By Amy Sondova Sitting in the backyard of her Orlando home, Dawn Richardson whistles for her boxer, Cowboy. “He’s wandering off into the neighbor’s yard,” explains Fireflight’s lead vocalist with a chuckle. Just home from a three and a half week tour with Stellar Kart and ready to leave for New York City the next day, Dawn is spending quality time with her pooch (and her husband) before heading out again.
Fireflight burst out on the music scene in 2006 with their debut album, Healing of Harms (Flicker). Besides vocal sensation Dawn Richardson, the band is also comprised of recently engaged guitarist Justin Cox (also a skilled lyricist according to Dawn), female bassist Wendy Drennen and her guitarist husband, Glen, and drummer Phee Sorb. Releasing their sophomore album Unbreakable (Flicker) in March, the band marvels at how the title track from the album has been used in fall TV promos for NBC’s “Bionic Woman”.
“We’re just a small Christian band that’s been working for eight years to spread God’s message. It was kind of like a dream come true to have people who have no relationship with God, who maybe never stepped in the door of a church being able to hear our song and to be ministered to by the power that God’s put in it,” shares Dawn.
However, the song is not only a battle cry for superheroes, but also an anthem for the rescued. Based on the story of the adulterous woman in the Gospel of John, “Unbreakable” tells of the women’s reaction after Jesus saves her by issuing a direct statement to the hypocritical crowd, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8: 1-11).
Dawn describes the scene, “She’s on the brink of death because of a crime she did commit; she was guilty. Suddenly there’s this man who has no power in her society, but who’s willing to stand next to her and get down on her level. He even got down and drew in the dirt. He was able to convince all the people who were there to judge her and try her and maybe even execute her that they had no excuse. She was totally forgiven, and she hadn’t asked for it. She hadn’t earned it in any way.”
While other songs by other artists have been written about this passage, Fireflight’s take on the story is considerably different because it focuses on the woman’s reaction after the fact. Her reaction is one of power, not shame. “The song comes from the understanding of what it means to be forgiven from our pasts and how liberated and free we should feel because that’s what we really are,” shares Dawn.
Then again, that’s the theme of the album. Dawn says, “Unbreakable is about triumph, not only going through difficult times, but coming out of them and being more powerful.” Written in six and half weeks, the album is full of raw emotion that captures the heart’s cry of a band that sees the crafting of Unbreakable as a miracle.
The band went through a rough year, each member experiencing private hardship. As it came time to write the songs for the sophomore album, the members of Fireflight panicked, recalls Dawn, “We got down on our faces before God and begged Him to put His power into the music. As a result, in our weakness, He spoke to us through this album.” Fireflight brought forth an album both lyrically and musically gripping receiving rave reviews early on, especially praising Dawn’s cutting, powerful, and intense rock vocals, which have been compared to those of Blondie, Joan Jett, and Chrissy Hynde of The Pretenders. It’s an impressive comparison, especially for a female in Christian music.
Performing in a higher range and making use of new techniques, Dawn’s vocals sound sharper than ever on Unbreakable. To prep for the album Dawn met with a vocal coach, who arranged for a visit to an ENT. The doctor gave Dawn devastating news. “They told me I had blisters on my vocal cords,” shares Dawn. “This was on a Friday and we were due to start recording on Monday.”
Unsure about what this could mean for Fireflight’s future, Dawn admits, “It was pretty scary. They told me to go on complete vocal rest, except for the time I was to sing for the album. I was not allowed to talk at all.” Despite this setback, Fireflight managed to complete Unbreakable. “Even though I had blisters on my vocal chords and I was in the worst vocal health of my life, I sang better on that album that I have ever sung before,” says Dawn, happily crediting God for this triumph.
After finishing the album, Dawn was kept on complete vocal rest on and off for over four months and carried around a dry erase board to communicate to others, “I did that for the entire Disciple tour. It was a big challenge for me because I’m a talker,” laughs Dawn.
Dawn returned to the doctor after the tour for a surgical evaluation; he discovered that her blisters were almost completely gone. Still, she tries to be careful not to strain her voice box. “On show days I don’t talk except when I’m on stage,” says Dawn, adding that she is grateful to God for showing her how to trust Him through this experience.
Due to her gregarious nature, Dawn is passionate about interacting with fans, especially teenage girls, “One of our main goals as a band with a female lead singer and a female bassist is to be a positive influence on girls, young women, and women in general—to just show them that they have a great amount of power that’s been given to them by God.”
The female rocker archetype isn’t one traditionally associated with Christian women, who seem to prefer baking to rocking out. “Sometimes I get kind of nervous because you walk into different churches and you don’t know what they consider the traditional roles of women. I’m very vocal from the stage. I’m loud and I’m active, and I speak my mind,” says Dawn with a touch of vulnerability. “Thankfully, we’ve always been well accepted.”
Taking a moment to gather her thoughts, she adds, “I think most of us live our lives in fear of what people may think or what people may do. I find that when you actually put yourself out there, even in mainstream places, people accept you. If you’re passionate about something, people respect that passion.”
Touring full time for two and a half years, Fireflight finds life on the road to be tough at times. “As far as fame and fortune is concerned, it’s not worth it to leave your family, sleep on floors, and live this life,” admits Dawn, who then passionately adds, “For us, it would never be worth the money. If we can help people, then we’ll sleep on floors.” Part of what touches the members of Fireflight are the conversations they have with fans after their shows, the messages written on their MySpace, and the long letters they receive from listeners whose lives and hearts have been changed by the band’s music.
Still those most changed by Unbreakable remain Fireflight themselves, who stand amazed at the reality of God. Again whistling for Cowboy, who seems to think that the grass really is greener on the other side, Dawn muses, “If we could really wrap our minds around forgivness and unrelenting grace… it’s a power that’s stored inside us like an atomic bomb.” Overcoming personal trials, songwriting blocks, and other obstacles in their path, the band may not be able to leap small buildings with a single bound, but Fireflight remains unbreakable as they continue to unleash an atomic bomb of grace and mercy to a world suffering from power failure.