She could be sitting next to you in church with a smile on her face, but deep inside she is hurting so bad that life doesn’t seem to be much of an option anymore and you may never know it until it’s too late. In March, ZOEgirl released their fourth studio CD “Room To Breathe” and with songs like “Scream” they want to draw attention to issues that are often ignored until it is too late.
Recently, Growthtrac caught up with two members of the pop/rock group ZOEgirl, Chrissy Conway and Alisa Girard. The third member of the group is Kristin Swinford.
The album “Room To Breathe” really is a reflection of what ZOEgirl is all about. Conway says, “I really feel like “Room to Breathe” is giving these girls a voice. Ultimately everyone is trying to be heard.”
During the concert Girard explained to the audience the history behind the song “Scream”, featured on the new CD. The lyrics are drawn from Girard’s own previous history of battling depression. She said at one point a few years ago, “I didn’t want to leave my room or even get out of bed.” A little more than one year ago she was going through a bit of a struggle and the lyrics to “Scream” began to take form. “Does anybody know how I feel? / Sometimes I’m numb Sometimes I’m overcome / Does anybody care what’s going on? / Do I have to wear my scars like a badge on my arm for you to see me?”
The message, however, that Girard, Conway and Swinford want young women to hear is one of hope, a hope that only God can give, “I don’t have to scream for him to hear me / Don’t have to bleed for him to see me / ?Cause I’m clean, he is listening to me / I don’t have to scream.”
Girard says, “I have always just written from my heart and my own experiences.” She believes it is this kind of honesty that teenage girls are looking for and are attracted to hearing.
“I think the issue of wanting to be accepted is a huge issue. I would be willing to bet that most people do face that at some point in their lives,” says Conway, and continues “self esteem is the root of why we do a lot of things. Why we get into drugs, why we get into parties, why we get into drinking, cutting, and abuse. It all stems from the fact that we don’t really understand who we are in Christ. It was a huge issue for me in high school. I didn’t even know a Christian during my teenage years. I didn’t become a Christian until I was 18 and so I didn’t really have any perspective of who I was.” She says she was just trying to find a place to fit in.
Although ZOEgirl has a special passion for teenage girls they want it to be clearly understood that their message is intended for all teenagers, no matter what the gender. In fact, during their concert they challenged the audience with, “Are there any guys here who would be man enough to say they are ZOEboys?”
Whereas fans in recent years have come to focus on some tremendous guitar grooves from Swinford and Girard, “Scream” highlights Conway on the keyboards. You also come to appreciate once again the tremendous harmonies of all three ladies.
The number nine track on the CD, “Not the One” provides a voice for those seeking to break out of abusive relationships. “You can try to break me, try to hurt me / Till the walls fall around me / But you can never make me feel unloved”
When asked if there is a risk associated with writing cutting edge lyrics, especially when so many in the church do not want to admit that the same issues exist in their own congregations, Conway replied, “It may not be a popular thing or what anybody wants to talk about but I’m really sure that’s why he has called us together as a group.”
Can funky urban tunes like “Dead Serious” make a difference with today’s teens? Conway thinks so, “I really wish there were songs like this when I was younger. Not only do I believe in it, but we see it with our own eyes with the letters and kids coming up to us after concerts.” She says young women have shared with them about how they have gone as far as breaking off relationships that were abusive or relationships in which they were being pressured sexually by their boyfriends. She said the girls often allude to the music as being an inspiration to break free from these abusive situations.
One of the ministries that have become very important to ZOEgirl is the trio’s partnering with Big World Ventures for mission’s trips each year. Last year they took approximately sixty teenage girls and guys to Ecuador. While the group and the teens participate in everything from construction, hauling gravel and cleaning, the music of ZOEgirl also plays an important role. Last year they played an open air concert in a large park during the time of day that people were on their way to work. The teenagers participated in a choir on stage with the band. A highlight for Conway was watching people who were walking to work just like any other day stop, listen to their message, and commit their lives to Christ.
Details about this year’s trip scheduled for the latter part of July can be found at www.bigworld.org or www.zoegirlonline.com
ZOEgirl is also actively involved with Compassion International which helps meet health care, nutritional, educational and spiritual needs for more than 600,000 children living in poverty in 23 countries world wide. A hush fell over the audience and there were probably more than a few people with lumps in their throats as Conway shared from her own personal experience. Conway and husband James made a trip to Nicaragua in 2004. Before the trip she was absolutely insistent that she get her nails done. While on the trip she encountered a little girl who started playing with her hands and looking at her freshly manicured nails. As she did so Conway noticed the little girl’s own hands were rather dirty because there wasn’t even running water in the village where she lived, so she could wash her hands. When Conway returned home she took off her nails and committed the money to supporting a child through Compassion International. It wasn’t so much giving up her nails that was important to Conway it was helping to give someone else the basic essentials of life that we take for granted.
Swinford shared how she sponsors a little girl named Priscilla and how ZOEgirl as a group sponsors a little girl in Ecuador. ZOEgirl wants you to know they are not just another pop/rock group playing good music. They want you to know they take their ministry seriously and know they have a responsibility to be role models for their teenage fans.
The music and ministry of ZOEgirl has taken on a fresh meaning for Girard, Conway and Swinford as all three married in the past two years. Two of them, Girard and Conway have step children. Conway is step-mom to James Katina’s sons, Jackson and Dylan, while Girard has a step daughter Mychael, who is eleven years old and a son Wyatt who is turning seven in April. I asked both ladies if having families has altered their approach to music. Girard says, she now feels more settled as a person and “I think it enabled me even more to focus on my ministry and what I can actually give to other people.” Conway says now they see themselves almost in a mother role to the teenage girls they sing to. “Almost like we want to protect them and guide them, more in a motherly sense than like a peer.”
ZOEgirl formed in 2000 when three young women from different backgrounds came together to create the first of their five CDs. On ZOEgirl’s website, Swinford relates how she became aware that God wanted her to dedicate her life to a music ministry. She writes,” The summer before my senior year of high school, God showed me His purpose for this “music thing” I had been working so hard on. I was attending a convention with my youth group and thousands of other teens. One evening during a Crystal Lewis concert, I felt the Holy Spirit so strongly. I felt like God was telling me “This is why you have such great love and passion for music. I gave this gift to you to use to reach people for Me. One day that will be you.” I returned home absolutely on fire, filled with passion, drive and purpose. That year, I wrote my first song.”
Conway met God at a Greg Laurie rally in PA when she was 18. “I went to one of the crusades in Philadelphia and never even had any idea who Greg Laurie was. I had never even heard of Christian concerts before and a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go. I said no that’s okay I’ll be alright.” She got hooked when her friend told her one of her favorite R&B groups was going to be there. She thought it was a great deal a free concert.
“So I went thinking I was going to hear an R&B group and one of the girls was there to represent the group and of course they never sang but I ended up getting saved that night. Obviously He (God) had other plans.”
Girard says she committed her life to God when she was just five years old and still remembers the time clearly. She grew up as the daughter of Christian recording artist Chuck Girard. “I think every time I wrote a song when I was growing up I would go play it for him and he was always my biggest fan.” She also says, “I think without that encouragement I may not have wound up doing this. I definitely felt like he was a big cheerleader for me.”
If you aren’t familiar with ZOEgirl their web site features audio samples from “Room to Breathe” as well as video and other goodies.
Copyright © 2005 Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved. This material may not be redistributed without prior written permission from Joe Montague.
Joe Montague is an internationally published freelance journalist / photographer.