An Interview with Ernie Haase (2011)

Slightly over four years ago, in December 2006, we ran a longer-than-feature-length interview with Ernie Haase. He recently graciously set aside the time to do another!

Special thanks to NewSoGoFan, Josh, Ethan, DavidMac, and sourceofpower, and everyone else who submitted questions, (mostly) as part of our Ask Ernie post.

1. Recent press information about the record company you are launching with Wayne Haun, Stow Town Records, mentions that this is a fulfillment of a dream George Younce had. Could you tell us more about that dream? When did he start thinking and talking about it, and what was his vision for the label? (Daniel)

Well, the back story goes like this….

When George and I were doing the Old Friends Quartet thing with Jake Hess and Wesley Pritchard we had to improvise. George was so sick he could not record in Nashville so we made a little makeshift studio in the back of his garage. After that, every time we would pass this old office building in our hometown of Stow, Ohio, George would mention, “That would be a good place for a studio, Ernie.”

So, a label was not in the vision as much as a “place” that would make great music. He told me that if we had a place to make great music that people would come from all over to record with us. He went on to say that you and I could put all our awards and plaques in there so people could see the history.

So, out of those talks and out of two years of dreaming with Wayne Haun, we finally found the right way to bring the dream alive and make great music. So, the name StowTown Records came from those experiences and was a way to pay tribute to George and to the town that was the home to the great Cathedrals for their entire career.

2. I understand that one of the label’s first releases will be a Doug Anderson solo project. Is he leaving EHSS to launch a solo career, and if not, will he be staging these songs at EHSS concerts? (Daniel)

Doug Anderson has been a vital part of EHSS since day one. I met Doug while I was still with the Cathedrals. I heard him sing in a group called “Lighthouse” and we struck up a friendship. He went with me on many solo dates just to hang and help. (By the way, so did David Griffith, who was in Lighthouse singing bass.)

I told Doug (and David) way back then that if I ever started a quartet I would call them first to be a part of it. Both guys quit good jobs to be apart of EHSS. So, to be able to give back to Doug in other ways than just setting him up each night as a member of EHSS is very fitting. He has earned it! Plus, he is that good. His solo record will blow folks away with the heart and voice that is so Doug Anderson. It will release in May 2011.

Doug is working a few solo dates just like I did the last five years with The Cathedrals. So, the answer is “NO,” Doug is not going anywhere!

But I will add this, if Doug skyrockets (a solo career like Carman or a young Michael English) and has no choice but to follow the doors that are opening him I know what will happen. He will sacrifice himself to stay with me and “if” that day happens I will be the first to tell him HE OWES ME NOTHING! I will cheer him on more than anyone else. He is a loyal bird 🙂 And I don’t forget anything. Bottom line … I love Doug Anderson!

3. One of StowTown’s first releases will be a George Younce project with EHSS singing background vocals. Could you tell us the vision for this project, how you selected material, and how you worked (with Wayne Haun, I assume) on the vocal arrangements? (Daniel)

Wayne and I just signed a exclusive distribution agreement with Sony/Provident-Integrity. We shared with the distribution team our vision and the projects we want to release in the next 12 months. At first I thought they would shy away from the George Younce solo project altogether. But when the contract came back to us, they asked us to release George’s first! WOW, George would have loved that. His project “launched” the label. (StowTown Records)

The project consist of old masters we have held on to for many years. George recorded 4 solo records in the mid-90s. We transfered them from 2 inch tape to a hard drive so they would not lose quality and have been storing them in my basement for the last 5 years. Wayne and I decided on 10 songs (one of which was never released) and extracted George’s voice from the original track. Only his voice remained. We then took Nashville’s finest musicians and recorded 10 new tracks. The new tracks are out of this world! We then placed George’s voice back over the new tracks. Then, EHSS went in and sang background vocal with George … HOW COOL! It’s much like the Jordanaires did with Elvis on his early Gospel records. We didn’t just ooh and ahh. You can tell it is a quartet—which is exactly what George would have wanted! He was a quartet man to the bone. Wayne produced the vocals and the tracks … it is very special and there is nothing else like it in the Gospel music world.

