From Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman. To hear an audio clip, click here.
Lead singer of Tulsa band Pillar bowled over by success
Just a decade after starting a band in college, Rob Beckley is witnessing his music reach Grammy- and Super Bowl-level success.
The lead singer of Tulsa-based Christian rock band Pillar has watched in amazement as the title track off the group’s fifth studio album, “For the Love of the Game,” has been played at the Super Bowl, on ESPN’s World Series show “Baseball Tonight” and on the sports network’s “College GameDay.”
This month brought the Grammy Awards, which the band attended after its fourth album, “The Reckoning,” was nominated for best rock or rap gospel album.
“My phone blew up the day they were playing it on ‘College GameDay,’ like my voicemail filled up in like five minutes. It was awesome. All my friends back home, they’re all like calling me … and I wasn’t even watching it. I have yet to ever hear one of our songs on TV, so that’s cool that everybody else gets to,” Beckley said in a recent phone interview from his Tulsa home, where he took a few months off before the band’s tour launched last week in Illinois.
Beckley and bassist Kalel (Michael Wittig) started Pillar in 1998, when they were students at Fort Hays State University in Kansas. Later, they added guitarist Noah Henson and drummer Lester Estelle, and the band inked a record deal with Christian rock label Flicker Records in 2000.
The band relocated to Tulsa about eight years ago, with Beckley and wife Linda buying their first home. Three of the members live in Tulsa; Estelle resides in Kansas City, Kan., where his family is based.
“This is where we call home; this is where we represent when we go out on the road,” Beckley said, who is raising his 1½-year-old son, Hudson, in Tulsa.
Pillar has crafted a driving rock sound with catchy lyrics and an alt-metal edge. The band won the title of best hard music album for “Above” at the 2001 Dove Awards, but its latest albums have brought more mainstream success.
“For the Love of the Game” was released Tuesday, but the buzz for it started building last fall, when the anthemic title track caught the attention of ESPN. While their music has been used briefly on SportsCenter and Fox Sports, the singer said the band has never received this level of exposure.
While Beckley is a sports fan, the song actually is an encouragement for people to give their all in their Christian faith. The inspiration for it comes from Paul’s words in I Corinthians 9:24 about treating the Christian life as a race for a prize.
But the singer said he doesn’t mind if people enjoy the song outside the Christian context.
“Obviously, exposure to your music in any way is good, because we want people to just get excited about the music. It’s like when you kind of dive in, I would hope that people would get something deeper out of … the music. And if it’s not that song, hopefully people buy the record and be inspired by other songs,” he said.
“I don’t have any regret if people want to use the song for other reasons, because that’s the beauty of music is one song can have a billion different meanings.”
In January, the band cut a deal for the song to be played inside University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona during Super Bowl XLII. “For the Love of the Game” was played at halftime along with first-half highlights on the stadium’s big screen.
“You don’t expect these things to happen. It’s like we haven’t even played a show on our new record yet, you know, and it’s like we’re getting all these people playing our song all over,” he said.
The band also was taken aback when Grammy nominations were announced in December. The quartet was playing a show in Germany when it got word that its fourth disc, “The Reckoning,” was nominated for best rock or rap gospel album, an award that went to Ashley Cleveland for “Before the Daylight’s Shot.”
Since “The Reckoning” was released in October 2006, it fell at an odd spot in the Grammys cycle. By the time it was eligible, Pillar had already recorded “For the Love of the Game.”
“I’m not saying we wrote off the record in a negative way, but when we found out about the Grammy nomination, we had already in our minds moved on to the next record,” he said. “It was just one of those things that we were extremely thankful for, because you know, we worked really hard on that album.”
The nomination brought for the singer several memorable experiences, including meeting fellow Oklahoman Vince Gill and his wife, Amy Grant, at a Grammy nominees’ party in Nashville, Tenn.
“He was a big influence on me. I grew up on country music, and it was just weird to me, because in my mind, I’m sitting there and just all these Vince Gill songs are running through my mind, and he was like talking to me, and I’m not really hearing what he’s saying. … It was kind of surreal,” Beckley said.
He also was inspired by his encounter with a polka musician enthusing about his 21st Grammy nomination.
“It’s just an honor to be able to say Grammy-nominated. It’s like, honestly, who cares if you win. If you win, that’s just like icing on the cake, but for the rest of your career you at least get to say ‘Grammy-nominated,’” Beckley said.