Losing a vital or founding member of any band begs the question, “When is it time to retire the band?” Let’s look at the groups who have made changes and how it’s worked out for them and one that is still somewhat undetermined.
Perhaps one of the biggest success stories in all of Christian music when it comes to changing prominent members of a band in recent memory would probably be the Newsboys. I know that I was very skeptical of the change when it was announced in May 2009 that long-time lead vocalist Peter Furler was leaving the band and being replaced by… former dcTalk vocalist Michael Tait? My initial reaction was “You have to be kidding me right?”.
Peter Furler was viewed by many as irreplaceable when it came to the band. But what many people don’t know, some even fans of the Newsboys, is that Furler was not the original lead singer of the group. He was actually the band’s drummer in its early years until assuming lead vocal duties with 1998’s Step Up To The Microphone. Instead, John James was actually the lead vocalist from the band’s inception in Mooloolaba, Queensland, Australia when the band came together in 1985, until leaving the band just after the release of 1996’s Take Me To Your Leader. Most casual fans would probably not even have noticed the difference, because of the uncanny resemblance in voices between James/Furler, so the band was able to pull it off. Despite the obvious difference between Furler and Tait, the switch actually worked. I love Peter Furler, but I think Michael Tait is what it took to turn a band from great to spectacular.
The band’s live shows have more energy than ever now with Tait at the helm and anyone who has seen Newsboys 3.0 live in concert will tell you that Michael’s kinetic energy, dance moves and souring vocals take the Newsboys to a level that not even James and Furler could go. Not bad for Michael Tait, who turns the big 5-0 in May.
My Pick: This is a tough one. I liked the Newsboys with Furler because of the accent. That Australian accent was a unique dynamic of the band’s sound. But, Tait has been able to add his own uniqueness to the group with his pipes along with that crazy swagger that only he can bring. Neutral on this one I am.
When North Carolina-based rock outfit Decyfer Down hit the Christian rock scene in the summer of 2006 with their debut End Of Grey, they quickly gained fame within the genre with #1 rock singles like “Fight Like This”, “Burn Back The Sun” and “Life Again”. When the band began work on it’s second album Crash in early 2008, everything seemed to be lined up for a summer/fall release with full touring to support the record. Lead vocalist/bassist Caleb Oliver would go on to record most of the vocals for the album, but before total completion, he abruptly left the band due to “personal reasons”. With a record nearly recorded, it was yet undetermined what Decyfer Down would do. The band decided to move on replacing Caleb with former Fighting Instinct front-man Timothy “TJ” Harris. The vocal styles of the two were significantly different, but the band handled the switch well, holding back the release of Crash to 2009 so that Harris could go and re-record the vocals and add a few new songs. To me, holding the record back was a smart decision since the future of the band’s voice would be taking over just as an album came out. There are still versions of “Best I Can” and the title track out there featuring Caleb’s lead vocals.
Since the switch, most fans have had mixed feelings regarding the band, whether it’s Oliver-led Decyfer Down and the Harris-led Decyfer Down being favored. While the original lineup put out an amazing record with End Of Grey, Crash turned out to be their biggest record to date, topping out at #3 on the Christian charts. The band went onto release the delayed album Scarecrow in 2013 to mixed reviews and even drew criticism from early fans of the band for being “too different” in sound from the original. I guess I am one of the few fans of Scarecrow. Sure, it was different, but the ‘influences album’ as Harris called it was one that I actually enjoyed. 2016 should be a great year for the band with the release of their first independent record The Other Side of Darkness, their first since their days as Aliysonhymn (All-Eyes-On-Him). The first single “Nothing More” has shown fans that the band is returning to the heavier sound that first got them noticed 10 years ago with End Of Grey. Even with the departure of founding drummer/member Josh Oliver, TJ Harris, Brandon Mills, Chris Clonts, Chris Furr and Benjamin Millhouse promise to “bring it” with the new record.
My take: TJ Harris. Although Oliver was the original singer, Decyfer Down is about to do a third album with Harris, compared to Olivers one album. The Other Side Of Darkness will be Harris & company’s chance to silence the critics once and for all.
No band in recent memory has probably been talked or debated about for the switches made within the band than Audio Adrenaline, or lovingly referred to by fans as “Audio A”. When Mark Stuart and Will McGinnis started the band back in the late 80’s during their time in college, they quickly rose to Christian music royalty with 90’s hits like “My God”, “Big House” and “Never Gonna Be As Big As Jesus”. Stuart assumed lead vocal duties until 1997 when guitarist Tyler Burkham joined the group, just in time for the release of Some Kind of Zombie. The next several releases would see Tyler stepping up more and more to do additional lead vocals, while Stuart, whose voice started to suffer as a result of advanced and crippling spasmodic dysphonia. By the time 2005’s Until My Heart Caves In released, it was apparent that Stuart’s days as leading the band vocally had come to an end. As a last ditch effort to thank fans for their many years of support of Audio A, the band released the Live From Hawaii: The Farewell Concert, which was recorded in April 2007. After listening to it, it’s clear that Stuart had taken his voice as far as it would go. He has only sang on one song since, the 2011 Know Hope Collective track “Attention”.
