Got the potential for a great Christian band in your church? What can you do to give them the support they need? What can top Christian bands like Phatfish do to ensure the next generation of Christian musicians?
What about band image - is that important? And what about an extra pair of hands? Phatfish's Lou Fellingham, Ben Hall and Jos Winterman talk about their new CD release Higher to Eden.co.uk's Pete Harrison.
Pete: Hi, if that’s alright, to start off, maybe you can introduce yourselves and give us your favourite ice cream flavour?
Ben: Yeh, right, my name’s Ben Hall and my favourite’s Cornish.
Lou: I’m Lou Fellingham and I had a pretty nice amaretto ice cream sundae - that was good; hazelnut ice cream, vanilla, chocolate.
Jos: My name’s Jos Wintermeyer and mine’s a double chocolate.
Pete: Cool. Right, you all go to Church of Christ the King in Brighton; how did they support you getting the band together?
Lou: We’re not the church’s band, if you know what I mean. Obviously they encourage us and believe in what we do, but we’re all connected into midweek groups. That’s where we get our prayer and support on a week-by-week basis.
Pete: So how do you think churches with their own budding musicians should support them in forming bands similar to Phatfish?
Lou: Everybody in the church needs to be supported because we all do a job and, in a sense, what we do is just our way of serving God. If there’s a teacher or a nurse or a doctor or a mom at home they’re as important as we are. It’s just that our kind of profile tends to be a bit more seen. So I guess local churches with budding musicians want to encourage them in God - to be excellent at what they do and then see what God does with them.
Pete: So you’re sort of the ‘face’ of the body of Christ, as it were?
Lou: In some ways, yeah. But essentially, in terms of value, I don’t feel we’re more important than anyone else. I guess that, because we’re the ‘front edge’, maybe people see that having this support from your church is important. But value wise, a mum at home is just valuable as what I do.
Pete: On a wider church point, what do you think churches should prioritise, perhaps, out of teaching, worship, intercession or community work?
Lou: The thing is, some churches are gifted in specific areas. But actually all of those things are worship; all of those things are essentially kind of based in of the same thing.
Jos: I think you just have to listen to whatever God is leading and see where he leads that particular church for that time.
Pete: On the Christian music scene, we’ve seen Delirious? and YFriday split up and some bands coming from churches; Jesus Culture, Hillsong United, etc. What do you make of Christian music as it at the moment?
Ben: I think there’s more diversity than maybe 10 or 15 years ago. So you have great bands like Rend Collective and others really just experimenting - pushing the envelope. More of that is always good, you know?
Pete: Do you think Phatfish can escape onto the secular scene - maybe make it into the charts?
Lou: I think it’s mainly Christians that come along to gigs. But then albums get passed onto friends who maybe aren’t. ‘Higher’ and another couple of songs are definitely radio friendly and a lot of people are enjoying it - just getting into the vibe of it. Ultimately, we believe in the songs and what’s being said through them, that’s kind of the essence of it.
Pete: Do you see Phatfish as a band mainly for current Christians or more evangelistic?
Ben: Both, but people who love God kind of tend to write songs for worship as well as for people who have never set foot in a church - not telling them what to believe, but kind of just asking some questions and putting out the idea about who Jesus is.
Pete: Another interest of yours is to grow the next generation of Christian musicians...
Jos: Training’s always been a big part of what we do. Me and Ben were brought on by the original band members. We definitely feel it’s in our hearts to train and to equip people to do the best job they can with the gifts God’s given them.
Pete: And your musical style; your most recent albums have been more rocky, but it’s changed a lot over the years.
Lou: We were kind of in the acid-jazz-funk scene, so that definitely influenced where we were at. Nowadays it’s just kind of generally evolving with the stuff that we listen to. When you write a song, you want to get the style that really makes it come alive. I mean, obviously the guys' guitar playing definitely has a rockier influence, but then on Higher you have a couple that are more pop and some that are more contemplative. It’s just evolving and not necessarily on purpose - we’re not quite as erm… shrewd as that?
Pete: So could you name a few of your influences?
Ben: I think each member has a different musical reference. Some of mine would be bluesy rock bands like Guns ‘N Roses or Led Zeppelin. I know that Jos’s includes Keane, Coldplay and Elbow.
Lou: Yeh, all of those; not Guns ‘N Roses particularly. I love the Elbow album, not so much Keane. I quite like Muse and Stevie Wonder, Lauren Hill and old school stuff. I guess it depends what mood you’re in. At the end of the day I might listen to Shawn Colvin. Christian wise, Matt [Redman]’s latest album and also Be Lifted High, which is a Bethel album - they write about God, and I want some of that! You want songs that kind of connect with your soul, and that obviously overflows into your songwriting.
Pete: And your solo career, Lou. I know many of the band back you on your solo albums. How’s that affect the band’s dynamic?
Lou: Yeh, I mean, we’re not on a regular salary, we’ve not got any income apart from doing what we do, so it all helps to generate more work and more money between us. For me, doing a solo thing was a bit of a surprise. I wasn’t expecting it but that’s what God called me to do. So I think both things complement one another. It feels like a privilege to be able to do them both.
Pete: In terms of song writing, how do you form your lyrics? Is it by finding Bible verses or by declaring truths you know or telling stories, or what?
