photo: Sparrow Records/19Colton Dixon's seventh-place elimination on Season 11 of "American Idol" was one of the most shocking "Idol" cuts of all time--before that jaw-dropping night, Colton had never been in the bottom three before, and he seemed to have all the total-package elements of a potential "Idol" champion. But all was not lost for Colton, who wisely refocused his eye on another prize: recording and releasing an album right away. "I started writing immediately; I knew I wanted to put out a record as soon as possible," Colton recalls. "I wrote something like 13 songs in 13 days. It was just nuts. I wrote about 50 songs for this record, since I was eliminated. I kept myself busy and kept myself working toward the end goal."
The result: Colton's debut full-length, A Messenger, which comes out January 29 but is previewing right here, right now!
The album, which takes its title from the Bible passage John 13:16 and is being released on the EMI-distributed Christian label Sparrow Records, is an alt-rock CCM crossover record (think Lifehouse, Switchfoot)--something Colton may not have had the freedom to record if he'd actually won "Idol" and signed to Jimmy Iovine's Interscope Records, Colton admits. "With me wanting to do Christian music, it was definitely a blessing that I didn't win. I would have found a way, had I won, to maybe not be as lyrically pinpointing about my religion, but it would still have the same message; you would've just had to a dig a little deeper or whatever. I see it more as a blessing in disguise that I was cut so early, so that I could start writing. Everything was timed perfectly as far as that goes."
Working with his production team, Red Decibel (Adam Watts and Andy Dodd), as well as with seasoned songsmiths like Lifehouse's Jason Wade, Evanescence's David Hodges, and Busbee (Pink, Kelly Clarkson, Jason Aldean, Christina Aguilera, Keith Urban, Daughtry, Adam Lambert), Colton created exactly the kind of album he wanted to make. "Listening to my record and listening to other CCM records, there's a big difference. I'm definitely bringing an edge to Christian music--lyrically, and definitely musically. I just think it's something fresh for Christian music, so I'm excited. It's just a different style that I haven't heard in Christian music before. It's going to be interesting to see what Christian music fans think of the record."
As for whether A Messenger will cross over into the secular market, it certainly has that potential, but Colton, who will soon go on tour with Christian rock band Third Day, isn't concerned about that for the time being. "I would love the opportunity to do that [cross over], but it's not really what my goal is right now," he says. "If that happens, that's great and I will run with it, but I'm going to stick true to what I'm doing now. I'm going to write what I'm going to write, and wherever that fits, great, but most of the stuff that I write is pretty specific--at least to me it is. Someone else might interpret it differently, but that's the beauty of writing songs."
To get your own interpretation of A Messenger, listen to audio snippets of all 12 tracks in the player above, and check out Colton's track-by-track commentary below!
photo: Sparrow Records/19Intro (written by Colton Dixon) - "I think it sets the stage for 'Noise,' and it does it really well! I wanted it to make you feel like you were in downtown New York. It's very dramatic, it builds, and I honestly feel like it's a theme out of The Dark Knight or something. It just has that feel to it."
Noise (Colton Dixon/Busbee) - "I had the idea for this song for a couple years now. It's got this really augmented-sounding piano part in it that hits on a quarter-note and really drives the song. But what goes behind the piano part is a car alarm. The idea of the song is to break from the noise and hear that still, small voice--just knowing that at the end of it all, even through the noise, everything's going to be okay. At the end of the song, we have the car alarm playing, and then you hear the sound of it being turned off from a keypad. That was just a cool little artsy thing that I wanted to put in there. It's a great way to start the record. It's definitely one of my favorites."
I'll Be The Light (Colton Dixon/Zac Meloy) - "This song is really, really cool. The imagery and the metaphors it uses describe someone guiding you home. For me, that's God kind of signaling me in whenever I go astray. The chorus is: 'I'll be the light when there's nothing but night/Till now you've had to feel your way through the honest lies of yesterday/I'll guide you in no matter how long you've been/Lost in love and all alone/A million miles away from home/And when your dawn refuses to fight/I'll be the light.' It's very anthemic. It's got a Thirty Seconds To Mars kind of feel. That was a lot of fun to track, and it'll be a fun one to do live as well."
You Are (Colton Dixon/Busbee/Jared Martin/Rhyan Shirley) - "There were two different reasons for writing 'You Are.' The first was my friends Jared and Rhyan, we wanted to write a song that kind of summed up worship and what that meant to us. The chorus is very catchy: 'You are the air I breathe in, you are the hope I'm needing.' To me, that's worship. Whatever song I'm singing, I want God to be the focus and all around me; He's the hope that gets me through to the next day. So we wrote it for that reason. But the other reason was I had another friend who was contemplating suicide at one point, and he needed something to get out of that slump and get his life back on track. He was in the back of our minds when we wrote this song. The verses are coming from a dark place, but that chorus comes out of nowhere and gives that feeling of light and hope and makes you smile."