So one would think that the Farewell show would be the end of Audio A? Nope. In 2012 it was announced that the band would return, this time with former dcTalk vocalist Kevin Max singing lead. On the exception of bassist Will McGinniss, no original members of Audio A were present in what Max referred to as “Audio A 2.0”. The album Kings & Queens was released in 2013, where it peaked at number 70 on the Billboard 200 chart and Number 4 on the Christian charts. It was a great album, but it just didn’t sit well with most fans since McGinniss was the only one left from the original outfit. When Max left the group in 2014, followed shortly thereafter by McGinniss, Audio A was surely over. Nope. Surprisingly the band was resurrected a third time in 2015, this time by Adam Agee, former lead vocalist of Stellar Kart. The band, dubbed “Audio A 3.0” soon followed with the release of the 2015 album Sound Of The Saints. No offense to Adam Agee, because he was awesome with Stellar Kart, but Audio A should have really been done with that, key word, “Farewell” show in 2007. As exciting as it would be to see Audio A’s original lineup play once again, we know now that that’s just not possible.
My take: No Stuart/Burkham? No Audio A.
When Texas-based band Flyleaf hit the touring circuit upon the release of their 2005 self-titled debut, they quickly became a fan favorite at many mainstream music festivals like Korn’s Family Values Tour and the Music As A Weapon Tour. I mean one listen to Lacey Sturm’s piercing vocals will leave no one guessing as to why. Just listen to the song “I’m So Sick” and you will know exactly what I mean. Even though Flyleaf toured with more mainstream bands than Christian, the element of faith was always center of their music. Many of the band’s songs spoke about struggles and how they were overcome with God’s intervention. After all, if you read Sturm’s autobiography The Reason, you’ll see just what the Lord took her out of. Amazing book if you have a chance to read it. It was with the record Memento Mori in 2009 that I really started taking notice of the band, even interviewing them at Night of Joy 2009. I was shocked to find that those big, piercing and soulful vocals of Flyleaf’s songs came from such a small person (probably sub-5’ tall). Memento Mori was a long wait, but fans only had to wait 3 years for the follow up with New Horizons.
While recording New Horizons in 2012, tragedy struck when the band’s long time sound engineer Rich Caldwell was killed in a car accident. Between the birth of her first child and the death of Caldwell, Sturm had said that she had had her own “Memento Mori” moment and decided to step down from the band, just prior to their release of the new record. When Sturm left the band, the future of the band would be up in the air only for a short time before making the announcement that former Vedera front-woman Kristen May would take over lead vocals. While May is certainly talented, many fans were unsure if the band would be able to pull off the switch. Kristin May’s first full release with Flyleaf came in 2014 with the release Between the Stars. I noticed a drastically different musical tone with this record, which sounded broke down and very much distant to previous band efforts.
With this one, in my opinion, Flyleaf is not Flyleaf without Lacey. Don’t get me wrong, I love Kristin and she’s got a voice, but that uniqueness that Lacey brought to the band can not be replicated. But fear not Lacey fans, for if you are looking for more Lacey, she is to release her solo debut in 2016 called Life Screams and if the first single “Impossible” is any indication, it will sound an awful lot like the music we grew to love with early Flyleaf.
My take: Lacey Sturm was Flyleaf.
When Matt Hammitt announced that he was leaving Sanctus Real at the end of 2015, there were many fans, including myself that thought Sanctus Real was done as well. After all, it is a group he co-founded with some friends back in Toledo, Ohio in 1996, and for nearly 20 years, Hammitt is the only voice we have heard in this band. I was surprised to find out from close sources that the band will in fact continue on without Hammitt, which came as a shock. When you have a band run as long as Sanctus Real has, and suddenly bring in a new singer, how exactly will that be welcomed by long-time fans? In my opinion, that’s like Third Day going on without Mac Powell, or Casting Crowns without Mark Hall or even Mercyme without Bart Millard. It’s hard to fathom, but it’s been made clear that the band will continue. We’ll leave this one open for debate.
My take: Same as Flyleaf, Matt Hammitt was Sanctus Real.
Now that I have given you a brief history of Christian music’s band shake-ups from the past 15 years, what are your thoughts on these groups and the changes made?