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High Flight Society
by Jon Fisher
Contributor on 2011-12-19 17:09:51
Jason Wilkes of High Flight Society talks about the group's goals, the future of 'free' music, their plans for Christmas, and their new EP "Lights Come Down"

Your new EP “Lights Come Down” is going to release in four days, and you funded that with Kickstarter and I wanted to ask you what was your experience doing that?

It was pretty good. Kickstarter is to the point now to where every band in the world is doing some Kickstarter thing. So it was kind of fresh when we did it, but now it’s getting harder to get people to really participate. But it was really cool considering the fact that it was basically us asking our fans to give us money and then wait a long time to hear the record that they’re giving us money for. From our standpoint, if I was a fan of a band I probably would have struggled doing that, having to wait for so long. People weren’t reluctant at all, they just went for it. So that it actually showed us that we have a lot more dedicated fans than we thought. It was eye-opening in a really good way.

With labels like Come and Live with bands putting their music on-line for free and asking for donations, do you think that’s the wave of the future?

Honestly I think it is. A lot of artists wouldn’t say that because we make money from selling stuff. But if you’re on a record label you make money on the road, you don’t make any money really from your records. But if you’re independent, that helps a little bit, but with pirating and all that stuff it got bad. Then with Spotify coming out, now you can listen to music for free anyway. Come and Live has the right idea. Eventually you’re just going to give your music away. It’s going to be free and then you’ll get paid to perform it for people that want to hear it. I’ve been actually saying that for a couple of years in the real near future all music is going to be free. I’ve been raising a little bit of money, non-Kickstarter-wise, through a Paypal account to do it for a little worship EP. All of my solo stuff is just going to be free, no matter what, for the lifetime of anything I’ve ever recorded. With that I’m just going ahead and embracing the future. It’s going to this way in five years anyway.

I was going to actually ask you about Spotify and a lot of this stuff that people are putting out streaming. It sounds like it’s going to be out there and everybody is going to grab what they’re going to grab.

A lot of bands and artists get really old lady on everybody, you know, like you have to talk your grandma into learning how to text. Cause you’re like “Grandma, it’s 2011 you gotta text me, I don’t like the phone”. And she’s like “I don’t wanna learn how to text”. That’s artists right now, “I don’t wanna give my music away on Spotify, I wanna sell vinyls for $20”. You have to, because that’s what’s happening. I listen to Spotify everyday when I’m editing pictures for my photography or writing stuff. I’m always on Spotify. If you’re not on, people won’t listen to your stuff. Don’t be the naggy old lady that doesn’t want to text.

I caught you guys at Purple Door two years ago and I really liked your set. What are your plans for touring right now, and what is your preference for touring, do you prefer the festivals or do you like playing the smaller venues?

As far as our preference, I think it’s really 50/50 because festivals have the built-in crowd so unless you’re playing the very first spot on the side stage while they got the blow-up toys and all that stuff going it’s good. If you’ve got a decent spot, you’re going to have some people in front of you, which is cool. But the downside about it is that most of them are probably there to see Skillet or Red. So they’re there and they’re going “Yeah” but the whole time they’re thinking “two more hours until Red plays”. A little venue, a small club or a church, especially a club where there’s nobody built-in, if five people come they came to see you. So it’s rewarding in a whole different way.

I actually tend to lean toward the club and small venue part of things to whoever is coming is coming specifically to see you. And again, if you do a whole tour of that for a month, it starts wearing on you if you really don’t draw that well in the area you’re at and you’re not playing for a whole lot of people. I think a perfect tour would be start the tour with a festival, play a bunch of small places, do a festival in the middle and end it with a festival. So it’s like a good and a bad roller coaster.

As far as touring for us, 2012 is kind of up in the air right now. Even with the whole Kickstarter thing, we didn’t come right out and say it but we kind of hinted at it where everybody could just understand if didn’t get a record funded by somebody else, we don’t have the money to record. Somebody else had to pay for it. So when the whole label thing went down if our fans didn’t fund it, we didn’t have any way to record. If you can’t record, you’re not a band, and if the band’s not working, you gotta get a real job. So it was either they fund it, we record and everything’s cool or we have to quit. So we literally almost broke up because of that whole deal.

So right now we’re sitting at releasing the EP and see how it does and see what develops. We’re all chomping at the bit to back out on the road cause we love it but at the same time, especially with me, my daughter’s going to be two years old in March. I’m going to be leaving my daughter and my wife to go out with no backing whatsoever. It’s literally like if you were to say to your wife, “Hey I’m going to go to work for a month and not really get paid but I’m going to impress the boss for a whole month”. Your wife would be like “What?!” We really, really, really want to tour, so if we don’t it’s not because we don’t want to. And if it can happen at all, we’ll force it to happen. I got all my fingers and toes crossed that it works out. It’s at the mercy of whoever I guess. People buy the EP and listen to it.

I was going to ask you about touring with having a young family like that, it’s got to be tough.

We averaged two to three runs, so we’ve never been a band that stays out for two to three months, just because we’re really family-oriented and had a lot of stuff going on here. So it wouldn’t be terrible if I had something to show for it. I would miss my daughter and miss my family, but if it was providing like a decently paying job then it’s justifiable. You go do this ministry thing, which is completely what it is, but I can also have something to show for it. If I’m just leaving and doing my thing and nothing to come back to provide anything and my wife’s busting her tail at her job when I’m gone that’s crazy. It’s hard but when you love it as much as any musician does, it’s cool at the same time. It’s a battle that you fight the whole time.

What was your inspiration for writing some of the songs on the new EP?