Never Gone (Colton Dixon/Andy Dodd/Adam Watts/Gannin Arnold) - "To me, the easiest way to describe this song is when I was little, I was scared of the dark, and when my parents would tuck me in and leave and turn off the lights, I just wanted to get back up and turn the lights back on and make sure everything was okay. And I kind of got that way on 'American Idol'; there was a point where everything felt like I was going through the motions and I started to question, like, 'Is this really what I need to be doing?' And even to God, like, 'God, I'm not really hearing anything from you; I need to turn the lights on and make sure you're still there.' So this is a really big song for the record for me. When believers, or even non-believers, question if God's there, remember He promised He would never leave. That was a big encouragement to me when I was on the show."
Love Has Come (Colton Dixon/Ben Glover/Christopher Stevens) - "This song has such a unique flavor. It brings the pop element. There's a synth bassline in the beginning. It's just a lot of fun, and it's a song of encouragement. For me, it's saying I'm going to let go and let God take control of my life. It's like love has come for me. God is love, and He has come to rescue me."
Scars (Colton Dixon/Rob Hawkins) - "'Scars' actually came from some of my fans' testimonies. This one really digs deeps into some issues. This is definitely the darkest song on the record. I think my favorite line is: 'Scars remind us who we are.' It's a map of where we've been in life; you can look at a scar and it immediately takes you back to what happened to create that. And at the end of the song, it ties in with my faith, and it says, 'God, your scars remind us who we are.' When Jesus died on the cross, He had scarred hands...man, it just really takes thing to new levels and new heights, and I'm really, really excited about this song. It's very dramatic--tons of strings and huge guitars."
Rise (Colton Dixon/Kevin Griffin) - "Fun fact about 'Rise': This was originally going to be a bonus track. But as soon as we heard the finished product, we all looked at each other and said, 'Man, this has to be on the record.' Soundwise, it kind of goes between OneRepublic and Coldplay, but rocks a little bit harder. It has some of my favorite melodies, as far as what I do vocally. It's a really encouraging song, too; if there's something you've been going through or if you feel like giving up, block it out and rise above it. This is another one of my favorites on the record. I have a lot of favorites, I guess!"
Where My Heart Goes (Colton Dixon/Ben Glover/David Garcia) - "Man, this is an anthem. The chorus makes you want to fist-pump. It's pretty awesome. Ben [Glover] asked me what I wanted to write about that day, and I was like, 'I don't know, I'm fresh out of ideas.' And he said, 'Well, where does your heart go?' And I looked at him and said, 'That's a great song title!' The song is basically saying, 'God, you are where my heart goes; at the end of the day, you're what makes me happy.' It's as simple as that. Musically, it takes you on a journey. This is one of the songs that I thought had potential at Christian radio--we'll see what the Christian radio team thinks at EMI!"
This Is Who I Am (Colton Dixon/Dave Bassett) - "It's a bold title, and a bold song as well. I wrote this with Dave Bassett, who got his start at a U2 concert: Bono brought him onstage to play guitar with him--he was just a spectator--and Jimmy Iovine saw him and gave him some sort of a record deal. Pretty rad story! Anyway, the verses of this song are really cool to me, very artistic. The first verse says: 'A million colors paint the world, but you don't see them like I see them/A picture's worth a thousand words, but you don't hear them/Are you listening?' Everyone sees the world differently, which I find interesting. It's just a song saying I won't change who I am for anybody. What you see is what you get--if you like it, great, and if you don't, that's fine too. That played into the 'American Idol' thing as well--it could be Phillip Phillips's anthem! Ha!"
In And Out Of Time (Colton Dixon/Andy Dodd/Adam Watts/Gannin Arnold) - "This is the crazy song on the record, hands down. Gannin [Arnold] had this riff that was just so crazy, and we just looked at him, like, 'What is THAT?' I think the first verse says it best: 'Future is waiting/He's always pulling me/And present's worth saving/But the past is haunting me.' So it's trying to get away from the past so that you can move forward into the future. Hence, wanting to live out of time. Musically, it's my favorite on the record. This is the one that has a Muse kind of vibe. I've never heard anything that compares to it in Christian music, so it's going to be really interesting to hear what people think of that one. We're definitely going to be playing that one on tour!"
Let Them See You (Scotty Wilbanks/J.J. Weeks) - "This is actually the only song I didn't write on the album. Scotty [Wilbanks], who plays keys for Third Day, watched 'American Idol' and saw my final performance, and he thought what I did was really cool, and he had written this song with J.J. Weeks, who had recorded it before. He sent it to me to see what I thought of it, and man, it's such a powerful song. It's about how if you take away all the lights, all the special effects, and strip everything down, at the end of the day I only see God. God is greater and bigger than me. It's a piano ballad--just piano, strings, and vocals. It's a very tender moment at the end of the record. To me, it was how I ended 'American Idol,' and it's how I wanted to end this album as well."
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