Jeromy and Jennifer Deibler, Brian Smith and Michael Boggs spent several years as an independent group, supporting themselves with yearly releases which they sold out of the back of their motor home while touring the country. Sure, they were making a decent living doing what they loved-- playing churches and spreading hope. They even had astonishing radio success--their song "Take Me as I Am" was the highest charting 'indie' single in the history of Christian radio.
But in 1997, they took the next important step. FFH finally found a label that could get behind them and launch them into the masses they had yet to reach on their own. After signing with Essential Records, the band put forth two triumphant national releases, I Want to Be Like You and Found a Place, selling in excess of a combined 500,000 units to date. The albums had remarkable radio success with continual top ten hits, including two #1 songs. The group also toured vigorously, performing an estimated 200 concerts per year for church audiences numbering in the thousands.
Admittedly, the members of FFH were pretty surprised by what some have called "an overnight success story."
"All of a sudden, we went from being played on one or two radio stations regionally, to being played on every radio station in the country. We were going to shows where three months earlier there would have been 100 people, and now there were 1000 people," recalls Jeromy, co-founder and principal writer. "It was what we'd always dreamed of. It was amazing."
With their dream life a sudden reality, FFH has been able to focus their energy on delivering the praise and worship experience they've been designed to create. Unlike many bands who tour primarily to perform their songs and promote their records, FFH has always placed priority on sharing a unique time of worship with their audience, where the Holy Spirit fills the room with a lingering sense of God's presence as they lift their voices to heaven.
"We've seen what praise and worship can do in concert," describes Michael (vocalist/guitarist/songwriter.) "The Bible says that God inhabits our praise. When you gather in His name and sing praises to Him, I think that God comes in a special way and probably heals and reconciles and meets a whole lot more needs than we ever even know about."
Several key people along the way have understood FFH's burden for evangelism through music and have helped them imprint that message onto their latest album, releasing in August. To create the twelve songs for Have I Ever Told You, FFH took a few months out of their touring schedule and distributed time between three Nashville recording studios. Their recurring producer and friend, Scott Williamson (Point of Grace) produced nine songs at both The Sound Kitchen and a huge rustic barn known as Dark Horse, where most of the vocals were recorded. At the historic Bennett House studio, the band also brought in producer David Hamilton (Michael W. Smith), known for his string arrangements, to capture the emotional texture they wanted to incorporate. All the songs blossom out of FFH's beautifully layered harmonies, but on this album, several new elements combine with their signature acoustic-pop sounds to create a stylistically diverse project with something for everyone.
"We wanted our hearts and everything that is in us to come out on tape," Jeromy confesses. "There's more to FFH than just a pop-acoustic vocal band. There were things that musically and lyrically we've never gotten to say before. We incorporated piano and strings, for example. Lyrically, we allowed ourselves to be a little more serious. It allowed us to be more musically playful as well."
Erupting songs like "Astronaut" and the whimsical "Millionaire" have a more easily attainable, light-hearted feel---something for people to hang their hats on and find joy in. The band's first number-one hit from the album, "Watching Over Me," is an upbeat praise song with the band's staple acoustic sound. The song is important to FFH because of its timeless message of God's omnipresence. Written while strumming his guitar on the back porch one lazy summer afternoon, Jeromy created what he calls, "a great roll-your-windows-down-and-blare-your-radio song."
Arguably the most emotional piece is the album's title track. The song "Have I Ever Told You" represents what the entire album passionately delivers: a realization of God's grandeur woven throughout every song. Vintage FFH songs like "Open Up the Sky," to country-rock tunes like "Fly Away," to inspirational anthems like "We Sing Alleluia" and "On My Cross," all come together to reveal an intimate look at God. But the album says something about the band as well.
"We want people to get the full spectrum of who we are," explains Jeromy. "Through this record, we're saying, "Have we ever told you about this part of us? Have we ever told you about that? Did you know FFH could do this? Did you know this was in our hearts and on our minds? When we thought about the theme and the feeling of the record, Have I Ever Told You, seemed to be the most appropriate title because we feel like this is a new step for us."
