Preview by Joshua Maloni
Sidewalk Prophets frontman Dave Frey will be one of few to fondly recall the great pandemic of 2020.
As the world went into quarantine to stop the spread of coronavirus, Frey welcomed his first child and launched a virtual tour with his band. Sidewalk Prophets are set to release a new album – and possibly perform at the legendary Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee.
The band will bring a new live set, filmed in Frey’s town, to the people of New York (and technically those within 300 miles) at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 13.
Unlike a lot of the live music people are seeing right now, where a solo artist or group plays from a living room or makeshift studio, Sidewalk Prophets will A) be together B) on stage C) performing live for fans via the interweb.
NFP recently caught up with Frey, who discussed fatherhood, “touring,” and making this a special event for fans. An edited Q&A follows.
Q: So, Dave normally when I talk to musicians, it's because they're coming to Western New York; they're coming to Buffalo to play; and I tell them we're looking forward to having you live in concert. I guess now I'm gonna say we're looking forward to watching you on our computer screens.
(Before we get to that), I have to say, I've been writing about all these things related to COVID-19, and all these different things that people are doing and learning and trying to do to build community spirit. But you're the first person I've talked to who actually decided to have a baby during the pandemic.
Dave Frey: (Laughs) Yeah; I’m building the family up.
Q: Tell me, what's it like to have a baby in this weird time of pandemic?
Dave Frey: Yeah, you know it was surprisingly peaceful in our lives, because my wife, Harmony, had worked for the band for a couple years doing our merch, and she had stepped down in her last trimester pregnancy to focus on all that. And I am on the road all the time. and so, there was a fear of shows getting canceled and things of that nature, not knowing what the future holds. But there was this overwhelming piece of, “I have time with my wife.” Like, “We are home together, pouring into each other.”
And, you know, even though I was going upstairs filming videos for Sidewalk and things of that nature, I was able to go downstairs and be with my pregnant wife, and help her out in all the way she needed.
Our son came May the 12th – his name's William – and it was amazing. The hospital was very strict on their COVID codes, and I'm so grateful for that because it's been amazing. The nurses were so kind and so understanding. So, our families weren't able to come and visit our son at the hospital, but when he came home, it was in such a beautiful time that, a few days later, my folks came down from Indiana to visit.
I feel like we we've been so blessed in every step. There's this little walking path near our house in Nashville, and my wife and I would go out there and fly kites and have picnics and try to try to make it seem normal.
And so, at that time, we were supposed to have, you know, 10 to 15 shows, at least, during that those times. I'm so grateful I didn't miss a minute of all the time before baby's come. And now that William’s here, we're doing rehearsals here in town for this virtual tour; and I'm able to come home and help my wife out. I usually get the midnight to 4 a.m. shifts, which I was made for that. But last night, he slept. He slept from midnight to 4, so Daddy got to sleep, too (laughs). So, it was a win-win.
I think overwhelmingly the word I would use is just blessed because, I think in the middle of it, my wife has always encouraged me every night that we go to bed, she says “What are three things you're grateful for?” And without a doubt, every night during this COVID, we were grateful for time – and what a gift time is. We often don't even think about what a gift it is; and so, yeah, I counted my blessings through every uncertain day, and found the blessings.
Q: Is William your first or do you have other children?
Dave Frey: Yeah, he's my first.
Q: OK; so, you've been a dad now for almost two weeks. How do you feel about that?
Dave Frey: It's been amazing. Words can't express how exhausted and joyful you are. Like, it's the hardest week of your life – and the best. And I think that it's just, it's surreal; and all those things. And to know that there's a there's a guy – a little man – that's depending upon me for all the things he can't do quite yet, but he's learning; he's learned so much in just these few weeks.
I could go on for days talking about it but, man, more than anything, again, like I come back to how grateful I am. This was almost like, you know. for my family, my mom is getting up into her late 60s, and my stepdad, as well; and so, it's a really scary time with COVID for all these folks. But I feel like William was this beacon of light. “Oh, man, we got a baby.” We didn't tell them a name. “We got little man to look forward to,” is what they would call them. “We can't wait for little man to come.”
And so. there was always this grasping of this is a bit of hope in the midst of this uncertainty, that I think was pretty amazing to have during a time like this.
Q: The second interesting thing that you're going to be doing during this weird time we're in right now is a virtual tour. I’ve got to say, I personally, I don't know of a lot of bands that are doing this. Tell me a little bit about the motivation for it, and how's it all been coming together so far.
