By Amy Sondova Twenty-one year-old Wes Willis had big plans for his life. “All my life, since I was five, I played baseball,” he says. “That was my plan and that was my dream—to play baseball professionally.” Unlike many dreams, Willis’ was in reach with his .341 batting average and his records of leading his team in doubles and stolen bases his senior year of high school. “I was going to sign a college scholarship to play baseball,” shares Willis, who incidentally throws right-handed but bats left-handed. “But God worked in my heart in different ways.” Rejecting the scholarship offers from several colleges, Willis ended up going to automotive school instead. Then there’s Kevin Huguley, a young married man, who dreamed of serving God in ministry. “Kevin was going to go to seminary,” explains Willis. “He packed up his stuff and moved to a different city. He even got his wife a teaching job there, and then he didn’t get accepted at the seminary.”
A couple of months later, Willis (lead vocals, electric and acoustic guitar) and Huguley (electric guitar) met and forged the band Rush of Fools. Recruiting drummer Jaime Sharpe, who hadn’t even graduated high school yet, and bassist Jacob Chestnut, the band played small shows until they decided to enter the Band-On-A-Mission contest in April 2006 to receive critiques from some of the Christian music industry’s elite. (The band later added guitarist and keyboardist JD Frazier to the fray.)
Much to their surprise, a couple of weeks later the guys in Rush of Fools learned they had won the contest, which included a record deal and a mission trip to China. While both of those prizes fell through, to the disappointment of the band, something even more amazing happened. A representative of Midas Records saw Rush of Fools perform on the last night of the contest and decided to sign them to the label. “Midas is actually a mainstream country label,” laughs Willis. “So it’s amazing to have this Christian label portion.” Rush of Fools is the second Christian artist to be signed to the label, the first being singer, Jessie Daniels.
Releasing their self-titled debut album in May 2007, Rush of Fools has made quite an impression with listeners with the release of their first radio single, “Undo” (watch “Undo” music video). The song, a ballad about God’s forgiveness for His wandering children, has caused the band’s inbox to become inundated with e-mails from fans who have been impacted by the song’s message. “One of the first e-mails we got was from a lady who is struggling a lot in her life. Her husband’s an alcoholic, her son’s a drug addict, and her daughter’s into witchcraft. It just felt like her life was falling apart,” shares Willis. The woman was about to drive her car over the edge of a bridge she passed every day on her way to and from work, when suddenly “Undo” began playing on the radio. Instead of driving off the bridge that day, this woman was touched by the knowledge that God can undo the messiness of her life. Another story came from a teenager who was staying with his Christian grandparents over the summer. “His grandma went out and bought our CD and now it’s all that the kid listens to. Then the kid said in his e-mail, ‘I think I’m gonna give this [Christianity] thing a shot’,” explains Willis, who seems genuinely awed by how God has used Rush of Fool’s music.
A pleasant pop-rock album, Rush of Fool’s debut is filled with eloquent lyrics that cut right to the heart—something a bit out of the ordinary for such a young band. The album’s deep theological undertones are intentional with its message of God’s faithfulness to His undeserving people, yet Willis humbly admits, “We still don’t have a deep understanding of mercy and grace. God blessed us with what we do know. We don’t have any other option but to tell the truth; we just try to write songs as biblically based as we can.”
Of course, bringing together a team of talented producers has added to the quality of the album. Combining the efforts of top industry producers Matt Bronlewee (Natalie Imbruglia, Jars of Clay, Leeland), Scott Davis (Jessie Daniels), and Jason Ingram of The Longing, Rush of Fools has been able to fuse a lot of talent into their first album. Working with Ingram on “All We Ever Needed”, Willis says he first penned the song when he was only 15. “I got together with Jason and reworked it. The song’s about how sometimes all we have to bring is a heavy heart—a heart of stone—but God can change it.” Reminding listeners to remember who they are, Willis says the song calls people out of their mire and into the hope that is in Christ, “I see that a lot with us as a band and how many times we stumble of fall or don’t do quiet times or don’t acts like Christians at all. God constantly needs to remind us who we are in Him.”
Another song on the album, “Can’t Get Away” has interesting word pictures to describe a Christian’s relationship with God. One especially poignant line, “I am the beggar/You are the table,” gives Willis an incredible image in his head as he sings. “I picture this really poor kid that’s wearing scraggly, dirty clothes. He’s on his hands and knees trying to get to this table, begging for food and that’s kind of how it is for us. Our righteousness is like a filthy rag, and we’re not clean or pure without Christ.”
“Peace Be Still” a slower song about God’s peace was written while the band was playing for a youth retreat in Tennessee. “We were reading our Bibles and having a quiet time in our room,” remembers Willis. “I just felt like God wanted us to grab our guitars and that’s when we started writing it. We realized that God was telling us to slow down and know that He is God.”
While it seems that Rush of Fools came together by divine providence, Willis can see God’s Hand on his music since he started playing in his youth group’s praise band, “As a pimple-faced 14 year-old, I was about to pass out sweating every night because I was playing in front of friends. The just really changed me and taught me and molded me in that time frame to be a worship leader.”
Hoping to pass on his experience to other aspiring worship leaders, Willis also likes to spend time with the teenagers at his home church, “When I’m at home, I’m always trying to lead worship as much as possible and I try to be a mentor for the youth group. I try to be someone they can talk to and be friends with.” Of course, there are always kids who will be impressed with Willis’ radio hits, but taking it in stride he shares, “There are a couple of kids that are like, ‘I heard you on the radio and you’re a superstar!’ And I’m like, ‘No, I’m not a superstar.’ Then there are kids that know me for me, and I love that they don’t put me on a pedestal.”
Willis also enjoys restoring classic cars, citing the 1967 Mustang Fastback as his rarest project thus far. However, like baseball, automotive school wasn’t exactly what God had in mind for Willis’ life, at least not at present. Happy that God confounded his plans, Willis says, “The thing is that we think we have good plans, but sometimes those plans can interfere with God’s plans.” Fortuitously, the confounding of Willis’ and Huguley’s plans led to a bigger plan beyond their imagination.
Congratulations to Rush of Fools for the four GMA Dove Award Nominations, including New Artist of the Year and Song of the Year for “Undo”!