The Things That Got Us Here
Release Date: July 3, 2020
Every junk drawer tells a story. Proof of admission to Walt Disney World in 1991, a ticket from a Cubs game in 1992, a movie stub from The Lion King in 1994…scraps of paper that, individually, lack meaning; but collectively, form a life. Each of these souvenirs serves as a milestone in the story of Dave Frey, the lead singer of Sidewalk Prophets. A self-professed pop culture nerd, Frey is the by-product of a blissful childhood where Jurassic Park ruled the box office, Uncle Jesse was practically a member of the family, and it was always a beautiful day in the neighborhood. Social media didn’t exist, and kids actually played outside. Yet, as idyllic as it all seemed, just like the rest of us, as Frey got older, he began to discover life isn’t always a home run. He might not have ticket stubs to mark other milestones, but rest assured, his heart bears the scars of the imperfect moments, too: his parents’ divorce, a broken engagement, a family member committing suicide… And yet, he doesn’t regret a single one. These are all simply the things that got him here.
Here, being the present day, where that same kid, who loved the Peanuts characters became a man who still celebrates every Christmas with Charlie Brown and the gang. A man, who 18 years into his musical career, is—along with his bandmates in Sidewalk Prophets—pouring a lifetime of lessons and memories into a new album, The Things That Got Us Here (Curb | Word Entertainment).
“This album is a collection of stories, a collection of genuine reflections of what’s gotten us to this point in our lives,” Frey shares. “It’s been an incredible and hard journey at times, but man, it’s been a beautiful one.”
Professionally, that journey has been filled with five No. 1 hits, including the Gold-certified song, “The Words I Would Say”; nine Top 5 radio singles; more than 740,000 albums sold; a Billboard Music Award nod and multiple nominations for the K-LOVE Fan Awards and the GMA Dove Awards, including a Dove Award win in 2010 for New Artist of the Year. Personally, the band—comprised of Frey (lead vocals), Cal Joslin (bass), Dan Macal (lead guitar) and Blake Bratton (keys/B3)—has seen its share of highs and lows. In the last few years, the group celebrated the marriage of their lead singer; yet, they also suffered great loss when their trailer, holding all their gear, caught fire.
“You think of all those things that fell apart in life, all the days you had doubts and fears, and the many miles you traveled to get where you think you’re supposed to be going; and you realize that all of that stuff—the good, the bad and the ugly—has brought you to where you are today,” Frey reflects. “It’s really the things that got the band to this point. It’s the things that got our fans to this point right now. When they come to a show that we center around this new album, we hope they realize all the stories in their life have brought them to that very moment and that very night.”
Sidewalk Prophets began writing for this album—their fourth studio LP—two years ago. The process began just like it originally started in a dorm room at Anderson University nearly two decades ago—with Frey and band co-founder-turned-manager Ben McDonald sitting down to write songs with friends. This time around, Frey and McDonald wrote with friends like Seth Mosley, Molly Reed, Josh Bronleewe, Ellie Holcomb, Casey Brown, Jordan Sapp, Bryan Fowler and the album’s producer, Jeff Pardo, among others.
In addition, the band took a grassroots approach to recording and spent a week in the studio together demoing songs, experimenting with different sounds and incorporating unusual instruments. As a result, dulcimers, sticks on a Coke bottle and the sound of water jugs being struck can be heard on The Things That Got Us Here. While a few synthesizers also make an appearance, a live person played every single one. The band intentionally attempted to capture a sound that was both authentic and organic. While the 15 tracks follow the pop-led sonics that defined Sidewalk Prophets’ earlier projects, this time, the breezy pop is ready-made for a long, leisurely drive. Windows down, music up.
“It really was just us searching our hearts each time we went into the writing process and saying, ‘Man, what’s really going on here? Let’s dig a little deeper than we did even on the last three albums and see what God’s doing,’” Frey says of the creative process. “One of the coolest experiences was writing with our bandmates. We love our band. It’s not just me and Ben; it’s a band. We’ve always wanted it to be that way. The truth is, our buddies Cal, Dan and Blake are in it; and their hearts are in it. You can feel it on the album.”
The Things That Got Us Here takes its nostalgic title from a line in the autobiographical song “Real To Me,” but the album as a whole tackles universal tropics like identity, forgiveness, doubt, worry, comparison, mental health and finding joy in the mundane.
Lead single “Smile” serves as a brilliant study in the contradicting forces of both joy and pain to propel our lives forward. “Part of the struggle of life is what we do in those in-between days when we’re not on top of a mountain and we’re not down in a valley. I think inside those ordinary days, it’s hard to just continue to smile, to have joy,” Frey offers. “Yet, there’s always a reason to choose joy.”
The driving “Where Forgiveness Is” hits on a difficult aspect of following Christ—forgiving those who have wronged us. “There’s real doubt that went into that song and a real effort to overcome pride,” Frey shares. “It’s an easy thing to talk about but not an easy thing to live. It is possibly the hardest thing we’ll do in life, but it’s at the heart of what Jesus was all about.”
“You Were There” unfolds like a scrapbook of Frey’s real life—telling the actual story of the origin of the band and Frey chasing down his dreams of music and ministry. Other songs like “Don’t You Think It’s Time” and “The Comment Section” offer a clever commentary on social media and the incessant noise of our technology-obsessed society.
Meanwhile, “Chosen” addresses the subject of identity. “I love that in 2 Peter it says, ‘You’re God’s special possession.’ Like, if your house was on fire, and you went back in for one thing, what would it be? God would come running and grab you,” Frey says of the message of the track, which has already sparked conversations about depression and mental health at their live shows.
It’s a topic that hits close to home for the Sidewalk Prophets front man. Last year, Frey’s cousin’s husband took his own life; and it caused the singer to think about the depth of hopelessness he must have felt. If nothing else, the song is a reminder to anyone drowning in sadness that they matter. “It’s weird because I feel like she has dealt with all the blows,” he reflects, thinking of his cousin, “and I’m just an observer trying to make sure she knows that we love her.”
Like three-minute love letters to their fans—the Great Big Family—these 13 tracks radiate hope in the midst of life’s peaks and valleys. The band is simply speaking from experience—bringing their most authentic selves to a project that encapsulates all the dots on the map that have connected them to this moment in time.
In turn, Sidewalk Prophets hopes their fans feel as connected as ever to the music and the band. “We love the real experience between the Great Big Family and us, and it’s such an important part of what drives us,” Frey explains. “One of our favorite things to do is try to blur the line between the music and the audience and kind of make it feel more like they’re in our family room, if you will, where we’re hanging out, and we get to tell stories. I think that’s something that we as a band love to do—to be a little sillier than people think we should be, as well as be a little more honest than people think we should.”
Like a sky that blurs hues of orange and gold at sunset, imperfect moments of honesty, silliness, fun and sorrow, meld together to form something that looks a lot like life. At the end of the day, a few ticket stubs may be all that remain, but if we take the time to sort through the pieces, like Sidewalk Prophets, we’ll simply find these are the things that got us here.