It may be hard to believe, but the band Flyleaf began their journey in Texas all the way back in 2002. Former vocalist Lacey Sturm came together with drummer James Culpepper, guitarists Jared Hartmann and Sameer Bhattacharya and bassist Pat Seals and began pounding the pavement under a different band name in Texas, before being signed to Octone Records in 2004. By the end of the year, they were officially Flyleaf and their self-titled debut album was released in 2005, spawning the hits I’m So Sick, Fully Alive and All Around Me. The album went platinum and spent 133 weeks in the Billboard Top 200 and reached the top 15 of the rock and alternative albums charts as well.
The band spent the next few years touring with many big names such as Seether, Korn, Deftones, Stone Sour, Evanescence. Breaking Benjamin, Three Days Grace and many more before releasing their second album Memento Mori in November of 2009, which shot to the Top 10 of the Billboard Top 200. Shortly after the release of New Horizons in 2012, Sturm announced that she was stepping down from the band, having recently given birth to her son. The band had also recently been dealt the blow of the death of one of their lead audio engineers, Rich Caldwell.
Needless to say, Flyleaf was in a bit of a predicament. In Kansas City Missouri, vocalist Kristen May was in a similar bind, as her band Vedera had just parted ways. Thankfully they would soon find each other. From May’s perspective, her previous band had “broken up around the same time that Lacey had left Flyleaf and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I was just kind of writing my own music and possibly going to do a solo thing, working at a coffee shop. They just called me. I think they had heard from my booking agent that our band had broken up and they had tried out, I think, a couple of girls before that didn’t work out. So they flew me out to Austin, Texas. Well, it’s about 45 minutes outside of Austin where they live, and I did about four or five songs with them in rehearsal. It felt really good and pretty easy from the get-go.” According to bassist Pat Seals, “We hadn’t heard her before. Somebody told our manager that her previous band, Vedera was breaking up and that we should call her up for an audition. So we did and by the first song I kind of felt like I knew it was going to be her.”
With May having now secured her spot in Flyleaf, there was little time to rest. The band continued to hit the road with their new vocalist singing the songs penned by her predecessor. In 2013, we got a brief taste of May’s vocals on the EP Who We Are. And here we are in 2014 and the new vocalist finally has her time to shine with songs that she was a part of writing. September 16th saw the release of Between the Stars, Flyleaf’s 4th full-length album.
However natural the pairing may have seemed, there are always growing pains involved when bringing in a new member, especially when the new member is taking over as the voice and the face of an already established band. Said May, “It was definitely different for me. I’d never done anything that I hadn’t started myself and that I hadn’t written the majority of the material for, so it was a little bit unnerving at first. I felt like winning over fans that had been fans of the previous singer was certainly a challenge. But there are also perks of being in a band that already has amazing fans. We had a place to start from, where people were already listening. So I just kind of had to get to know the fans–feel them out and figure out what kind of music to write for this new album. It’s been a pretty cool process so far.” Welcoming a new member can also be a challenge for the existing members. As Seals shared “Of course I worried about it, but the way it’s worked out is so awesome. I’m so thankful to our band and to Kristen. She’s really just rocked it out on the road.”
While May had already been touring with the band for quite a while, the band was itching to get to work on their first full-length album with May, but they also didn’t rush into anything hastily. “For Between the Stars, the writing process was spread out over pretty much a year. We did several one-week sessions where we’d all get together and write as many songs as we could,” shared Seals. “We did that two or three times and had a few other one-off writing sessions.”
When the band was finally ready to lay the new tracks down, they got to work with producer Don Gilmore who has worked with many talented bands such as Linkin Park, Dashboard Confessional, Three Days Grace, and Avril Lavigne. This was the first time that Flyleaf had worked with Gilmore. “He’s just a super talented guy and he was a big fan of our demos that we had done in Texas,” shared May. “So he flew out to Texas, which is where we rehearsed and recorded some demos and we spent about a week there kind of deciding if we needed to change anything about the songs, you know, if a chorus was too long, if the lyrics were all there- just kind of hashing out each song individually. Then from there we went to L.A. and actually recorded in our friend Jordan McGraw’s house. He’s in the band Stars in Stereo. It took about six weeks overall of tracking and pre-production and about a week or two of going back and forth through mixes because Don Gilmore mixed it as well. So it took about six to eight weeks total with the mixing and mastering and recording and everything.”
During the process of making Between the Stars, Flyleaf partnered with PledgeMusic and were able to connect with some of their fans in and up-close and personal way. May explains their PledgeMusic Campaign: “PledgeMusic is similar to Kickstarter, where it’s a crowd-funded organization. I had heard of them before I joined Flyleaf. I was thinking about doing something with them for my solo stuff so I was really excited when the band was mentioning doing that. It’s kind of perfect for us because we have fans that are so interested in what we’re doing and they really want to be a part of the process. For us, we didn’t have a label at the time either so we really enjoyed the freedom of making music on our own timeline but we also want to give back to the fans and give them special incentives to help support the album. Some stuff we did was we flew some people out for a listening party in L.A. and listened to some of the first mixes of songs and I knitted some stuff–some hats and scarves, and Pat did some limited edition artwork. We did a lot of different stuff just to be creative and as the process went along, we also shared some snippets of the music as we were writing it. I just picked up a guitar at my house and kind of did a little video. Sameer did the same thing also. I think overall it was an amazing process and really rewarding for us as a band.” Seals added, “PledgeMusic allowed us really to make Between the Stars. It helped us stay afloat… It takes the middle man out to a degree and the fans can actually communicate with the band and help them along. I hope all the pledgers feel connected because they really did help while we continued. So that was just cool.”
