Saturday, June 06, 2009

Diggin Up Diamond Days

Out of the Grey - Diggin' Up Diamond Days By Deborah Evans Price CCM May 1994 Few new albums seem more appropriately titled than Out of the Grey's Diamond Days. Sipping coffee in their cozy kitchen on a quiet Monday afternoon, Scott and Christine Denté appear to be in the midst of diamond days in both their professional lives. They recently moved into a beautiful new home. Their adorable toddler, Julian, is sleeping upstairs, and they have a second child due on July 4. Professionally, they've just released their third album to enthusiastic feedback. Aaah yes, diamond days indeed. "These are the diamond years," Scott agrees with a smile. "Actually we've been in the house two months, and we've probably lived in the house 21 days. We just kind of still wander around and I keep joking [saying] 'I'm waiting for the people who live here to come home,' but it's ours. A couple of years ago we could not have fathomed the idea of owning a home or recording albums." MUSICAL DAYS The talented couple can now add both those accomplishments to their personal resumé. But if you think happiness and contentment breed complacency, think again. On Diamond Days, Scott and Christine continue to serve up insightful, though-provoking lyrics that avoid Christianese clichés and opt for heartfelt explorations of how we relate to each other and to God. Musically, Out of the Grey has always been inventive, sophisticated and artsy, but Diamond Days goes a few steps further. It's the first time the duo recorded live in the studio with a band. "The biggest reason this whole record is different is that we had all live players," Scott says. "For seven days we had six musicians in the room tossing around ideas, playing off each other. It was - I say this [and] it's gonna be a cliché - but it was a musical highlight of my career. No doubt about it. I was just grinning the whole time. We were tired, but it was fun, a lot of fun." When songs are recorded using computer programming rather than live players, there's a better chance of technical perfection, but they sometimes lose the human quality. Recording live is riskier, but Scott says it was a risk they are glad they took. "When you've got all those live humans there all the time, you can only tell [them] what to do and hope they do it," he says. "This time I think Charlie [Peacock, who produced] had enough faith in us as well as the people we brought in to take a little bit of the risk, and I really think it paid off. You can hear it. It's a human record. We write human music. We don't write machinery dance music. We write music for humans, [around] feelings about people in our lives, and it should be played by people." They each have songs that hold special significance to them for different reasons. "'Unfolding' is my favorite at this point because it's got an ache to it that translates what I feel and what Scott feels," Christine relates of the lyrics that say "Open my eyes, open my heart/Open these hands that hold us apart/Open up a way for me to see/The grandeur of the grander scheme unfolding." Scott says he really likes the way "All We Need" turned out. "That was the last song we cut the final night of recording," he recalls. We played the demo, and it was just me and Charlie. I was playing guitar, and Charlie was playing piano. It was a very basic demo, and the guys picked up on it. [Bassist] Tommy Sims started playing it with kind of an R&B feel. Jerry McPherson went and got a jazzier guitar, and I was playing one of those, too. So it turned into what it sounds like on the record. And the drummer [Steve Brewster] picked up on that, and Tommy's face lit up, and he started smiling 'cause the thing was groovin' so hard. It's my favorite recording on the album because it's just one of those moments I was trying to describe earlier - all of a sudden the pieces started coming from all over the place, and the song became something that it wasn't. Nobody changed the lyrics or anything, but they added their own little flavor to it, and it turned into this great groove." Scott and Christine are obviously thankful to the musicians and the talent they brought to this album and are also quick to praise Peacock's production skills - and his fashion sense. "On each record Charlie doesn't like to be distracted by certain things and one of them is fashion," Scott explains. "He's a fashionable man, but for each record he always talks about how he wants to have a uniform for each record so he doesn't have to think about what he has to get up and wear during the day. This particular week he was wearing overalls." "He looked like a farmer," Christine interjects. "Everybody was teasing him pretty good about it. So on the last day of recording I went out and bought two pairs of overalls, and Christine and I showed up at the studio wearing overalls that day. So we had solidarity," Scott says with a laugh. ARTFUL DAYS Christine feels on this project they've struck the balance they've been seeking between commerce and art. "We've had several years in the business now," she says, "to learn about the importance radio [airplay] plays in the whole Christian genre. We've had to develop our own sense of what's right for our records. I think with the third record, it came to a great pinnacle of being able to [be] I think commercially accessible, but retain our artistic sense in a way that we're thrilled for." Scott readily agrees. "I've listened to this record a few times now, and none of it scares me," he says. "None of it makes me cringe. This record to me sounds like grown ups making music. That can be either good or bad, if you don't like grown up music. But I feel like we've - I hate to use the word matured - but I feel we've matured as artists in a lot of ways. We're a little bit compact with what we have to say. There are now 30 Out of the Grey songs that have been recorded and this