You guys have a unique sound. How would you describe it?
Brian: Well, I think for us, as a band, we definitely didn’t want to be put in a corner. We wanted to have strong pop songs that people would attach to, and not be restricted to just bass guitar, electric guitar and drums. We change it up and give each song uniqueness and let that define who we are. You’ve got a decent variety to where each song doesn’t exactly sound like the next song.
Case: One of the criticisms for Christian music, at least Christian radio, is it’s monotonous. I hear that from my friends — some that listen and some that don’t listen to Christian radio. We’re not trying to be something we’re not, but we’re trying to bring something a little bit different musically, with a twist. I would say our genre is dance pop rock.
Riley: I feel like the new record does bring a lot of different elements without shifting gears so much that you can’t flow from one song to the next. So while bringing in piano ballads and strings and keyboards and big guitars and trying to be different, we keep the same vibe from track to track.
Who inspires you guys?
What are you listening to?
Brian: I’ve been listening to Phil Wickham lately and Derrick Webb as a songwriter I like a lot. Yeah, those two artists have been in my rotation lately.
Riley: Yeah, I like the Phil Wickum record a lot. I’m a big Switchfoot fan. Love the new Jars of Clay stuff. Love it. Yeah, that’s pretty much what I’ve been listening to.
Brian:; Definitely SwitchFoot and early bands like Pray for Rain (or PFR). I listen to a lot of stuff outside of Christian music as well. I’m a big fan of a really well crafted pop song, so I like Top 40 radio. Lately, instead of diving into new music I’ve been engulfed in feeling the creative juices flowing again and having new melodies in my head.
How receptive has radio been to VOTA?
Brian: I think pretty receptive. Our first single went in the Top 10 for CHR, which was a milestone for us — especially considering we changed our name. There’s a lot of competition out there. Radio success is not guaranteed. We’re thankful for INO and the job that they’re doing.
iTunes picked our first single as a “discovery download”, which is not something you can ask for. They just chose it and they broke a label record giving 185,000 copies of the song away in a week. Our second single was released to CHR called “I’ll Go” and it just jumped into the Top 30. We’re very thankful for that.
Sounds like the name change was a good idea?
Well, the big risk for us, as a band, was we were full time as Casting Pearls. So you change your name and you’re not sure what’s going to happen. You’re used to getting a certain amount for your concerts and traveling as a fulltime artist and you have no idea how the public is going to receive it. But it has been a painless, smooth and pretty great transition. I mean VOTA just feels like a name we’ve had forever — it feels right — and our fans have jumped onboard. I’m glad we made the change; in many respects this is one of our best years ever. The Lord has blessed us.
Tell me about your 180 ministry.
A 180 Tour is an event that we started in 2006. It’s a ministry that goes into public schools, high schools and middle schools and we talk to kids about character and decision-making. We travel with a speaker, set up in the school either on the gym floor or the auditorium, and we mix music in with their speaking to encourage students in their character. We want kids to understand that the decisions they make now matter and that they matter and they have value.
That is very cool. And you’re ministering in Kenya…
Food for the Hungry started a child sponsorship campaign called B33. The idea was to beat AIDS in Africa for 33 cents a day. We’re representing them and talking about this opportunity. Students are signing up, committing to $10 a month, 33 cents a day to beat AIDS in Africa. Crystal Miller — a Columbine shooting survivor — went to Kenya with us.
Food for the Hungry is orchestrating sustainable projects where they teach local people how to harvest gum arabic from trees which is a sustainable agricultural endeavor. The trees stay alive and it gives them a marketable product. Gum arabic is used in lots of products all over the world, for instance, in sodas. So it’s a product that can be sold. Brian, you have kids? I have three: Eight, six and five. I have a daughter who’s the oldest, Jaden, and Miles is my six year old and Liam is my five year old. I have two sons and one daughter. Yeah, it’s pretty awesome.
So, family, music, touring — how do you balance?
To do what we do for a living means we have to leave — we’ve got to travel — so there is that balance of being a full-time business, band, and ministry, but trying to be able to set boundaries to where you’re not gone all the time. It’s that balance of making ends meet, taking care of everyone involved, and also trying to watch the schedule.
In this lifestyle I think a lot of people are looking for security and to be able to see as far down the road as possible — really no job has that; they might think they do, but you never know what’s around the corner, especially in rock n’ roll. For what we do, it’s a day-to-day sort of thing. It’s very difficult to have your future all planned out.
Some days I carry that weight on my shoulder, but most days I’m really thankful because in this crazy storm of life I constantly say: Lord, it’s in your hands. Help me not to hold it too tightly and help me let it go if You want me to.
When is the last time you and your wife had fun?
What do you define as fun?
Something without the kids.
Case: Date night.
Date night. Oh, okay. Date night. We went to a concert and had some great sushi in Omaha with a few other couples and that was fun. That was a good night.
We’re really looking forward to a conference in Hawaii. We worked it out to where we will have a week before the conference starts where we’ll be with our wives — and no children — and then send the wives home before we start work. So that’s a huge blessing coming up. I haven’t been on a weeklong trip away with my wife in a few years.
How do you and your wife do spiritual intimacy?
I come from a family of unbelievers. So having a family that is growing up in a Christian home is pretty exciting. It’s pretty scary for me, though. I definitely want them to see something that’s real, not just that we pray over meals or we’ve got a few set things we do. I want to model a genuine life where we’re trusting God for everything and that’s the core of who we are as a family.
My wife and I read the Bible and pray on our own. We don’t really have a couple’s time, but we definitely talk about all sorts of things, especially with the life we live. We’re always praying, wondering what God is going to do here and there.
Case: We both value our church community and our weekly service. That’s a really big thing for us. Some people think that if they were on an island with just them and a Bible they would be just fine. They would know everything there is to know and flourish and grow in their Christian faith. I don’t know if I’d buy that.
Your personal devotional time and study is really important. To be in the Word of God is incredibly important; keeping your mind sharp and fresh and to meditate on God’s Word. But more than anything a fellowship of believers has encouraged and strengthened me. That happens in my local church.
My wife and I pray together consistently and when we do pray together we connect. Prayer centers our marriage, reminds us about what’s important. Talking to God together is pretty cool.
As dads what are you trying to instill in your kids?
Case: I think about lunch and nap, generally. The legacy of lunch and nap.
Brian: The priority is how to teach the understanding of God that I have after years of being a believer in small doses to a young child who is just getting introduced to things. I think those come in little moments. There are these little moments where you bring God into the situation.
Christianity can be defined in such a wrong way. It’s not following Christ as a teacher; it’s not just living moral lives, but it’s letting the Gospel sink in and realizing that we can’t hold holiness without what Christ did. We’re constantly reminded of that. The more I grow the more I see how far I have to go. Trying to get that depth of wisdom to a young child is a challenging thing.
What’s next for VOTA?
Well, we’re already working on it. We’ve got a fall tour planned, so we can’t start thinking about the next record too early; we’re already getting a good amount of songs together.
Visit VOTA at votaband.com
Copyright © 2009 by Jim Mueller, President and co-founder of Growthtrac Ministries.