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The Sound

Learning to fly

3/25/2015

Flyleaf had an interesting problem on its hands. Normally, when an act achieves some level of success in the realm of “Christian music,” it is not uncommon to see that band attempt to downplay its ties to the Christian community. Not necessarily for any lack of faith, but out of fear of alienating a secular audience. But when original Flyleaf lead singer Lacey Sturm decided to leave the band, new lead singer Kristen May found herself being accused of not being “Christian enough,” and Flyleaf’s members found themselves in the position of defending the band to its Christian fans.

Flyleaf plays the Val Air Ballroom on Thursday, April 9 at 4 p.m. Tickets are $22.

Flyleaf plays the Val Air Ballroom on Thursday, April 9 at 4 p.m. Tickets are $22.

“It was a little bit unique,” May admitted in a phone interview from her Kansas City home. “Lacy had a very strong presence as a Christian and was very vocal about it. (Flyleaf) was her ministry. I guess I didn’t really realize that when I took the role on.”

Where Sturm used her Flyleaf mic as a pulpit, May has always been more reserved and introspective with her faith. It was a change in demeanor up front that caught many of Flyleaf’s fans off guard, but one that May defends.

Musically, the band is better than ever. Flyleaf’s latest album, 2014’s “Between the Stars,” is the first with May up front, and the band’s change in sound extends beyond just the voice doing the singing. True to May’s personal leanings, the band’s material leaves much of the spiritual themes behind in favor of songs about more concrete, secularly palatable ideas. From a production standpoint, the album marks a departure from Flyleaf’s long-time producer Howard Benson, to hard rock heavyweight Don Gilmore, who has produced albums for acts ranging from Korn to Avril Lavigne.

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“I worked on Howard for three songs,” May said. “He was cool. But I was one of the first ones to say, ‘Hey, you’ve worked with Howard for the last three albums, have you considered trying someone new?’ They had a new lead singer, so this felt like just another step toward giving the band a new-feeling sound.”

It was also another step in Flyleaf’s conversion from Lacey Sturm’s band to Kristen May’s. A band is as big as the sum of its parts, but as the lead singer goes, so goes a band’s fortunes. Making sure that your front person is not only talented enough to lead, but comfortable enough to be the face of your material, is paramount.

“I think it started when we started writing our new album,” May said of her own settling in. “I was bringing songs in, and we were thinking about moving forward. Though I enjoyed being on stage and playing this rock music that was so impactful to fans, I don’t think that I felt like it was truly my band until we put out the last album.”

Now, Flyleaf is indeed May’s band. And as she’s warmed to the task, the fans have just as surely warmed to her. It is a big change for a woman who never considered herself a traditional lead singer.

“I’d always performed with a piano or guitar,” she said. “I had never just sung. After I got the call, when I was practicing at home, I jumped up and down in front of the mirror to see if I would look stupid. But when we played our first show at College Station, I literally reached out to the audience. I touched hands and let them sing with me and just got them involved. I feed off the fans’ energy. It’s fun to perform that way and run all over the stage. Now, the fans have turned into my shield.” CV

 

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