The fact that the band's lead singer doubles as a soldier in the United States Army reserves, possibly requiring him to defend the country in the war against terrorism, made the recording sessions for their latest album Fireproof a lot more challenging than the group anticipated. Instead of going in the studio to lay down tracks day in and day out, the thought of Pillar's fearless leader going off to war loomed over everyone's heads during the recording process. Indeed it was an emotional roller coaster for everyone involved, but as a result was completed with more fervor and passion than a less dramatic series of events would have warranted.
"When the nation went to war, I was called one day and told that I'd be sent to Afghanistan to serve for six months," explained the charismatic front man/solider Rob Beckley, referring to the call that would have postponed the Fireproof project indefinitely. "I let my whole family and all my friends know what was going to happen and just asked them to pray for me to see God's will in my entire life. A few hours later, I got a call back and was told someone else was going in my spot instead."
As if the danger of fighting overseas, along with being separated from his wife and family for half a year wasn't bad enough, going to Afghanistan would also drastically change the direction of the band, who have been closely knit as friends and musical collaborators since 1998. Since then, the group has stayed true to the philosophy found in 1 Timothy 3:15: "But if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how to conduct yourself in the house of God, the pillar and foundation of truth."
Beckley, along with bassist Kalel, drummer Brad Noone and original guitarist Travis Jenkins, began with that mission in mind despite the fact that rock with a Christian message simply didn't exist in their home town of Hayes, Kansas.
Pillar's mix of driving sounds and soaring melodies, along with strong self-promotion skills, earned them attention straight out of the starting blocks, including a spot on 7 Ball Magazine's "25 Best Unsigned Bands of 2000" list, followed by similar reactions from HM Magazine readers, who voted them the "#1 Best New Band of 2000."
That year also saw Pillar's signing to Flicker Records, owned by Audio Adrenaline members Mark Stuart, Bob Herdman, and Will McGinness. With their creative direction, along with production assistance by Travis Wyrick, the group's debut album Above spawned the #1 rock single "Open Your Eyes" and the #2 hits "Live For Him" and "Original Superman." Even more remarkable was the group's 2001 Dove Award for "Best Hard Rock Album of the Year," along with their performance of "Open Your Eyes" on the pre-show telecast (which was nominated for "Best Hard Rock Song of the Year.")
Besides their triumphant performance at the Doves in 2001, Pillar (with Noah Henson replacing Jenkins) toured incessantly, including dates on Winter Jam, Festival Con Dios Tour (which earned the band national press attention, via the Newsweek cover story "Jesus Rocks"), and Skillet's Alien Youth Tour. "Getting on the road helped us to play a whole lot tighter and we kept stepping up our live shows," notes Beckley. "Having time off after a year of solid touring was much needed, but by the time we got into the studio, we had an energy level that we'd never felt before."
Such variables not only make Fireproof burst with excelled musicianship, but also show significant songwriting maturity. "I became a Christian right before we started Pillar, so the message was blatantly forward at the beginning," he shares. "Now that I've matured in my faith, I feel like I've been able to scale back the intensity level, saying things in a really cool middle ground without compromising the lyrics."
Tactfully crafted examples are consistent throughout the project, which encourages listeners to throw out past baggage ("Hindsight"), replace a shy faith stance with boldness ("A Shame") and convince fence sitters to make a firm faith commitment ("Just to Get By").
Beckley digs even deeper, particularly on "Echelon," during which the good of the country and the glory of Christ share the focal point. "My role in the reserves was on my heart when I wrote that one," Beckley confides. "An 'echelon' is just a mass of solders and I wanted to make the parallel between defending in a war with defending and furthering our faith."
Then there's the ballad-like splendor of "Further," a song that alludes to the band's future uncertainties, while promising to make a connection with anyone wrestling over life changing endeavors. Lines of humble surrender like "I feel so unreal when I'm still/ When I'm waiting for you to reveal" blend angelically with the short and simple chorus: "I'm further, further from myself/ When I'm next to you/ When I run to you."
Besides the pertinent messages, Pillar's uncanny ability to blend monstrous hooks with thunderous beats is continually present. Throughout hints of P.O.D., Linkin Park, and Incubus, Pillar still stands on their own as a heavy hitting, yet free flowing hybrid of controlled chaos and spiritually tinged poetry. The piercing bombast of "Behind Closed Doors," the urgent growl of the title cut, and the killer crunch of "Ashamed," coupled with special guest KJ-52's rap fusion on "Stay Up" will please old and new fans alike, along with folks from all corners of the industry.
The real test for the band will be how they balance their foreshadowed success with the ever-present potential for Beckley to go off to war. "I can get called any time on any day," he says, switching from a light hearted to a serious tone. "I have an incredible faith that we're all a part of Pillar right now because that's where we're supposed to be. But then again, I'm a soldier first, not only a soldier in the army ready to fulfill my obligation, but a soldier for God."
Beckley and the guys have certainly spent a lot of time dialoguing with God regarding Pillar's future direction, but in the meantime they'll live one day at a time, dealing with the future as it unfolds. It may just be that the members of Pillar are some of this generation's rock and roll prophets, thanks primarily to their aforementioned scorching anthem "Echelon." Regardless of the band's future, or even the nation's for that matter, perhaps their onslaught of driving guitars and rumbling drums that compliment the song's passionate chorus line says it all: "I'm a soldier in the army of One, and like I told you, the battle's already won."