Dawn Richardson has worked extremely hard as the lead singer of FireFlight, and the road to recording their sophomore album on Flicker Records was tougher than she expected.
FireFlight has returned with an album that has captured the attention of critics and fans in both in the Christian music and mainstream music worlds, along with a few network executives along the way. The band’s sophomore project on Flicker Records, Unbreakable, released on March 4, 2008, debuting at No. 10 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart and No. 15 on Top Christian Albums with its title track pushing to #1 for multiple weeks on both R&R’s and CRW’s Rock radio charts.
The band possesses the youthful exuberance of fellow female-fronted acts like Paramore and the Distillers, yet Dawn’s commanding vocals recall such bold proto-punk icons as Patti Smith and Runaways-era Joan Jett. From exceptional musicianship to melodic and passionate vocals, the band creates sonic tension that seesaws between anger and remorse, strength and vulnerability, fear and faith. While the production is crisp and the melodies undeniably catchy, the music barely contains the gritty emotional energy that bursts from every note.
Dawn took some time to speak with NRT’s Senior Editor Angel about the challenges of recording an album under extreme pressure, along with the personal struggles the band faced. At the end of the process, they discovered their greatest dream being fulfilled through a God that has all things under control.
Hi, Dawn. Welcome to NewReleaseTuesday.com. We're so glad you could join us to talk about FireFlight's sophomore project, Unbreakable. What an empowering title! Can you tell us the story behind the title-track?
Unbreakable is about triumph. It tells the story of the adulteress woman in the bible who was going to be stoned to death (John 8:1-11). Back then the Pharisees, who were the religious leaders of the day, brought her to Jesus and said, “The law says we should stone her. What do you say?” They were trying to set a trap to find something against Him. But Jesus bent over and started writing on the ground with his finger. When they continued to ask Jesus their question, he got up and said, "Anyone who has never sinned can throw the first stone." He got back down again and wrote in the dust. When they heard what He said, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones until they were all gone.
How would you feel if you were this woman? Suddenly, you're guilty of a crime and people are ready to kill you, yet here is a man who is willing to stand by your side. I couldn't imagine what it would be like to be this woman and to be set free, even though you didn't do anything to earn your freedom. This song is about letting go of all the things in your past that have held you back and realizing you're free to make new memories and a new life for yourself.
What prompted you to write a song about the woman caught in the act of adultery and then develop the angle of how her mindset became empowered after Jesus’ Word set her free? I've read that story many times, but I don't think I ever considered the full impact Jesus must have had on her psyche.
We were sitting on the floor in a church in Illinois, getting ready to perform at Cornerstone and for some reason the story just came into my head. Since we were pressed for time trying to complete Unbreakable, they let us use their sanctuary to work on our album.
I personally draw a direct parallel with her freedom to each and every one of our freedoms, because we haven’t done anything to be worthy of God’s forgiveness. We certainly deserve every consequence we’ve earned from all the pain we’ve caused, but God is willing to totally wipe out all of our sins. We need to come to the realization that all of the sins we’ve already committed or ever will commit are forgiven, and that God loves us and He’s on our side. No matter what impossible situation we may face, God is going to help us get through it.
Speaking of impossible situations, I understand the songwriting and recording process for this project was challenging. I heard your first album Healing of Harms was written over a period of five years, but you just had six months to complete Unbreakable. How did you manage to finish on time?
During that six-month period, we were touring full-time, so we only had a total of six weeks to write Unbreakable. I honestly didn't think it was going to come together [laughter]. All of us were going through our own personal hardships. We were dealing with the stress of barely making enough money to pay our bills as well as a schedule that left us physically exhausted. We also had to leave our loved ones behind to live in a 15-passenger van with four other people. We were pushed to our very limits.
We started referring to this album as a series of miracles, and the first miracle is that it ever got completed! We just got down on our hands and knees and prayed, "God, you have to be in charge of this if it’s ever going to happen, and it’s going to have to be through your strength and your power." Even in our weakness we are made strong, and I think it’s evident throughout the album. The album amazes us! Everyday we’re like, "Wow! Where did that come from?" We’re so excited about this album, but we can only boast in God’s strength because we feel like we didn’t have very much to do with it. We believe God is the one who took over and wrote the songs through us. We’re so thankful He did that, and we’re astonished by all the success and how well received this album has been.
