I know. I'm not supposed to be biased. As a
journalist, I'm required to take an objective,
even-handed approach to the artist I interview. However,
we all bring who we are to the table. And who I am is a
dad with a 10-year-old daughter who is convinced that
"cool" music was invented by the Christian pop-dance
trio known as ZOEgirl. And that's not a bad thing since
the girl group laces their lyrics with a positive,
biblical approach to issues ranging from simple theology
("I Believe," "With All of My Heart"), to complex topics
of self-esteem ("Plain," "Give Me One Reason").
Knowing their already profound influence on my
daughter (the Mix of Life CD has been played on
our car stereo, oh, I would say, a minimum of a
bazillion times), I was already predisposed to like the
ZOE ladies before I joined them at Borders Café in the
Nashville, Tenn. suburb of Brentwood.
Meeting Alisa Girard, Chrissy Conway and Kristin
Swinford in person did nothing to sway my already
founded opinion. Disarming smiles. Amiable banter. If
there was an article to be written, such as, "ZOEgirl:
Revealed!," I would soon find that it would only contain
the following items to draw jaw-dropping gasps:
1) Chrissy Conway learned to play the piano by
imitating Debbie Gibson records.
2) Kristin Swinford
is married and loves cats.
3) Alisa Girard claims
that their mother taught her sisters and her about
sports. And their dad "throws a baseball like a girl."
Not exactly material to create a firestorm of
controversy. Which suits this female trio just fine.
They have more important things on their minds these
days, including their first headlining tour, built
around the group's new progressive pop project,
Different Kind of FREE. But how did they get
their own tour? How did these three young women come
together to create a singing group that captures the
attention and minds of its young audiences?
The ZOEgirl journey began in California's San
Fernando Valley. It then wound through the heartland of
Jackson, Mo. to the beaches of southern New Jersey.
These are the centers of life where the musical gifts of
ZOEgirl took root. For Girard, the ministry template was
formed at an early age by observing her father, Chuck
Girard (one of contemporary Christian music's pioneers),
"When I was a little girl, my dad would let me sing
one song to my Sandi Patty track," remembers Girard.
"Then I would watch him perform. What I saw was the
heart of a person who is on stage, not for the fame or
accolades, but to introduce people to Jesus and lead
them into the presence of the Holy Spirit. That became
the foundation of why I do what I do."
Swinford's musical DNA was also inherited. From her
grandfather's jazz styles to her mother's introducing
her to a vast spectrum of genres, she is a veritable
musical connoisseur. God's direction eventually brought
Swinford's calling into focus, placing her at Missouri
Baptist University, where she sang in a Truth-like
ensemble, then transferring to Belmont University in
Nashville. Through an audition, she joined Girard, who
previously moved to Nashville to initiate the singing
group we now know as ZOEgirl. Still, there was a missing
piece to the ZOE puzzle.
The last thing on Conway's mind was anything that had
to do with sharing the spotlight. From childhood into
her teens, her life consisted of singing and performing
in local theater. In time, she joined a band that
included the then-unknown mainstream artist Pink.
Disappointment followed, as the project the group worked
on for five years never saw the light of day. The band
disbanded and, rejecting any further notion of musical
ensembles, Conway was on course to be the next Britney
Spears, poised to sign a secular recording deal with Def
Then Conway prayed. And God stepped in.
"This record deal was my dream," shares Conway. "But
for the first time, I felt conviction. I said, 'God,
whatever you want me to do with my life, I just give it
to you. If this deal isn't what you want, just show me.
Give me a sign.'"
In this case, God's sign was audible. The phone rang.
"I called the day after she prayed," says Swinford.
"I didn't even know if she (Conway) was a Christian. It
(the timing) just blows my mind."
The view at present
ZOEgirl officially debuted in 2000 with the release
of their self-titled project. Although this is a modern
ministry, Girard's dad, Chuck, notes the parallels
between ZOEgirl and his own foray into Christian music
nearly three decades ago.
"The shows are different today in that they are all
tightly choreographed and you don't veer from the
concert song list," explains Girard. "However, I really
believe that there is an anointing on their music and an
honest desire on the part of all the girls to
communicate the gospel."
Communication—meeting the audience where they are—has
been the goal of ZOEgirl from the beginning. They really
have a heart for, and their music connects with,
pre-teen and teen girls.
"On each album, we have felt led to talk about issues
from a very realistic standpoint," explains Swinford.
"From letters we have received, to times we have worked
with young girls, we focus on issues they're dealing
with and offer, to the best of our abilities, biblical
answers that will help them face their struggles."
"At the time we came out, mothers were exasperated
with what their daughters were listening to. We were an
alternative to the mainstream pop music," says Girard.
"I have to believe by the letters we have received that
those little girls who were listening will turn into
Not lost on the members of ZOEgirl is that not only
were those little girls listening, they were watching.
With the success of the group's first two projects came
instant recognition, which immediately thrust them into
the spotlight—of role modeling. That's why Conway,
Girard and Swinford take very seriously the way they
handle themselves offstage as well as on.
"The best thing we can do is strive everyday to get
closer and closer to what God has called us to be,"
explains Girard. "If girls would do that, then we are
being effective role models."
A peak into the future
In a relatively short career span, ZOEgirl is
beginning to amass a long list of achievements: the Dove
Award for New Artist of the Year, top-selling CD
projects and an ASCAP songwriting award for Conway. But
there's no time to enjoy the laurels and platitudes.
They are releasing a new album, Different Kind of
FREE, and have been offered the opportunity to
headline their own tour.
This new album is unique in that it was designed for
a tour such as the one ZOEgirl launched with the Tait
band in August and is continuing through the fall. The
women hope that this new music will evoke a response
like never before.
"With the music for this record, we really wanted all
of the songs to be shaped around that (concert)
evening," says Girard, "songs that are going to
translate well in a live setting and let the Holy Spirit
really have Its hand on moving in people's hearts."
To be sure, Different Kind of FREE is a
different kind of record than the group's previous
releases. The pop-dance elements remain, but with an
edgier polish. What hasn't changed is ZOEgirl's penchant
for tackling the tough issues faced by its young
In a follow-up to "Plain," Swinford wrote "Love Me
For Me" because she says, "there are so many confusing
notions about beauty being thrown at us from magazines
... everything that people do to become what is
perceived as perfection on the outside. Ultimately, all
of those problems stem from not knowing our true worth
Psalm 33:14,15 provides the backdrop for the song,
"You Get Me." Conway wrote the song to speak to that
part in all of us that yearns to be accepted, loved and
understood. She knows that sometimes, people will do
anything for approval and recognition.
Conway says of the song, "It wasn't until I became a
Christian that I really understood that God is the only
person that we need to seek approval from. There is no
one else in the entire world who can say that they
understand us the way God does."
The new songs are ready. The tour is underway. But
what brings the members of ZOEgirl to this moment goes
far beyond hard work and dedication, beyond learning
effective concert presentations from touring with
artists such as Newsboys and Carman.
"The thing that has prepared us more than anything
for what we're doing is looking into the eyes of every
girl that we've ever been in front of onstage and
knowing for as long we're up there, it's our
responsibility to make sure they understand who Jesus
is," says Girard. "In return, receiving letters that
said that they received Jesus at the concert ... that
has been just the kindling that has kept the fire
burning. That's what keeps us going."