“I’m in awe of how God stops at nothing to pull our hearts back to His… He fights for us and uses our tragedies for good.” – Mark Stuart
Hope—the feeling that events will turn out for the best—can be hard to sustain when you lose your livelihood, lose a relationship, or witness firsthand a natural disaster that takes more than 200,000 people and leaves another one million homeless. How could someone believe there might be grace from these moments or a purpose in such unraveling stories?
Mark Stuart, former lead singer of beloved Christian band Audio Adrenaline, had to start asking those questions a few years ago. At the height of his musical success—between consecutive GRAMMY-winning albums Worldwide and Until My Heart Caves In—he began to lose his trademark gravelly rock voice as well as a ten-year marriage. Soon, life on the road with Audio A and the home life Mark had known were both over.
The situation may have seemed hopeless, but God’s best was yet to come.
With no more concerts to headline around the country week after week, Stuart was able to plug into his local spiritual community just outside Nashville, Tennessee. In fact, he and Audio Adrenaline bassist Will McGinniss attended the same church. Best friends since meeting at Bible college, they were continuing to work together on the Hands and Feet Project, a ministry the band founded to care for orphans in Haiti. But they were unsure of their next creative move—and if there would or could even be one. It was their pastor who pointed them in a surprisingly familiar yet certainly different direction.
“He kind of strategically nudged us into the same small group through church and asked us to share a few stories about all that happened with Audio A and how God was always there,” says Mark. "So we'd meet at Will's horse farm around a campfire and talk vulnerably with each other about our successes as well as hardships. It was a time of healing and redemption for us. We felt inspired as we looked back. Around those fires we discovered the evidence of God's hand in our lives like never before and the importance of telling one’s story."
Seeing how these fire-side chats resonated at a deep personal level with everyone involved, Mark and Will's pastor suggested they take their story telling on the road. The duo set out to create an intimate and hope-filled night of music, testimony, and worship with some of their new friends and musicians from their home church. Not knowing what to expect, they found audiences across the country connecting at a deeper level than ever before.
The Know Hope Collective was born.
“We realized after Audio A that there are a lot of talented people who don’t fit the traditional Christian music mold,” Mark explains. “Maybe they like to perform but don’t want a record deal. Or there’s a mainstream artist who loves praise and worship. Know Hope Collective is just a safe place where they can write and play and sing.”
The collective’s first set, Know Hope, is an intimate pairing of songs and spoken word that plumbs the depths of Mark and Will’s chart-topping heyday and post-band revelations. Speaking far more than he sings now, Stuart shares the microphone with Julia Ross, David Leonard (former Jackson Waters vocalist), and 2010 BMI Christian Music Award-winning Songwriter of the Year Jason Walker. The group introduces new cuts, including “Attention” and “Jealous God,” and reworks a few Audio A hits like “Ocean Floor,” “The Good Life,” and “Hands and Feet” into fresh meditative expressions of worship.
“We have to be clear that this isn’t Audio Adrenaline anymore. It isn’t run around and get crazy rock and roll music like ‘Big House’ was,” says Mark, referring to the track that CCM Magazine named Song of the Decade. “I loved every minute of that, but this is a moment for us to go out and encourage people that there is hope even in brokenness.”
McGinniss elaborates, “God was breaking down some walls for us during our sabbatical and through that small group, pulling back pretences and getting us to a gut-level place. We want to take people there as well, so they might be more receptive to God’s Spirit as it moves through worship . . . give the pen back to God and let Him author our stories.”
They do that perfectly on the first single, “Attention,” a stirring mid-tempo tune for the church laden with guitars and keys, opening with Stuart’s broken yet beautiful voice:
You call me here from all the things I’m chasing. You bring me to this place to lie down. You pull me from the wars I’ve been waging and remind me there’s a table set for us. Exhale, shut my eyes, let me slow down and be still. Speak. You have my attention, Lord.
Candid dialogs about failures and redemption that respectively introduce “Ocean Floor” and “The Good Life” (a song Mark wrote in 1998 about a friend’s divorce, a story that would become his own) shed further light on the band’s personal rollercoaster to retirement without taking away either of the tunes’ universal, praise-inducing truths.
Inspired by Deuteronomy 4:24, “Jealous God”—a stunning yet unassuming piece as engaging as the most embraced Hillsong and Passion worship songs—is what Stuart calls “a special moment for me” about “God’s relentless pursuit of us.”
Through this life every day you’ve chased me like a treasure underneath the sea. When hope was gone, Jesus you came running to the ends of the earth for me. You are a jealous God, for me.
“I’m in awe of how God stops at nothing to pull our hearts back to His,” says Mark. “This is Know Hope’s theme song: He fights for us and uses our tragedies for good.”
Just as God loves us, the Know Hope Collective is about loving people in God’s name. The debut album, which is slated for a Fall release, concludes with “Hands and Feet,” a definitive track in Audio A’s history that connects Mark and Will to where they are today. Many times a year, both men visit the Hands and Feet orphanage they helped build in Haiti, and Stuart was there when the devastating earthquakes shook the country. As tragic as it was, hope survives. Mark, now remarried, is adopting two children from the third world nation with his wife Aegis. Will says, “We feel like God has been preparing us for this moment, from the Hands and Feet Project to where our hearts are now with the experiences we’ve gone through. Without a doubt, it’s like Audio A was a stepping stone for something ministry-wise; we feel like Know Hope is the next step, and it’s exciting to feel like we are in God’s will.”
Mark adds, “I’m amazed that God is doing this through someone whose voice is broken. It’s a sweet, unique place to be, and a complete surprise for us. We had to tell the band’s story on this first record, but as we progress, the focus might be more on missional living, clean water, orphan care—whatever God is leading us to.”
It’s sure to be something full of hope.