particular group of 10, to me, feel like a really good representation artistically and commercially of what we want to do and where we want to go." The artistic focus that comes together on Diamond Days is the culmination of years of musical pursuit. Christine's vocal aspirations began when she was growing up in Lancaster, Penn. Scott is a New Jersey native who also grew up with dreams of a music career. By now, most Out of the Grey fans know the story of how they met and fell in love while studying at Boston's Berklee College of Music. They married in 1987 and moved to Nashville to pursue a career in music. Seeing the word "career" associated with their music is something that doesn't cause Scott and Christine to retreat in horror. They do prefer the word "vocation," and admit they have very specific feelings about referring to what they do as a ministry. "Christians want to be comfortable with the terms they use," Scott relates. "They want to say 'yeah, I really appreciate your ministry.' Well brother you have a ministry, too. Your ministry is to whoever you talk to at work. "And you know what? There is no secular. There is no Christian. All life is lived out under the eyes of God, your whole life. Surrender your entire life to God. Charlie Peacock has been harping on that to us and to everybody for years. Don't compartmentalize your life. God wants all of it. So don't compartmentalize my life and tell me that mus music is just a ministry. Don't belittle God. Don't belittle yourself. We're all ministers. And we're not trying to make ourselves sound cooler by saying it's a vocation. We're not trying to make ourselves more mainstream. We're not trying to crossover. We're not trying to do anything. We just want to be careful. The word ministry with a big capital 'M' conjures up a lot of things, a lot of pressure." BUSY DAYS Pressure is something Scott and Christine are familiar with. In addition to writing, recording and performing, they have also been acting as their own managers for the past several months. They admit that being so busy has affected the relationships in their lives, including their friendships and their relationship with each other. Time is the biggest culprit, and it takes its toll. "What has been affected is that the phone doesn't ring as much anymore, except the business phone," Scott says. "We've pretty much systematically lost touch with our friends... We've got plenty of business acquaintances, and yes, I would call them friends. But friends before Out of the Grey, friends that we had back home, that kind of stuff has been slowly choked out, and it scares us a little bit. 'All I Need' is the song we wrote for ourselves about that. It's about not fearing to open up to people." "We know that contact with people is what this life is all about," Christine says. They plan to remedy the situation by making the effort to reach out to people they've lost contact with. "Since we've moved into our new home, we've started to call folks," Scott says. "We're trying to make the effort, and it's been very good. It makes us feel like humans again." In scrutinizing their relationship, spending time together isn't the issue - they spend 24 hours a day together. However, taking time to deal with issues on a deep level is where they feel they sometimes come up short. "The fact that we're constantly together, we get into a groove where we don't always communicate," Christine admits. "We can go through weeks without really reach to the heart of the matter because we're used to living on a level where we're constantly discussing what we're doing today or we're on a bus, and it doesn't lead to deep conversation... I can see how people get really caught up in just keeping a lifestyle going and keeping your kids going, and they lose touch. I can really see how that can happen." Making time to deeply discuss important issues is a priority for Scott and Christine and one of the key factors they say keeps their marriage a happy one. the fact that they are best friends and that they are supportive of each other in all areas also helps nurture a successful relationship. And these days they've been supporting each other no only in Out of the Grey, but also in other endeavors. Scott recently recorded a solo trax accompaniment version of Noel Paul Stookey's "Wedding Song (There is Love)" as part of Sparrow's Giving You the Rest of My Life wedding project. Christine has been working on an upcoming trio album with Margaret Becker and Susan Ashton. "It's definitely increased our confidence in what we do," Christine says. "If people are calling us, it really makes us realize we can do this, maybe we're not just this little fly-by-night group. Now we've done our third record, and people are behind it, and radio stations are playing it. Scott and I always talk about how we're almost constantly affirmed in what we do. Not many people get that. Of course, that affects us in our day-to-day lives." Their day to day lives are about to become more hectic as they anticipate the birth of their second child. Up until now they've had volunteers at concerts watch Julian while they performed, but Christine says they plan to hire a nanny to help with the new baby. However, they won't pull back from their concert schedule. It might get crazy at times, but it's a life they wouldn't trade. Not all days are diamonds for Out of the Grey, but many are, and they treasure them. "Things are good on a lot of levels, but things are also crazy," Scott says. "We're in such a whirlwind that we don't have to create drama in our life... but we're also very thankful. We're not taking it for granted... This is a combination of all the things we love. We love each other, we love God and we love music. All three of those things meet in Out of the Grey. What more could you ask for? It's a great gig." CCM Communications c 1995. For information on subscribing to CCM, call 800/333-9643.