If music fans expect their favorite artists to always top their previous CD, the members of Christian rock band Sanctus Real might start thinking about retirement.
"We're in trouble," drummer Mark Graalman said with a laugh.
And that's a good thing, the band members added, because they are confident that "We Need Each Other," coming out Tuesday, raises the bar to new heights for this Toledo band that won a Dove Award in 2005.
The group will perform a few songs and sign copies of its new disc Monday night at the Family Christian Store in Holland.
Mr. Graalman, guitarist Chris Rohman, and singer-guitarist Matt Hammitt said in an interview this week that one reason they are so pleased with the new album - their fourth for Christian music giant Sparrow Records - is that they had more time than ever before to record the songs.
"We went down to Nashville for a week in the studio, then we'd take three or four weeks off and go back down and record," Mr. Graalman said. "And we did it all year."
He said the group - which also features two later additions who are not from Toledo, guitarist Pete Prevost and bassist Dan Gartley - went into the studio six different times to record the new tracks.
"We were able to live with the songs and decide whether we still loved them after we had lived with them every day for three months," Mr. Graalman said. "And if we didn't still love them, we were able to give them a fresh makeover before the songs were finalized."
The album's title track already has hit the No. 1 spot on Christian radio charts, marking the sixth time a Sanctus Real single has reached the top spot and the 12th time one of their songs has reached the Top 5.
The theme of "We Need Each Other" - both the single and the album - is unity, a concept and a feeling that kept coming up during the writing and recording of the album, Mr. Hammitt said.
It was a welcome feeling after the struggles surrounding Sanctus Real's previous CD, "The Face of Love," released in the spring of 2006. The band had suffered through two personal tragedies - the deaths of Mr. Graalman's father and Mr. Hammitt's grandmother - and the departure of longtime bassist Steve Goodrum.
"I think we were on the other side of a lot of the healing that needed to happen for us as a band," Mr. Hammitt said about the new disc. "We needed to feel whole again, and I think that in feeling whole, the theme of unity continued to come up over and over as we wrote the songs."
Mr. Rohman said the song is a reminder to not try to face the world on one's own.
"I think it's a maturity thing. Being younger and growing up, going through high school, you kind of tend to build those walls around you, and sometimes you are afraid to let people in on what's really going on in your life," he said.
"Even us, as a band, we've been through a lot, and here we are 12 years later and we're still learning how to open up to each other and communicate. It's a process."
Mr. Hammitt said it takes courage to share one's feelings, but doing so is the best thing both spiritually and emotionally.
"I think people are afraid at times to express their feelings," he said. "A lot of people choose to hold their feelings in, but it's really a selfish thing to do."
People who bottle up their emotions wind up hurting themselves as well as the people around them, he said, because it leads to negative attitudes, sarcasm, and unhealthy behavior.
"It's really important to open up," Mr. Hammitt said.
Mr. Rohman said there was a point in making the album when the title track almost slipped through the cracks.
"We rehearsed the original idea, came up with most of the music and most of the lyrics in one rehearsal session early last year, and kind of forgot about it for a couple of months until we got down to the studio and discovered that we needed some more songs," he said.
That led them to dig out the raw tape of "We Need Each Other" and start polishing it up.
"After we got that finished, it just opened the floodgates, and finally everything else started looking more complete," Mr. Rohman said. "That is kind of where we got the theme for the record and a general direction of where we were going."
Sanctus Real will be hitting the road after Monday's in-store appearance in the Toledo suburb of Holland, making a round of radio interviews and CD signings nationwide. After that, the group will spend most of March opening for the band Third Day and then is booked solid for the summer festival season.
The group members are making plans for a fall headline tour and are looking to travel with an opening praise-and-worship band and an evangelist, most likely Tony Nolan, whom they got to know while traveling together on the 2007 Winter Jam Tour.
They said that as long as their music is being marketed solely in the Christian genre, they want to make as big a spiritual impact as possible on their audiences. That's why they plan on touring with an evangelist who connects with kids, and they feel Mr. Nolan is the perfect choice.
"Tony Nolan, man he's going to be unleashed," Mr. Hammitt said. "There are no boundaries with him."
"He's like 'this amp goes to 11,' and he's on 11 all the time," Mr. Graalman said with a laugh. "He's crazy but in a good way. He's really fun to be around."
Sanctus Real will sign copies of "We Need Each Other" and play a few acoustic songs starting at 7 p.m. Monday, the day before the album's official release, at Family Christian Store, 1400 South Holland-Sylvania Rd. at Airport Highway. More information on the band is available online at www.sanctusreal.com or www.myspace.com/sanctusreal.
- David Yonke