Dave Frey: I give all the credit to my buddy. Ben and I started the band together. Ben McDonald is our manager, and we toured together for 15 years before he stepped down to the manager position. But he is our dreamer. He is our engine. And he is every bit Sidewalk Prophets. And so, we are so grateful that he was looking around.
And here we are with five guys in the band, and maybe 12 total crew – you know, all of us together make about 12 – and he's like, “How can we provide? How can we sustain in a time like this?” And his brain just kicked it into creative, Walt Disney brilliance. Walt Disney’s one of my heroes and he never stopped thinking of what comes next. And I feel like Ben’s that way.
And so, Ben called me up and he's like, “Man, what about a virtual tour?” I was like, “Dude, I've seen bands do stuff in their living room, and it's sweet; it's very sweet man – don't get me wrong.”
I'm a big Josh Ritter fan, Ben Folds, and I've been tuning into all their things. But he's like, “No, no, no." He goes, “No; I mean, let's go somewhere here in town when it's safe and really trump it up – like really make it an experience for our fans, and take it to another level.”
And he started dreaming about what that looked like, and making it feel like we were actually traveling to the venue – making it regional so that, you know, when we go to New York, it's going to be New Yorkers that are tuning in. The whole state.
And so, we have like this radius clause. When you claim your ticket – you’ve got to claim a ticket, but it's free; but once you type in your information, it tells you when we're going to be in your area. And so, that way we can say, “Hey, we're in New York tonight. Like the entire state of New York, we're here for you.”
And we have a poll where fans can vote on a song for that night, and that night alone, to make it special. And so, that's what we wanted to make sure, when we went out on this virtual tour, that it felt like you were there. Even though you're in your living room or wherever you're at tuning in, we want it to be specifically for your state, for this region. And we want people to be able to come for free. We want you to be able to do that. And we have VIP stuff that, you know, we can hang out earlier and it costs a little bit of money just to help with the band stuff.
But all that being said, we want it to be just an encouragement and a community builder, because I think, more than anything, what I've missed is community. Of course, we have Zoom, and all that stuff to help us. But this is really a step towards doing what we've been called to do, to see the family of God come back together.
Q: OK. So, you and your bandmates are performing from inside of a venue?
Dave Frey: Yes, we have a place here in town (in Nashville) that it has like seven cameras. Very nice, TV studio-ish cameras. And literally after we're done (with the interview), I'm gonna head there, and continuing the rehearsal process.
It’s different; you know, you're not just playing on a stage looking at people. You're now making sure you hit your marks for the camera, and looking at this camera at this time and, you know, we're going to be filming stuff so that we can shoot it in 3-D just to add another element. You'll wear those blue and red glasses. You don't have to. You don't have to have those glasses to watch the show, but you can order them at Sidewalk Prophets (website). …
You know, just little elements that you wouldn't normally see on a live stream from home. We want it to feel like you're there at the tour. And certain moments we pop out of your screen with this 3-D technology. It's gonna be a fun. More than anything, we’re going to have fun doing it. We're already having fun doing it.
Q: Obviously it's ambitious to do this, to begin with, but you mentioned the 3-D. The 3-D is just so impressive – and like just such a cool extra element to this. How did that come into this whole equation?
Dave Frey: Well, we did a tour in 3-D a couple years back. There's a guy, man, he is a mad scientist up in Michigan. And he made a camera that shoots in 3-D. It looks like something that got transported from the “Back to the Future” movie. And he comes down for, like, two or three days, and we just film silly things, happy things. And then we're going to film a couple songs in 3-D, and those won't be live when we broadcast. We'll cut to a video. We’ll say, “Hey, we got a 3-D experience prepared for you right now. We hope you enjoy this one.” And it'll be a song that that folks hopefully know – you know, one of our hits on the radio. And you put your glasses on and experience it that way.
It's really just a friend of ours that lives in Michigan that he’ll travel down to Nashville, and we'll shoot for a couple days straight, and make sure we got it exactly where we need it. Then we kind of blend those elements in.
When it gets to the night, we'll shoot to that video, and then we hope to have some – we're still thinking about it, technologically, how we can incorporate 3-D elements with our live performance – and so that'll be the next step. We've already filmed the 3-D and play it on a video. But now we're going to try to implement them both kind of, you know, Disney-style, where Mary Poppins dances with penguins. (Laughs) We're going to try to do 3-D elements while we're actually playing.
We'll see how that comes out; but I believe in my buddy Ben's dreams, and all of us working together.
