June 4, 2015 Interview – Dawn Michele of Fireflight
It is easy to follow what others want you to do, but to follow your own intuitions is much bolder and inspiring. Put together fifteen years ago in Florida, Fireflight has become a celebrated Rock band, achieving one charted album after another, as well as being nominated for list of awards including GMA Dove Awards and a Grammy. Known for their Hard Rock sound, inspiring lyrics, and overall positive message, the band felt it was time for a change when it came time to work on new material following 2012’s Now album. Unwilling to rest on prior achievements, their souls yearned for something more as they further progressed as musicians, as well as human beings. As a result, the band parted ways with their record label, boldly going independent and changing music directions on their latest album Innova. Recently we sat down with lead vocalist, Dawn Michele, for a closer look at the inspiration behind the new music, the band’s rejuvenated outlook on writing, staying true to who they are, and more.
CrypticRock.com – You began with the band some fifteen years ago now, believe it or not, and in that time the band has had a series of chart topping albums. You have also built a respected name in the Rock music world. How would you describe the ride the band has been on thus far?
Dawn Michele – It has been pretty crazy, but mostly just gave us really hard work. As you mentioned, we have been together for about fifteen years now. Throughout our career, we had lots of opportunities, kind of “overnight success stories.” More often than not, when you see lots of success, it seems like they just formed over night, but truly these people have been working at it for their entire lives. That is kind of what we have been doing; we have just been working on it ever since we started. We have all just been super committed and I think that is really what has kept us around; just by not giving up on things when things got hard and continuing to work, be loyal, and to put our whole heart into it.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly has paid off because the band has withstood a long duration. You have been together a long time, like we spoke of, and it takes a lot of hard work and dedication.
Dawn Michele – Totally, I think whenever I tell people how long we have been together, I say, “You have to take into consideration that band years are like dog years,” so fifteen years makes us about one-hundred years old (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – It is a long haul, especially for a band. Now, the band has been labeled a Christian Rock band, and I think sometimes labels can be a little limiting. How does the band feel about the label? Are you comfortable with that label or do you really not concern yourself with labels?
Dawn Michele – It does not bother us at all, we are all Christians in the band. We really feel like the purpose of our music is to be an encouragement to people. Our greatest purpose is for all people to know that God loves them no matter who they are, what they have been through, or where they are coming from. Because of that, it has not bothered us that we are labeled as a Christian band. Truly, what I think we have learned through the years, is that God is in everything and there is so much power in every aspect of life. The more we try to put things in categories and put things into a box, we kind of limit ourselves in a lot of ways. I think that we most of all want it to be about love, showing that unconditional love of God, and letting them know that we believe that he believes in them.
CrypticRock.com – That is a good message to portray. Sometimes people will box a band into the Christian Rock label and discount, and that is a shame.
Dawn Michele – Right, it can be that way sometimes. It is a shame. Ultimately, we feel like everything happens for a reason and we end up where we are supposed to be in the long run. We just have to not worry about that. In the very beginning of our career, because we had been labeled as a Christian band, there were a lot of people that would just never give us a chance, which is kind of sad. Then there are the other people that say, “You guys are amazing, I cannot believe that you are supposed to be a Christian band.” I guess in some ways you just have to overcome odds, and from that perspective, that sometimes can be kind of a cool thing to have something to stand up under and come up as underdogs.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely true. Speaking of labels, Fireflight has always really been known as a Hard Rock band through your records, but now the band really change direction with their latest album, Innova. This is definitely a change in direction for the band. What was the writing and recording process like for this new album?
Dawn Michele – Well, we wanted to grow. I think we were having heartfelt discussions about our career; where it was going and whether it was going to continue. It is a hard road as a Rock band, it really is. It has been traditionally, and its getting harder every day. Especially with our label, which did not really know what to do with a Rock band, so we have always been the odd ones out. We love Rock music, so that was our passion, and we really believe that there were a lot of people out there who loved it too. We wanted to maintain who classic Fireflight was, but we also wanted to keep growing because we realized if we sound exactly the same as we did fifteen years ago, then we are dated and we are probably irrelevant (laughs). We do not want to be irrelevant.
