“There’s only a handful that survived the filtration process. The way that the industry’s gone, I’m surprised there’s even room for us,” Beckley candidly admits. “So many new bands pop up, you wonder what you have to do to keep the excitement going.”
Beckley has drawn inspiration from some other bands that stood the test of time. “You look at Jars of Clay—they’ve been doing it for even longer, and they’re still putting out great records and writing good music,” Beckley says. “With us, I feel like we keep writing the best stuff we’ve ever done. It’s cool that we can still feel the excitement.”
But there was a time in recent history when that excitement had waned. After flirtations with the mainstream did not quite pan out—due to what Beckley describes as the lack of “a solidified vision”—Pillar’s collective members weren’t enjoying life on the road like they once did. It was a far cry from their humble beginnings as a band at Fort Hays Community College in Kansas, where a call from an independent record label or that first experience in the studio was enough to light a blazing fire.
Beckley struggled with the emotional and physical hardships of demanding travel schedules and the lack of self-imposed spiritual accountability. But his biggest challenge can be summed up in one word: “Christians,” Beckley says. “I went through a really rough spell for about two years. I didn’t trust Christians. I didn’t want to be around Christians. I couldn’t believe I was part of something I felt was so fake. To call it like it was, I was the person that I hated; I was being the same way. We got a lot of judgment thrown our way, and it was really hard to deal with.”
Thanks to an intervention orchestrated by his wife and his pastor, Beckley has since rekindled his passion for making music and speaking into the lives of Pillar’s loyal fan base.
That rejuvenated attitude likewise carried over to bandmates Noah Henson (guitar), Lester Estelle (drums) and Kalel (bass). “I think everyone’s more unified now. This last tour we did, I don’t remember having that much fun onstage,” Beckley says. “We’re having a good time. If something goes wrong, nobody gets mad. If monitors aren’t working, it’s like, ‘Whatever.’ We just rock harder. Attitude-wise, it’s just a whole different world.”
Beckley’s renewed passion was further fueled by his love of sports. As a former baseball player who once had aspirations to play professionally, he has become friends with such athletes as major league pitcher Mike Maroth. After a game in Kansas City this past summer where Maroth was pitching for St. Louis, the two talked about how blessed they were to do what they love. From that conversation came the groundwork for Pillar’s fifth studio project, For The Love of The Game (Essential).
“The Love is the passion,” Beckley explains. “The Game is the pursuit of Christ. So basically, For The Love of The Game is all about the passion to pursue Christ.”
Beckley is also working on a book by the same title, each chapter explaining the songs through the stories of various Christian athletes who have personally inspired him. And as Pillar (whose last album, The Reckoning, was nominated for a 2008 GRAMMY®) moves forward, the band does so with not just an invigorated drive, but also with a clearer understanding of its mission and identity.
“Before we started working on this record, we sat down and had a meeting, and we were very blunt,” Beckley recalls. “I just said, ‘Guys, I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to be a Christian band.’ When somebody asks, I’ll tell them, ‘I’m in a Christian band.’ I don’t have a problem saying that. I don’t want to debate, ‘Are you Christians in a band, or are you a Christian band?’ It’s the same freaking thing. We’re both. I’m a Christian and I’m in a band and this is a Christian band.”
— Chad Bonham is an 18-year veteran freelance journalist, published author and volunteer youth pastor from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. He is also producing a sports television show and a documentary about the Christian hip-hop industry for his company, Name Brand TV.