Jos: Yeh, it’s all of them. Sometimes we’ll write about a theme, or something either in a book or the Bible that kind of strikes. Or it could be about something going on in the news or somewhere.
Pete: Does that mean that you tend to write lyrics before music?
Lou: It varies, to be honest. Sometimes I’ve got melody and lyrics all at once. Sometimes I’ve written down ideas and sometimes just a melody. Then we try to think what this melody is stirring up in us and try to connect the two. I think on the Higher album, all of us have contributed to most of the songs. It was like the whole band went off in groups and started writing. Then we brought them back to the table and developed it from there. So that’s been quite fun just in terms of ownership and everyone feeling that who they are is right there on the album.
Pete: In terms of God’s influence, do you think he gives you whole songs, just a few lines or the ideas and inspiration for them?
Ben: I wouldn’t say that we wake up in the middle of the night with a finished song and kind of say, ‘right, that’s it, God’s given this to me, let’s record it.’ I’d say maybe the inspiration is what God is doing in our lives individually.
Lou: Actually, you want to work off people and shape it so you get it as strong as you possibly can.
Pete: On the website Nathan comments that some songs are a real struggle and some come easier. Do you have a preference?
Jos: Easy ones are always nice! But, really, you have to take the rough with the smooth.
Lou: There’s something fun, sometimes, about thrashing stuff through and working out if this is what I want to say, how we can make four lines into one and that kind of stuff. But, yeh, easy ones - like Ben said, that would be lovely!
Pete: So talking about your new single ‘Higher’ - it has a great contemporary feel. Can you summarize what it’s all about?
Ben: It’s kind of putting a lot of questions into people’s heads - what they fill their life with and whether that really satisfies. And then the chorus is basically the idea that maybe they’re made for something higher.
Pete: Provoking people to think about who they are and what their purpose is?
Ben: Yeah, for sure.
Pete: And that’s your 12th album? How many more do you envision there being?
Lou: Yeah loads.
Pete: So you’re going to be another Pink Floyd - you’re going to go on forever?
Lou: When you start out - when you’re 19, you know you’re going to be around for a while. Now we’ve been around for a while but we still feel like we have lots of energy. As long as we keep being given opportunities and God keeps saying 'go', we’ll keep going.
Pete: I guess you’re used to being photographed for lots of branding and advertising, and we know that God looks at the heart. Do you try to reflect that in your outward appearance? I mean, do you think much about image?
Jos: Yeah, I’ve got a collection of monk’s robes - no I haven’t, unfortunately.
Lou: But his stilettos are pretty nice! I think it’s a good question. I guess what we want to do is look up-to-date and modern and make sure that people think we’re relevant. Obviously, for me, I want to present myself - and part of your presence as a person is what you wear. But then you have to be careful about what you’re portraying.
Pete: You have, what is it, 10 children between you? How do you balance that with touring and writing songs?
Lou: We try to balance out gigging and touring - to earn enough to sustain the families, and make sure that they [the families] are more important than anything else. I think that’s just a practical thing that you have to keep juggling - keep bringing your heart to God. Actually we don’t go away for very long or very often.
Pete: And your children, do you think they could be the second generation of Phatfish?
Ben: Yep, definitely. The most gifted and talented children in the world.
Pete: ‘Coming into land’ - in the words of Mike Pilavachi, how do you prepare for gigs before going on stage? Do you have a band pastor or someone who tours with you?
Ben: We definitely pray before we go on stage. We just kind of commit all we’re doing up to God. We don’t so much have a band pastor, we just try to keep each other sharp and we’re all really plugged into our church. So we kind of look to that to keep us grounded.
Pete: Finally, a ‘would you rather’ question. Would you rather have hands for feet or feet for hands?
Ben: So you’d have two pairs of hands right?
Pete: You’d keep the other pair, yes.
Jos: Hands for feet definitely.
Lou: Yeah, hands for feet.
Pete: Well thanks very much, it’s been great chatting! Bye.
Phatfish: The Trivia Files
Phatfish used to be called ‘Purple Phatfish’ from a key ring of a big fat fish which was purple. There's no deep spiritual significance to the name.
Quick Guide to
Phatfish: Higher - what is it?
- CD release from outstanding UK Christian band, Phatfish, based at Christ the King church, Brighton.
- 11 diverse tracks including single release ‘Higher’ and sensitive reworking of the classic ‘And Can It Be’.
- Collaborative album between the band’s line up-including vocal solo artist, Lou Fellingham.
Phatfish: Higher - why should I buy it?
- For lyrics rich with sound biblical truths that lift the soul and strengthen faith.
- For beautiful vocal quality and musicianship that only comes with genuine commitment and experience.
- As a gift to introduce modern music fans to what the best in modern Christian music has to say.
Over to You
At Eden.co.uk you can find a truly interactive Christian community helping you find all you need to live, learn and grow your faith.
Since 1994 Phatfish have matured into one the most influential forces in Christian music and with a strong reputation in the secular music world.
- Do you think Christian bands should compete for audiences in the secular music market, or serve within the church?
- Musical tastes constantly change, how do you think a band can stay around long enough to get established and still stay relevant to the day?
Tell us. Post your ideas, views and tips – beautiful, bizarre and brilliant at Eden.co.uk
February 11th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Aaron Lewendon