Since 1984, they’ve left marks in the music world that have proven to be nothing less than sheer sterling impressions. Whether revealed through their towering list of 14 critically acclaimed albums, which include a series of No. 1 hits, or their explosive live shows, Sawyer Brown is undoubtely a band for all seasons.
This year, however, the holiday season for this multi-award-winning force results in both a very special and spiritual celebration. In all their 13-year recording history, this year marks the first for the five-man band to release a Christmas album. Hands down and ears open wide, it was undoubtedly well worth the wait.
With Hallelujah He Is Born, brilliantly produced by Sawyer Brown lead-man Mark Miller, the band once again thrives on their courageous knack for being spontaneous, as well as delightfully surprising. Weaving through personally hand-crafted lyrics with a powerhouse-production approach, they opted to shy away from typical well-worn standards and create a project that is as refreshing and vibrant as they, themselves, have been for more than 13 years. Despite those years of anticipation, however, for literally swarms of fans all over the world, the timing was finally right for the album, as well as their first TNN Christmas Special.
“The timing just hasn’t been right at any other time,” explains Mark, “and we didn’t have the material. We just knew that if we ever did a Christmas album, we wanted it to be something that we’d write most of, and it would be something different than your run-of-the-mill Christmas album.”
Those early-on blueprints for the project obviously matched the finished product. With the exception of a couple of specially-picked Christmas classics, Sawyer Brown’s Mark Miller and Gregg Hubbard either wrote or co-penned the entire project from scratch. Other tunesmiths featured include Scott Emerick, Bill Shore and master songwriter Mac McAnally.
Whether through the soulful rock of “Glory To The King” and the powerful title cut, or the heart-tugging twists and turns of “Sweet Mary Cried,” “Where Christmas Goes” and “Oh What A Night In Bethlehem,” the disc serves up a medley of messages that elaborate on the true meaning of Christmas.
“We knew that if there was going to be a Christmas album, it would go down as songs about the real Christmas story and the birth of Christ,” admits Mark. “We just didn’t want to make any bones about it in a world that seems to commercialize Christmas. We didn’t want to be a part of that.
“‘Oh What A Night In Bethlehem’ was the first song that was written for the album,” he continues. “When I wrote that, I had no intentions of knowing that there was even going to be a Christmas album. I just wrote the song. It was actually the first one that was recorded as well. I think when we first recorded that song, the feel and the spirit kind of set the tone for how the rest of the album was going to go. It was kind of a unique situation because we just got a groove and everything else just went down so effortlessly that I think it really did set the tone for the rest of the album.”
An additional tone stitched into the project was one of an even much more personal interest to Mark. He also likes to think of the album as a very special gift for his mother.
“My mother is very, very proud of this album,” he says. “I think in her heart, she probably would have preferred me to be a preacher or a minister or something. I ended up being a country music artist, but I’m also a Christian, and I think this is an album that she’s probably the most proud of from that viewpoint. I think this kind of lets people know how we feel, not just me, but also the other guys in the band. It’s also about what we represent and what we stand for.
Recording Hallelujah He Is Born also brought about an extremely special gift for each member of the band. As is the album a first-ever Christmas effort, the actual time spent in the studio was equally as rewarding.
“I think there are certainly some things that went down in the studio with this album that we will certainly want to carry over,” Mark ponders. “I’m not sure if it’s anything I can put my finger on, other than the vibe that we had in the studio while recording this album was so painless. I think we really played together as a band. I really can’t explain it, except that it was just something a little different. I think we’re all hoping that it carries over into future albums. The nice thing about recording this album was that we didn’t have to make a country album. We made a Christmas album, and Christmas just doesn’t seem to have any kind of format. Christmas is Christmas. That was a nice thing. So we didn’t have to worry about hitting a format or whether the song was going to get played or not.”
A nice thing that’s always gone into play for Sawyer Brown is their exuberant harmony, from both a vocal and personal standpoint. The unique chemistry between Mark, Gregg, Jim Scholten, Duncan Cameron and Joe Smyth has long been one that members of the “band” world must undeniably admire. They are a family, and that approach has been their cornerstone since day one.
“I don’t know if I can really put my finger on exactly how it’s worked and why we’re still together,” says Mark. “I think each guy in the band really respects the other four guys. They respect each other for what the other can bring to the band. I mean Hobie doesn’t want to be the lead singer. I don’t want to be the keyboard player and Jim doesn’t want to play drums. Each guy is pretty confident and satisfied with what his part in the band is.”
And don’t think for a moment that Sawyer Brown’s rafter-reaching energy has diminished over the years either. “It’s just as easy,” he admits. “Actually, it’s all more fun now because we’re much more confident. The energy just seems to be even more effortless than it used to be. I think that all five of us guys in the band are more into each other on stage and into the kind of music that we’re playing. So it’s really all better than it’s ever been.
Nobody has ever been better at keeping their fans glued to the excitement on both record and stage than this always unpredictable band. Ultimately, the word surprise remains one of their all-time favorites.
“I don’t even think about it,” laughs Mark, who posed for the new album cover in bare feet. “I just usually do what I want to do. I wanted to cut my hair short and then wanted to shave my head and just did it. There was really no thought that went into that. It’s just always spontaneous, and that seems to be the way the entire band is as well.
We’ll soon see, as Sawyer Brown is already drawing up the blueprints for their next project.
“We’ve started writing for the next album, but I’m not sure exactly where it’s going to go,” he concludes. “I think when we go into the studio or when we write, we’re always thinking of how we can re-invent ourselves. This particular time period will be no different than the rest.”