* Twenty-seven percent of girls 12 to 18 suffer from eating disorders.
* One in five teenagers has attempted suicide by age 15.
* Depression affects nearly 20 percent of all teenagers.
* By the time teenagers reach 16, only 5 percent feel good about themselves.
The issues are serious. The questions seem insurmountable: How do you take a message as big as Life and reach the “Britney Spears” culture captivated by the imitation of life they watch on MTV?
Sparrow Records artist ZOEgirl may not have the end-all solution to the problem, but they do know their music’s purpose. “If someone with values isn’t willing to be a role model for kids, then somebody without values is,” says Kristin Swinford. “We want to give these kids more than just a show. We’ve got to give them the truth.”
Since the release of their self-titled debut in 2000, ZOEgirl — Chrissy Conway, Kristin Swinford, and Alisa Girard — have gone from being three talented vocalists who make up the members of a hit Christian pop group to a strand of three working inseparably.
“When we first came together,” Chrissy explains, “we were three completely different people from opposite ends of the country. Being together so much over the past year has helped us find our group identity.”
That identity was first forged on the group’s debut release, which stands as the fastest-selling debut album in Sparrow Records’ 25-year history. In less than a year, ZOEgirl sold over 225,000 copies, becoming one of 2000’s three best-selling new artist releases, and generated four Top 5 radio hits (“I Believe,"”Anything Is Possible,” “Living for You” and “No You”). Add to these achievements their live performances before nearly 1 million fans, and you begin to get the picture of why people of all ages are talking about ZOEgirl.
It follows that the group, who takes its name (ZOE) from the Greek word for “life,” would title its sophomore release Life. The new album showcases the musical and personal growth of each member, emphasizing what fans loved most about ZOEgirl’s debut — polished, pop melodies; straightforward, relevant lyrics; and an innovative musical freedom delivering the group’s signature sound. Some of the material was recorded with the trio producing and arranging their own vocals and Chrissy engineering.
“We feel like we own this album more,” says Chrissy. Kristin agrees, calling Life more progressive than the debut. “It’s headed in the direction where today’s pop music is going,” she explains. “Musically, we wanted this album to be as fun as the first one,” Alisa adds. “It’s youth pop, but with more of an edge, more guitar. Lyrically, we wanted to add a level of intensity that allows the messages to go deeper.”
That’s not a difficult task when the writers of those lyrics are the artists themselves. The members of ZOEgirl continue to prove their artistic talents and authenticity on Life, writing or co-writing all of the album’s cuts — a talent each developed individually years before becoming a group.
Those lyrics find their roots in several experiences, including singing and talking about life issues for the last year on tours like the 73-city “Heart of a Champion” tour with Carman.
“On the Carman tour, we met so many people who would tell us about issues in their lives,” says Kristin. “Talking with teens one-on-one, we realized the huge void of values-oriented pop music in the music world.”
Those conversations with fans soon became the catalyst for new song ideas that worked their way onto the album. “Dismissed,” written by ZOEgirl, comes from wanting to arm young women with a strength to overcome today’s innocence-stealing predators.
“I‘ll never bow down to give you a kiss/ You’ll never steal my innocence/ You’ve been dismissed” ZOEgirl sings unabashedly, “No lookin’ back/I’m movin’ on!”
Though the meaning behind their name is hidden, ZOEgirl is anything but secretive about the message in their music. The new song, “Nick Of Time,” speaks of the moment when God turns a life around: “In the nick of time/You opened up my mind/And suddenly saw the world much clearer…”
“Our main focus on tour is seeing these kids come to Christ,” Alisa says. “We view ourselves as missionaries. Without compromising morally, we need to get them to listen.”
The song “Plain” was birthed during a weeklong summer 2001 mission trip to Caracass, Venezuela. ZOEgirl traveled with 300 young girls to help build up the community and minister through personal interaction and their music.
“One night we split into teams with the idea that the girls could share anything that was on their hearts,” Chrissy recalls. “We were stunned by what we heard. Things like: ‘I hate my body,’ ‘I hate my shape,’ ‘I’m taking diet pills,’ ‘I’m thinking of suicide.’ I don’t think we realized that so many of the girls, almost all of them, were dealing with these issues.”
The next night, ZOEgirl sang “Plain,” a song Kristin had been working on but was still not completed. “I wrote ‘Plain’ because these girls don’t realize how special they are and how important they are to God,” she says. “Within the first few lines of playing it for these girls, we looked out and they were in tears.”
The trip, all three members say, was a turning point. They returned to the States with new inspiration and a sense of clarity to write and record songs that would touch teens deeply. The moving ballad “Forever 17,” written by Chrissy, recounts the story of a 17-year-old girl killed by a drunk driver.
“We feel called,” Alisa says, “to lead teens to biblical solutions to serious issues of life: drug abuse, self-esteem, and the importance of making right decisions.”
Seeing how the lyrics on the first album impacted teens spurred the young women to want to go deeper on Life and see more kids come to know Jesus. “We’re speaking not only to those outside the church,” Kristin says, “but to the youth in the church who may not have made a personal choice to follow Him as Lord and Savior.”
This fall and spring 2002, ZOEgirl will continue to communicate that message as they begin the 85-city “Oxygen” tour with labelmates Avalon. In November, all three members will join the touring cast of the Christmas musical, “Child of the Promise.”
Life lays evidence that a three-strand cord is not easily broken. Alisa, Kristin and Chrissy have learned what it means to bring individual talents together for a common purpose. “The music is merely the vehicle to get there,” Kristin says. “It’s not about us. It’s about what’s happening in these kids’ lives.”