When your life becomes a series of dates on a calendar, lines on a highway, sound checks and bright lights, late nights and unfamiliar pillows, if you're not careful"and sometimes even if you are"life has a way of getting away from you. The days all run together, and before you turn around, what used to be "the future" is here today, and you're somehow lost in it all. But for the Minnesota-based fivesome, Clear, there is one all-encompassing truth that makes this life make sense. The fact that God's going to do what God's going to do"with us, through us and often despite us. However clear this truth may have been before, it's never been clearer than the present.
After five years as a band, and more than two on the road, Clear shows definite signs of maturity"spiritually and musically. There's an immediate sense of calling and a determined spirit about the music they make. God, over time, has done for them what only time and God can do, drawing to the surface, little by little, the wisdom of experience. It's a process especially beautiful when the chosen path is the road less traveled.
And sorry I could not travel both, and be one traveler ...
On their sophomore album, Follow the Narrow, Clear shares songs born out of rediscovering in scripture and in life the grace with which God leads us. "Because all five of us grew up in Christian homes," lead singer Alison Ogren, 21, says, "we have this foundation underneath us, this rich faith behind us. And that's something we're really thankful for and really stand on." But, she says, "the older we get, the more personal our faith becomes, and the more we're convinced that being grounded in scripture is essential to growing as believers. On Follow the Narrow, you'll find songs that reflect the Beatitudes and Psalm 18. In fact, all the songs are directly connected to the Scriptures. As a whole, the album is really about staying in the Scriptures, about standing on His promises. We took that literally in our writing this time around."
For Clear's Matt Berry, the most profound lesson that has come out of their experience as a band aligns perfectly with what Henry T. Blackaby devoted his entire book, Experiencing God. "It's easy to get caught up in the music stuff"the pressure of the sophomore album, do we have anything radio will play? How will it sell?" He says, "but it all boils down to the fact that no matter what we do"how poorly played or polished"if we take the stage every night and give it to God and do our best, it doesn't matter how it goes, the Spirit can use it. I find comfort in knowing that."
Matt continues, "A girl wrote us a letter saying she'd become a Christian following one of our concerts, and when I looked back on it, that concert was one of the times when we all came off stage looking at each other, saying 'Man, that was terrible! What were we doing?!' You just never know when the Spirit is moving in someone and changing that person. It's a huge responsibility, knowing that, and at the same time its good to know that God can use us no matter what."
"A big part of what we do is playing and traveling, and that's really where ministry happens for us," says Alison of the band's priorities."Living it day to day is the most important thing. We try to be as honest and candid as we can with people, getting to know them, building relationships and being real. Our music is just a tool for that kind of ministry, and we pray that people are touched and ministered to in all that we do."
Long I stood and looked down one as far as I could.
The songs on Follow the Narrow, while rooted in scripture, speak to real life, to the needs of real people: "Able and Willing," inspired by Max Lucado's book He Still Moves Stones, shows how life can bruise and even break us, and still God is faithful to deliver and heal. The grief and pain of a fallen world in "The End of the Day" reminds us that God will one day wipe all tears from our eyes. "Flash" speaks to the temporary nature of things. "Falling Down" looks at the concept of humility and its place in all our relationships, but especially in our approach to God.
"I think our peers connect with the fact that we're speaking about things that are very real in our lives," Matt says. "We're all at that point, that post-college, moving-on-toward-a-career stage, and in our spiritual walk and in our daily lives, there are very real issues and struggles that come up. And those things show up in our songs."
One of the first things listeners will notice about Follow the Narrow is the attitude of worship that pervades the whole album. It was an intentional, yet very natural thing for Clear, Alison says. "Even before Clear became a band, a couple of us had led worship in different situations, and that form of expression has always been important to us. Over the past year or two, we began incorporating worship into our concerts, as much for ourselves as for anyone else. On the road a lot, we don't get to worship in our home churches, and so personally, it's important to be able to do that, to have other people join in with us in worship, to feel that connection with other Christians. We wanted to bring that experience into the album itself."
In attitude and language, Follow the Narrow offers a more vulnerable and intimate fare than Clear's debut, demonstrating that each member of the band has sharpened his or her songwriting skills. But perhaps the most distinct aspect of the new project is the musical intimacy and diversity found here. There's nothing narrow about the sound, to be sure. Dave Caton, the bass player, has been fine-tuning his chops on the upright bass, while Alison picked up the accordion. Throw in the digeridoo and a whole host of interesting musical instruments, and the result is a more rounded, richer sound. "This new record really stretched us musically," Matt says. "We've worked hard to write more intricate acoustic harmonies. We've spent more time on the musical details, and especially on songs like "Flash," you can hear our growth as musicians, which is very exciting."
"Follow the Narrow," Alison adds, "represents us better than our debut because we've been together a lot longer, we've played together a lot longer. It's just more reflective of where we're at on so many levels.
... two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by.
And so, as their musical world widens and their spiritual paths"like all of ours"form twists and turns and follow various diversions, Clear forges ahead, knowing God is at work, wherever the road leads. "It's really easy," Alison says of life on the road, "to want to pull away from each other, to retreat and not deal with issues that arise. But we're trying desperately to learn about the body of Christ and our gifts and how we can work together, how we can compliment each other. And its hard. One of the greatest commandments God gave us is to love each other and yet that's one of the hardest things."
Matt agrees, but is encouraged with the band's progress in every sense of the word. "The fact that the five of us are still together after being on the road for almost three years is amazing," he says. "I'm proud of that because not only are we still together, but we're still growing. We have our share of bumps and bruises, but we keep getting stronger"musically and personally ... and as long as we're growing," he says, "it just keeps getting better."