The Choir, helmed by drummer / lyricist Steve Hindalong and guitarist / vocalist Derri Daugherty, along with bassist Tim Chandler, sax / lyricon player Dan Michaels and guitarist Marc Byrdy may be one of the best, and most influential bands, you’ve never heard of. The ranks of the Alternative Christian Music underground may not be massive in size, but the impact its denizens have had on the larger music world is immense. Through a loose network of church halls and clubs a community evolved that has challenged and stretched the boundaries of Christian and mainstream music. Sixpence None the Richer, Jars of Clay and Switchfoot, for instance, have achieved massive, top-tier recognition and success in the mainstream and Christian markets, and spent years in the underground trenches playing small venues and selling tiny quantities of amazing albums before their breakthroughs. These bands and many others would credit the pioneering work of The Choir as a major influence.
Unless you’ve been following the Christian alternative underground closely, you may not have heard of this poetic, percussive, progressive and poignant band. Derri Daugherty and Steve Hindalong first joined up in 1980 after being introduced by their future bassist, Tim Chandler (who would also end up as a member of another ground breaking Christian band, Daniel Amos.) Dan Michaels, also a member of the band since the early days, adds various keyboard elements through his breath controlled Lyricon. Marc Byrd joined the band in the mid nineties after Hindalong and Daughtery had produced albums for his band Common Children. The various distinct elements; Hindalong’s unique drum perspectives and immediately evocative lyrics, Daugherty’s crystalline voice and echoing guitar, Chandler’s muscular, yet persistently melodic bass, Michaels’ tasteful use of sax and synth and Byrd’s excellent backing vocals, tight guitar skills and increasingly powerful songwriting talents, combine as a seamless garment of musical grace. Twenty-five years into their journey, The Choir are as amazing as ever.
Long before alternative music became mainstream in the general or Christian market, The Choir defied stereotypes with their music and their subtle, confessional and sometimes melancholic approach to ministry. Though their unique vision for faith and art thrilled their fans, it didn’t do much to engender the enthusiasm of the Christian music establishment. “Promoters, which were typically youth pastors in our scene, would sometimes be disappointed because we didn’t deliver what they expected us to,” Hindalong remembers of the The Choir’s beginnings in the early 80s. “But we went on and did 700 gigs regardless, and just made our 11th record.” By the time the industry caught up to their more open and personal style of music and ministry, The Choir were putting their years of touring behind them. Their work, however, was far from over.
Though scores of young artists were already hard at work taking the creative baton handed to them via the inspiration of The Choir, the band was about to reach an entirely new, and massive, sphere of influence. You may have never heard of The Choir, but considering their significant influence on emerging artists, not to mention their work as producers, engineers and songwriters on major projects like the City On A Hill worship series or the song “God Of Wonders,” you’ve probably heard something touched by this seminal group. Steve Hindalong, in fact, was named one of the most influential producers in Nashville by CCM Magazine, while “God Of Wonders” a song penned with current The Choir band mate Marc Byrd, remains one of the most popular worship songs of the last decade. But long before their role as producers and engineers brought them to the upper echelons of the music industry, Derri Daugherty and Steve Hindalong were crafting a uniquely ambient sound, and using it to deliver beautiful and entirely original lyrics. Their work earned them a Dove Award for their 1996 release Free Flying Soul and a Grammy Nomination for their 2001 release Flap Your Wings. It was the same unique approach that made City On A Hill such a success. The Choir is clearly one of the most influential bands in the history of modern Christian music, and with the release of their new independently recorded LP O How the Mighty Have Fallen, they have returned to top form.
Deciding to revisit The Choir is a challenge on many levels for the members of the band. With Steve Hindalong and Derri Daugherty booked with production, engineering and songwriting work and the other members’ full time careers in and out of the music business, the time for writing and recording has been difficult to come by since the band retired from the road. Managing the challenge of busy schedules and budgets falls on longtime member, webmaster and inspiration machine Dan Michaels, who in addition to running the indie label Galaxy 21 Records, works as the Vice President of Promotion and Marketing for INO Records. With his days spent managing and promoting projects by MercyMe, SonicFlood, Darlene Zschech and many others, Michaels’ had to spend evenings and weekends getting The Choir up and running for the new project. “I think everybody was really attracted to the idea of doing a record,” Michaels explains, “but it took a couple years of subliminal and not-so-subtle encouragement to get the guys to do it.” In his role as the project’s executive producer Michaels’ understood the challenges to arranging very busy schedules to line up. “It wasn’t like it was hard, or that nobody wanted to do it,” Michaels’ adds, “I just had to pull them out of their chairs. But once they got on the dance floor they felt good about it.”
