There’s a wonderful paradox of freshness and familiarity, of high profile and humility, at work in the rocking praise band known as Fee. On one hand, the Atlanta quartet just arrived on the scene, releasing its debut album at the turn of 2008 and receiving a 2009 Dove Award nod for New Artist of the Year. On the other, founding member Steve Fee was on the ground floor of the popular Passion Conferences, leading worship at the student ministry’s first event (as a student himself) in 1997 and staying connected to the movement ever since. And although Fee has charted a self-penned No. 1 hit (“All Because of Jesus”) now sung in churches worldwide, many assume the tune belongs to another act that covered it not too long ago.
“After our shows, people come up to us and say, ‘Man, I love that Casting Crowns song you played,’” admits Steve with an unbothered laugh. “That’s totally fine with me. I just say, ‘Thanks, so do I.’”
Indeed, the only concern about glory among the guys in Fee is that it all goes to God alone. Steve and his band mates— guitarist Matt Adkins, bassist Heath Balltzglier, and drummer Brandon Coker—just want listeners to join the conversation about a praiseworthy Creator whose promises defy this chaotic world. That point is clear on their new project, Hope Rising, described by Group Magazine, paradoxically, as “the sort of anthemic, powerful worship album that makes you want to jump up and kneel at the same time.”
“We love the idea of doing a full-on show and being engaged in full-on worship all at once, so that people find themselves praising God,” says Steve. “We always want to paint a picture of Him with our music that is worthy of a massive response.”
The sound of Hope Rising is certainly massive, comparable in spirit to Chris Tomlin and in execution to Delirious? along with Fee’s own fresh elements of originality. Opening track “Rise and Sing” turns that familiar phrase up a notch, calling out for a stadium-sized physical and emotional response from all who’ve been touched by the Mercy King . . . if you were bound but now you’re free, rise and sing. First single “Glory to God Forever,” which has already topped the iTunes Christian and Gospel download chart, strikes a unique balance between the smoother approach of MercyMe and heavier playing of acts like Switchfoot.
“That song asks a huge thing of God: take my life and let it be all for You and for Your glory. And that’s so totally contrary to our culture,” explains Steve. “But I believe this song was already in everyone who hears it, because God created each of us to give glory to Him, and that’s why people are embracing it now.”
Addressing the gap between an innate sense to worship and the earthly things trying to break that instinct, “God Is Alive” boldly celebrates victory over darkness, singing: Death where is your sting? Sin has got no hold on me. The Holy One has overcome. This enthusiastic performance, marked by razor-like guitars, uncontainable drumming, and joyful group choruses, is a good example of why JesusFreakHideout.com calls Fee and Hope Rising “a cut above much of what you’ll find in worship music.”
“We are not a subtle band,” acknowledges Steve. “We want every song to contain a big idea, and we approach each one like we’re up to bat, the bases are loaded, and we want to knock it out of the universe.”
That being said, Hope Rising is perhaps even more defined by its softer, more vulnerable moments. “Everything Falls,” a remarkable mid-tempo ballad accented by piano, strings, and lyrics that titled the album, doesn’t deny the pain of human existence:
You said this life is going to shake me; this world is going to bring trouble on my soul. When everything falls apart, Your arms hold me together. I find You mighty and strong. Sorrow will last for a night, but hope is rising with the sun.
Just as direct and personal is “Arms That Hold the Universe,” a song the band completed after coming in close contact with a tragedy that made national headlines: the murder of Fred Winters, a local pastor who was killed last March while onstage at First Baptist Church in Maryville, Illinois.
“We saw the story on the news and realized we were scheduled to play a concert at that same church just five days later,” recalls Steve. “I had no clue what I would say to that audience, but God made it clear that I should tell them He is still in control.”
That truth is perfectly illustrated in the song by a seamless repositioning of words from “Amazing Grace” and the compelling use of well-known scripture (Psalm 46:10, Mark 4:39). And in a postscript that is testament to the outgoing heart of Fee, the guys have become friends of the Winters family, visiting when they are in the area and even once driving the late preacher’s young daughters to school in their tour bus.
Fee may be named after its lead singer and principal songwriter, but Steve is most excited when he talks about the fact that he, Matt, Heath, and Brandon “look, feel, act, and exist as a band . . . an amazing collection of brotherhood.” In context, these four men were lucky to find each other, first meeting at the 23,000-member North Point Community Church in Georgia where they still lead worship together at least once a month. Whether at home or on the road, their hope is to “not just be another worship band, but to blow the doors off the places we visit, to really connect people to God,” concludes Steve. “We are in a season of full-on intent. We get one shot at this life, and we want to turn it up as loud as it will go.”
That’s what is called rising to the occasion.