Christian rock group
Nashville-based SonicFlood combines catchy melodies with inspirational lyrics and religious fervor. Borrowing liberally from the biblical Book of Psalms for material, this pop rock worship band belongs to one of the few musical genres that showed growth during the economic slump of the early 2000s, a time when the music industry in particular suffered from a dramatic decline in revenues. The band members are self-described worship leaders, and have spared no effort in pursuing their spiritual mission.
Born in the 1960s, the SonicFlood band members each came into the group as experienced performers, but it was lead vocalist Rick Heil who became widely recognized as the group's leader. He doubles as bass player for the band, but was not a member of the original group, which was co-founded by singer Jeff Dayo and keyboard player Jason Halbert in 1998.
SonicFlood emerged from obscurity when the group was discovered by Gotee Records president Joey Elwood, who heard the group at a club performance in 1998. The early group included original members Dana Weaver on guitar and Aaron Blanton on drums. Soon after becoming affiliated with Gotee, the band released a self-titled debut album, which reached the top ten on the top Contemporary Christian chart and number two on the Heatseekers Chart. It also landed as a crossover hit at number 158 on the Billboard top 200 chart. Two cover tracks, "I Want to Know You" and "I Would Sing of Your Love Forever," rose to number one on the Christian charts.
Early in 1999 Heil joined SonicFlood as the group's first permanent bass player. Joining SonicFlood marked a personal epiphany for him, and was a benchmark move for his career. Aimless and overwhelmed with his life, he had previously sought an escape through drug addiction, and in the midst of an emotional collapse he took a reckless turn while driving his truck on a highway in Tennessee. He capsized the vehicle but survived the crash, finding himself suddenly grateful to be alive. With a renewed purpose in life, he joined forces with SonicFlood, bringing with him five years of performing experience with the worship group Big Tent Revival. Keyboard player David Alan, who joined SonicFlood at that time, had also performed with Big Tent Revival.
In keeping with its proclaimed mission, the young band converted an abandoned Nashville church into a performance venue, incorporating a prayer service as the theme of every performance. The program, called Sonicpraise, garnered an impressive following and eventually surpassed the club's seating capacity. After moving to the city's Ryman Auditorium, which seated 1,700 people, the continued growth and popularity of Sonicpraise dictated a second move, this time to the city's municipal auditorium, with a seating capacity of 4,500. Despite the success of Sonicpraise and the Gotee debut, however, the group remained untested overall.
As the season's activity peaked at the end of the decade, the once-cohesive band members stumbled, and the organization faltered due to internal dissension. With band members in disagreement over the group's mission, the original membership splintered, and in March of 2000 SonicFlood underwent a comprehensive turnover of personnel. Lead singer Dayo was gone by May, and Aaron Blanton departed that same summer. Halbert and Larring were gone within a month of Blanton's departure.
By the time the situation stabilized, Heil had unintentionally inherited the position of senior band member and had assumed the unofficial status of group leader. By the end of 2000 only he and Alan had survived the upheaval, and Heil was frequently left without musicians to fulfill pre-booked concert commitments. At this point in the band's young history, a trio of transplanted Midwesterners came to the rescue of SonicFlood. Tom Michael, Todd Shay, and Brett Vargason had met as music majors at Western Michigan University in the early 1990s, and each had recently relocated to the Nashville area. Each of the three had performed with the Jason Ingram band, and between them they brought 15 years of professional experience to SonicFlood. The new members arrived in time to ward off the band's extinction. By October of 2000 the three musicians had joined and revitalized the flagging enterprise.
Ignoring this organizational turmoil, Gotee moved forward with the band's marketing agenda, issuingSonicpraise in 2001. Recorded live in Holland at the Christian Flavo Festival in August of 1999, the album featured early band members Blanton, Deco, Halbert, Heil, and Larring. The recording included live performances of hit songs from the debut album, as well as new songs and tracks recorded live at the Ryman Auditorium worship program in Nashville in October of 1999. Nominated for a Grammy award for Best Rock Gospel Album, Sonicpraise made its mark at number seven on the Heatseekers Chart, at number 172 on the Billboard top 200, and in the top ten of the top Contemporary Christian chart.
SonicFlood played Chicago at the Odium Sports Expo in Villa Park, Illinois, and performed as the opening act for the Newsboys' Love Liberty Disco Tour in the spring of 2001. With numerous cross-country stops, the tour made history with concerts performed in an inflatable arena constructed by designer David Wine. The portable tent, with a hydraulic stage and a seating capacity of 3,500, required a 40-person crew operating seven tractor trailers at each stop, to assemble the structure.