4. Will all of EHSS’s future releases be released through StowTown, or will you still be working with Gaither Music Group on your mainline releases? (Daniel)

EHSS is a separate organization from StowTown Records. We (EHSS) will be a big part of the marketing side of StowTown. However, when it comes to recording and distributing EHSS we have a great relationship with the Gaither Organization. We will always be available to Bill. So, having said that, we really have not made any plans for the next EHSS project; we are just in the dream stages now. EHSS & the Gaithers will always do business as long as I have anything to say about it.

5. Are there any other upcoming StowTown releases that you’re ready to talk about yet? (Daniel)

We are negotiating with other SG artist and will make a Press Release when each one is signed. Right now George and Doug are the first releases. Stay tuned ….. More news to follow.

6. How do you balance being prepared and on your game with avoiding the trap of artificiality—in other words, how do you keep it professional but natural and unforced? (from NewSoGoFan)

That is something that can only happen in your private time. If I don’t have time alone to read, pray, meditate, fellowship, and just be still then the stage can trick you into thinking that is your time with God. THAT IS A TRAP! My time with God has never been on stage. I have felt God’s Spirit and have seen Him do many wonderful things from our time on stage but He and I are tight because of what we do together off the stage.

So, with that in mind, when I do go on stage I feel like I’m making my Father smile and say, “Angels, check out my boy Ernie … he is doing his thing again … that kid makes me smile.” I hope it is something like that 🙂

7. A few years ago, you said in an interview that you tell your guys not to listen to the praise or the criticism, because they’re both poison—straight ahead, no left or right. That’s great advice for maintaining focus in what you do, but how do you balance that with listening to what people have to say and potentially profiting from their criticism? (from NewSoGoFan)

Well, there is some profit from both. I guess what I do is consider the source. There are those who want to just get close and be a name dropper so they praise you. They praise EVERYTHING. Trust me, I know when I’m bad and when the group is not up to par. So, I don’t listen. In the same way, there are also seem to be a few dissenters out there who find it hard to be happy for anyone. So, I don’t listen to them either.

What I “do” listen to is the praise and criticism of those who care and want God to use us. I can tell pretty quick who cares and who is just digging or dropping names. I don’t judge these people. I do hope that in time they all can see that our hearts are good and we are trying our best to add to this industry and not take away.

8. You guys started out with a real sharp, classic look and feel, then moved to something more hip in later years. Now you seem to be “coming full circle.” To what extent can we expect to watch this trend continue in future years? (You can touch on everything from wardrobe to haircuts to “choreography” here.) (from NewSoGoFan)

Thanks for noticing 🙂

I hope we always stay sharp and relevant. But as I grow old I’m not quite as bold as I once was. That’s O.K. I’ve seen some pictures of things I’ve worn and of my hair and said to myself, “What was I thinking?” But, like I said, that’s ok. At least I was trying to make people smile and forget about their problems. I have the rest of my life to be mature!

However, I love my suits!!!! I will never look like someone else … I just love fashion and have fun putting clothes together. I know that may not have any eternal value to some but to me it is what I like and I’m don’t think we are hurting anyone either. I love God and I don’t think you prove your love for God by shopping at Goodwill. As in anything, it’s all about moderation. As for future fashion, I have no idea … I guess those who are curious will have to come to a concert and see. 🙂

9. The group’s “signature sound” has not changed much through the years, but the stage presence and choreography has. How do you keep your audiences focused on the signature sound and the message without letting the choreography and stage presence become a distraction? (from Josh)

Good question, Josh. Well, it starts with feeling natural. There are tons of things we have tried at sound check and even in a show that just does not feel natural. So, in time, the things that people see us do are what we feel natural doing.

There have been nights that we have looked at each other and modified a move on the fly because of space or spirit. When all is said and done, we want to bring home the lyric and we want people to remember great performances too. For EHSS they both seem to work. However, my knees hurt real bad some days, and the older I get the less I may be able to do. I’m holding on as long as I can though.

