Josh Fink: "I felt this pulling that I was supposed to be doing worship or Christian music. I didn't know the steps to take that. But I think if you're obedient to God, and you trust God and you're faithful, He's going to lead you in that right direction." Photo (c) 2011 Michelle Gillatt for NRT from Creation Northwest
Few bands can simultaneously pull off the qualities of “Ohio's New Kids of Rock,” Shine Bright Baby: stage presence, energy, silliness, artistry, professionalism and a common-man demeanor that doesn't take itself too seriously.
The Orrville, Ohio-based band--made up of four friends ages 18-22--seems like a perfect storm of colliding destinies. Each member of Shine Bright Baby says they have felt an undeniable call from God to spread His love and joy through music, and it appears that the pieces are in place for the band to make a huge impact.
Led by vocalist Emily Irene, the band--rounded out by guitarists Josh Fink and Nathan Fertig, bassist Hudson Taylor and drummer Karl Wendel--won over scores of new fans at the Creation Northeast and Northwest festivals, even before recording a single note for their forthcoming Tooth & Nail Records debut album.
The sound is in-your-face, danceable alternative rock, easily comparable to the musicality and vocal stylings of Flyleaf and Paramore, combined with the manic stage show and energy of bands like Hawk Nelson and Eleventyseven.
But beyond all that, they're just five people who love music and want to serve. At the end of a long day at Creation Northeast, I spotted Emily Irene picking up trash near the Fringe Stage, always willing to lend a hand despite her up-and-coming rocker status.
Earlier in the day, I spoke with guitarist Josh Fink and drummer Karl Wendel, so we can all get to know newcomers Shine Bright Baby.
So I hear you guys were helping us give out $5 to people wearing our NRT tattoos at Creation Northeast.
JOSH: Yeah, with the Kevins! It was fun.
KARL: It's a great thing you guys are doing.
So you're at Creation Northwest, doing the festival circuit. How's that going for you guys? First time on the festival circuit?
JOSH: We've done festivals in the past, but never as many as we've been doing this year. We played Creation Northeast. It's an experience for us. We love it.
What's your favorite part about festival season?
JOSH: Meeting the kids, meeting the fans. We love playing outdoors. I love what goes with the festival experience—the dust, the mud...
Tell me about Orrville, Ohio.
KARL: Well Orrville, Ohio is home of Smuckers Jelly and Jif peanut butter, among other things.
Peanut butter AND jelly!
KARL: Yeah. So when you see Smuckers Jelly in like a little restaurant anywhere it will say Orrville, Ohio on it. That's like our claim to fame. That's where we practice. I live in Cleveland, so drive an hour-and-a-half to practice with these guys.
JOSH: It's a lot of country. It's a lot of Amish, and horse-and-buggy out there. It's an experience; it's fun, though. It's home.
So how did you all get together in Orrville?
JOSH: Our lead singer and our guitar player go to the same church, and we rehearse in the teen center there, so it's almost just like a meeting ground for us to rehearse and play. It's not the halfway point by any means, because Karl drives an hour-and-a-half.
KARL: I've been listening to a lot of demos on the way there.
JOSH: It's home base for us; we run our operations out of there. And the teen center actually has a lot of like snack foods, so that's great.
Did you all know each other before getting together?
JOSH: Yeah, Karl and I used to play in a project that disbanded in late 2009. And Shine Bright Baby was going through a transition. And being in the same scene, locally, we knew each other, just by playing shows together.
KARL: And we actually led worship together for almost three years at this church up in Cleveland. I still play there. And that's how I met Josh.
So how long have you two been in the band?
JOSH: We joined fall 2009. Our first show with them was New Year's Eve 2009. In South Carolina. It was great.
“Ohio's New Kids of Rock” – where did that title come from?
JOSH: That's a really good question...
KARL: Um, it's just something fresh; something we collectively talked about. You know, how would we kind of, in one sentence describe ourselves. That felt that was, the proper way.
JOSH: I think too, we're pretty young. Our youngest member just turned 18...
KARL: … and he got his first tattoo...