The logistics were also served by the assigning of production duties to the “new kid,” longtime friend and fan Marc Byrd. Not since their 1986 album Diamonds and Rain (produced by Charlie Peacock,) has anyone other than Steve Hindalong and Derri Daugherty produced a The Choir album, and the relegation of those duties proved significant to both the logistical and artistic success of the project. Byrd successfully brought external focus to the creative process, and logistical support to free Steve Hindalong and Derri Daugherty to focus on the artistic elements exclusively. “I think what I brought to them was the perspective of a fan,” Byrd offers. “They had met privately decided that they wanted me to be in the band officially, and that they wanted me to produce the record. I was honored, but immediately afraid too.” Daugherty explains that the choice to enlist Byrd was an easy one. “We’ve always wanted to have a situation where there was someone we really trusted production-wise to keep things focused; to take the pressure off Steve and me as far as those decisions,” he explains. “Marc was the logical choice. He’s been part of this thing for so long he’s definitely a member of the band. He and I are so connected musically, it was a no-brainer. He could deal with the production stuff and we could just play.” The Choir accepted Byrd’s leadership throughout the process. “It definitely changed some things,” Daugherty adds, “We let him do his thing. He made a lot of decisions. He was really hands on. Even down to the title of the record.”
The resulting work definitely references The Choir’s best elements from their impressive career, with hauntingly beautiful melodies perched atop cascading layers of shimmering guitars and breath-blown synthesizers. The precarious balance between gentleness and edge recalls their celebrated and award-winning work from their albums Circle Slide, Wide Eyed Wonder and Chase The Kangaroo, while the lyrics reflect elements of the delicately beautiful modern hymnody the band first unveiled via the At The Foot Of The Cross and later mastered with the City On a Hill series. Derri Daugherty explains it as a thoroughly deliberate process. “We intentionally wanted it to sound a certain way. More than any of our other records, this is one where we went in with a real distinct plan musically. We knew it would be more low-key, we knew the songs would be more mellow than before.” Michaels established the groundwork in advance to allow for the most relaxing and enjoyable experience possible, knowing that would translate into the music. “The rule was that there were no rules,” Michaels insists. “That was the attraction too. We didn’t have to do it for a label. There was no timeline. We didn’t have to do it for Cornerstone or Gospel Music Week. We decided to take our time and wait until we were totally happy.”
With songs that touch on very personal and painful subjects, as well as the deep, mysterious and cherished faith of the members, O How The Mighty Have Fallen captures the best elements The Choir has ever offered to the universe; musical, lyrical and emotional grace. Often their own harshest critics, the band themselves seem perfectly aware of the serendipitous beauty of this project. Steve Hindalong knows the tangible difference between this and previous The Choir projects. “When you make music for a living there is a target; an agenda. Now more than ever there is no commercial motivation for us. Our only motivation is to do music that we feel good about. To offer it to whoever wants to hear it.” Derri Daugherty takes it a step further. “Now it’s to the point where I just want to make a record I can listen to over and over again,” he admits. “It’s always great when other people like it, but this time that’s not the reason why we did it. We did it for ourselves and we have nothing to prove.”
Listen to Christian Music Artist The Choir
|Voices In Shadows||1985||M8|
|Shades of Grey||1986||M8|
|Diamonds and Rain||1986||M8|
|Chase the Kangaroo||1987||Myrrh|
|Circle Slide||1991||Sony Records|
|Kissers And Killers||1993||Sony Records|
|Speckled Bird||1994||R.E.X. Music|
|Love Songs & Prayers||1996||Myrrh|
|Free Flying Soul||1996||Tattoo Records|
|Let It Fly||1997||Spring Arbor Distribution|
|Live At Cornerstone 2000||2000||Galaxy 21|
|Never Say Never||2000||Galaxy 21|
|Flap Your Wings||2001||Resolve Records|
|O How The Mighty Have Fallen||2005||Galaxy 21|
|Burning Like The Midnight Sun||2010||Galaxy21 Music|