DO YOU WANT TO BE SHOCKED? Listen to one track from the new Avalon album and get ready to throw any preconceived notions out the window! For a group with 21 chart topping singles, 6 Dove Awards, 3 Grammy nominations and even an American Music Award, it would be easy for Avalon to rest on their laurels and continue cranking out their slick brand of vocal pop. While the critically acclaimed foursome is certainly proud of the past, their first proper studio CD in over three years, Reborn, truly lives up to its title in both spiritual outlook and overall stylistic composition. Sure, you’ll still be listening to Christian music’s premiere vocal group, but the similarity between any previous Avalon albums and their most recent release ends right there thanks to this completely new, cutting edge, enthralling and unequivocally original record.
“Reborn is really a fitting title because it signifies the birth of something new and exciting, which is certainly true of the current season of Avalon,” explains an exuberant Janna Long. “We signed a new record deal earlier this year and found ourselves planning a fall tour, which meant a new album in between. It was a really exciting whirlwind that forced us to all get in high gear and give it our best.”
One of the most instantly apparent changes comes in the credits, which for the very first time in the group’s illustrious history unites the group with producer Ian Eskelin (All Star United, Krystal Meyers, Stellar Kart, Francesca Battistelli). It’s a curious choice indeed considering his respected rankings in the modern rock spectrum, but one that helps cement Avalon’s latest endeavor as arguably their most ambitious to date.
“I’m not going to lie about Ian- he was absolutely over the top but incredible,” ventures Jeremi Richardson with a chuckle. “As a songwriter, he absolutely killed it with phenomenal lyrics and melodies and he truly became part of the team rather than just treating it like a gig. He had his moments of antics and goofing off, but was also constantly challenging us and encouraging us. That balance is the mark of a great producer and I think listeners will be able to feel that energy firsthand. There are some killer throwback moments to some overlaying of melodies and octaves, plus tons of atypical harmonies that have made Avalon sound so unique all along. But Reborn is the 2009 version of all that and it’s very aggressive with a lot of guitar driven moments, not so much where the instruments ever overwhelm the vocals, but to a very passionate peak. Everyone I’ve played it for so far says they’d never expect it, but at the same time, they can totally tell it’s Avalon, which to us is the ultimate compliment.”
Another noticeable advancement within the group legacy is the introduction of brand new member Amy Richardson, who just so happens to be Jeremi’s wife, allowing the quartet to now be comprised of two married couples. As a result, the collaborative intuition and uncanny chemistry between these sky-high singers is immediately apparent, yet unmistakably Avalon.
“I’ve actually already toured with the group on occasion and have been singing in church for as long as I can remember, so it’s been a very comfortable transition for us all,” Amy assures. “After traveling with a lot of choirs and vocal groups in college, I started recording and touring as a background singer for a variety of worship leaders and then this opportunity opened up, which allows me to minister alongside my husband and the incredible foundation Janna and Greg have laid for the group. Not only are we both able to identify with one another as married couples, but between us all, we have four girls on the bus all under the age of five and they’re quickly becoming best friends as well!”
The Reborn era is indeed a full circle journey for founding member Janna, a lifelong singer who first embarked upon her music ministry in Truth before launching the dream known as Avalon fourteen years ago. Though she’s also known for a solo sidestep on occasion, her true musical ambitions have always been cemented in group settings, though she’s simultaneously surprised and humbled by this troupe’s unceasing longevity.
“To be able to be around for a decade and a half is just awesome and I had no idea God would allow us to have the success we’ve had,” she ponders. “It’s definitely bigger than I ever dreamed, especially in these times when people are being so much more selective of where they spend their money and time. The fact that they continue to take two hours a night to spend with us and support our projects from the studio is really rewarding, and I appreciate it even more now that I have a family.”
Of course her husband and long-time group member Greg Long is no stranger to the spotlight, starting out as a revival singer with his evangelistic family and eventually spring boarding to astounding solo success. His inspiring string of singles includes seven number ones, alongside an ASCAP Writer Award for “Song of the Year” behind “Mercy Said No,” plus a pair of Dove nominations. Though he often continues to write, record and tour individually, Greg’s been primarily committed to Avalon since 2003.
“As a solo artist, I’m a singer/songwriter, but when it comes to my part in Avalon, for me the first priority is being a member of the family,” he says both figuratively and literally. “If I wouldn’t have made this decision when the invitation was granted, my life would’ve been fine, but I would’ve been apart from my wife and kids a whole lot more. But God opened that door and the whole history of recording and touring has been nothing short of spectacular. Avalon fans have been so gracious and supportive to both the group and me individually no matter what the season.”
Lifelong Avalon listeners also accepted Jeremi with open arms from the very first day he entered the full time foray in 2007. Outside of Reborn, his fingerprints are scattered throughout The Greatest Hits, most notably, his glistening contributions to the number one smash “Still My God.” It’s been quite an inspiring ride to say the least for the soulful singer, who grew up a preacher’s kid, sang consistently throughout his upbringing, entered college on a full music scholarship and graduated to a highly coveted gig at Walt Disney World. “I’ve literally listened to Avalon for as long as I can remember,” Jeremi asserts, “so I can tell you both as a member and a fan that people’s jaws are going to hit the ground when they hear Reborn.”
Much of that aforementioned freedom comes from a brand new tag team with E1 Music, which was previously known as Koch Records and already hosted the diverse likes of The Beatles’ Ringo Starr, Ashley Cleveland, Twila Paris and Bishop E. Long. Along with the new partnership came a completely open creative canvas where the group was encouraged to stretch themselves further than ever before with no strings attached.
“They took all the reigns off and basically said, ‘you’ve been doing this for awhile, so just do what you do,’” recalls Greg of the E1 experience. “In other words, no one was ever looking over our shoulders talking to us about core demographics, which gave us the chance to just focus on the artistic side. We love our history and are grateful for everything God’s given us, but that type of freedom also allowed us the opportunity to experiment and have a lot of fun in the process.”
From Janna’s vantage point, Reborn will give the dedicated a new twist on the group’s renowned formula, while expanding their appeal to a much wider audience than ever before. “Over the last three years, we released a hymns record, a covers record and a retrospective record, plus had some members change,” she reflects. “So between all of that and the fact that life was just happening right alongside it all, there’s a really pivotal change and evolution. Sure, the vocal standpoint is consistent with the Avalon sound, but the rest is much more varied. This is definitely not your Mom’s Avalon record!”