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After two decades together, sometimes a band needs a little extra spark - and Sawyer Brown believes a recent hiatus gave them just what they needed.
Over two years since their last album, they're now returning with an explosive new song and video - the rousing "Mission Temple Fireworks Stand."
"We wanted to take some time off - it just turned out to be longer than we planned," says singer Mark Miller, between takes while shooting the clip on a hilltop farm in rural Tennessee. "It's the longest we've ever gone between records, but we couldn't be happier about it."
Best known for such hits as "Some Girls Do," "Thank God for You" and "The Dirt Road," Sawyer Brown feels that "Mission Temple" is their most exhilarating single since their high-octane remake of George Jones' "The Race Is On" 15 years ago.
Mark's excitement is obvious as he energetically dashes through some signature dance steps for the video with renowned Grammy-nominated gospel steel guitarist Robert Randolph.
Robert's extreme style of playing - "Imagine Jimi Hendrix on steel guitar!" exclaims keyboardist Hobie Hubbard - is a perfect fit for the tune, which tells of a pastor leaving the pulpit to save souls while selling 4th of July-style explosives.
"He's selling cherry bombs for Jesus," explains Mark. "He decided he could convert more souls by working among the people than staying in the church. It's a fun song, but it's also got a strong message. All of us would like to think we'd be brave enough to walk away from our jobs and follow our hearts if we were inspired to do it."
The many fireworks used in the video inspired local police officers to come out to the rural location to check on the explosions. "The video really captures the energy and excitement of the song," says Mark.
Sawyer Brown - with new guitarist Shayne Hill joining Mark, Hobie, drummer Joe Smyth and bass player Jim Scholten - thought they had finished recording their new album, set for release early next year, when they added "Mission Temple Fireworks Stand" to the live show.
"We were getting ready for a new tour, and I wanted to add something different that we hadn't played before," says Mark. "I've always been a fan of Paul Thorn, who wrote it, and my family has been playing this song in our SUV for months. So we worked it up to do in our show."
The reaction was instant. "The first night we did it, it was like the first time we played 'Some Girls Do' or 'The Race Is On,' " notes Mark. "When we came back for the encore, the crowd was chanting that song. We've only done a song twice in the same show a couple of times in our career. But when we did it in the encore, the fans went crazy for it a second time.
Playing it live is like you're in the passenger seat with Dale Jr. during a NASCAR race while he's seeing how fast he can go," says Mark. "The song is so fast and furious, all I can do is hang on. Every show, I can't wait until we do it, because I know what's going to happen when we do. People go crazy every time."
Mark figures releasing "Mission Temple Fireworks Stand" is the perfect way for the band to mark the 20th anniversary of its recording career.
"We feel so blessed to still be able to do what we do," says Mark. "It can be tough for bands in country music.
"But I have to say this: I love the guys in the band. We're all still good buddies. It's been incredible to get to do this for so long with your best friends."
- Michael McCall