Comfortably realigned by 2001, the reconstituted band performed before audiences that totaled nearly one-half million fans in all, with engagements in more than 120 cities. Among these, the group played at the four-day Atlanta Fest in June and embarked on a 35-city fall tour. That year the title track from the group's Resonate album became a top ten hit in the United States. SonicFlood received a Grammy nomination that year for Best Rock Gospel Album.
Later in 2001 SonicFlood established its own record label, Resonate Records, and Jeff Moseley of INO Records announced a partnership between his company and Resonate. Moseley agreed to handle marketing, with Heil slated to manage the artistic end of the joint venture. The band's longtime colleague and background vocalist Jason Ingram was the first artist to sign with Resonate, and he starred on the label's world debut in 2002. A month later SonicFlood appeared as one of 19 acts at the 33rd annual Dove Awards, and the group later embarked on a tour with Ingram in the spring and summer of 2002. They appeared as the featured headline act at Witness 2002, a free concert program at Quarryville Memorial Park in South Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
In 2003 the quintet participated in the concert series at Opry Mills Mall in Nashville, performing an advance concert to promote their album Cry Holy. The recording was produced by Marc Byrd and issued by INO Records. Soon afterward SonicFlood took the Cry Holy tour on the road to 32 cities across the United States. The album went on to fill slots in the top 20 of the Heatseekers, Top Christian Albums, and Top Contemporary Christian Albums charts.
On the road again in 2004, the band headlined an INO-sponsored benefit through radio station WLAB (88.3 FM) in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The program netted $16,000 for Lutheran Social Services of Indiana. Later that spring SonicFlood set out on the Fearless Planet Tour along with featured speaker Michael Franzese, and Building 429.
The SonicFlood debut album ultimately surpassed 500,000 units sold, to achieve gold record recognition. The album won Praise and Worship Album of the Year at the Dove Awards in 2000, and the group was nominated as New Artist of the Year and for Rock Recorded Song of the Year. The group contributed a track to producer Steve Hindalong's 2001 album City on a Hill: Songs of Worship and Praise, which won the Dove Award for Special Event of the Year.
The group has been featured in genre magazines as well as in Billboard, but has also been covered in many mainstream publications. Well known for turning concerts into group prayer sessions, these musicians sometimes mingle with their audience, praying with listeners.
For the Record …
Member include David Alan (born c. 1966), keyboards; Rick Heil , lead vocals, guitar, bass guitar; Thomas O. Michael , bass guitar; Todd Shay , lead guitar; Brett Vargason (born c. 1969), drums.
Awards: Gospel Music Association, Dove Award for Praise and Worship Album of the Year, 2000; Dove Award, Special Event of the Year for City on a Hill:Songs of Worship and Praise, 2001.
Addresses: Booking—Jeff Roberts and Associates, 206 Bluebird Dr., Goodlettsville, TN 37072, phone: (615) 859-7040. Management—Todd White, Mike Atkins Entertainment, 300 10th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37203, phone: (615) 742-9000, e-mail: [email protected] Website—Sonic Flood Official Website: http://www.sonicflood.com/.
Sonicflood, Gotee, 1999.
Sonicpraise (live at the Flavo Festival), Gotee, 2001.
Resonate, INO, 2001.
Cry Holy, INO, 2003.
Gold, Gotee, 2004.
Billboard, May 12, 2001, p. 47; January 12, 2002, p. 17.
Chicago Tribune, April 28, 2000, p. 53.
Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), April 27, 2002, p. E.4.
Intelligencer Journal (Lancaster, PA), June 1, 2002, p. A.9.
Lancaster New Era (Lancaster, PA), June 13, 2002, p. 2.
Spokesman Review, May 13, 2000, p. E.1.
Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), April 28, 2001, p. 15.
"News," CMCentral.com, http://www.cmcentral.com/news/1992.html (August 20, 2004).
"SonicFlood," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com/ (August 20, 2004).
"Sonicflood - BIO," ChristianMusic, http://www.christianmusic.com/sonicflood/bio.html (August 25, 2004).
"Sonic Flood," World Vision Artists, 2003, http://www.worldvision.org/worldvision/wvususfo.nsf/stable/aa_sonicflood (September 14, 2004).
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