10. You guys have done some great ballads, and people who go to your concerts will definitely see and hear that. But someone could take a big-picture view of your repertoire and see that on the whole, you’ve generally relied on light, upbeat material. Last year there was a push from several artists towards “meatier” spiritual content in their songs, most notably the Booth Brothers with Declaration. As a fellow artist, what’s your reaction to that? (from NewSoGoFan)

About four years ago, I had an artist tell me—and they weren’t being mean—they just said, “I think if you’re going to be able to make it”—and I think they meant by that, was have longevity—we had to get serious. I guess we’re just not on the same page on that. I thought “Then Came the Morning”and “I Then Shall Live” and “Reason Enough” were some pretty good, serious theology. I don’t listen to our stuff, and I don’t really listen to other Southern Gospel artists’ material.

I just don’t see it as competition, or as competitors. I see us all as co-laborers. So, what we do is that I just try to pick the songs that I feel that our fans want to hear. That’s what I have done with help of our producers and with Gaither. Pick the songs that Signature Sound fans want to hear Signature Sound sing. And then we arrange them in a style that they want to hear. I think one pitfall in this business—’cause it is a small business—everybody knows everybody—we try to please those who are not buying our CDs. If you do that, that’s gonna alienate you from your fan base pretty quick. So I hope that answers your question.

11. You’ve taken a break from main-line projects of new material for the last three albums. I’d like to know, and I think everybody would like to know, what do you have in mind for the group’s next chapter in terms of sound and song selection? (from NewSoGoFan)

We have been writing and listening a bunch over the last 2 years. So, I think you will hear some really good original songs from EHSS on the next project. But, there has been a paradigm shift since the Homecoming videos hit in the mid 90’s. And that is, people want to hear what they know. So, we will always grab from the vast catalog of hits from our wonderful SG industry and try our best to recreate the familiar into a new EHSS song. Much like Get Away Jordan. That makes the older fans happy and enlightens the younger fans to the history of SG Music.

12. Fans tend to either count Dream On as your strongest release to date or your weakest. What were you trying to accomplish with the project—and might we see these factors make a reappearance on future projects? (Daniel)

I can see that … and they are both right. It did not sell as much as Get Away Jordan did (but it was close), but it did have more penetration. The songs like “Reason Enough,” “A Good Heart,” “We Need Each Other,” “Dream On,” and “Out Of Bondage” have all been used outside of EHSS. From baby dedications and bedside prayers to choral arrangements to prison ministries to motion pictures, Dream On has given EHSS more traction than a normal release would give. We are even talking now to a movie company who wants to use some of the material for a motion picture. We have even had the mayor of Chicago give us praise from highlighting the kids in both Chicago and in Evansville, Indiana, bringing awareness to their plight. Much money has been raised not only for the Dream Center in Evansville but for the American Kidney Foundation in the name of George Younce. We put our Dream On banner on eBay, and raised money that way.

So, the hard core SG fans may not have liked some of Dream On project, BUT the Dream On project is one of my favorites, and I’m so proud of what has been accomplished outside of the sound-scan numbers. These kind of projects have a long shelf life. They open our group and our industry to the secular media and this is good for all of us. Therefore, Dream On!

13. Stand By Me Live is still one of the best recordings EHSS has released. Are there any plans to release a live cd in the future? (from Ethan)

No real concrete plan but since we do have a live 4 piece band I really want to do a live record one day soon.

14. Has there been an consideration of putting together either a hymns project or an a capella project? Or maybe combine both into one? (from Josh)

Yes, and Yes. 🙂 It is on the list of things to do.

15. Do you consider, on balance, the quartet pianist as a) the fifth member of the group , or b) part of the backing band? (David Mac)

Most groups since Hovie Lister have included their piano player as the fifth member. I made the choice when Wayne came to the group to make it all about the four guys for all marketing, since that is what a quartet really is by definition. Having said this, I consider anyone on my bus a part of the quartet. I really mean that! And if you ask anyone of the 12 guys traveling on my bus they will tell you I treat them the same as the singers.

16. Ernie, would you tell us how you found out about the Cathedrals job, the audition, and the events leading to your joining as their last tenor? I’ll bet you were nervous at the beginning and on cloud nine when you got the job. (quartet-man)

George gave me his number a couple of years before I got the job. =He heard me sing while I was with Squire Parson on a Singing At Sea Cruise. That would have been around 1986. He told me to keep working and to never lose my desire. He said he could look in my eyes and see desire oozing out of me.

