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(Preaching to) The Choir

by Wendy Lee Nentwig

(Preaching to) The Choir

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In Christian music, we're pretty cautious about tossing around words like "cult," but there's really no other way to describe The Choir's following. Their fans would follow this band anywhere -- and they have. Better yet, these fans would host shows themselves, opening up their living room for an intimate concert experience.

Their faithful following has been there through it all: countless national and international tours, recording hiatuses, a Grammy nomination, a Dove award, and in the past two years, a rejuvenated recording and touring schedule that is reminiscent of the band's pace in the late '80s and mid-'90s.

That kind of staying power would almost make you think they had a plan, but founders Steve Hindalong (drums) and Derri Daugherty (guitar and vocals) stumbled backward into being a band. Born out of the burgeoning music ministry of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa in sunny Southern California, this rock act developed far from the Bible Belt and the softer CCM sound that was emerging in Nashville, thanks in large part to acts like Amy Grant and The Imperials.

On the West Coast, it was a different story. Daniel Amos was paving the way, while Undercover, Randy Stonehill, the 77s, Charlie Peacock and others of their ilk popped up as contemporaries for The Choir, creating a decidedly harder, more urban rock sound. Despite the inspiration all around them, though, these SoCal boys were hardly dreaming big. They just thought it might be fun to play a few local churches. They had no idea The Choir would color their lives for decades to come.

Originally named Youth Choir, the band was the first ever to play the now iconic Cornerstone Festival near Chicago. Gigs like that helped solidify their alt rock sound -- and their place in Christian music history. The band would come to include Tim Chandler on bass, Dan Michaels on Lyricon and sax, and Marc Byrd on guitar, making for a melodious mix that was like no other. But despite creating masterpieces like Chase the Kangaroo and Circle Slide, the band never reached the heights that a talent as big as theirs warranted.

They might have faded from sight altogether as they pursued side projects, producing jobs, session work and even executive positions within the music industry. But Michaels continued to champion the band as a labor of love. And so they continue on. These major-label alums now make music on their own Galaxy 21 label.

Later this summer, the entire band will gather poolside at Michaels' home outside Nashville with a select group of fans. They'll fire up the grill and then head to a local studio where they'll compose a song and record it. In the end, those in attendance will take home an original Choir song that will never appear on any other recording.

It's above-and-beyond opportunities like these that make fans feel they've come to know the band members personally. In fact, many of them have. And where others may be guarded, this band remains open, willing to share even when it gets uncomfortable. That means they don't just talk about the music, but also Hindalong's recent need for a 12-step program, for example.

"It doesn't do anybody any good to act like you have things figured out, because we don't," Hindalong tells Napster. "I think that's one of the biggest mistakes of people of faith. It's so important to embrace that mystery. It's just as important to un-know things and unlearn things as it is to learn them."

In the end, The Choir's key to longevity may be their willingness to accept what they are -- and aren't.

"We're not prolific. There aren't extra outtakes. There aren't songs that aren't on albums," Hindalong explains. "We know not everyone's going to like us. We're not trying to win anyone over. You make the painting you want to see, you make the record you want to hear."

Fortunately, there are plenty of others who want to hear that exact same thing.