Q: As you know, one of the big things that musicians like about playing live is that they get to interact with fans; they get to interact with the audience; a lot of people feed off their energy. That's not something that you can easily replicate, if at all, in this scenario. So, how do you sort of work around that?
Dave Frey: I think we're definitely trying really hard to make sure the band can see the feed, and there will definitely be a chat room element, where, like I said, we're gonna have a specific song for that night; where we're fans can vote on the song. And I know there'll be somebody there that's kind of reading the chat as we go, and can hopefully interject.
It's not going to be just music nonstop. I definitely want to make sure I take time to address the city, the state we're in. and even if we're in Nashville, we'll address New York, and we'll address the northeast, and let them know how much they mean. And during those times, I feel like we can at least, you know, have some of those comments.
And, yeah, it's not gonna be the same and never will. Lord willing, we'll be back together all in a venue again. But I think we're gonna try to make it as close to that experience as possible.
We also, like I said before, it's free to tun into the show itself, as long as you get a free ticket. But there also are opportunities to do like a VIP party that we're going to do before. We're actually hanging out over Zoom with fans, and playing games, and just virtually have a little bit of a devotional and things like that. That stuff is a little bit extra and helps us a lot, and it feels like community. But I think, even on the show front, we're gonna try our best to make it an interactive experience.
Q: What can you tell me about the new album?
Dave Frey: Sure. It’s called “The Things That Got Us Here,” and it now comes out July 3. It was supposed to come out today. Today (May 22) was the release day. But with all this being said, we thought, “Man, what a perfect weekend. If we got to move it back, let's move it to July 4 weekend.”
We're still scheduled to play at the Ryman Auditorium here in town on the fifth. And so, we thought, man, what a celebratory way to celebrate our freedom as a nation, but also freedom from this fear of COVID and all this. Let’s pencil it in for then.
We're definitely releasing it on the third – come whatever (laughs). It's been procrastinating long enough. I think this is our first album in five years, so it's absolutely time to release a new record.
“The Things That Got Us Here” is really about the stories, the trials, the road and all the miles – everything that God has brought us through to get to this point. And we stand … through the worst days of our life, we look back and say, “Man, I'm grateful for this. I'm grateful for these hard things, because they taught me so much; and I'm not the same person I was then.”
And so, I think that this record has a ton of fun on it. Our song “Smile” that we released was our first single, and it’s just kind of reminding people that joy is always there for us – even if happiness isn't. That God's joy is always there.
There’s songs like that but, there's also songs of wrestling with fear. I mean, kind of super-appropriate for times like these where you feel like abandoned; like nobody's listening. But, you know, in the end, even on those days, you realize that God’s closer than ever.
So, we're excited for people to hear the whole record. It's been a long shot coming in, and we can't wait till July 3.
Q: The last thing I want to ask you about is, of course, the Ryman. You know, no matter if you're a Christian band, a country band, a pop band, a rock band – I mean, that is, perhaps, the most iconic stage in all of music. What’s going to be special; what are you looking forward to; what can you tell me about performing at the Ryman?
Dave Frey: Moving the album was sad, but we knew that it's gonna get released eventually. But to move the Ryman show – we were supposed to play the Ryman in March, and, of course, it was right as things were getting really, really serious. So, we had rehearsed for it; we were so prepared; and then everything shut down.
We had so many special surprises and moments planned. We wanted to play our album from front to back, the new record, kind of make it a sneak peek for the fans that were coming. “Nobody's heard the album yet; let's play it from top to bottom, so people can (hear it.)” And then, of course, also play a set of our hits that people love, and tell stories behind them. And kind of make it about the things, the roads, that got us here – the journey – and involve some of our favorite artists here in town that were a part of that.
In canceling it – or, I guess, moving it – you know, we were really bummed. But, man, we're holding out hope that, July 5, one way or another, we can get together and do that.
Because, like you said, the Ryman was originally built as a worship venue for traveling pastors. It was a steamboat captain that took the money that he made and made it into this revival church. And for us to get to come back, you know, 100-plus years later and get to play it – where Johnny Cash and Elvis and all these incredible acts, Dolly Parton (performed). … I think Johnny Cash got banned from it, because he broke all the lights. You know, just these cool stories.
They call it “the mother church of country music,” but it's more than that. And I've seen so many of my favorite bands there. It feels like the most intimate of venues. And I think it's just a dream of any musician to do it. And so, I’m holding out hope that July 5th we'll still be able to make something really special happen.