Many things about Southern California-based All Together Separate could be called unusual, but somehow all that uniqueness seems to flow together perfectly. Dex Alexander, (lead singer) Andrew "Drew" Shirley, (lead guitarist) Ben Rayls (drummer) and Charles Rumahlewang (bass) come from diverse backgrounds " racially, economically and spiritually " and have never felt the need to hone in on one specific musical style. They have instead always written and played whatever felt right for each particular tune. And while, in theory, this is a big no-no in the music industry (too hard to market), the music of All Together Separate seamlessly fuses songs which run the gamut of rock, funk, blues, pop and jazz. It is nearly impossible to place them stylistically into one genre. At the same time, All Together Separate have created one of the most unique listening experiences out there.
Fans and critics alike offered kudos for All Together Separate's self-titled debut, produced by Skidd Mills (Skillet, Clear, Sister Hazel, Robert Cray). The 1999 release gave them their first number one radio chart hit with "Paradigm" (CCM Update) and a video of the same name, which topped Christian Video Magazine's chart as well. The group had another hit from their first project, "On and On" which reached the #2 spot on CCM Update's Radio Airplay Chart. With this early airplay success, radio listeners got their first taste of All Together Separate's eclectic music.
That same year, "On and On" was #4 on CCM Update's year-end top rock songs of 1999 chart and the group racked up three Dove Award nominations, including Best Rock Album of the Year and two the following year for their worship album, Ardent Worship: All Together Separate.
On their latest release, Unusual, Dex, Drew, Ben and Charles offer another artful blend of musical styles. This time, however, the project reveals a decidedly different lyrical content. "This album speaks to the same audience but about different issues," explained Dex. "On Unusual, we contemplated our Christianity more than on anything we've done previously. Our first album was more of a celebration of Christianity. Next came our worship album. Now this album is much more introspective and a little bit more revealing as we talk about struggles with temptation, times when faith is challenged, and even being at a point in life when you feel like giving up. It's an album dealing with real life and how our relationship with Christ has affected us."
Along with touring and the release of Unusual, the guys have managed to be involved in other ministry opportunities. The group is an ongoing part of TBN Network's weekly broadcast Day 7 at Harvest, an innovative Sunday night service for the 21st Century. The broadcast features interactive teaching by Pastor Greg Laurie and worship led by All Together Separate. The show is also featured via live simulcast on Harvest Christian Fellowship's website, at www.day7.tv.
All Together Separate also recently became spokesmen for Compassion International. "This time is a time of growth for us with Compassion International," said Dex. "The work they do is so important and we hope to use whatever influence we may have as artists to encourage others to become a part of the global community by sponsoring children."
Although the kind of out-of-the-box success All Together Separate has experienced seems like the results of a well-orchestrated plan, they never had any of it in mind. As recording artists on the Memphis based Ardent Records label, the group has made a mark on the Christian music industry to critical acclaim, but they admit still being a little "weirded-out" by the whole thing.
"I think we've come to terms with the calling, but I'm not sure I'll ever come to terms with all that comes along with it," said Dex. "All of us feel like when we're on stage and writing songs that we are exactly in the palm of God's hand doing what he created us to do. There's nothing weird about that, but you go places and people stop us at airports for autographs and at concerts, people have our names on their t-shirts or signs. They ask for your drumsticks or guitar picks. All that's still really weird to us because when I look at us I still see the same guys in college, doing a Bible study for seven or eight people, or packed into Drew's Volkswagen van, crawling into the bass drums because there's no place to sit."
Life as a recording and touring band, all four would admit, is a far cry from their beginnings six years ago when they led worship at California Baptist University for no other reason than just worship. Dex came from the inner city, Inglewood, in South Central LA, Ben from rural Southern California, Drew left one of California's most famous vacation destinations, San Diego, and Charles came to the University from Jakarta, Indonesia and the four met at a small Bible study on campus.
"We didn't set out to be a rock band," said Drew. "We didn't set out to be on a label. We just wanted to do what we felt led to do for that time. That's still what we're doing every step of this career- this roller coaster ride that we're on. We didn't expect a record deal, we didn't expect to be touring or have albums out."
They have been called a "musician's band" for the prowess each shows in the respective role he plays. "Each person has direct ownership over their realm and each interprets the song without anyone telling them what to do," explained Dex. "There are not a lot of bands that operate that way, but we have genuine respect for each other's talents and love for each other as brothers." That attitude towards the creative process has gone a long way to fostering the brotherly connection these very diverse men share.
And in keeping with the uniqueness of All Together Separate, they work together on songwriting and the interpretation of each song; regardless of which of them is the primary writer. One member will have an idea, and then band members will flesh out the song with their respective instrument. Drew explained, "Sometimes it's what Ben plays that inspires the song, and what Chuck starts jamming on that inspires Dex or me to write something. Every part of the band is vital, we don't care who writes the song, because we're a band, that's who we are and what we do."
The foursome places their primary emphasis on the lyrical message in each song. "What we do is primarily about the ideas, philosophies, and concepts we want to communicate," explained Drew. "We're not about being a band, as much as we are using music to express these philosophies that transcend life for anyone who wants to apply them to their lives. Music is just our catalyst, our way of getting those same ideas out that Christ talked about. For example, the verse that we hold really close to us is Col. 3: 23-24. 'Whatever you do work at it with all your soul, as unto the Lord and not for men. It is Christ whom you serve.' See that's not about being a musician or a fan. It's just about doing whatever you do with all your heart. We're musicians so we want to work at music with all our heart."
"The part of our career in the spotlight is not what is special to us," said Drew. "It can seem impressive, to some, but that part doesn't really matter. The only thing that is really special to us, is what we've seen in people's lives. We don't take credit for it, we just really appreciate God allowing us to see it."
All Together Separate is a band in an enviable position. They are also four men who take nothing for granted, and display a sincerity of faith without an ounce of presumption. "There's not some philosophical idea that we have come up with or some political stance that we are taking," Dex summed up the attitude shared by all four. "We never planned to be here, so we don't know what's on the horizon. God could say tomorrow, 'Okay, you guys are done.' And we'd say 'Alright, cool.' " Or on the other hand we could be a big huge worldwide act. The odds of either one of those happening are exactly the same."