An Interview with Ernie Haase

We have featured interviews with Ernie Haase three times before. So when we had the chance to interview him this time, we skipped the background questions and dove right in!

Daniel: Your last recording of (mostly) new songs, Dream On, came out over three years before this one. Well, to be precise, 3 years, 3 months, and 10 days (not that anyone has been counting)! Why did you wait this long?

Ernie: Yeah, we did wait a while, and that was done on purpose. And the main reason was, we needed time to find the right songs and to write the kind of material that Signature Sound needs. We’re coming into our own, ten years after we started this group. I feel we laid the foundation, and now, on this record, the Here We Are Again project, you’re going to hear the heart, the soul, and the musicality of this quartet.

We released a tribute record, and we did that strategically at that time to buy us more time to write the songs. And I really, really, feel – well, I don’t feel, I know – these songs, because I had a hand in helping write eight or nine of them, were born out of a lot of questions, a lot of fear, a lot of pain, a lot of loss, and some victories. All those times are embodied in this new record.

The bottom line is this: If we feel it, we’ve experienced it, we’ve lived it, on stage, we’re not going to have to try to sell anything. And it’s going to entertain the hearts and minister to the spirits of the people who come to our concerts.

So I guess you could say, we’re hoping that it was worth the wait!

Daniel: I understand that you wrote eight of the album’s twelve songs. If I’m not mistaken, that’s a higher ratio than on any previous quartet album you’ve been a part of recording. Has songwriting become a higher priority for you in these last three years?

Ernie: Yeah, writing the songs was a higher priority for me.

I can tell you, and this is the honest truth, and I’ve thrown the evidence away, so you’ll have to take my word for it, I started writing at about 15 or 16. My goal was to write about 100 songs every year. I had folders and folders of songs – none of them you would ever hear!

When I joined the Cathedrals, I continued to write. I had a little bit of success.

But I just think it’s written into the fabric of the universe: We do need each other. When I get into the room with certain people that I trust, people that know my heart, and start knowing my stories, and know what I’m going through, songs just start pouring out.

So now more then ever, I guess as I’m getting more reflective, to be able to share from the stage what has gotten me thus far in my walk of faith… So, yeah, it was a risk. Honestly, I’m not my own favorite writer. But I have surrounded myself with some great writers, and I have a total confidence that they would not have let me leave the room with something that they weren’t proud of.

Daniel: Which songs did you write or co-write, and who did you co-write with?

Ernie: The songs that I had a hand in helping write – I’ll start with the title song, “Here We Are Again.” That’s just a Southern Gospel song which is a great song to unify people together. Then also, our first single, “I’ve Been Here Before.” A big ballad that’s going to be a huge Easter song, it’s called “Love Carried the Cross.” A fun, uptempo song that we absolutely love, called “Everytime.” Actually, I describe it as “Get Away Jordan” on steroids!

Then, the final three cuts I helped write: A song called “Sometimes I Wonder”; that song’s actually about four or five years old. I wrote it with Joel Lindsey shortly after he lost both his mom and dad, and of course during that same time, George, my father-in-law passed away. We were just wondering that day what they were doing.

A song called “Thankful to You,” a song that leads people to praise and worship.

And then, the bonus track, “Any Other Man,” which was recorded live in Bucharest, Romania, which is absolutely a phenomenal song. Of all the songs I’ve had a hand in writing, this one right now is really hitting a nerve – not only with the group, the guys on my bus, the production team, and all the guys involved with Signature Sound, but with men everywhere that we’re singing this to – from teenagers to older gentlemen. It’s resonating, striking a nerve. I have to sit back and smile and say, “Thank You, Lord, for giving us some new material!”

Daniel: Of these songs, do any stand out as being inspired by a particularly memorable or special incident? Any neat stories?

Ernie: Every song comes out of a situation in life that’s memorable at that time. The two that stick out in my mind right now on this project… Our first single, “I’ve Been Here Before.” I’ve had this idea for years. I was working out one time, with my coach. I had screamed real loud, trying to lift this weight. He walked up, popped me beside the head, and said, “Hush up! Act like you’ve been here in this gym before! All that screamin’ and hollerin’s not going to help you any!”

I got to thinking, as I was going through a circumstance that we all go through, challenges and circumstances, the first thing we do is we scream and we holler, “Why me?” We kick and scream. I just wanted to write a song that says, “You know what? Look at you. You’ve been through challenges before. Look at me. I’ve been through challenges before. And we’re still alive. We’re still okay. God’s always come through. We’ve been here before, and we’re going to be fine.”

I just wanted to write a song of encouragement to let people know that no matter what comes their way, just keep waiting on the Lord, keep praying it through, and in His way and His time, we’re going to come out on the other side. We’ll be fine. We’ll be stronger for it, and we’ll be able to minister to other people. It’s a lot to put in one song, but I think we got the essence of that across, with a little bit of Signature Sound flair.