Your latest project is phenomenal, and it even attracted national media exposure. I heard NBC aired the title-track "Unbreakable" in their promos for the primetime television show Bionic Woman. Congratulations!
Thank you. It definitely has been a huge blessing to us!
Another challenge you faced during this project where you saw God intervene was in the diagnosis of a potentially serious vocal condition. Tell us about this miracle.
This would be the second major miracle that happened, and the Bionic Woman promo was the third. [laughter]. Since the material on our new album required me to reach notes which are much higher than what I’ve been doing since high school, I decided to see a vocal coach to learn technique. He explained to me that there were times when my posture as well as the way I was breathing was incorrect to hit the higher notes. He also thought there might be something wrong with my vocal chords. So he referred me to a doctor who diagnosed me with blisters on my vocal chords. Basically, a singer can develop something called nodules, which are like calluses. Blisters are the very first step to nodules. And once a singer gets nodules, they would have to have surgery to get rid of them. They told me this news on Friday, and on Monday I was scheduled to start recording Unbreakable. I had to go on complete vocal rest, except for the time when I went into the studio to record the album.
This is where the miracle comes in. Using the new techniques my vocal coach taught me and through a lot of prayer—even though I was in the worst vocal health of my life, I sang better on this album than I’ve ever sung before! It was really phenomenal! I can remember having tears in my eyes while looking up to heaven, because I couldn’t believe it was going so well! Rob Hawkins, our producer, would be like, "What about this?" And I could hear the other members of our band, who were sitting behind the couch say, "No, she can’t do that!"—but I could do everything Rob suggested. It was really a miracle.
Two days after we got out of the studio, we went on tour and played twenty-four shows in twenty-nine days. During that time, I remained on full vocal rest and could only use a dry-erase board to communicate with others. I was going through a rough time because my husband stays home when we’re out on the road, so the only way I could interact with him was through text messages and instant online messaging—that is, whenever I could find the Internet!
That must have been very difficult.
It was a very challenging time in my life, but God brought me through it. I went on and off vocal rest for about four months. The doctor told me I needed surgery, but each time I went in for a surgical consultation, they would say, "You’ve made great progress!" The last thing I heard was that they don't think I’ll ever need surgery!
This whole experience has taught me that you can’t lean on your own understanding. You can trust in God; He can do anything! Nothing is impossible with God. He’s shown me that I need to have faith in Him, and if I can just trust Him and do the things He’s told me to do, then it doesn’t matter what anybody says—I can overcome and I’ll achieve great things!
That's an amazing testimony! I believe the story you just shared will help the readers of NRT to see that God can turn any situation around in their lives! Even at your new website, IAmUnbreakable.com, I've read testimony after testimony of how lives are being touched and changed by the power of God. I'm sure our readers would love to hear more about the new website you've launched.
We’ve always had a strong focus on our MySpace and ShoutLife websites. Usually, when we go to a show, there might be two or three people who are actually brave enough to come up and talk to us and share the details of their personal lives. For the most part, it’s very daunting for someone to come up and have a one-on-one conversation. But now that we have websites like MySpace and ShoutLife, the kids are able to write us anonymously, so we’re able to connect with our fans even after we’ve left.
We continually receive e-mails from people who are in need of encouragement. So when we created IAmUnbreakable.com, we thought it would be a cool idea to let people share their personal stories, but within a couple of days we had pages and pages of people who were pouring their hearts out onto the computer screen with their testimonies. I don’t see how some of them are even alive or how they survived these horrible situations! What’s so astonishing is that at the end of every story I’ve read, they would all say, "God got me through this difficult situation, and nothing can stop me!" That’s such an encouragement to me. Every time I go to Iamunbreakable.com there are new stories posted, which just keep breaking my heart. What’s so amazing is that not only do their stories break your heart, but they also mend it back together—because I’ve realized that if these people can make it through their trials, then I can certainly face my circumstances.
With so much going on in your lives, how do you keep focused on the road? What drives your passion on a day-to-day basis?