I think what is most important though is communication; if people do not understand where you are coming from, if they do not understand what you are saying, then it is kind of all pointless to us. We have been doing this for a long time and we have had a lot of great success, but it is still really hard work and none of us is on easy street by any means. No artist really does nowadays. You really have a greater cause to do what you are doing, otherwise you should just pick something easier (laughs). Something that does not make you miss all your family’s birthdays or have you flying all the time. I think, for us, this album really was about growing, but while maintaining our integrity. We kind of felt pigeonholed through the years, and now that we are an Independent artist, we have so much freedom artistically. We were always being guided by a label before, so having this new freedom, we thought, “Let’s just really be free, let these songs go where they go, and we won’t try to steer them, per say, towards the expectations, but just try to guide them towards their greatest potential.” That is what we did and we got a really eclectic album with a lot of variation. We were kind of looking for a new kind of heavy, and that is really what we were searching for. Most of all, first and foremost, before we even think of genres, we just search for authenticity, the passion, and the message that we have laid in our heart for each song. We hope to connect with others on the level where they are at, let them be able to listen to that music, and make it about themselves.
CrypticRock.com – The record certainly does seem very authentic, like you said. It does not seem forced; it seems very natural. Obviously it still has the very uplifting vibe which all Fireflight’s material has always had, but instead of the heavy guitar driven sounds that you used to have on previous albums, you replaced that with the electronics and ambient Pop elements. What inspired that particular direction?
Dawn Michele – I think it was just the fear of trying new things. Traditionally, we would write our riffs, and really let it grow from there. That is a pretty strict form to start your song off in. With these new songs, we started with a track instead, and it kind of opened it up to where were able to augment it with the guitars. Also, we have had some lineup changes. I think it was just a natural progression for us. Justin (Cox) was our lead guitarist for so many years and a key writer. He decided to retire from music to stay home with his family, so as we changed our lineup, we changed our writers, and naturally the sound with all of that as well.
CrypticRock.com – It is definitely a new direction. Its a very good direction and many will enjoy the record. It is well-composed, that is what is most important, and it absolutely does have a lot of catchy tracks on it. One of the tracks that really stands out is the “Light Inside.” What is the story behind that song?
Dawn Michele – I think that, for me, our band, we have always tried to be really relational with our fans. We have always adhered to maintaining our own social media networks; we are the ones who answer all the messages. For years and years, our fans have written us, and our music has always catered to those who are hurting. I think it is just a natural progression. We just talked about the things that we were going through, the things that we saw people going through, such as friends and family, and just how God was giving us power to overcome, no matter how bad the situation was. The people who listened to our music, a lot of them were people who were struggling, and so naturally, when they communicated with us, they were telling us their stories and ambitious.
One thing I hear over and over from people is their great desire to be on stage. They ask, “How can I be in a band? How did your band get successful?” At the end of the day, I feel like there is this great hunger in our society that people just want to be famous. They do not necessarily even want to be talented, they just want to be famous. I think it is a sad hole we have in our hearts where everyone is hoping they can get everyone to love them. If everyone loved them, then they would finally be good enough is what they believe. For this song, it is my feeling that God created each and every one of us to be ourselves, and not try and become what other people want us to be. Not to hope that everyone else will approve of us, just be ourselves and fill the puzzle piece we are designed to fill here on earth. We all have roles, gifts, and talents that we can use in our lives accordingly. This song points toward the stars, because everyone wants to be a star, but it draws to the physical illusion of the stars in the sky. The lyric “Shine where you are,” is saying you do not have to go up and be on stage, you can be your best self where you are. The hope is people will listen to the song and feel an overwhelming love for who they are and not feel they need to be someone else.
CrypticRock.com – It definitely translates very well, and a wonderful way to end the record. With the change in direction, there is always that “what if” of backlash from fans. Do you feel like fans are going to embrace this change or do you feel like there may be some backlash?
Dawn Michele – Well, we have already seen a little bit of backlash, but out of hundreds and hundreds responses, maybe two (laughs). I know a lot of people will say a lot of things they will never say to your face, but they will say whatever they want on the internet. Maybe just trying to get a reaction I guess. Many will say there is no guitars in the song, but there are four layers of guitars on the songs. Anyways, I think at the end of the day, what I am realizing, is that there are going to be some people who only like a certain kind of thing very specifically. That is always going to be there go to. Those kind of people, you are just not going to make them happy unless you stay the same or stay what they want you to be. At some point you just have to be confident in things that you did. That is why, from the beginning, what we try to do is just be authentic, do what made us happy. At the end of the day, I will be much happier to fail if I do what made me feel good than to succeed at doing something that was not fulfilling to me, or being somebody else. I think we are prepared. If it does not work out and everybody hates it, then we will just do something else (laughs). At the end of the day, you do not want to succeed at not being yourself, that is not very fulfilling.