And then I would add another song, which was definitely a memorable incident. Sitting in the room with Joel Lindsey and Wayne Haun, we were beginning to write, and we were actually reminiscing, because were all still hurting. Joel had just buried his mother and father, and, of course, during that time period, I was still hurting from the sting of losing my father-in-law, and our family was still very much in pain. I remember telling the guys, “You know, it was a sacred moment to stand there and hold George’s hand and hear him say to me, just minutes before he passed away, ‘I am not afraid to die. I’m just worried about leaving you all behind. Are you going to be okay?'”

“George, we’ll be fine. We’ll be sad, we’ll never be the same again, but we’re going to go out. We’re going to eat together, we’re going to laugh, we’re going to tell jokes. We’re going to remember you. God will take care of us.”

Joel said, “You know what, my mom, one time, she’d start seeing a storm out the window. She’d start to shake and shiver, and get scared. I wonder if she’s scared of storms.”

Then we started talking; I said, “Can we write a song about the things we wonder about? Does George get to think about us any more? Does he know we’re okay? Is he worry-free? And when they entered Heaven, did they walk? Did they break into a run? I wonder!”

Wayne was just taking it all in. He said, “Guys, we can say whatever we want to say. The half has not been told.” So we sat down and wrote the song. I have to tell you … it’s hard to say!

Daniel: This album’s style will catch some fans by surprise—even those fans who know that EHSS does not like fitting into a box, and recording the same album time after time! How would you describe the new stylistic direction of songs like “Everytime” and “Any Other Man”?

Ernie: That’s a good question. Style has never been my concern. I know people would shake their head at that answer. But actually, when you have a lyric and a feeling in your heart of what a song should be, the music has to follow. A song like “Every Time,” it was just too victorious to be sad musically. The song “Any Other Man” is too much a statement of what Jesus was, too much a model of who we need to be, for the bed of music to be fluffy. It needed to have a raw edge to it.

I’m thankful that we have a fan base, people who follow us, who are not at all surprised with us taking a different approach, with us taking a different approach, and giving each song what it needs musically to fit the content of the song.

We’re cognizant of the fact that there are traditional quartet lovers out there who will always love traditional quartet singing on every record. We did on this record. But we’ve got to keep building a moving forward with your art. If you don’t, you stand still for at least one year, then you’re going backwards. The lifeline of a good quartet is good material. That’s why we’ve got to continue to search out new ways to present the old truth.

And I would follow up by saying, we do four or five international dates a year, and we will continue to do international dates. It’s just a big ol’ world out there. Our crowds in the internal market are literally the opposite of the States crowds. They’re literally 40 and under. That’s the demographic. You have to go in there, and you have to have more ammunition. Songs like “Every Time” and “Any Other Man” give us the ammunition and be able to sing like we will in March when we go to EasterFest and sing in New Zealand and Australia and share the stage with Third Day, Michael W. Smith. I think June 1 we’ll be doing a Budapest, Hungary crusade with Franklin Graham and the Billy Graham Association, with Michael W. Smith and Casting Crowns. We definitely don’t change who we are, but you have to be cognizant in the record of what your market is, who you’re singing to. Because of the international market, we’ve heard this record broaden just a little bit stylistically. Because we’ve got to have the content for the people we sing to.

And the people in the States, they love seeing us grow, they grow with us, it’s just really, really a fun process.

Daniel: Did you start with the intent of trying a different style, or did the songs surprise you and lead you in that direction?

Ernie: You know what, the question about intent of trying to change style, no, we never have an intent of trying to change. I think I said something about that before. Am I surprised how the song ends up? I’m always surprised.

That’s the great part about creating, the great part about art. You have a vision for it, you think with the inner mind, you’re seeing how it’s going to play out somewhere on a stage across the world. But when it’s finally to print, and it’s finally put to bed, and everything is done, you’re smiling inside, and saying, “Man, that turned out just a little better than I thought.” If I didn’t have that excitement, then the whole process would be a lot of what I call “carryin’ lumber.” It’s just hard lifting. But when you can finally put it to bed, smile, and say, “That turned out nice,” it’s worth all the heavy lifting that we do.

Daniel: When you recorded Dream On, you didn’t have a live band. Now that you have a band, did this influence the recording process? Were the songs intentionally arranged so that the EHSS band can play them live?