It’s really all over the place. The whole thing with the EP was when we were on Word Records and Warner Brothers, we going to release our second full length CD and we wrote, me and the guitarist mainly, wrote 60 songs for it and then that whole thing went down. So we were left with 60 really good songs and six slots to put them into. So over that time period it was all over the place regarding what they were about. It actually got to where the first track of the EP, “The Proof”, it’s kind of a weird little stab sort of at ourselves in that we stopped believing in what we were doing. Half of me was saying “This ain’t working, you need to quit” and my other half of me was saying “You’re going to go do this and it’s going to be awesome and I’m going to bring the proof back”. It’s also kind of a little stab at the music industry, like “You lost it, here’s the proof when you hear this record”. It’s little things like that.

Then the single off the record “Direction” and it’s nothing too special regarding what it’s about looking for direction. I was questioning whether the band was right or the band was wrong and that’s what that was. The song called “Stand Up” is probably the most aggressive song on there. It’s actually about my daughter. It’s about stepping up and being the man that I need to be for my daughter and making wise decisions and not just messing around.

So then, “Lights Come Down” is the title track and it confuses a lot of people, because they’re like “What are they trying to say? Is it Lights Come Down as in the show is about to start? And the lights are down and everybody’s cheering and then it’s going to be a big explosion? Or are they saying it’s Lights Come Down like, oh well, we just turned the lights off on this whole thing?” So that song lyric is really stating, “where are you when the lights come down?” So it’s about being the same person behind closed doors as you are in public. So we titled it that way because we like messing with people.

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Well I really enjoyed your last EP and hope you guys keep plugging away.

Well we’re at the mercy of things. We went away for awhile and now we’re back. We’ll just have to see what happens.

Is there a favorite scripture that you wouldn’t mind sharing?

There is a good bit. Some of my favorites are like one of the more popular ones, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”. It applies to us a lot, just because we’re out there doing our thing, quite literally. We don’t just play churches all the time, we play bars and at clubs and non-Christians listen to our music and buy our records. So it’s almost like our music is our fishing net and we’re kind of fishing for people.

These days I’ve really been into scriptures about power and authority and all that kind of stuff. One I’ve really been digging is the kingdom of heaven is not a matter of talk but of power. I think that’s super cool because especially in the Christian music industry it’s 99.9% talk. You meet half the people and you’re like “Ow, what are you talking about and doing?”

I think in Christianity in general there’s just so much talk, like with Christmas being here, people run around saying “Jesus is the reason for the season, I’m a Christian”. Do you really believe that or are you just saying that. When you talk to them there’s really nothing, there’s no authority or power in anything. When you ask them to pray for you, they’re like “Yeah man I’ll totally add you to my quiet time, this evening, when I get home”. Instead of praying for you right now and making things happen. Being in the Christian music industry and being a Christian since I was eight years old, that one speaks to me, cause not being one who just talks, you get fed up pretty quickly with that kind of thing. Those would be my two main pieces of scripture right now, it’ll probably switch in a month or two.

I also appreciate your comment about that you guys are out not just in Christian settings. I know Christian bands sometimes get heat for that. I know that Marc Martel from Downhere has gotten some heat for participating in the Queen tribute band. What are your thoughts about that?

My opinion on that whole thing is Marc is an incredible vocalist, coming from a vocalist, he is phenomenal. Every time he sings, I’m like “Holy crap!” Like me, I’m a photographer and musician and a couple other things, but the main thing I do is, if someone asks me what do you do, I say “I’m a musician”. I’m a singer. God blessed me with a voice to sing. My father-in-law is an engineer. God blessed him with incredible abilities to be an engineer. He can fix anything and he works at this big factory and fixes like crazy furnaces. But he doesn’t work at a Christian factory because God gave him engineer abilities. Like my dad doesn’t do what he does at a Christian facility because God gave him the ability to do that.

Like I’m a singer and Marc Martel’s a singer and we both sing in Christian bands, but it’s also our job, it’s what we do. So we don’t have to be doing just Christian stuff, just like the auto repair mechanic doesn’t have to put “Jesus is Lord” on top of his wrecker. I have really strong opinions about that kind of stuff. It’s a real big deal for people to step out of the industry and go into a secular industry type setting just because you’re taking your talents and glorifying God in other places. People are still going to see how awesome his voice is and then he can talk to them.

It’s all about relationships and stuff. Sometimes I lean a little bit more that way than I do the pedestal of the church, just because people already expect something out of you. So when you talk to them it kind of goes over their head because when we say we’re a Christian band and we’re quoting Bible verses at you, you’re like “Yeah, yeah, you’re the same as a preacher, whatever”. But in a secular setting if somebody starts talking to you, you’re like “Whoa this guy’s saying something, I want to listen to him”.

You know the original idea of the church was a gathering of believers to worship God and celebrate and hang out with each other. The original thing was if you would go to church you would live your life in front of them during regular life. Living a normal Christian life was being a Christian wherever you were and you were a disciple of Christ. Then when people latched onto it you were like “By the way, there’s a whole bunch more people like me and we hang out, and we celebrate this and we worship God”. Now it’s like “You don’t have to do anything, I’m the pastor of whoever, whatever church, and you don’t have to do nuthin’. All you gotta do is get your people to come here and I’ll do all the work.” We can’t really get anybody if we don’t go out there to do it. We’re just out there living our lives and doing our thing and doing what God allows us to wherever we go. We’re not really constricting it to anywhere.

Do you have any special plans for the holidays?

Our holidays are crazy. We have a bunch of family, so we’ll probably run around like crazy a couple of days around Christmas just to see as much family as we possibly can. We usually go on vacation in late November/early December, so we ended up going to Hilton Head for three or four days with my family. So the Christmas vacation is already past and gone and now it’s just a lot of hanging out and a lot of eating and letting people play with my daughter while I do other things.
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