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Snakes in the Playground
Snakes in the Playground would be the breakthrough CD of our career. This would produce more touring, more press and even two Dove Awards for best song. But it was no easy chore achieving such accomplishments.
SESAC had now esteemed us with another award for outstanding achievement in Christian music. Seeing that we were their only Christian metal act, we felt that being recognized as a legitimate band was important. Now more than ever did I understand the importance of Bride as a band and as a ministry. I could finally see how God had been with us through all the good times and bad times, and that he had much greater things in store for us.
I felt that our next record had to really excel above and beyond anything that we had previously done. It was important to outdo ourselves, or fall into the pit with many of the other stale bands. We did a lot of work in the studio fine tuning possible songs even before a producer was decided upon. We tried to write more from the heart. Doing a more live sounding record was the key. Our energy from the live shows had to somehow come through on this record.
Star Song, knowing how much we despised Steve Griffith's previous work, had the nerve to suggest him for our up and coming project. We immediately began searching for a producer that we could bring in that would impress Star Song. We even thought about big names and giving away all our royalties. We came to our senses, though.
We met with Star Song to discuss this problem. Moseley, Dez and even the big guy at the company, Darryl Harris, attended the meaning. After we pleaded our case with Harris, he simply said, "If they do not want to use Griffith, then let's not force them." It seemed that through this whole Star Song experience they never had the real confidence in our abilities to make decisions. I believe that they attributed most of our success on Steve Griffith and their own work.
This angered us. They had not been on the road with us, they had not talked to fans night after night, they did not even know what the fans were writing to us. Star Song gave us very little credit, and made it seem that they had gone out of their way to push us. Yet Bride was still broke, and if not for our 24-hour a day dedication to the ministry we would be completely starved to death.
We began our rehearsals again, brainstorming possibilities for a producer for our next album. Just when we thought we had run out of names, Jerry had someone in mind that would be perfect. The name that he mentioned was Plinky. (Plinky had produced the band Novella.)
We all agreed that we liked the sounds on the Novella record Plinky had produced better than the sounds we got on Kinetic Faith. We threw the name at Dez, and the process of working him in began. We had one day of pre-production with Plinky. He was from New Jersey, and he and his brother made the long drive to meet the band. Plinky listened to the songs and made no changes. We were feeling pretty good at this point.
We were booked at the Salt Mine again, and it was no better than the first two times we had been there. It still had bugs, it leaked in the studio when it rained, and the mixing board broke down frequently. We decided to call this album "Snakes in the Playground" after we had an incident with a large snake at the studio.
We were in the beginning stages of recording, and took a break to drive to the store. A large reptile was lying beside our car sunbathing on the pavement. In my attempts to chase the snake away, I chased it under the car. To make matters worse, the effort to move the snake from under the car drove it up into the fender wells. We spent the next hour and a half trying to get the snake to come out. We sprayed it with the water hose, poked at it with a broom handle, even shook the car, but it would not come out. Finally, when we thought we would just have to let the snake have the car, it crawled out and back into the wooded area next to the studio.
The "Snakes" album was done on long hours into the night and Plinky's oil-like coffee. Plinky was lots of fun in the studio and had a great ear. Jerry and Plinky butted heads a few times about triggering the drums, but they seemed to work things out. Plinky needed lessons in the art of coffee brewing, and his blackened chicken dinners were a gourmet treat, though we had to eat the meals outside due to the entire upstairs filling with smoke. We had every door and window open and fans blowing on high to clear the heavy fog that rose from the skillet.
We brought in a few special guests for the album. Peter and John from the Newsboys, Rik Florean from White Heart for back up vocals, Greg Martin from the Kentucky Headhunters, Rick Elias, and Derek Jan from Novella for some solo guitar spots. The album was coming together very well, and Plinky had already convinced us through his knowledge of the studio that we would have a project of which we could be proud.
Snakes was released with overwhelming praise and acceptance. I was pleased, but had to question if maybe we had compromised our songs in order to gain such credibility from those who despised us just a couple of years earlier.
One of the last songs recorded on this project was "Goodbye." It was a piano ballad. We had to get it by Moseley in order to add it to the CD. Moseley loved it, and even teared up the first time he heard it. However, the song was never released as a single.
