After releasing three singles from his latest EP, The Dawning Fire, Mike Rathke’s full project was made available on April 10, 2020. The record features five songs, with four of them written by Rathke, while “O Lord You’re Beautiful,” was written by the late Keith Green. The Dawning Fire was recorded at Sound Emporium in Nashville, and the EP was produced by Billy Chapin (Backstreet Boys, Sister Hazel, Edwin McCain), and co-produced by Brandon Bailey. Recently, Rathke talked with us about the writing process for this record, the impact of the EP and how he is finding hope during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Congratulations on the recent release of your new EP The Dawning Fire! How long was this collection in the making?
Thank you. I truly appreciate the chance to speak with you. The songs on ‘The Dawning Fire’ span several years. Some of them were written a few months before we recorded. The oldest song on the EP is ‘Every Era.’ I wrote that in the early 2000’s and have sung it a lot in churches over the years.
What was the inspiration behind pre-releasing the singles that you chose before the full album?
It was kind of a collaborative decision as we started to wind down the postproduction end of the project. In the end, we decided it would be a good idea to release a few of the songs as singles. We had just finished a PRAZOR Session for ‘The Dawning Fire,’ which told the story behind the song. In that video, we also filmed an acoustic performance in an open field, beside an old antique steam engine. The video turned out great and it got a really great response. We decided to release the studio version as a follow up to the PRAZOR Session. The decision to release the other singles was a result of some really cool God moments that happened during the recording of the album.
Which was the last track added to the collection, and how did it complete your vision for the EP?
The last song to be included on the EP was ‘Reign Forevermore.’ Initially, the song was going to be an acoustic track—just guitar and vocals. Our producer, Billy Chapin, listened to it and said, “’Hey, let me see if I can come up with something for this.’ He felt like it had a Tom Petty feel to it. Billy also happens to be longtime friends with Stan Lynch, who was the drummer for Tom Petty throughout the bulk of his music career. He spoke with Stan and asked if he would mind adding some more instrument tracks to the song. To make a long story short, Stan played all the other instruments on that track. In fact, the drum set he used had been in storage for years. The last time it was played was when Tom Petty recorded ‘Last Dance’ with Mary Jane. Sonically, ‘Reign Forevermore’ really tied the whole project together. The overall sound of the project is in that folk-rock vein. To me, Tom Petty is one of the greatest artists to inhabit that space. To have Stan apply his talents to the song really made the album that much stronger. We were all blown away when we heard the final mix for it.
What is one key message you hope listeners take away from that track?
Lyrically, ‘Reign Forevermore’ is similar to a lot of the old hymns. It basically tells the story of the life, death, resurrection and second coming of Jesus Christ. We framed that message musically, in a modern folk-rock sound. The main message I pray people get is that Jesus is alive and well. He’s working in people’s lives today and will one day return in glory. Beyond that, I pray that people will be inspired to push the envelope, musically, on what is considered ‘sacred music.’ We, as the body of Christ, have access to the Creator of the universe. What we create should be at the highest level of creativity.
What has been the reaction to the full project so far? Have there been any impact stories that listeners have shared?
That’s been one of the most fun parts of this project. I love reading people’s reaction in YouTube comments and other social media. We’ve heard from people all over the world that have been blessed by the songs. Many have said they needed to hear from God, came across one of the songs and were ministered by it. I’m so grateful that the Lord has been able to do that. It’s not a boast on myself…God once spoke through a donkey. I’m just grateful to be able to be a part of it.
With all the recent changes brought on because of the COVID-19 pandemic, what or who has helped you adapt to this ‘new normal’?
Right now, I’m going through the book of Job. Somehow, in times past, I missed what Elihu told Job. I always sort of lumped him in with the other three friends that insisted that Job’s trouble was because of some secret sin. Elihu has some sharp words for Job, but his point is different than the others. In chapter 36 he tells Job, ‘Take heed, do not turn to iniquity, for you have chosen this rather than affliction.’ I had never seen that before, but it speaks volumes about a trap that we can easily fall into. When difficulties come our way, the possibility is there for us to become offended and actually fall into sin. When all throughout the New Testament we’re instructed to persevere in trials and give thanks in all things. When we choose to do that it takes so much pressure off of us. We can’t see the whole picture but God is our Father and nothing comes our way that He isn’t aware of. I’ve really tried to live in that mindset during these past couple of months. I have a feeling that things may never return to what we thought of as normal a few months ago, but our hope isn’t in this world. God has always been faithful to His own and there’s nothing that can change that.
With being off the road recently, how have you been able to continue your mission of worship and connection?
Yeah, for sure. I think it’s caused a lot of artists to get creative on how they connect with people in their music. We’ve done some livestream concerts on YouTube and Facebook and have had some great experiences there. I think we’ll start seeing more content like this and that it will begin to blossom into something really cool in the coming years.