Singing Surrender: A Conversation with Dawn Michele, Part 2

While Dawn Michele has crafted a powerful music identity as the voice behind the hopeful rock anthems of Fireflight, the past few years have seen her mission and her ministry expanding. From mentorship to worship leading, the past few years have seen the already seasoned singer taking new strides towards encouraging and uplifting listeners.

The ultimate result is Surrender, a solo album that is currently available for fans to be a part of launching through PledgeMusic. In this second part of my two part interview with Dawn (see part 1 here), we caught up on the journey she has been on towards this newfound passion for vertical music.

So where has the solo project fit into all of this? As you’ve been recording the Fireflight singles and playing a couple shows– when did the solo songs for Surrender happen?

My solo project has been kind of a labor of love over a couple years now. Just out of nowhere I kind of felt this pull, this tug on my heart.

It all started maybe 5 years ago. My husband got asked to go be on a Christian radio station in Albuquerque, New Mexico. So we packed up in Nashville, and we moved to the desert. I always joke that Jesus had to wander in  the desert, and so did we! [laughs] So we moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and at the time Fireflight was still touring pretty heavily, so I was having to fly from Albuquerque to Nashville like every month to keep touring with the band. It was a heck of a commute.

A couple years into that, we did start pulling back a little bit. As we were starting to pull back, me and my husband had our little boy, Johnny. So life was so different. I was thinking, what’s life going to be like? What am I going to do? God, what should I do? I knew I didn’t want to quit touring and quit doing music ministry, but life changes a lot when you have a kid. You have to figure out how to make ends meet if you’re not going to be doing a ton of shows. In order to have a kid, you kind of have to have a career to support that kid, but if you have a regular career, you can’t be traipsing off to go do rock shows.

So I was like “God, what do You want me to do?” Circumstances aligned for me to meet with some incredible people at a huge church out there called Sagebrush. I went out and sang one of the featured songs with them on a Sunday morning and was super blown away by the heart of that church. I’ve never really been into the megachurch model so much, probably because I just always liked a nice, quiet service because I was so often out on the road and on stage for a big, loud show.

But man, I was blown away by the heart of this church. Every third Sunday, all of the mechanics in the church would come out to the parking lot and serve the community by helping the single moms and the elderly, taking care of their cars and stuff. They were stocking all of the food pantries in the city, regardless of what the affiliation of the food pantry was. I was super impressed by how yes, they were a megachurch, but they were using the favor that they had and the power God had given them to really do God’s work. It wasn’t like a country club for Christians, you know?

A month or so after I did that, they approached me and said “hey Dawn, what would you think about coming on staff as a worship leader and a mentor for our female worship leaders?” I was kind of scared of doing that, because in general I’ve seen some of the less fun sides of church culture for a long time and kind of been burned in the church. I had always thought “I’d never want to work at a church, it’s a lot of pressure and a lot of disillusionment.” But everything they were talking about fit every prayer specifically that me and my husband had, like “God, You’re going to have to provide this, this, and this for me to be able to continue doing music ministry.” That’s what they came to the table with, so I was like “Lord, I can tell that this is what You want me to do.”

So I went on staff there, and that was my first time having a job where you went into an office since I worked at the city rec center right out of highschool. It had been a long time, because I grew up in Fireflight basically. I joined Fireflight as I was graduating highschool. So I didn’t know what to expect, but the culture of that church totally wowed me. I got to work with the women who were leading worship and help them break free from all the chains that they were under that the enemy was trying to drag them down and convince them that they didn’t have what it takes to fulfill the calling God has on their lives. Which was such a blessing to me, since I’ve had to walk that road and that journey in my own life.

Being up there Sunday mornings, it was a totally different feeling than when you’re doing rock shows. People come to a rock show, and they’re ready. They’re ready to have an experience, they want to connect with God, they want to connect with community. But people walk in on a Sunday morning cold off the street, and they’re just trying to connect with God any way they can. And I was really blown away by how it seemed like a lot of people were really struggling, really weren’t connecting with worship.

