What's the 2.0 version of Citizen Way? That's the question lead singer and songwriter Ben Calhoun found himself fielding after the band's debut album Love is the Evidence gained them a devoted following and produced radio hits like "How Sweet The Sound" and "Should've Been Me."
Calhoun heard the question so often, he decided to name the group's highly-anticipated sophomore album just that, 2.0.
"Everyone kept asking, 'What's the next record going to be? What's the 2.0 version? What does it sound like?' That kind of stuck." Calhoun says. "This is what it sounds like. This is who we are. This is the new and improved Citizen Way."
The result is an 11-track record sporting pop-rock influences, infectious lyrics and a creatively ambitious new sound from the trio, composed of Ben and Josh Calhoun and David Blascoe. 2.0 sees the band pushing their artistic boundaries with songs like the funk-inspired "Bulletproof" and the soulful, stripped down ballad "I Will." It also carries with it a decided level of maturity and vulnerability.
The band recently went through a season of changes. Bass guitarist Ben Blascoe announced his departure from the band as Calhoun and his family made the move from their home base at Judson University in Illinois to Nashville, Tennessee so that the vocalist could focus and invest in the group's new record. The singer and his wife also experienced devastating loss with the miscarriage of his son, Jeremiah.
Calhoun relied on his music and the band to get him through the tragedy, and from it was born the album's first single, "When I'm With You."
"I wrote that after we lost Jeremiah," Calhoun recalls. "So many things are wrapped up in this song. How death brought me closer to life. How losing a son made me love my little girls more when I didn't know I could."
The lyrics, Anytime, Anywhere, Any heartache/ I'm there/There's never too much/There's only grace, describe the singer's unwavering sense of faith in spite of his family's incredible loss.
"That's how I feel about God's word because that's how it's always been for me. It feels like I'm not alone in the foxhole. I'm getting shot at, but at least we're together."
The song is already striking a chord with the band's fans.
"It does that thing that people connect with," Calhoun says. "It grabs the heart, and it grabs the ear."
If Love Is the Evidence was the band's first impression, 2.0 is the group's statement record. It's a blend of old and new -- a chance for Calhoun to reach deep into the roots of his small-town Wisconsin upbringing while testing the limits of his musicality. The singer grew up listening to his mother playing Chopin, Mozart and Bach while artists like James Taylor, DC Talk and Newsboys took up valuable real estate on his own bedroom walls.
Those influences permeate the new album.
"It's part of our DNA, it's what we grew up with," Calhoun says.
The album's closing number "Bulletproof" is a testament to that. The bass-thumping, funk-pop throwback track fuses the beat of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" with lyrics that echo Ephesians Chapter 6. The song speaks to the power of the armor of God mixed in a style that instantly transports you to a 70s roller skating rink.
"I've been through spiritual warfare where the enemy attacks me because I'm sharing the Gospel with people," Calhoun says, "But I'm just operating in the way God's made me. I want others to feel comfortable doing that too."
Calhoun also wanted the album to show fans a more personal, intimate side of himself.
"I wanted to reach that little part in my heart and my soul that I haven't reached yet, and I wanted to talk about it because it's there to be explored."
When Calhoun was just eight years old, the singer remembers seeing the Christian rock group Geoff Moore and the Distance live for the first time and feeling a seed being planted. He hopes Citizen Way can give that experience to the next generation.
"Knowing when we're on stage and when we're sharing the Gospel, we do the same thing and the Holy Spirit just waters those seeds and lets them grow just like he did for me, that's everything," the singer says.
The group prays their latest offering can meet people where they are, offering encouragement, uplifting their spirit and reminding them of the power of God's promise.
"My goal is always to put a hook around God's word and let people sing it," Calhoun says. "I want people to fall in love with Jesus. If they come singing 'Bulletproof' or 'I Will,' then great. I just want them to know that the word of Jesus is something worth following and I'm going to spend my life and my energy on it because I believe in it that much."