With their recent, sophomore Floodgate Records release The Fires of Life, rock band Cool Hand Luke combines rock and roll energy with subtle soundscapes and passionate lyrics…a combination rarely seen in the Christian Music Industry this band is often associated with. The band kindly answered our questions about their music, the Christian industry and the inspiration behind their music below.
How did Cool Hand Luke form, and how did you come up with your name?
Brandon and Jason were best friends wanting to start a band. They were praying to find a drummer. I was praying for a band as well. We met through a mutual friend at Middle Tennessee State University in May of 1998. Brandon and Jason had already decided the name would be Cool Hand Luke. It comes from the 1967 Paul Newman film. It has no significance. We regret it now, but what is in a name?
Your band is obviously a “Christian” band. How do you integrate your faith with music, and do you see either being compromised at all for the other (faith vs art)?
I think it comes quite naturally to integrate our faith and our art. I think it would be a greater challenge to try to separate the two. Music was ordained for worship and we were created for worship, so we are doing what comes naturally. I write the lyrics based on my experiences and my life and my passion. Since my relationship with Christ is the most important thing in my life, it is only natural that I would write songs about faith. I don’t feel that we compromise our art or faith in making the music that we do. I would like to think that our art and faith might even embellish one another.
Give us your feelings about the growth you underwent as a band from Wake Up O Sleeper to The Fires of Life.
Jason, our original guitar player, left the band between “Wake Up, O Sleeper” and “The Fires of Life”, so this obviously affected our music and our group dynamics. When we were writing for the first record, I had just graduated from college, we had just decided to go full-time, we toured the country, we got signed, and everything was great. Between that record and the new one, Jason left the band, Chris entered the band, there was sickness in my family, and I experienced a lot of heart ache. Both of these seasons were tremendous times of learning for me, but what I learned from them differed greatly between the two.
We wrote The Fires of Life in a very short span of time, so the lyrics are very focused. The thing that I learned about the most over that time period was the reason that we are to consider trials pure joy. I learned a lot about God’s sovereignty and purpose in trials and suffering. If God is truly sovereign, than we can even see trials as a sort of blessing. When we go through hard times, we are drawn close to Christ. We learn about his character and we learn about our own. The times that we learn the most in this life are times when we struggle and we have to reach out to God because we are vitally aware that we can do nothing on our own. This is why I say that trials are a blessing and this is why we rejoice in trials.
I think we were all refined by fire between the two records and this greatly affected our music and the lyrics.
Give us an idea of how the recording of The Fires of Life went. What was it like to work with those studio legends Steve Hindalong and Marc Byrd: what did you learn from them, and what were they like?
Making the record was a pleasurable experience. Steve and Marc are two very humble, down-to-earth guys and they really made us feel comfortable. They know what they’re doing, so it put us at ease when we didn’t. Steve is excellent with vocals and he is a stickler for time and tempo–two very big plusses. Marc is the guitar guy, and he is so knowledgeable. Having him on this recorded really affected our sound a lot in terms of texture and atmosphere. We tracked most of the music and a few of the vocals at a studio in Nashville called Roswell East. We finished the vocals and percussion at our engineer, Skye McCaskey’s home studio. He played an integral part in the record as well because he is great at knowing exactly what to do to achieve a specific sound. He is truly an artist. I feel like we couldn’t have worked with a greater team. We got along really well, and it really took the edge off of things. I tend to stress and get bent out of shape when it comes to music, so it was good to have some chilled out guys working on the record.
Is there an overall message that you were trying to convey with “The Fires of Life”? How do you feel it came across?
The overall message that I wanted to convey is the hope of Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” I want it to be a record of hope. It’s hard for me to tell how well it came across because I am so close to it and I scrutinized it every step of the way. We have been receiving very positive feedback, and I know that God is using it. Whether it is what I wanted or not, God is using it for His purposes.
The artwork for your releases is always fantastic. Give us a background for how the artwork came about for The Fires of Life.
Brandon does all of the art for our records and merchandise. He would be the one to answer this. I think he took my lyrics and the name of the record and thought about it all for a while. Then he did a series of paintings for the record. They are all amazing, but unfortunately you only get to see a few of them in the record layout. Brandon’s art amazes me.
What inspires you, as a band, to write the songs you do?
Our relationships with Christ is the fuel for our songs. We just want to be honest with what God is teaching us and giving us. We never try to conform to any certain song structure or genre and we just let God be the Creator in our music.
What do you think of the Christian music industry in general, and how do you feel being associated with this industry?
Like a lot of people, I don’t feel very positively about the Christian music industry. I feel like what it represents has very little to do with Jesus and the precedent he set for us. I feel like it is very stagnant and and it takes very little creative effort to make records that will make a quick buck. The focus seems to be more on fame and money than on artistic integrity, creativity, or representing our savior. Because of this, I don’t think anyone takes Christian music seriously. People write Christian music off without having even heard it simply because of the industry it is associated with. Even I do that. I think if a few artists, a few bands, would get together, pray for each other, encourage each other, and decide to make good, creative music that challenges people regardless of the material benefits, it would raise the bar for Christian music and show other Christians musicians that they could do the same. Ideally, don’t we want to make music that is so good it can’t be ignored? I feel that right now Christian music is targeted toward a very small demographic and it is being ignored by the rest of the world. This isn’t glorifying God.
What cd’s are you guys listening to right now?
We don’t really listen to the same music, so I can only speak for myself. I have been listening to Muse-“Absolution”, Kean-“Hopes and Fears”, Phillip Glass’s Third Symphony, Air-“Talkie Walkie”, Aireline-“Winter Song EP”, Anathallo-“Hymns” and lots of John Piper sermons.
What’s in the future for Cool Hand Luke?
Tour and more tour.
Any other comments?
I’m sorry if I seemed a bit negative ranting about the Christian industry. There are some very good people with very good hearts who want to make a difference for Christ in the industry. Unfortunately, they aren’t the ones you see much of in Nashville.