Sidewalk Prophets 'get the lights going' at jam

From college campus to Nashville recording artists, Sidewalk Prophets Ben McDonald, David Frey, Justin Nace, Cal Joslin and Shaun Tomczak are making their mark in contemporary Christian music.
Photo courtesy World Label Group

From college campus to Nashville recording artists, Sidewalk Prophets Ben McDonald, David Frey, Justin Nace, Cal Joslin and Shaun Tomczak are making their mark in contemporary Christian music. Photo courtesy World Label Group

Winter Jam 2013 Tour Spectacular

When: 6 p.m. Sunday

Where: FedExForum, 191 Beale St.

Admission: $10 suggested donation

For more information, call 901-205-1234 or visit fedexforum.com

Nashville’s Sidewalk Prophets are making their third straight appearance on Winter Jam, the annual Christian rock tour that stops at FedExForum on Sunday, and each year the group finds itself inching a little further up the bill.

“We’re right in the middle back end of the show,” Prophets lead singer David Frey says of the band’s place on this year’s lineup, which also includes Red, Matthew West, Jamie Grace, NewSong, Royal Tailor, Jason Castro, OBB, Capital kings, and headliner TobyMac. “We were the lights-up band for two years, kind of kicking the show off. There were three lights-up bands. But this year we get the lights down. We get the lights going. We are blessed to be where we are on the tour.”

They may be blessed, but Sidewalk Prophets, named New Artist of the Year at the 2010 Dove Awards, also has put in a solid decade of hard work.

The band’s origins lie in the college dorm rooms of Frey and band guitarist Ben McDonald. The two were students at Indiana’s Anderson University (alma mater of best-selling Contemporary Christian Music artist Sandi Patty) when they met.

“I literally was playing Mario Brothers when (McDonald) came in and said, ‘I heard you can sing. You want to write some songs?” recalls Frey, an English major who had played bass clarinet and sung in a garage band but considered music a “passionate hobby” up to this point. “I put the controller down and we started writing. We hung the microphone from the ceiling of the dorm room and we’d gather around it and play kind of like storytellers style.”

In the days of Napster, those early recordings spread across the campus.

“The first time you hear your songs coming out of a girls dorm, you’re like, ‘yeah that’s pretty awesome,’” says Frey.

One of those recordings was entered into a school recording contest without Frey or McDonald’s knowledge. They won and before they knew it a spiraling sequence of events — a gig leading to meeting the group Audio Adrenaline leading to a gig in front of 20,000 people leading to a label showcase — ended with them signing with Word Records.

The two moved to Nashville, where they recruited the rest of their band from a Craigslist ad.

“We put an ad out that said who wants to be poor and worship Jesus,” says Frey, explaining how bassist Cal Josin and drummer Justin Nace joined the group. “They answered the call.”

Adding lead guitarist Shaun Tomczak, Sidewalk Prophets released its full-length debut, These Simple Truths, in 2009. The record, which was nominated for a Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year Dove Award, spawned three Top 20 singles, including the No. 1 “You Love Me Anyway.”

Last spring the band released its sophomore effort. Live Like That, featuring the hit title track. Inspired by a passage from the Book of Hebrews, the record is steeped in the band’s desire to spread the Good Word.

“Every song on the album talks about a journey of someone trying to live like that from start to finish,” says Frey. “It’s not easy to love Jesus. It’s hard. It’s a journey and it takes some time and it’s not safe. But it’s good. It’s always, always good.”

For Live Like That, Sidewalk Prophets recorded at a leisurely pace compared to the mad dash that characterized These Simple Truths.

“We had twice as much if not three times as much time to flesh out what the record was going to sound like,” says Frey “I think we’ve grown more on Live Like That. The first album was finding our sound and trying to piece together these songs we’ve had for years. This one is really kind of hitting our groove and sounds like what we hope to become.”

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