June 18, 2006

The Afters cross over from Christian niche

By Deborah Evans Price

NASHVILLE (Billboard) - With a Gospel Music Award in hand
for best new artist and prime exposure from such mainstream
outlets as MTV, VH1 and pop radio, Dallas-based the Afters are
the next contenders for Switchfoot's crossover crown.

Although the Simple Records act's roots are in Christian
music, the majority of its exposure comes from the secular
world. "Beautiful Love," from the band's label debut, "I Wish
We All Could Win," is the theme song for MTV's "8th & Ocean"
and is in the new Lindsay Lohan film "Just My Luck." The song,
currently being worked by Columbia to top 40 and adult top 40
radio stations, was highlighted by American Eagle last fall in
the apparel chain's back-to-school campaign. The clip was voted
top video on mtvU's Dean's List, besting Coldplay.

Another track, "Until the World," is the theme for ABC
Family's "Beautiful People."

Like many rock acts emerging from the Christian market, the
Afters often get asked if they are a Christian or mainstream
rock band. "We are Christians, but we make music for
everybody," says lead singer Josh Havens, who thinks the
hopeful tone of their music is a drawing card. "It's
interesting to me that music is one of the only professions
that is categorized by faith. You don't look in the Yellow
Pages and (see a listing for) a Christian doctor or a Christian

Havens launched the band seven years ago with guitarist
Matt Fuqua, bassist Brad Wigg and drummer Marc Dodd while the
foursome worked at a Texas Starbucks.

They sold all 2,000 copies of a self-released EP in 2000,
and returned to the studio to record the full-length "When the
World Is Wonderful" under original name Blisse. The group
became a local sensation, and when labels came courting, it
signed with Simple, a new venture owned by MercyMe frontman
Bart Millard and producer/songwriter Pete Kipley.

Simple is marketed and promoted to the Christian market
through INO Records. Epic worked the band to the mainstream
after "I Wish We All Could Win" came out in early 2005, but the
group switched to the Columbia roster when former Epic
president Steve Barnett became CEO of Columbia last December.

"We were with Epic last year, and they worked really hard
at getting our music heard by the right people," Havens says.
"We toured with MercyMe, and that was a huge, huge opportunity
for us to go from not being a full-time touring band to touring
with MercyMe. We're fortunate to have had other bands and
people to have believed in us and kind of take us under their
wing." The band also toured with Jeremy Camp.

Millard has been a fan of the Afters ever since the
newcomers opened a Texas date for MercyMe several years ago. So
when he and Kipley launched Simple, the Afters were their first
signing. The album has sold 38,000, according to Nielsen

The Afters' Dodd feels mainstream gatekeepers have become
more accepting of bands from the Christian market, especially
when the songs do the talking. "We don't come out there with an
agenda when we go onstage," he says. "We let the music speak
for itself."