The writing of the song was a step within itself. Both compelling and personal, "Have I Ever Told You" was written by Jeromy as an answer to the confusion caused by his parents' divorce 20 years ago. The song was captured from a recent conversation with his father, one that finally brought healing and a sense of closure for a young man with only a vague childhood recollection of what tore his family apart. In his vulnerable way, Jeromy shares his father's words that helped him find understanding and ultimately, forgiveness. Recognizing the relevance of this subject matter, Jeromy was encouraged by the band and the producers to include this song on the album.
"If writing that song had a healing effect on me, then maybe for other people hearing it, it will have a healing effect on them too," says Jeromy.
The FFH concert experience is just as diverse and intimate as this new project. Not only will audiences hear all four members sing, they'll often see all four members play instruments as well. And true to the band's roots, concert-goers may even be treated to one or two straight A Capella songs along with the band's performance numbers. Unlike many shows that set the tone with glitzy production and pre-decided set lists, FFH's concerts flow in a more meaningful direction. Reminiscent of a spirit-filled church service, concerts usually evolve into a time of worship, which the band believes is vital to their evening with fans. Probably the most inviting aspect is that FFH draws no real distinction between themselves and the audience.
"When we get up on stage, we don't want people coming to a concert just to see us, because that's not why we do what we do. We want people to see Jesus Christ and we want our concerts to glorify Him," says Brian, co-founding member. "When we do praise and worship the eyes can be taken off us, and we're not just up there entertaining. It's a time when the audience and us can come together collectively and sing praises to our Creator. We're all just a big group having a praise time."
Their ideal collective audience consists of families, appropriate, since a family is exactly what FFH considers themselves to be. Founding members Jeromy Deibler and Brian have been friends since childhood and are as close as brothers. Also, Jeromy and Jennifer have been married since 1995. Brian's wife Allyson runs sound for the band. Their drummer, Jason Trimble, is Jeromy's cousin and Michael's roommate. With this tight-knit group, it's no surprise that they feel a simultaneous pull to reach out to all parts of a family, something they do quite effectively.
"We're very family-centered," Jeromy explains. "We believe that God has put us in the thick of things to minister to families. We play youth events and adult events all the time, and love doing them. But our favorite thing in the whole world is seeing families come together in a concert setting and eventually seeing them worship together."
While the members of FFH may not be 'far from home' in quite the same way as they once were (another band had the name before them, so now they're just FFH), they will remain on the road as often as they can with the purpose of fulfilling their mission statement: "To reach as many people as we can for Jesus as quickly as possible." This message is poured into their worshipful concert experience and the depth of the lyrics on Have I Ever Told You, as well as into the pages of Far From Home: Stories from the Road.
"There is so much more that goes on in our ministry then what get to hear on the record," says Jeromy. "We wanted people to get some insight as to what we do 175 days a year. The book surrounds stories on the road because those are some of the most poignant memories that we have had touring over the past now 10 years. So much of what we do surrounds meeting people on the road and ministering to them. In fact, we get ministered to by the people we meet as well. We meet some remarkable people and we hear some amazing stores of how God is working and how He has blessed them, and we get to experience God in a unique way because of our travels. So we figured we would put those stories into a book and let people experience them with us."
By being true to their calling, FFH has seen over 6,000 people come to know the Lord in the past two years alone. They have partnered with well-known Christian author Max Lucado to provide ministry tools to new Christians. The foursome is usually the last to leave a concert room, often staying for hours to dialogue with fans. And it doesn't end there. Back on the bus each night, the tireless members quiet themselves to pray for those fans with specific needs. FFH is much more than four performers with powerful voices they have strong convictions too.
"We just want to be in the center of God's will," says Brian. If we're out there being obedient to what He's called us to do, then He's going to open doors for us or lead us down roads that we might not even expect. Whether we're singing for smaller youth groups, or in packed arenas, wherever God is going to lead us, we just want to be obedient to His calling and keep doing what we're doing." Jennifer echoes the sentiments that every day is a new adventure in following their unseen path wherever it may lead. "We've learned not to place too many expectations on things. God has already taken us places we never imagined we'd go."
What is not hard to imagine, however, is that FFH's incredible success story and the message that has fueled it, will continue being told for as long as there are ears to hear it.