But behind the scenes all was not well. The band’s bassist Eric Fusilier was battling Leukemia.
‘Things were flying and moving ahead and at the same time things were quite hard,’ lead singer Elias Dummer remembers. Not wanting to take advantage or be ‘opportunistic’, the band refrained from talking about Eric’s illness in media interviews.
Thankfully, Eric was eventually given the all clear by doctors, and was able to return to the band. With this in mind, Elias admits that commercially it would have made sense to make their second album Heart (2013) ‘a cancer album’.
Reflecting on the release, the singer says the album ‘has some of our best songs and some songs that don’t even sound like us. That is frankly because there were commercial pressures that we felt and didn’t know how to address because we were in this position of almost teenage identity crisis where Eric has been fighting for his life and on the other side of that we had to make an album. Also we did not want to [bend] to the pressures to make it a cancer album. He wasn’t ready to go there and we weren’t going to fake that. It might have been the better commercial move but we weren’t going to do it.’
His honesty is striking. ‘When you’re on a record label and everyone has bills to pay and things to figure out, you can either be driven by pragmatism or vision. Sometimes they’re the same things. Sometimes they’re not.’
When Eric returned to the band, the group sat down and reassessed their mission. ‘We said “ok we’re not in this to win at Christian music”. There’s not enough money, fame or ego to make it worth it anyway. Why are we doing this? A second lease of life for us has given us a renewed sense of focus and vision to actively seek through music ways of uniting churches in mission.’
This mission to unite churches isn’t merely a good idea. It’s a core part of how the band came together in the first place. The City Harmonic was born out of a church unity movement in Hamilton, Canada known as 'True City'. Elias explains 'True City' came about as churches of different denominations 'worked together missionally for the good of our city.’ For the full story on how the culture of an entire city was changed, see the band's 45 minute documentary.
Each member of The City Harmonic is from a different church background. ‘We don’t even take the same things for granted in a worship service every Sunday. So trying to figure out how to write worship songs and lead worship has been an awesome and humbling challenge,’ Elias says.
He says the band’s latest album We Are (released this month) crystallises a story and message that the band has previously struggled to tell.
One of the boldest moves was when Elias (a Wesleyan) and the band’s drummer Josh Vanderlaan (a Presbyterian Calvinist) attempted to write a song based around the confession liturgy. Confession (Angus Dei) turned out to be one of the band’s favourite songs on the record.
‘For us mission, discipleship and worship are kind of one in the same. I believe they not only unite us as persons but they bring us together as the church. Particularly with this new album there’s a renewed passion and vision that is driving us.'
Other songs on We Are reflect on how Jesus unites the Church (‘We Are One’) and Christ’s prayer for Christian unity in John 17 (‘One’).
‘The resurrection changes everything. I don’t even know if he’s asking our opinion on who is in and who is out. We are family. We just need to get on with it’.
Lane Fusilier, pastor of Philpott Memorial Church and father of the band’s bassist says, ‘When the City Harmonic goes out on their tours and promotes the ideas of True City its very encouraging to know that sense of Christian unity and Christian collaboration, which has never really been true in North America, is a seed that’s spreading all over the continent and people are catching that. It’s taking root and the concept is spreading.’
We Are (Integrity) is out now.