CrypticRock.com – Quite honestly, that is when you are making the art that you believe in. Other people will believe in it as well because of it. Everything will work out that way because that makes the best art honestly. All arts wants to progress. Do you feel like Innova is giving you a fresh perspective on creating music?
Dawn Michele – I definitely do. To be honest with you, the majority of the last several years have been very grueling. Especially after getting signed and becoming part of a schedule where you have to put out an album after a certain amount of time. They tell you who your producer is going to be, tell you when you are going to record, and you are touring 24-7, trying to keep food on the table. Then, suddenly, you have to write at the same time, it is just exhausting. In the past, the label would tell us to only have ten songs on the album for the numbers to work right. The difference with this album is we are going to do this the best we can and take all the time we need, get other jobs if we have to, stay home from touring, and put the music, as well as fans, first. At the end of the day, there was just so much more creative freedom. Before, I would dread writing so much. I enjoyed this process so much that I want to help people write their albums, which is totally different from the past (laughs). I now just have a new passion for music. I think I can say that for the whole band as well.
CrypticRock.com – That is great to hear. It can be refreshing to have a new outlook on things. Perhaps going independent helped Fireflight with that.
Dawn Michele – I think so. We had a great label, we had a great relationship with them for a long time. Being a Rock band on that label, we were just not always on the same page about stuff, because they were used to working different kinds albums. At the end of the day, we decided maybe it would be better off for everyone if we just did it on our own. They were gracious enough to let us out of contract, that does not always happen. We got to take a leap of faith, stand on our faith in God and fans. We did a Pledge fund to raise the money to record this album. No matter how scary it looked, everything just kept coming through. It was just a huge faith builder. It made you believe the power of creating music and believe, to do what you love doing without feeling like a slave to the machine.
CrypticRock.com – That is a special feeling to have, that tranquility to be able to create what you want to create. What are some of your musical influences personally?
Dawn Michele – I am a real lover of music. I like every genre. As far as musical styling, I love all music. I will go through periods of time where I will listen to one CD in my car on repeat for forever. Then other times, I will turn all my CD’s off, and listen to Top 40 on the radio. I love to listen to hear what people are connecting with right now; what is really resonating with them, giving them joy, power, and comforting them in their sorrow. The last couple of years, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories (2013) has been a big one for me. I started off liking Rock when I started listening with my cousin, he had CD’s my parents would not let in the house. We would listen to Metallica, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and Aerosmith. That is when I really fell in love with Rock music. I grew up on a farm listening to Country music. I grew up in a rural town in a swamp area in Central Florida called Green Swamp (laughs). I really have an appreciation for all kinds of music. Coldplay is another one. Also, listening to Taylor Swift.
CrypticRock.com – It seems like you have a very eclectic taste in music. You should be able to listen to everything, you may be able to take something from everything.
Dawn Michele – Yes, I have always been a people person. I have always been fascinated with people and what they are thinking. For me, each song is like another person to study, and I learn about the song as well as the person who wrote it. Different genres represents knowing more people for me. I have a degree in Psychology, and listening to different genres is like looking into different worlds, I believe.
CrypticRock.com – Very true. Music is a form of expression for listeners, as well as the creators. My last question is pertaining to films. CrypticRock.com covers all kinds of music, but we also have an interest in Horror films. If you are a fan of Horror films, do you have any favorites?
Dawn Michele – Well, I actually have an overactive imagination. I cannot really watch a lot of Horror because I will literally scare myself to death, and spend weeks recovering. Every once in a while, there are things which appeal to me where I have to watch it. I think I mostly like joke type Horror like Shaun of the Dead (2004). I am big into Zombie films, unless the zombies run fast, then I cannot handle it anymore (laughs). The Walking Dead is my favorite TV show. There are certain things my brain can accept and other things they cannot (laughs).