Ernie: Absolutely. We recorded this record with the band in mind. You always have to think with the vocals in mind. But to be able to go into the studio and say, “Hey, how can we get the most bang, not for the buck, but for the song and the experience?” The crowd deserves it. That’s why we invest in the production, we invest in the lights, and we invest in the sound. Sound and sight – that’s all you got going for you. So if you can get that working, get your voice working, get great harmonies, and then, to add the live band…

Nowhere else in any other music does it work out where you can walk out and sing with tracks. I’m glad, for Southern Gospel, that it has worked, or we wouldn’t have had a group. But I’ve got to tell you, it has added a lot more credibility to our group, the emails and calls that I’m getting from people who’d never darken the door of one of our concerts, and I gotta think, “You know, everybody has their own thing, and it’s just great for me to be able to see, at the end of the concert, some kid going up and getting an autograph, or a guitar player from Kelley, or Zach, our drummer, hands some kid a drum stick and signs it.” I’m hopeful that one day there’ll be a fresh groundwork of great musicians because of the groundwork our band has laid. So kudos to those guys for working hard and doing a great job.

Daniel: This is your first recording of (mostly) new songs with Devin McGlamery and Ian Owens. Devin has had several other projects to find his groove, but, other than background vocals on the George Younce project, this is Ian’s first project with the group. With every change, as Bill Gaither says, you can’t find someone exactly like the person who left; you have to find someone who brings something new. What have Devin and Ian brought to the group, and to this project?

Ernie: Devin and Ian have definitely brought a lot of excitement to our group. They’re young, they’re funny, and they’re very, very serious thinkers. Even though they’re very fun on stage, and very light-hearted on stage, when you sit up basically every night and have great discussions about faith, family, discussions about our walk and our questions that we have about the unknown, the mystery of it all, it’s been great not only singing with these guys, the vocal abilities they bring to the group, but it’s also been great having kindred spirits, having people who can run a lyric through their mind, who can paint a picture of a scene. They’re both talented, talent you have to have to get into a group. But they both, definitely, are believable. That’s what excites me more than anything else. No matter what song I give them, people are believing it, experiencing it, and seeing it.

I’m just thankful that God sent Devin and Ian to our group. As a manager, you just shake your head every time there’s a change, “Okay…how’s this going to turn out?” But as the song I helped write [says], “I’ve been here before, and I’ll be fine.” As long as God has His hand on it, it’s going to work out. I’m just thankful for those young guys. I just smile when I think about them! They’re funny guys, and they’re thinkers, too, and I’m thankful for that.

Daniel: For many Southern Gospel fans, “Stand By Me” was the song that led them to fall in love both with EHSS in general, and with Tim Duncan’s bass singing in particular. Ian Owens’ performance of this song will certainly win over quite a few fans who had been waiting to see if they would like him with the group. After around eight years of staging this song, what did you differently with the arrangement, and why?

Ernie: Yeah, that song, “Stand By Me,” kind of brought us to the party, didn’t it?

You didn’t catch this, Daniel – I’m surprised! – you catch everything. We staged this song – honestly, we stopped staging this song three or four years ago. We had a great three or four-year run with it. “Get Away Jordan” came out, it was so overpowering, it just kind of buried that song. But people have been screaming for that song, and I’ve been hearing them.

I got with Wayne. We had some ideas on how to update the music and make it just a little more updated for today, our crowd, and what we’re doing. And so when Ian came on board, it was like, “Here’s a song that’s already been tested and tried.” And Ian’s just got that voice that I love listening to, like Jimmy Jones and the Harmonizing Four, those kind of spiritual singers. I don’t think, I know, the crowd is be so happy, not only Ian sing and be featured, but to hear, really, a Signature Sound classic? Yeah, a Signature Sound classic, “Stand By Me.”

Daniel: I really thought I heard you do that song the last time I saw the group outside of NQC; perhaps my memory is playing tricks on me! Is there anything you’d like to share with readers about Signature Sound’s or Stow Town’s plans for 2012?

Ernie: 2012 is just going to be the year where we go around the world and we tour the “Here We Are Again” project, and bring these songs to life on stage. And I want to do it in such a fashion that not only do people feel they got their money’s worth, spent their time wisely, but that they would actually want to go and tell someone else about this music, and bring them back with them the next time we come to the area. That’s a tall order, but that’s what we’re focusing on in 2012 with Signature Sound.

Then, with StowTown Records, there’s a lot of things happening that I can’t share with you right now! So just stay tuned! I got more ideas now then I did when I started twenty-five years ago. Believe it or not, it’s been twenty-five years that I’ve been singing professionally. I sung a few years before that where it wasn’t – let’s put it this way – I was lucky to get a cheeseburger bought for me afterwards. But twenty-five years, and I’m just as excited. My body’s wore down a bit, my knees are hurting, and I’ve got to get those fixed. I’m starting to cut the schedule back a little bit more, even, as I approach the big 5-0. I’ve got three more years before I hit that!

So I’m trying to figure it out so we can continue to do what I love to do, as long as the Lord wants us to do it.

So, Daniel, thank you for this time, thank you for listening, and thank you for allowing me to share Signature Sound, and our heart, and our music with everybody on your website. You keep up the good work, buddy, you’re doing a great work. God bless!

Daniel: And thank you! You also keep up the good work, and God bless you, too!