So I guess a burden just came on my heart that I really wanted to help people connect, because worship is such a powerful time in your life. When you’re truly worshipping God, the things that you’re doing, the things that you’re saying, the thoughts that you’re thinking are all lining up with the truth of God. And when all those three things are in alignment, God can work supernaturally in your life in ways that we’re blocking Him from working at any other time. That’s so powerful. It’s one of the best parts of our life here on earth, and if people aren’t connecting in that way, they’re missing out on some of the best moments of their lives. No wonder we struggle, feeling unfulfilled and depressed and all these things, if we’re missing out on some of the best moments.

I went to my friend Rusty Varenkamp, who is an incredible producer. He was one of the producers on INNOVA. And I said to him, “hey man, I think I want to do a worship album and write some songs to hopefully help more people connect and feel that power.” So he was like “well, let’s find some investors!”

We started working on it, and we got a great buddy of mine who has been a benevolent benefactor of Fireflight, helped keep us going for many years, fell in line to help get the ball rolling with creating the album. Since then, it’s just been trying to figure out ways to release it. So we’ve finally fallen on a fan-fund situation with PledgeMusic where we can just get the final funds we need to get it mastered, get the music put out there where people can see it– and not just everybody who happens to follow me on Instagram, but more people. Hopefully, we can get this music into the hands of people all over the world. And hopefully God can use it to influence, and hopefully people can have their lives changed as they connect to God with power.

That sounds extremely purposed, and maybe in a different way from Fireflight. Do you feel like these projects are achieving different things?

I don’t know that I would say it’s different things for me, since I find myself able to worship in any genre. They give different genre names to worship than they do to rock. But definitely there’s a lot of storytelling through Fireflight’s music and narratives there that aren’t always directly speaking to God one on one. So this definitely is different in that nature because this music is completely focused on one on one with God. I think there’s a power to that and a cool new aspect.

We’ve always strove to help people be encouraged and feel God’s love and use that power in their lives, and I think this is just kind of like a fulfillment of that, even more so.

You mentioned the PledgeMusic model, which has been inviting fans to be a part of it in a whole new way. And in particular, your PledgeMusic packages are extremely personalized.

Yeah! I came up with this logo with a friend of mine who is an incredible graphic designer. I just had this idea of putting some symbology together. There’s a triangle that’s pointing upwards like an arrow, pointing heavenward, which obviously is where our hearts and minds are supposed to be focused when we’re worshipping God. The inside is a rose, which is my personal favorite flower. There’s some imagery in the Bible referencing Jesus, referring to Him as the rose. So putting those together, then the name of my album is loosely based on one of the tracks, which is “I Surrender All,” which is going to be the first single released. The album is called Surrender. And I think ultimately that’s what we’re looking for in this life right now, is to let go of all the things that we’re holding onto and trying to achieve, let that all go and instead push up towards God. He’s the one who needs to be holding the wheel. Hopefully with the symbology itself, the design is supposed to be reminding us that we need to live our lives in surrender. I know I need to be reminded of that 24/7.

On top of that, another way to make things more personal which I haven’t seen done before is that almost all of the items in the Pledge campaign are handmade by me. We do have a bracelet that’s a really cool, tiny livestrong style bracelet that’s great for a reminder as well. But everything else has been made by me in some way. Even the most basic package, you get a lyric sheet that is basically a poster. We reproduce them, but I hand painted three different posters of lyrics of three different songs, and you can select out of three different choices.

Then I have all of the clothing, like the t-shirts, we have cool jean jackets, and hoodies, these are all being hand-painted by myself. I took my design, and I used a plastic cutting hot knife and transferred it to a stencil. Then I use that stencil to hand paint each of the shirt designs with screen print ink. So anyway, it’s going to be a LOT of work! But they look pretty cool. I’m pretty exciting about it, I kind of want to hand paint a bunch of my own stuff to wear around!

