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The Choir Bibliography: (click on each album cover to view tracks and The Choir lyrics)
The Choir Biography
"If you can make a record, you ought to-why not?"
That's the response of Steve Hindalong, lyricist/percussionist for The Choir, when asked about the release of Flap Your Wings, the band's first studio album in four years. "Ultimately," says Hindalong, "if you get to keep making records, you win. You're fortunate. At this point in our career, with all of us well beyond the age of optimum marketability, we're astounded that we get to keep making music and that people want to hear it. Whether it's a million or a thousand. That's a lot of people that you receive feedback from and get to establish a rapport with."
To understand the band's motivation for recording Flap Your Wings, one needs to look back to a reunion concert The Choir performed at a festival sponsored by KLYT in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the summer of 1999. Hindalong has a similar response to a query about what coaxed the seminal modern rock band out of its three-year long, self-imposed retirement.
"Somebody asked us to play a concert, and we asked, 'How much?' And then we said 'Yes,' the drummer explains, a sly smile crossing his face. Guitarist/vocalist Derri Daugherty, Steve's friend of over 20 years (and creative partner for 17) offers a bit more elaboration on the subject. "There's always been a tremendous amount of good will toward The Choir-nobody's ever said 'please stay retired!' That was definitely one motivation for doing the reunion show. We had been away from the band long enough that the business stress didn't bog us down." Perhaps saxophonist "Buckeye" Dan Michaels nails it best: "We had all grown so much as individuals since we last performed as a band. Maybe we found that we still have something to say. Maybe we still want to connect - with our audience and with each other. Maybe we simply wanted to rock. I'm sure it's more than that, but either way I think we're pretty excited to get back to doing what we love in The Choir with the friends that we love so much."
But as is often the case in matters of The Choir, "simply" is never quite that simple. Rewind to 1996, when Tattoo Records released Free Flying Soul, the band's previous studio outing. Michaels, then A&R Director for Tattoo, persuaded the band to mount a tour in support of the album and in the spring of 1997, Free Flying Soul received the Dove Award for Best Alternative/Modern Rock Album. Regarding the award, Hindalong says "It was quite an honor, but an odd footnote to be given that award at the conclusion of what you've announced is your 'farewell tour.'"
So with Michaels newly married and working as a record executive, Hindalong and Daugherty immersing themselves in songwriting, production and engineering, and bassist Tim Chandler returning to his computer education gig in California, The Choir was once again dormant.
But a peculiar thing happened since the 1996 tour-the Internet became an increasingly viable method for artists to remain in touch with their supporters. As a loyal cadre of fans kept the reputation of The Choir alive, Michaels decided to construct a band web site. The site serves as a place to keep fans abreast of band members' activities, provides a little "Choir community" through a message board, and offers a means for fans to acquire hard-to-find product directly from the band, rather than being forced to succumb to the exorbitant demands of collectors. One of the questions most often asked on the message board has of course been "When is The Choir going to make another record?" So as members' schedules opened up, the target date of Thanksgiving Week 1999 was set to begin recording the all-new Choir album.
Enter Tim Chandler. "Tim was the creative crux, a fulcrum point," explains Hindalong. "When he came out for Thanksgiving, I had not one lyric in my head. I didn't even set up a drum kit." Daugherty continues, "We thought, 'why don't we make a real indie-sounding record?' With Flap Your Wings, Tim and I sat and exchanged chords and rehearsed guitar ideas and Steve literally wrote down lyrics as he heard us play. We wrote five songs during that weekend, then Tim came back in May and we wrote another five songs. So it was basically two long weekends and a few days to finish it. It was so easy because we didn't feel a need to prove anything. We were just having fun with melodies and words."
A desire to make their faith known through rock music was what first drew Hindalong and Daugherty into the recording studio in 1985. On their debut album, Derri provided both words and music, but by the second Choir record, Hindalong, a literature major in college, assumed the role of lyricist. That combination found the band hitting its stride with Chase the Kangaroo (1987) and yielded two other classic albums, Wide-Eyed Wonder (1989) and Circle Slide (1990). Chandler, whose friendship with Steve and Derri pre-dates The Choir by several years, once again emerged as a creative force on Kissers and Killers (1993), Speckled Bird (1994) and Free Flying Soul.
Although Kissers and Killers and Speckled Bird were fueled by angst and internal tension, those elements are noticeably absent from Flap Your Wings. "In my on-line journal, I made reference to this record being stranger and more sentimental than ever," says Hindalong, "but if you look at any of our albums, you'll see that those elements have always been present. The songs are full of emotion and life. But we get away with it because of the odd arrangements, the musical twists and such. We just go into a room and record what comes out. This time, it was Thanksgiving, our friend Tim was with us; Derri's wife was just recovering from surgery, so we were feeling very nurturing and very caring. There were a lot more important things going on in our lives than making a record."
