Step Up To The Microphone (by Jon Steingard)

On Friday night we played our first festival show as the new Hawk Nelson. Wow. So much fun!

I say “the new Hawk Nelson”, knowing such a phrase sums up a mountain of changes that have occurred over the past year, and also knowing that those changes might make many different people feel many different things.

I wanted to share a little bit with you all about some of the events of the past year, and let you in on what it’s been like inside Hawk Nelson during that time.

By mid-2011, Hawk Nelson had been a band for 9 years, put out 5 records with Tooth and Nail records, and played shows all over the world. We were (and are) keenly aware that not every band gets to experience that kind of career…. We felt, and continue to feel, incredibly blessed by that.

Jason Dunn had always been an integral part of who we were as a band, and his presence on and off stage was one of the things that made us who we were. We had been through so many highs and lows together, and those shared experiences create the kind of relationship you can only have with a brother. Honestly, the times we spent hanging out off stage were one of the things that made the band special. We really do love each other and enjoy each other’s company. It was not lost on any of us that this is not the case in every band.

By 2011, each of us had been wrestling with the desire to grow beyond what we currently were as a band. We all agreed that we wanted to become more than what we were. The struggle was figuring out what that looked like. As time went on, Jason began to express that he wished to make a transition into a solo career. Of course, as brothers, we wanted to be supportive his dreams and aspirations…. so we knew we had to let him go and not hold him back. At the same time, the question naturally arose…. What does this mean for us? Is Hawk Nelson over?

We wrestled with that question for many months. Publicly, we were not yet talking about the developments, but they weighed heavy on our hearts, and I’m sure people coming to shows could probably tell we seemed different. There were unresolved questions in our minds and it is very difficult to perform when everything is so uncertain.

In early 2012 we went on tour with MercyMe on the Rock and Worship Roadshow. MercyMe was made aware of our upcoming changes and they took us on tour regardless. I think I will forever be grateful for that decision on their part.

The tour was wonderful, and as news of Jason’s departure spread amongst the other bands and crew on tour (it wasn’t yet public), the level of support for both Jason and the band was unreal. It was honestly a godsend that we were on tour with such a supportive family.

While on that tour, we decided that we definitely wanted to continue as a band. There were so many things we still wanted to do, and so much we still wanted to say. Jason was supportive of our decision, and that made the whole thing so much less stressful. So, the search began for a singer.

We began considering several singers that we had met over the years and really loved. I think any one of them would have done a bang-up job. We met with several different guys, and there were some personal connections made which felt really fun and exciting… but we weren’t certain if we had the right guy just yet.

Then, one day, Bart Millard pulled me into the MercyMe dressing room and gave me the sales pitch of my life. For those who don’t know him, he can be very very persuasive. He thought that there was already a member of the band who should step up to the plate and be the new singer…. Someone who the fans already knew, and who the fans would want to support and rally around, since they wouldnt feel blindsided by a new addition to the band in that key frontman role. Bart thought that someone was me.

The truth is, the first person to suggest the idea was my mom. Of course, I brushed it off and thought that every mom probably thinks her son can do anything, so of course my mom would think I could do this. Haha. I disagreed. I had been the singer in bands before, but I had grown accustomed to the support role of the guitar player, and I enjoyed it. If I’m honest, I was terrified of the idea of being the singer and frontman.

But when Bart and my mom agree on something, I take notice.

I started to consider it. We began to rehearse in dressing rooms on tour as a 3 piece. All of a sudden, the idea didn’t seem so ridiculous. It even felt fun. We began to like this option.

As soon as I got home from that tour, I began writing songs. At a ridiculous pace. At this point, I’ve written 20+ songs for new HN. With every new song, the idea of being the singer felt more and more real. Internally within the band, it started to feel really good!

The new songs are so fun. Tons of energy. Super singable. Really meaningful and heartfelt. Everything I wanted them to be… And we think they’re some of the best songs we’ve created in years. As we began rehearsing them, we had so so much fun. It was like new life had been breathed into the band. It all felt new again.

There was still the question, however….. What were the fans going to think of this?!

Then came this week.

We had a hometown Nashville show and a festival in Michigan booked. This was going to be the first real test…. How would the new songs feel? How would people feel about me as a frontman? I could feel the pressure, but quite honestly, I didn’t feel overly stressed. I can only attribute that to sheer grace. This whole time we’ve all had the feeling that God is doing stuff behind the scenes and all we need to do is trust in Him, work hard, and stay positive, and good things would happen. I clung to that through this week.

The Nashville show on Wednesday was incredible. First off, the place was packed. I was so moved by the showing of support from friends and fans alike. We had so much fun playing the new stuff and old stuff alike. I’m sure anyone there could see the smiles on our faces. We were just loving being a band and singing songs we believed in. I watched my wife in the crowd as she sang every word back with me. She had never seen me as a singer before.

Hawk Nelson at 12th & Porter

After the show, the feedback was great. Both friends and fans were so so supportive and encouraging. It felt like all our hard work had been so worth it. It was nice to know that we weren’t alone in loving the new songs!

Then, Friday night, we played our first festival. I’ll be honest, I was more nervous at my second show than my first. A main stage slot in front of several thousand people is enough to make a new frontman want to chicken out and go home! But we played about an hour of new and old songs, and even had the chance to do an acoustic worship section we had talked about doing. I stood out on the thrust and lead several thousand people in singing to God. Woowwwww. At the end of that section I stood and listened to the crowd sing “I could sing of your love forever” all on their own. That was my favorite.

After the show we signed autographs and met festival-goers. Everyone was so so encouraging about the new direction the band is taking. People were singing the choruses to new songs and sharing their favorites. So fun!

I can honestly say I’m astounded and humbled by the level of support we’ve had through all this. This week has been really exciting for us and it’s been awesome to realize that we have a great many people alongside us on this journey.

We have never been more excited to be a band… Never more amped to share these new songs with you… And never felt more anticipation about our future. God has been of faithful in our lives, and he has a plan bigger and better than our own. We are stoked to see what it is.

It’s my hope that when you hear the new Hawk Nelson, it will be as fun, meaningful, and sincere to you as it is to us. I hope that you will sing your hearts out alongside me at shows.

More than anything, I hope that the new music will bring you into a place where you feel the hope that we feel. Nothing we are going through is unique to us. Everyone struggles through changes that bring an end to the old and a beginning to the new. But God is faithful, and he’s always willing to prove it if you are willing to let Him.

Jon