Then I also have canvas clusters. It’s not just one canvas, which is what I’ve done before with Fireflight. It’s like a cluster canvas– each one will be a set of three canvases that will fit together geometrically. They’ll be hand painted, then on top of the painting I will hand paint the lyrics of whatever song that they choose. Hopefully a Fireflight song! I mean, I guess, they could do George Strait, but it would be better if it was me! [laughs]

Then also, I have been working on a devotional for maybe four or five years. The devotional is taking what we know from God’s love and the Bible and incorporating it into what we know from the study of psychology and counseling, putting it together to get a daily devotional that you can read and find encouragement. So I have that built up over time, this devotional that I’ve written, and it’s going to be the Surrender Devotional to go along with the album. And what we want to do is we want to incorporate other people’s stories.

That package is really interesting, because typically you see like a Skype package where people will get to call in for an hour, hang on Skype. So this one is an interview Skype package, but I’m going to be interviewing the person who pledges. I’m going to interview them for an hour, and we’re going to come together and decide on some sort of testimony or story, whether it be one of victory or something that they’re still working through and asking for prayer for. And then we’ll feature their story in the book. So they’ll be featured in the book personally.

We’ll work together to write the piece, and then they can edit it however they want, if they want to change names. We’ll do that in that hour, we’ll go back and forth, then they’ll get to approve the final one and they’ll get a free digital copy of the devo.

That’s super personalized in a really cool way! You mentioned the track that the title came from. What are some of the other songs that you’re really excited about sharing with people?

Well, we started off thinking we would do half covers and half originals. But we just fell in love with the writing and decided that we were going to do like seven originals and three covers. So most of it is original music that I’m really excited to share, but then also some really powerful covers. One of which is I think what we’ll start to release next– an old hymn. We’ve taken it and reworked it and kind of made it sound like an epic movie trailer song, you know? It’s super dark and edgy and ethereal, and I really can’t wait to share that one. I’m excited to share all of them, but I’m really excited about it I guess because it just makes me get pumped like when I see a trailer for a movie I can’t wait to see.

You’ve already shared a lot of this, but how can fans come beside you and support you in this season? Are there specific ways they can pray, specific ways they can spread the word? What would be helpful to you as you prepare to release this project to the world?

Absolutely pray for the success of the endeavor. Unfortunately, it takes money in order to hire the right people and get things released. So that’s my biggest goal, that the most people possible will have a chance to know about this album. That’s what we’re trying to raise money for, is basically to be able to get as many people as possible to hear about it when it comes out. So pray for that mission, that as many people as God wants to hear this music are going to get to hear it.

If people want to, we have some cool big packages that are really awesome, but if those fill out, the digital download is just $10. And if a bunch of people just wanted to throw $10 in, they’ll be getting something for it, then also they can make sure that the music is going to get out, get into the hands of people who hopefully can be impacted and encouraged by it.

Overall, however they can like and share– everything is driven so much by social media right now. Sometimes if you don’t like something or share it, then a lot of people will never see it. They’ve got all these algorithms now that hide things. So anything you can do to like and share and tell people about it, I’m hoping there are people who don’t even know it’s going on that could find out from your influence.

So prayer would be so coveted, then on top of that, if they wanted to throw in even $10 for the digital download, that’s going to be the grease on the wheels that helps this thing roll forward.

If you could summarize briefly what the impact you hope this album has on people will be, the core thing you’re trying to communicate with releasing these songs?

My goal is that people who have felt distant during worship, or they just didn’t get it, or they weren’t able to connect, or maybe they feel like they’re too far away and they’re not good enough to sing and to worship God, that they would feel connected to this in a living and passionate way, the same way that they might connect to other music in their lives. And in those moments, that they might be able to open themselves up as a conduit of grace from God to move and work in their lives, to finally see themselves as God’s child who is fully and completely loved, and to celebrate and glorify the Creator of the universe– which reinforces the fact that He wants to work in power in our lives and help us overcome.

You can support Dawn Michele on Pledgemusic by clicking here. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more information and posts you can share with friends!

Read part 1 of this interview by clicking here.

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