By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"We're still practicing," Wilson says.
"We need to take media training or something," Sherri says, laughing. They all laugh, because more than likely, it's true. With the band's back story--their age, the homeschooling, their relationship with The Vineyard--there will no doubt be some misconceptions along the way. It's probably a good idea to take a step back right now, so no one gets the wrong idea. Yes, the DuPrees and Wilson are Christians. And yes, they're in a band. But they're not a Christian band. They're not the uptight kids you might expect, preaching and policing. You wouldn't expect your average Baptist youth group to be singing along to Weezer's "Tired of Sex," as MossEisley does at Trees while waiting to perform.
"I think their lyric content is accessible to everybody and fairly mature, and it's really beautiful," Hobbs says. "And I don't think they've at all limited themselves speaking Christian-ese or anything. They're a great Christian family, but I wouldn't call them a Christian band. Since they had so many friends and they were part of the Christian scene, you know, with their own club in Tyler, I think the natural first step was to go play all the Christian places. And I think that they won the Christian crowd over."
They did just that last July when they played the Cornerstone Festival, an annual gathering born out of Cornerstone magazine and Jesus People USA that draws around 30,000 people to a field in Illinois. Around the time MossEisley played Cornerstone, the group also started working with Michael Barber, who's made a career out of taking bands on the verge over the edge, such as Ian Moore, Vendetta Red (now signed to Epic Records) and Acceptance (now on the Columbia roster). It was a musical game of telephone: A band MossEisley had played with at BrewTones went to Seattle to record an album for Tooth & Nail Records. The band gave a MossEisley CD to a producer and he gave it to Barber. He came to see MossEisley in Tyler, spent some time with the band over the weekend and decided to make it his next project.
"Generally, I work with bands early on and develop them to the point where they're ready for labels to see them and management to see them, and put the whole team together for them," Barber says. "But a lot of times, artists don't take to trying to define a good vision and aren't actually willing to work with somebody who's done it before in the industry. My experience with them was amazing, because, you know, if I said, 'I think right now it's the time to focus on your songwriting and keep developing your live show, and these are my ideas,' they would sit intently and listen to every idea I had. And within two weeks, those things would be implemented. To have that kind of open, collaborative situation was really nice."
At the same time, J'mel Burgos, south central regional rep for Warner Bros./Reprise A&R, first saw the band. In the two years she's worked for Warner Bros., Burgos had never gotten a band signed to the label. She could tell it was going to be different this time around.
"They definitely fill a gap," Burgos says. "I think it was just so fresh to see someone like that. Because every time you go see a girl band--I mean, I've been wanting to see a girl band do great, but they just all try to copy, I guess, what they have as their mentors, or as their idols. And I think with them, they weren't trying to copy anyone. They were just being them, doing their family thing. And it just really works."
It worked so well that by the end of last year, the group had won over everyone important in the Dallas music scene with its performance at November's North Texas New Music Festival.
"When we got up onstage, we didn't know why they were there," Sherri says. "It kind of freaked us out."
"I didn't think they were there for us," Stacy adds.
Dave Holmes, who guides Coldplay's career for Nettwerk Management, had signed on to help them win over everyone else. He and Barber set up showcases in Los Angeles for a handful of labels. By the time the band got back in its Suburban for the trip home to Tyler, it was only a matter of deciding which label it liked best.
"People were blown away," Holmes says. "They did very well. They did about six showcases for different labels, and every one of them went very well, in that every label immediately showed really strong interest. Every label wanted to sign them, essentially."
"What this band has, and the word that keeps coming up, is 'magical,'" Barber says. "Every label that has seen it, that came in to sign the band, including Rick Rubin, including the president of Columbia, including the president of Warner Bros., the word that came out of their mouths is that it's a magical thing. There's no other word to describe it. And it is. The showcases that they did in L.A. are just as good, if not better, than any other show you've ever seen. It was really phenomenal."