But don't mistake that relaxed attitude for a lack of concern regarding the quality of the songs. Flap Your Wings contains writing as sharp and incisive as any ever to come from the pen of Hindalong. "Shiny Floor" displays Hindalong's ability to combine both literal events and metaphors into a seamless (and hilarious) lyric. "I actually did spill a drink on someone's floor and wiped it up with my shirt," explains Steve. "Then while we were recording a few days later, I tripped over a mic cable and made a comment about needing to be 'agile as a lynx.' But the song also became an allegory for our relationship to the music industry, sometimes feeling like the unwanted guest crashing the party." "Mercy Lives Here" is one of the few lyrics Derri has written in the past ten years that have been featured on a Choir album. "I actually had recorded that for a solo album," says Derri. "It was inspired by a strange club we visited in Ohio. We were walking through this deserted downtown area in Akron, and we stumbled across this club that was completely decorated in an Egyptian motif-all mementos taken from the owner's trip to Cairo. It was fitted out with old-fashioned Naugahyde booths, and the jukebox was stocked with 'crooner' records from the 40's. There was a midget sitting at the bar in a clown suit who would burst out laughing for no reason, then stop. Next to him was a gentleman who appeared to be Amish, who would shake uncontrollably for a few seconds, stop, then shake some more. Behind the bar was a woman who was probably 70 serving drinks, and there was a prostitute off in the corner trying to pick someone up. I said to the guys in the band, 'this must be where Jesus is. Right in the midst of these peculiar people with all their quirks.' It was a very spiritual moment for me."
When The Choir convened for the second Flap Your Wings session in May 2000, it was only a few weeks after the death of Gene "Eugene" Andrusco. In addition to being an intimate friend of the members of The Choir, Gene's career as a musician, producer and engineer had been closely intertwined with the band for many years. Still feeling the hurt of that loss, Hindalong, with assistance from Michaels, wrote the moving tribute, "Hey Gene." Says Hindalong, "Whenever we do a record, I talk about what's going on emotionally; the most intense things that are going on, for better or for worse. I put my finger right on the sore. Talking about Gene was something we had to do. When I heard the music that Derri had laid down, it immediately took me in a very positive, whimsical direction. That felt good, rather than something dark and heavy. It's not an overwrought song; it's a warm reflection. Also, Dan had written a eulogy for Gene that he read at the graveside, so I used several of those lines as well. Dan was really close to Gene...like family."
Also unflinching yet oddly compassionate is the ironically titled "Sunny." "It really seems hopeless on the surface," Hindalong admits. "There are things that happen in our lives that there's just nothing good about. There's nothing funny about chemotherapy. There's no joy in losing a friend at a young age. All you can say is 'sure is sunny today.' There is hope, but sometimes you just can't do or say anything to improve tragic matters. Musically it really captures that feeling. There's a lot of tension in the song. The Choir does tension really well. And certainly tension is a constant reality in all of our lives."
No Choir record would be complete without a least a couple songs that directly address Hindalong's relationship with his wife Nancy and their kids. "With 'I Don't Mean Any Harm' I'm apologizing to them-yet again," Steve confesses. Just like with 'A Sentimental Song' and so many others, I like to think I can make everything all right with a song. Of course, you can't. Another terribly romantic song 'A Moment in Time', is about my very first date with Nancy. I've never strayed away from writing about my family, my marriage. Things are going really well for us right now. We're lifers...fortunate ones. We're all truly committed to our families...very involved in our churches. We're reasonably stable for musicians, actually."
Those only familiar with The Choir's reputation as one of most critically acclaimed modern rock bands in the history of the Christian music may be surprised to learn that Hindalong and Daugherty composed and produced At the Foot of the Cross, Volume One and Two. Released in 1992 and 1995 respectively, those albums placed elements of the traditional liturgy in a modern musical setting, presaging the current explosion of modern worship music by several years. Since they never actually recorded the song as The Choir, the band decided to revisit "Beautiful Scandalous Night" for this album. "We will probably never write a song like that again," says Derri. "It was well received in its day and has gone on to become a very popular song of the modern church. We've been extremely blessed by that."
The release of Flap Your Wings finds Daugherty, Hindalong, Chandler and Michaels more settled and content than at any time in the history of The Choir. "For awhile, I think we felt kind of bitter about the path our career has taken," Derri admits. "That's probably true of a lot of artists, if they don't achieve great commercial success. But it's been tremendously gratifying to work with bands like Third Day, Jars of Clay and Caedmon's Call, and have them express how much they've appreciated our music and looked up to us as a band. I feel really good about our legacy. A lot of people have listened to our music and been inspired or moved by it. It's great to look back on your career and see it as worthwhile."