When Danny Funderburk left the group in January 1990, I called George and told him that I wish I’d known the job was available. (They had hired another tenor at that time) I told him all I wanted was a chance the next time. He said he would keep my number in his shaving kit.

Well, about six weeks later I opened up for the Cats. I sang Oh What A Savior. I did not have a track; Roger Bennett played piano, and Mark Trammell played the bass.

The next week, I got a call from George at my mom and dad’s house. (This was before the days of cell phones.) I thought someone was playing a trick on me when my dad said George Younce was on the phone. To my surprise it was really him.

He asked if by chance I was coming tonight to their show that night. (They were about 20 minutes away)

I said “Yeah, I’m already dressed to go.”

He said, “Come straight to the bus when you get here.”

When I pulled in the parking lot, George was waiting in the well of the bus in his suit and cowboy boots. He smelled great! Looked like a million, but man, was he on a mission. No joking around! He said, “Do you still want this job?”

I said “YES, SIR!”

He said, “GOOD. Go see the old man” (which meant, “go see Glen.”)

When I came in the building Glen took me to another room and said that they had to make a change, and it was breaking their heart but it had to be done. He wanted to know if I could start next week.

I said, “YES, SIR.”

He said, “Pray about it.

I said, “I don’t have to. I have prayed about this for 10 years, and God said YES!”

That was on a Sunday … three days later, on a Wednesday night, I was on the Cathedral bus leaving for Nashville to sing with the Gaithers … wow, what a ride!

17. Ernie could you tell us how you met Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? I would love to hear your testimony, of where, and who led you to the Lord! (sourceofpower)

I was in church around, age 5. Don’t remember much, but I do remember that after that day I have always wanted to sing for Jesus. So, I’m still doing what God laid on my young heart to do. I may be 41 yrs older, but I have the same young heart and calling. My Grandpa, called me a good heart.

18a. Have you ever had a night where you absolutely flubbed “Oh What a Savior?” (from NewSoGoFan)

“Flubbed”—I don’t think I’ve ever flubbed it, as far as forgetting words, or just blowing it. But I’ve had nights when I was sick, and my voice would crack here and there. But no, that song I’ve been able to sing when I just couldn’t sing other songs. That song is just a part of me; I always want to sing that song. Thank God for that song—it’s a career-making song.

18b. To follow that up, you’ve said that you’d like to continue singing that song as much as possible, but how do you deal with the various road-blocks that could hinder you in really nailing it or even getting through it, e.g. sickness, fatigue? Do you see yourself continuing to sing it 10 years from now? (from NewSoGoFan)

I really do. I could see myself doing another 10, 20 years . . . like I said, even when I’m sick, too sick to do other songs, that song’s just a part of me. As far as singing when I’m older and nailing it every night … it’s always in the back of my mind, but it’s in the back of my mind. I trust that if I take care of my body and my voice (which I try to do both), then God will preserve me until He is done with me in the quartet business.

19. Everyone knows your favorite song is “Oh What a Savior,” but do you have a favorite non-SG song that’s really had an impact on you? (from NewSoGoFan)

Janet Paschal’s song “I Am Not Ashamed Of The Gospel” has been a favorite of mine. When it first came out that was considered MOR (Middle Of The Road), but it could now be done by any SG group including EHSS. Come to think of it, we should.

20. If you could pick four young up-and-comers and put together a “quartet of tomorrow,” who would you pick? (from NewSoGoFan)

Jeremie Hudson -Tenor
Joseph Habedank- Lead / Baritone
Andrew Goldman – Lead / Baritone
Ian Owens – Bass

21. A lot of people have claimed that gospel music is going the way of the dodo because artists are not willing to “progress.” They’re “stuck” in the past, and the music will only “grow” if they come into the present and the future. As somebody who’s managed to fuse some fresh stylings with a simultaneously “rooted” approach in your own group, what is your reaction to this perspective? (from NewSoGoFan)

It will never die! This music has its faults just like other art forms, but this music is great and has been around longer than rock and roll and hip hop. It will always be around, and EHSS is trying our best to help the cause. Not just for the genre, but for the glory of the Lord!