to learn and to be elevated. That's my own personal take on it. What [Ed] actually meant, I don't even know if he knows. [laughs]

    That song's probably my favorite on the record right now. We have a blast playing it live. It's a good one to connect with the audience.

    It seems like it's ok to talk about spirituality in music now-something you guys have always done as a mainstream band.

    That's what I loved about U2 growing up. I saw the Joshua Tree tour and it was, no pun intended, elevation. It was a spiritual experience-an emotional thing. That's what we shoot for at our shows. Coming together in fellowship of something greater than any one person here. Let the music take us somewhere.

    What do you think about the music industry today?

    It's a mess.

    Is that why you created your own label?

    Yeah. I think there's a lot of really great music going on. But the major channels to hear it have become a small funnel. There's a lot of good music trying to get through but it's being blocked. In the major label industry, there's only a handful of people who are ultimately making the decisions as to what is going out to radio stations. But the Internet has helped music distribution.

    You and Ed were going through some tough times before the release of the album [both were going through divorces]. How did you personally get through the bad times?

    I leaned a lot on my family. Our family is really close. I have two older brothers-Ed, and then there's a brother in between us. We have a baby sister. I definitely leaned on my parents a good bit. I spent a lot of time alone. [I spent] a lot of time in prayer, just contemplating, searching for direction and looking for the right approach to things.

    Do you have a favorite prayer?

    Not necessarily. I try to be conscious of allowing things to happen. I try to make each day not about me, but about something greater-something more beneficial to everyone as opposed to just me.

    The elimination of fear and ego is crucial in this world. There's so much of it that exists in our culture right now. There's this lack of commitment that's going on in our generation-commitment to jobs, commitment to relationships, commitment to faith. What we really need is a commitment to inter-dependence.

    What kind of fear are you talking about? Fear from...?

    Fear of the unknown. Fear is just lack of faith. And we all experience it, of course. There is no darkness when there's light. Darkness is the absence of light; fear is the absence of love.

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