JOSH: Yep, and our oldest one is 22. We're just kids you know, so it's fresh, and we like to rock.
Now, describe your sound to someone who's never heard you before, because people are just getting to know you guys.
KARL: I would say high-energy, rock, something you could head bang to, dance to, sing along to, very interactive stuff.
JOSH: We love having fun at the show, like getting the crowd interacting. If you're looking for a specific artist, we get compared to Flyleaf quite a bit, and we get the Paramore comparison. But we're influenced by bands like Anberlin.
KARL: I like orchestral stuff. Anything you can find a nice groove to, some good melodies...
JOSH: A lot of stuff. Les Paul, Mary Ford, Nina Shore, I mean, anything...
“Hourglasses” is the single out now. It sounds like there's a story there.
JOSH: Emily wrote that, during the transition phase of the band. Karl and I had just joined. We were all writing these songs, and she kind of wrote it from this perspective that you get so far–you're constantly on the go, running running running, and you realize when you stop and take a look in the mirror, you've changed. Or, other people around you have changed. And it's just kind of addressing those negative changes. You can let them bring you down, or learn from it and grow from it. I think that's what she tried to accomplish when she wrote that song--addressing that change she herself had experienced and her friends around her have experienced.
In the lyrics Emily talks about the other person, but then says I'm no different than you.
JOSH: Right, right. It's kind of like John 8 where the people wanted to stone that adultress, and Jesus said, you're no different–whoever has no sin cast the first stone kind of thing. So it's that kind of that struggle.
New album: When's it coming, what it is it? Describe it to us. Tell us what to expect.
KARL: Spring 2012. It's going to be very high-energy. Melodically just very up there. Catchy stuff. Lot of dance-y stuff in there. Things you could dance to–turn it up in your car and just go all out.
Any power ballads?
JOSH: There could be some power ballads. I'm a sucker for power ballads. I always write power ballads. It's just kind of my thing. Maybe, we'll see. We love doing just high-energy, almost in-your-face explosive music.
KARL: It's definitely going to be edgy and heavy, too. Definitely just hard rock, you know?
Any singles going to be trickled out here in the next few months?
JOSH: Hopefully in the next few months. We haven't hit the studio yet. That should be here in the next, hopefully few weeks. We'll see.
If you had to boil down your mission, what are you trying to accomplish? Why does Shine Bright Baby exist?
KARL: To make a difference, big or small, spread God's love through music, and just interact with kids. This is our passion. Every one of us, it's what we love to do, and what we feel called to do.
JOSH: That's pretty much it. If you come catch our set, you'll hear Emily talk about us feeling this call from God. Even at an early age--14 or 15--I felt this pulling that I was supposed to be doing worship or Christian music. I didn't know what that meant; I didn't know the steps to take that. But I think if you're obedient to God, and you trust God and you're faithful, He's going to lead you in that right direction. We love just talking to kids and getting to know their back-stories. On our Facebook we're always interacting and just chatting with them and praying for them. It's all about helping kids out and making a difference and showing the love of Christ to them.
What themes emerge in your music? Are there central themes, lyrically, that you guys tend to go toward?
JOSH: I think we can define our band as just fun, but a lot of the music is about God. A lot of the music is about God. Usually in pop/punk and alternative rock, the songs are about relationships or broken relationships. Emily doesn't like to write about that. She loves just writing about God and stories from God. And a lot of our new record will have songs based on specific scriptures that's she's pulled out of. I think in Jeremiah it said a fire shot up inside my bones. He had the fire, this burning passion for God. And we wrote a song based around that. It's called “Ignite It.” One of the first songs we wrote for the new record.
How many songs have you guys written together as this unit?
JOSH: I'd say maybe 35? Especially for the new stuff, we've probably completed 20-25 demos so far. And we're still going.
For people who don't know you, what should people know about you guys?
JOSH: We're from the place where they make Smuckers jams and jellies.
KARL: We're very friendly; we don't bite–much. We're very friendly; come up and say hi to us. We love meeting new people.
JOSH: We're just kids, and we always want people to come up. We're no different than anyone else. I'm no different than you.