Halfway between Cincinnati, Ohio and Louisville, Ky., lies the small town of Carrollton. Although only a little over 3,000 people call it home, for Justin Mosteller, Jeremy Menard, Michael Loy and Jordan Bailey it's the town that's shaped their brotherly bond, their music and their namesake. Justin and Jeremy live in Cincinnati, while Michael and Jordan call Louisville home. Carrollton provides a convenient meeting point for the band in between their shared hometowns and a respite from the demands of daily life.
Previously performing under the moniker Mosteller, Justin's last name, the band went through more than 100 possibilities before landing on Carrollton. "We drive back and forth to rehearse and meet and write all the time, so Carrollton has become this really cool little exit for us and a special place," he explains. "We're halfway home, and we're halfway to where we're going, and it literally has become that sort of restful place."
The members of Carrollton didn't grow up playing together. Instead, their origin was providentially orchestrated in a more organic fashion. All four members began playing music and leading worship at church in high school. The band's final line-up came together over the course of several years as Justin was introduced to each of the other guys through friends when he needed additional players to help him lead worship. "We all just love each other," Jeremy shares. "So once it was the four of us, it just felt right. We loved playing together and hanging out with one another. Our hearts and passions for what we do were the same."
Growing up in a Christian home, Justin (lead vocals, guitar) began leading worship as a freshman in high school. Michael (drums) grew up an only child in a loving Christian home and had his sights set on music from day one. Meanwhile, Jeremy (lead guitar) grew up in a self-described "religiously confused home." However, looking back he now sees this as the very thing that pushed him toward Christianity. "As frustrating as it was then, I realize now how valuable that was just because it forced me to really wrestle with what I believe," he says. Jordan (bass) grew up in a tight-knit Christian family as one of 10 kids, all of whom were homeschooled. He spent his summers during high school working with his dad restoring log cabins and barns but started playing guitar around age 12.
The band's common identity lies in their shared beliefs and love for music. They are on the same page when it comes to family, faith and life's real source of contentment. "True joy's found in a life with Jesus," Jordan shares. "It doesn't matter what's going on here on earth, but our true joy's found in Him alone." That belief united the group when they first started playing together five years ago, just as it does now.
Once the line-up was locked in, a pop/rock band intent on serving at youth conferences and church services was born. It wasn't until the members found themselves at an artist retreat in Winthrop, Wash., led by Centricity Music, that they realized the reality of their calling, the larger dreams God had for them and the hard work required.
"That's the week when we really sat down and looked at each other and said, 'We're [committed to] this,'" Jeremy remembers. "I just think you really know when you love something if you see all the terrible things about it and still can't not do it... But we were all like, 'This is what we're called to do.'
"We all just put this whole thing on the altar that week and gave it to God and said, 'Listen, if You want us to kill it, we'll do that, but if you want us to pick it back up and keep going, we'll do that, too,'" he continues.
When they came home to their respective cities after the retreat, they had a renewed vision for the greater calling God had placed on their lives. At this point, they had no idea a record deal with Centricity loomed in their future. They just knew they had to serve God through music.
"It's not just about being in a band. There's a bigger picture to this. If there wasn't, I don't think we'd be here today because of the sacrifices you have to make, because of the sacrifices you ask your wives and kids to make," Michael contends. "If we weren't doing this to really try to build the kingdom and, in some way, bring hope to people, I think we'd have better things to sacrifice our families for than just to try to make a dollar."
It wasn't until recently that the band felt the freedom to step out of their comfort zone and try their hand at writing songs about life from a Christian perspective, rather than only writing straightforward worship songs. The result has been some of the most satisfying work of their career thus far. Michael says they are consistently seeking God's leading throughout their writing process asking questions like, "Where is God leading me today? And just in general, where is He leading us as a band? How can we use those moments that will connect with a bigger audience that is probably going through the same kind of junk or riding the same kind of highs?"
It's through this lens that they filter all of their songs, asking honest questions in order to write from a place of authenticity. "We want to write the most honest music we can that just really tells our stories," Michael continues. "Nothing's fabricated. It's just us putting it with a melody."
"I think we're called as people who follow Jesus to have one ear to heaven and one ear to this earth and figure out what's going on here and what God is saying to us about it, believing that He speaks," Justin adds.
Carrollton has been writing both collectively and individually for the past 16 months, building a large creative pool from which to draw. They've written with a host of well-respected writers, including David Leonard (All Sons & Daughters), Sam Mizell, Justin Ebach, Matt Armstrong and Josh Bronleewe, among others.They've enjoyed having the opportunity to learn from some of their musical heroes and also fine-tune their craft throughout the creative process. "The joy of it is found in sacrificing and not living in the lines people tell you to, being yourself, being who you're made to be," Justin offers.
The band has been traveling to Nashville once every three weeks to write for and record their first EP, slated to release through Centricity Music in 2014. The six-song collection is being helmed by award-winning producer Paul Moak (Third Day, Matt Maher). "There's not a trip that goes by where we're traveling together where we're not playing an album that Paul Moak's recorded," Justin shares. "He's recorded and produced some of our favorite artists, and so to now be recording with him and writing with him and call him a friend and see his process, to me, is a pretty awesome moment for us."
For now, whether writing, recording their debut EP or playing live shows, Carrollton simply wants to enjoy the journey. "Our prayer is just to be present and not think about what's already happened or what's coming up next," says Jeremy. "We're going to go where the Spirit leads us in that moment, and we're just going to be present in that moment and serve that moment to the glory of God."