Cool Hand Luke

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Eric, IVM: Please start us off by giving your name and what you do in the band.

Mark, CHL: My name is Mark Nicks. I play drums and piano and sing in Cool Hand Luke.

I think the big thing we obviously need to talk about is your new record, The Sleeping House. First off, how do you feel about it? Everyone reads what critics (myself included) have to say about records, so here is your chance as the artist to write your own brief review.

I am excited about The Sleeping House because it’s an important record to me. I’m excited that it’s finally out and I’m excited for people to hear it. With every record that we have finished, I tend to be very critical as soon as it’s done. I see all the things that I don’t like and things that I wish we could have done differently. By the time a record is mastered, I’m already thinking of the next thing. It has been even harder with The Sleeping House because it took us almost two years to get it out, so these aren’t new songs to us anymore.

That said, I have fewer regrets on this record than any of the others. I am very pleased with it conceptually, and I think this is the best sounding recording we’ve ever had. The things that I would change would not be realistic because it would have taken changing my heart two years ago to change the music, if that makes sense. It’s sort of a commentary on where I was musically, emotionally, and spiritually two years ago–which obviously is not where I am now because God is constantly changing us and moving us. But it’s also a very cohesive message that God has been communicating to me that we want to communicate to the Church. I’m proud of this record, and I think it stands up next to our previous records. It has elements of the old Cool Hand Luke, and it goes a few places that we have only briefly visited before. I’m always nervous to hear what our fans think. A lot has changed since The Fires of Life, and I want our fans to still find what they liked about the previous Cool Hand Luke records. I know that Cool Hand Luke’s appeal has never primarily been about music or entertainment but about our desire to glorify Christ, and that has not changed.

That wasn’t very much like a review, but I’d feel kind of lame saying it’s good or it’s bad. I’m too close to it to really be very objective. Then again, reviews aren’t really objective anyway are they? See? You’ve trapped me with this question. I see what you’re up to.

Did it match the expectations you had when you went into the studio?

Yes and no. I’ve done enough records now to know that things will never end up the way they sound in my head. That’s a good thing a lot of times. I think a lot of the songs didn’t turn out how I had initially envisioned them, but that was part of my expectation–that things would get changed. It’s just natural that when other people do their creative part it gets changed–and that’s why bands are always better than solo projects. And that’s why you go to a producer to make a record. Everyone’s fingerprints and creativity makes the thing move. But I expected certain things as far as tones and moods, and I think those stayed consistent and came across effectively.

One thing I noticed is that it’s more complex than previous material. What influenced you guys in this direction?

I think just growing up and learning more and more what it means to have faith in Christ and to be an adult and to be an American citizen adds some complexity to the whole thing. I’ve had a hard time feeling the dissonance between what Jesus taught and what American Christians live. I’m tired of just talking about the gospel and not living it. That plays a big part in the content of the record, and the music has to match the depth and complexity of that. We wanted the record as a whole to communicate an overall idea. There were certain songs I wrote playing piano, and they come across more straightforward. Other songs we wrote as a band and I was playing drums and they tend to be more aggressive and more complex as far as time changes and whatnot. Those factors combined with whatever music I may have been listening to at any given time have a lot to do with it I think.

One of my favorite lines on The Sleeping House comes at the end of “The Mirror,” when it says, “I’ve been so many people to so many people, but I just want to be who You want me to be.” I think that’s something a lot of us can relate to for different reasons. If you don’t mind, could you talk a little bit about that concept and why you put it into a song?

Toward the end of touring for The Fires of Life a few years ago, I was having a big struggle with my identity. To some people I was Mark from Cool Hand Luke. To some people I was Mark who works at BlockBuster. I was one person to our fans and another person to the guys in the band. I would come home from tour and feel conflicted about which was the real me. If I really was the good guy who talks about Jesus on stage, why was I treating the other people in my band like crap when we weren’t on stage? I wrote the first verse of “The Mirror” on that tour, and that’s where the idea of being different people came from. Ultimately, I realized that my identity was in something other than Christ. My identity was in the things that I did. And, again, the idea of living out the gospel instead of just talking about it made things cloudy. I used to hide behind the fact that I played songs about Jesus for an hour a night when we were on tour and then I’d get home and go to work and no one had any idea what my life was about. In the interim between this record and the last God, took me out of the band thing for a while and I had to find out who I really was. It was honestly unbearable at first. I’d like to say that I missed the music or even the road or something, but I think I just couldn’t deal with just being Mark. God had to humble me a lot, and I think it’s always a struggle, but I see myself as Mark the child of God more than Mark the musician now. I just want to find out who God wants me to be and be that. That’s the whole point, isn’t it?

This is your third album, but your first release with Lujo Records. How did you end up at the label and how have things been going so far?

[Just so you know, we put out an EP and a full-length before we were signed back in 2002. It’s a minor detail, but I thought you may want to know.]

Well, like I said, it has taken us a long time to get this record out. We had put a lot of trust in our previous manager to find a label who would put this record out after Floodgate Records folded in 2007. Nothing came of that and for a number of reasons, we parted ways with our management. We had to sit down and talk and pray and figure out how we were going to get this thing out. We would have liked to put the record out on our own, but we just didn’t have money. We heard about Lujo through one of my friends who used to work for them, and we just started talking. They knew who we were and were into the tracks that we sent them. We liked the idea of Lujo because it’s a small indie, so there wouldn’t be the pressure of trying to change what we do for them and we wouldn’t get lost among 70 other bands. They don’t have the money and resources that bigger labels have, but I think they care about their bands and work hard for them. I guess we’ll see if it all pays off now that the record is out.

What was it like working with Matt Goldman to record the album?

Amazing. I love Matt, and I love his work. We had done a handful of songs with him before, so we knew what to expect and were excited to work with him again. I think he’s really smart and funny, and he has good taste. He’s known for his great drum tones. I think he gets great tones in general. He knows how to get any sound you would want and he takes the time to get it right. He understood what we were going for and helped us get there instead of trying to turn us into some other thing, which some producers do. He made our songs better, and that’s his job. He’s been a good friend to us and we all think highly of him as a producer and otherwise.

What touring plans do you have in support of The Sleeping House?

We are probably going to be doing spot dates for the next month or two. We recently lost our touring drummer, Phil Smith, because he moved to North Carolina to intern at a church. It took some time for us to figure out what we were going to do. Even though I played drums on the record, Phil had been playing live and I would play piano and sing. Now, I’ve gone back to playing drums and singing like the old days. We’re trusting technology to fill up our lack of piano. All that to say, we are just now starting to book again. We will be playing here and there this winter. In January we are going to go out for a few weeks with My Epic, and that should be great fun.

Thanks for sharing with us. Anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you so much for the interview and your support. In regards to the record, it may not be in every store, so know that you can order it through Lujorecords.com or you can get it on iTunes. We really hope and pray that these songs will encourage and bless people. Our lives are meant to glorify our Creator and we pray that our allegiance as the Church would be to Him and not a political party, a country, a denomination, or anything that would undermine the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. Soli Deo Gloria.