An online search brings up a significant list of different genres that Flyleaf has been classified by at one point or another, including alternative metal, hard rock, heavy metal, nu metal, post-grunge, alternative rock, post-hardcore, emo-metal. Why are they so difficult to classify and what genre do the members themselves consider themselves to be?
According to May, “I think we’re alternative rock but you know, I think the reason we get put in different genres is because there are so many different influences in the songwriting. Sameer and Pat and I, and before, Lacey, all these writers for the band and we all are kind of coming from different places… we all kind of start somewhere different and we like it that way so when we wrote for this album, Between the Stars, we weren’t trying to put any song in a confine of a genre. We just let it evolve. So I think it’s good in a way to be able to cross genres because it allows us to create music more freely.” Adds Sealy, “I enjoy music more than I enjoy genres, I guess. Maybe that’s why. Maybe our band is guilty of that, but I think it’s cool to kind of not fit in in a specific way.”
And while the band has never categorized themselves as a “Christian band”, they have been placed in that box from time to time as well, as they freely admit to being Christians who happen to be in a band. “People associate us with that and it’s fine. We don’t believe in imposing beliefs on anyone. I think that’s part of what Jesus was, into in my opinion. I think it’s just the place from which we come and it’s how we relate to the universe.” May says that she has never felt any pressure to not be open about her faith: “We live in America. It’s a free country. Everyone should be able to express themselves the way they want and worship the way they want. I always try to be sensitive to that anyway.”
While May is excited to be able perform the songs that she wrote herself, she definitely appreciates the songs that her predecessor wrote. “ I like a lot of the songs,” she said. “So I Thought is a really special one to me. We had Ryan White with us out on this last tour, doing guitar checking and he also performed acoustic before us and that was awesome because it’s a duet and he sings it with me. I think that’s one of my favorite older Flyleaf songs.” Seals also shared, “She’s always full-bore on every song. Even the songs she didn’t write, she has the talent them for singing them as if she did.” From Between the Stars, “Marionete is a really powerful one that usually gives me the chills. Kristen is really good on that one.”
Clearly the band has amazing fans and a quick check of their Facebook page shows that they have over 2.7 million likes. When presented with that massive number, Seals said, “That is a huge number. It doesn’t even sound real to me. Our fans are very cool. We definitely have a lot to be thankful for.” May added, “Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. They had been a band for about eight years before I joined so they definitely have been working hard for a long time. The fans are amazing and I’m glad that they’re still engaged and still interested.”
As Seals has been with the band from the beginning, he has been able to see the progression of the band clearly. He says, “I feel like this album, the songs just wrote themselves, as opposed to the older albums I feel like we were trying to make a sound. The album is basically just more us, just more honest in a way. And it’s poppier and fun.”
The listeners seem to agree.Within it’s first week of release, Between the Stars had already landed the #1 spot on Billboard’s Top Current Alternative albums. They also reached #3 on both the Current Contemporary Christian Albums and Top Christian/Gospel Albums, as well as #4 Top Hard Music Albums.
The album’s first single, Set Me On Fire, was inspired by Veronica Roth’s book-turned-movie, Divergent. The second single has not been announced yet but both May and Seals do have personal favorites on the album. May is partial to Thread, while Seals chooses Platonic.
May has already spent a good chunk of time on the road with the band and shared her thoughts about the experience of touring with other bands. “I think every band we’ve toured with has been awesome. Whether or not you’ve heard their music before, you kind of get the experience of hearing them every night,” she said. “You end up liking something about the band, even if you’re not a fan of the whole album or whatever. It’s part of the unique experience of going on tour together. I became a fan of the band Lullwater from Athens, Georgia. I think every tour is an opportunity to hear new music. Of course I’d love to tour with Radiohead or Bjork. Someday maybe that will happen.”
While that tour is not on the books quite yet, Flyleaf will soon again be on the road with support from Adelita’s Way, Framing Hanley, and Fit for Rivals.“We’re touring on the SnoCore Tour. That starts February 1st and those dates are on our website, flyleafmusic.com and on the SnoCore website. So that will be all over the U.S. and I think we have another tour in the works after that that isn’t announced yet. We are also going to gear up for a second single, which I can’t announce yet, but that will be very soon and we’ll make a video for it and all that fun stuff. There’s a lot of exciting things happening in 2015,” said May.
As the band’s bio says, “Music comes to life when it must. It lies dormant and then blossoms in its creator at just the right moment.” Well that moment appears to be now for Flyleaf. After two-plus years of May being with the band, she has finally been able to put her own personal touch on the music of Flyleaf while continuing to respect the influence and music of the one who came before here. The fanbase is clearly sticking around and supporting the changes. Looks like we can expect Flyleaf to be around for a long time to come.