The album was raw and heavy, so I came to the conclusion that we had not sold out to our critics, but rather, we had won them over by excellent song writing and great performances. Radio ate the album like candy and acted like they could not get enough. Star song launched an effective campaign using the "Snakes" theme and my short affiliation with Stryper. The door had opened wide for us, but many things were in store. Scott Hall was working hard putting together a great press kit for us, and we sat down to work on battle plans for the coming year.
Why I Write Songs
There were many songs throughout the years that had reflected personal experiences in my own life. From the very first record I had always tried to convey the things that I felt important. Through the maturing process in my Christian walk, and just understanding things around me, I became an authentic songwriter on the Kinetic Faith record. I could see how much influence I had on young people. Not only by my actions on and off stage, but the songwriting, how I responded to their letters, and practically everything that I did.
Song's like Sweet Louise, which told of my grandmother's bout with cancer, and Some Things Never Change, which spoke of my cousin's suicide after years of verbal abuse by her father, had real impact on people. Many songs were about my life, my family. These were the songs that hit home with people.
Some people in my life, such as my cousin, Robin Barnes, would appear in several songs. She was a sweet young teenager with life head of her when that very life was taken from her in a moment. She had been raised by alcoholic parents who had divorced. She lived on and off with her parents and their live in boyfriends and girlfriends, and sometimes with my aunt, her grandmother. I can still remember like it was yesterday playing as children in my backyard. As children, we never thought about dying or tragedy, yet tragedy would be all she would ever know.
I remember Troy and myself helping her and her sister, Gayla, out of a bedroom window of their house as their family fought a bloody drunken fight in the house. When their family would fight, (which seemed like every Friday night after their grandfather cashed his paycheck and bought enough beer and liquor for the weekend) Robin and her sister would spend the afternoon at our house. Robin lived a life surrounded by alcohol, drugs, abuse, and I am sure there are things that she had seen in that house that she never said anything about.
One night, while she was out with her boyfriend, she was abducted by a man. This man took her out, tied her to a tree, abused her, then shot her to death. I did not attend the funeral. Robin would appear in many of my songs for years to come in some way, even if it were a small part. I felt like I could help others through her tragedy.
Sweet Louise had made people think about their grandparents, and put many in touch with hidden feelings. I knew that Robin's life, as short as it was, has many clues for others who were going through similar situations. Carol Ann Capps and Dana Capps were a brother and sister who also happened to be my cousins on my mother's side. Both committed suicide at different times for different reason's, but from the same family.
My cousin Carol Barnes, age 23, had committed suicide when I was very young. His death stuck with me for a very long time. A man in his early twenties, with three children and a wife who had left him, takes a shot gun, places it to his chest and pulls the trigger. Just moments earlier, he was speaking his last words to his mother over the phone (The Lord's Prayer).
When you are young, death seems so far away, even though it is all around you. Through things I had seen, done and had been told, I found a reason to write. It seemed like I wrote about the sad parts of people's lives, but I felt it was my mission to heal the broken hearted. If it required me taking parts and pieces from lives gone bad and putting them into some type of order to make another person's life make sense, then maybe that was the reason I was called to write songs.
All of my songs after Kinetic Faith had reflection and images of those I had been with, cried with, and prayed with within the lyrics. When people would say, "I really do not understand what you were talking about when you wrote a particular song," I felt good, knowing that person probably never had to go through what that song spoke of. People did not just want a beat, they wanted a message, a meaning. Everyone looks for answers. My lyrics, and the music that Troy and I would compose, was always laced with answers. If a person was searching for an answer and our song only asked a question, I made sure that the question only had one answer that pointed to Jesus.
I always wanted to write a happy song. I prayed that the Lord would bless me with the talent to write a happy, uplifting song that was not cheesy. To this day, He has not. Maybe all the happy songs are cheesy.
With the completion of any record, there is the process of writing for the next record. Bride was always a band that had plenty of songs because I never ran out of things to say. Knowing the importance of this next record, I was determined to write more personable than ever. We had time to write and prepare. Also with the completion of a record comes the touring. With touring comes meeting the people I write about. I was thinking maybe I would meet some happy people without any problems or dilemmas, but it was not likely.
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