The main focus of our band is to bring truth and understanding to people. We want to let people know just how special they are and how much God loves them. I think this world drains you everywhere you turn with popular culture by telling you you’re not good enough. The reason they do this is because they’re trying to sell you something. Unfortunately, we’re all raised on pop-culture and the media. Sadly, in most situations, the parents (if there are two parents) are working as hard as they can to support their kids. Many children are heavily influenced by the television, music, movies and magazines. The media is fine, in certain instances, but it’s driven by money because they’re trying to make a dollar. You know, it’s all commercialism! As a result, these kids are raised to feel completely inadequate because all they’re told is "You need this!" and "this is how you should look.” So we’re just trying to be a positive influence to the youth and everyone else. We want to let people know they’re good enough just the way they are.
You’ve used the image of a candle burning brightly throughout this project’s artwork and at Iamunbreakable.com. What does this imagery represent?
I’ve left that open to interpretation. For me, personally, it’s symbolic of the message of Christ. People have told us, "You guys are dressed in such dark outfits!" But the concept behind the imagery is this: Yes, we’re in a place surrounded by darkness, and everything looks impossible. Even on the front of the CD, we’re standing on the side of the building, but the point is we’re standing up! And we’re bringing this message with us. It’s bringing light, and you can’t put it out—not even with the rain that’s falling. It’s an "Unbreakable" message!
What advice can you offer to aspiring young musicians?
I’d tell them to really devote time talking to God to make sure this is God’s will for your life. If you want to succeed, you have to be willing to work hard at it. We’ve been doing this for eight years, and it took us five years before we received any industry attention. I went to college for four years and during the first five years, all of us had full time jobs. We worked every day during the week and three times a week we practiced at night. On the weekends, we’d push ourselves as hard as we could to get to a show only to turn around and go back to our 9-to-5 jobs on Monday—and we did that for five years! We put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into it. Of course, we have a great time doing what we do, but it’s also very difficult. The most important thing is to find out if this is what God wants you to do. If it is, then there is nothing stopping you! Nothing can stop you, except yourself.
What’s your favorite song on the album?
My favorite song is "Wrapped In Your Arms." It’s sort of a quiet song, and it’s very personal to me. It was hard for me to sing, because it hit so close to my heart.
You see, I spend so much time trying to do so many things-—between running around, trying to make everybody happy and striving to be the perfect person-—I get so exhausted. It’s so draining, and I kind of feel like a failure. But when I finally stop trying so hard to accomplish everything on my own, and I just come to God without an agenda, that’s when I’m able to experience the power that He’s had for me all along.
Can you tell us about your latest video "Unbreakable" and the theme behind it?
There are three story lines in the video. The first one is about a man who caused a fatal car accident. He’s wrestling with his conscience because feels very guilty about the mistakes he’s made. The second one tells the real-life story of "Molly" who portrays herself, and she's presently undergoing treatment for cancer. Molly has lost all of her hair and wears a wig, yet she was so gracious to be in our video. She really is a beautiful, sweet-spirited woman to be willing to put herself out there for so many people. The third story line is about a girl who is struggling with an eating disorder. She’s trying to conform to what the world is telling her she should look like and who she is supposed to be. In the end, all of them find peace and happiness, even in the midst of adversity, because they’ve put their trust in God and His unfailing love.
What are your tour plans for this summer and beyond?
We’ll be performing at various festivals all over the United States and we’re even going to Europe. Toward the end of the summer, we’re going to embark on our first-ever headlining tour, which we’re very excited about! After that, we’ll be heading out on the road with Creation Festival: The Tour. This brand new tour features top Christian artists such as Kutless, Pillar, Thousand Foot Krutch, KJ-52, Worth Dying For and we’ll be there as well. If anybody wants more tour information they can go to our MySpace website.
What are your aspirations for this album?
Our greatest goal for this album is to bring hope to people who are in hopeless situations and for others to be healed and victorious. We try to conquer the difficult circumstances we’re faced with and share these experiences in our music. Our songs are like road maps or treasure maps— anything we’ve learned, we want to impart that to others.
As far as our album actually effecting and helping people—we just left that up to God. We asked Him to make the songs His songs, because we knew that if it was just the five of us speaking, then it was pretty pointless. We totally think God worked through us; He put His Spirit into this album. As a result, people are really connecting and being helped by it, and that’s our greatest dream come true!
Angel, a concert photographer and writer, frequently conducts artist interviews for NRT. She loves Christian music and currently lives in FL with her husband. Tour photography copyright by Minerva Photography, 2008 and used with permission.
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