Dawn Michele: "I've been learning a lot in my life lately that God is always there at the door just beckoning me to move forward into what He has for me."
Fireflight has long been at the forefront of defining female-fronted rock for a generation, from their powerhouse single "You Decide" from their 2006 label debut to raw rocker "Stay Close" from 2012's album Now. This year sees the band taking the lead in yet another area, moving away from the sure footing of a label partnership into the challenging but rewarding path of an independent act.
Frontwoman Dawn Michele gave NRT some insight into that transition process and how it's strengthened the band, their mission, and their relationships with their fans.
So great to have you. Catch us up; what's been going on in Fireflight world?
We've had a lot going on, really. It's been a strange mix of not busy and very busy. We've been kind of taking a break from touring, just taking two or three shows a month, and in the meantime working a lot on the new album. So even though we have less shows than we've had in years, we're very busy, because we're constantly in writing sessions trying to get all the songs that we can together, and working on the [PledgeMusic campaign] now, so we've just been slammed.
How did that campaign come about? What made you choose to go the PledgeMusic route?
For our entire career up until this point, we have always been on a record label. But this year we felt like the market and the industry was just in the right place for us to go independent. So we asked to be released from our label, and kindly they were willing to do so, and now we find ourselves an independent artist. And as an independent artist, we have to find ways to fund our own projects, because we no longer have the label to do that.
So this gives us the opportunity to actually partner with our fans. Everyone's familiar with kickstarter, it's kind of a household word now, so at first that's what we assumed we'd do.
But then we started learning that there are other companies out there, and we learned from a friend about this website called pledgemusic that a lot of bigger artists are using these days. Pledgemusic is different from kickstarter, because kickstarter is for any kind of idea or project that someone wants to start, but pledgemusic is just for artists making music.
In doing so, we also are able to take the skills that the people of pledgemusic have, and they come to support us too. They don't just support anybody who comes in and asks to have their project funded. They actually go through a screening process, and they select only projects that they feel can be successful. Then they help build a marketing campaign behind you as you're working. So it's kind of like hiring a fan fund website, but also like hiring a marketing team.
What has the fan response been like?
So far it's going great. We're up to 40 percent now, I think we still have 30 days left. We feel really thankful that our fans are so loving and so supportive. We have strived to develop close personal relationships with our fans throughout the years. We're the ones who answer the messages on our facebook, and we have countless people who we've been talking to for years on there.
So we just try to make ourselves available, because when you go and play a show, you're there for one night and then you're gone. But life's not like that, life goes on. We believe that if you really want to have an impact in a person's life, you have to have a relationship with them. And obviously we can't be best friends with everybody who listens to our music, but we can be there for them as much as we can. That's what social media's allowed us to do.
I think that's contributed a lot to their desire to support us and to help us out. And really the whole design is kind of a pre-order, so if you're excited about the project you can go ahead and pre-order it, and by pre-ordering it you actually make sure that the project gets made.
What kind of unique packages do you have up there for people who pledge?
We have tons of different incentives! It starts at $10 and it goes up from there, starting with just the album and going up to signed albums, to posters and t-shirts and hoodies that have been designed specifically for pledgers. We have different personal items, like somebody's already pledged for my vest that I used to wear on stage with the Now logo on it. We've got the dress from "Unbreakable," which was the dress that I wore in the "Unbreakable" music video, and also on the cover of the CD.
I like to paint on my time off, and in the process have done a couple pieces where I'd do a background painting and then I'd cover it with lyrics from our songs. And so a lot of people have pledged to win a canvas that I'll hand-paint.
Glenn and Wendy have had guitars designed for them by the Sozo guitar company. So the guitar company's come behind us and donated these signature guitars that people can donate to get one of those. You can also donate a certain amount and get a Fireflight show in your area, wherever you would like it to be, so long as we can fit everything in the building!
Also, when you're a pledger you'll receive inside information about the album. All the pledgers got to listen to demos a weekend or so, and they'll be the first people to ever hear that. And maybe if it doesn't make it to the album, they'll be the only people to hear it.
So if you're already sending demos out to people, does that mean the album is pretty well underway?
Oh yeah, we've been writing for about 6 months now, and I think we're up to like 23 songs. We may add one or two more, but for the most part I think we've got all of the material that will end up on the album. So now we're in the process of selecting which songs are going to make it and which songs aren't. As independent artists now we've got all this free rein and time to make these things according to our own schedule, where as before the label would put us on a tight schedule and want us to fall into that. It was always a time crunch, all the time.
But now we've been able to make our own timeline and take as much time as we needed. It's built up our creativity and helped us a lot in the songwriting process. Never in our career before have we had this many songs going into a record. And I'm so excited about it because I think it helps us choose the best of the best, instead of just being like "1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 OK we're done!"
Can you give us any insight into what kind of direction you're going with album? Is it similar to Now, or has the extra time really given you space to explore new things?
We're definitely going to be trying some new things on this album. We started to try to do that on the last album, but time was really tight, and as you're mentioning, now we've had more time we've had a lot more opportunity to explore. What we've wanted to do is bridge where Fireflight has been in the last 14 years and where Fireflight wants to be, what we're growing into. So we're trying to expand our horizons in some ways, and also to kind of grow and appeal to a larger audience and try to pull in and communicate with as many people as possible.
What kind of themes can we expect to see on the new album? What has God really been laying on your heart as you've been going through this writing process?
Fireflight has always been a band that's about overcoming, and I think we always will be. But the strongest message we have in all of our music is that of God's love. And really, life is messy and it's bumpy, and there's ups and downs all the time, but it's that perseverance that has to grow within us in order for us to keep going. And in the end, we learn that with God we can face anything. It doesn't matter if the floor's going to fall out from underneath us, you know? And I think what I've been learning a lot in my life lately is that God is always there at the door just beckoning me to move forward into what He has for me.
So a lot of these songs have to do with perseverance, overcoming, and moving forward.
As the rest of the year goes on, can fans expect to see you playing some of these songs at festivals this summer? What do the next few months look like in terms of festivals and touring?
Well, it's kind of all up in the air for right now. We've got a lot of shows coming up, but we're still kind of keeping it light because we have to complete the fan fund so we can move forward. It's still 30 days until the fan fund is over, and then we'll start with the recording.
So it's possible that we might start introducing some of the new music into the sets by the end of the summer, and we're hoping to release the album by at least mid-October.
What's your lineup looking like these days following guitarist Justin Cox's departure?
We've got an awesome guy named Robert Williams playing for Justin now, and he's just an incredible guitarist and even better guy. We feel really blessed that we've got him stepping in. He stepped in for us as soon as Justin decided to take a little time off to evaluate, and then he decided it was time for him to step back from being a touring musician.
So we've had him with us for a while, and he is an awesome guy, and he's got super strong chops.
Are there specific ways we can be praying for the band or you personally right now as you face this new, uncharted territory?
You can just pray for traveling mercies for us. We're leaving tomorrow to go to Europe for a couple of days. And that God will bless the fan fund, that the record will be made and that the record will bless the people. And just that we would continue to follow God in everything we do, and that He would continue to open doors and show us the right steps for us to take as we're doing things on our own now.
To partner with Fireflight in making their next album, find their PledgeMusic campaign here.
Posted April 21, 2014 | Mary is a Christ-follower and writer who has been telling stories for as long as she can remember. She recently earned a B.A. in Digital Writing, and wherever she resides she has a camera, guitar and coffee cup always close at hand.