The original members of Grammy nominated, multi-Dove Award winning contemporary Christian music vocal band First Call are once again undivided. Melodie Tunney, Bonnie Keen and Marty McCall have come together to record a brand new EP, appropriately entitled Second Birth. The six-song project, slated for release later this year, will thrill fans of the group's pristine harmonies and introduce a whole new generation to First Call's signature sound, which has been likened to mainstream supergroup Manhattan Transfer.
Hallels: Congratulations on the forthcoming release of your new EP "Second Birth." When do you think this EP will be released?
FC: Thank you for asking about "Second Birth". It's been a joy to sing together again and to make this EP available for First Call fans and hopefully a new generation of listeners who have never heard our music. We have a new website: www.firstcallmusic.org online as well as our musician facebook page. The songs from "Second Birth" are slated to be on iTunes by April.
Hallels: Tell us more about this new EP. Who did you work with on this new album in terms of songwriters and producers?
FC: This project has been a family-affair collaboration. Melodie's husband, Dick Tunney produced 4 of the songs, programming keyboards/strings and recording vocals in his home studio. Brent King, Bonnie's husband recorded 2 songs and then mixed and mastered the project. Mel's daughter Whitney Newby shot photos and designed the cover. Marty's wife, Vickie launched our website.
For material, we chose to recut two First Call favorites, 'O Sifuni Mungu' and 'Lord of All'. We wanted to look at arranging several other praise and worship pieces, recording them in a First Call-style.
Travis Cottrell wrote a spectacular chart for "Wade In The Water", a spiritual that is a special vocal-gymnastics moment on the project for the fans who enjoyed the intricate, a cappella moments from our past projects.
The three of us have been humbled by an ongoing stream of interest in our music, mostly from our Facebook page over the past few years. As we've traveled a bit doing reunion concerts the conversation about putting together a new project deepened. Last January, 2015 really hit the 'go' button for us during the live stream DVD taping of CCM United's "We Will Stand". First Call was hired to sing back up for the event honoring Contemporary Christian Music songs with 33 artists over a span of 30 years.
We were simply blown away by the power of this experience. Having no idea how it would actually come together, we found ourselves on the front of the stage band. We sang background vocals on a lot of these songs or toured with many of the artists and friends over the years. As we looked each one in the eyes, honored to be singing with them again it was truly overwhelming in the best sense of the word. Our cell phones were blowing up with fans and friends sharing the moment, watching online or in the audience. After the taping, we moved ahead to finish the EP with a clear vote - let's do this with no expectations but to make the music available. God has always honored the efforts and surprised us beyond our wildest dreams with how the music has a life of it's own.
Hallels: Is there a new single chosen to be released out of this EP yet? If yes, tell us about this new single?
FC : We haven't even discussed a single or how to approach radio with the EP. Great question! Thinking the three of us might land on "In Christ Alone" as a single. We recorded the song in a dramatic, First-Call arrangement and the message of the Getty's music is a heart anthem for us.
Hallels: Having over 30 odd years in the music industry, how do you think Christian music has changed over the years?
FC: Change is inevitable. As the internet and ministry careers have exploded, the music seems to have changed along with those influences. 30 years ago, many artists were out there, writing and singing about their faith with little expectation of making a living or career from the work. Record companies came alongside ministries that were already in tact to make the music accessible to the public. Now, 30 years later, artists look at music ministry as a career from the onset. It's an interesting change in opportunity and marketing. Along with those changes and social media and as always the platform of being onstage comes the challenge of keeping perspective on the message.
First Call began as a studio trio. We weren't looking for a record deal. We were singing in the studio full time when through as series of God-led mercies, we were allowed the honor and privilege of touring and recording. It was a backward/forward surprise to find an audience that wanted our sound. Over the years, we embraced the journey of writing, recording and touring.
We are so grateful to have been part of the Christian recording world in a time when artists were free to explore creativity with great support. It was about the songs and how to make the Gospel message exciting and authentic. It was a renaissance time to interact with and co-write, to be produced by some of the most gifted producers and arrangers anywhere in the world. There's no other word but grateful, grateful, grateful.
Hallels: Looking back on your own career as a group, what were some of the highlights?
FC: Every part of our journey has been a gift from God, a grace filled time. Highlights of course would be touring with Sandi Patty, Amy Grant, singing on the Tonight Show and the Grammy Awards, Dove Awards productions. We often laugh about one of the two girls being pregnant for years in a photo shoot or on television. We had our children at the same time, grew up and into life together.
The sweetest aspect of looking back is hearing from fans who have been encouraged by our music. There's only so much an artist can do in the studio. The rest of the process takes on a journey all it's own, used by God. It's humbling and moving to know the music has a timeless aspect to where and how God uses the mystery of art to pierce the human heart.
Hallels: Has your faith in Christ changed over the years?
FC: As a group, this is a tough question to answer. We're three individuals who are continually in process, being changed and deepened by living life with Christ. As a trio, the three of us have remained friends in spite of losses, heart aches, breaking and a lot of tears. First Call's journey is like anyone's. There have been dips in the road and a lot of bumps along with great joy and success - and everything in between. God has grown us individually through the pain, the fires and taught us. There's no 'arriving'. We are en route. It's a beautiful journey to be on with friends that have grown to be family over the years. What's better than singing about Christ with best friends who love you?
Hallels: What are some of the lessons you hope to impart to your listeners from this new EP?
FC: The title of our EP is "Second Birth". This comes from a line in the second verse of "Lord of All": Lord of all, of a love that purchased man a second birth. God is ever active and alive in the intimate every day moments of our lives. He is never finished. He is faithful to birth death from life, to bring new mercies to each morning. He gave Himself as Jesus to a broken world. He's never satisfied with anything less than restoration. That's His way, His shattering, merciful, loving way.
For fans who've followed First Call over the years, perhaps they will smile seeing the original trio singing together again - a full circle after three incarnations, another second birth.
First Call has always pointed to Christ in our music. Our prayer would be that anyone who hears the EP will inhale deeply and experience a reminder of the height and breadth, the endless depth of God's unchanging love.