When the members of the independent Christian rock band Cloverton created the song “A Hallelujah Christmas,” they just wanted to offer their fans a carol for the holiday season. Based on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” it wasn’t supposed to be a hit. But after 15,000 views on YouTube and regular play on the national Christian radio station K-LOVE, it was obvious that listeners had other ideas. The song’s popularity has been a surprise, but Cloverton’s success so far has been based on writing songs that fans connect with so deeply they become popular, whether the band intended them to be or not.
Bands that are successful in the music business play depend on a delicate balance of luck and connections, and Cloverton is no different. Members Lance Stafford, Layne Stafford, Kirby LeNoine and Josh Svorinic have paved their way by making connections in radio, over iTunes and in Nashville, Tenn., but they don’t give those connections all the credit. The band also prides itself on writing personal music that is spiritual both to the band and the fans.
The band started off as a church worship band at Flint Hills Christian School. After a few months of playing together, Lance Stafford liked what he was hearing and doing within the church, along with some music he was writing himself, so he branched out and see if other people would like it outside of Manhattan.
“I went to Nashville on a whim,” Stafford said. “I didn’t really tell anyone I was going, but people really liked the music and some people who really believed in us helped us make connections out there.”
But one of those connections would be more valuable than the others. Christian hip-hop artist “Tobymac” holds an annual Rock the Camp contest in which artists can submit songs in order to win a seat as the opening act at his Christian music camp, Camp Electric. In 2011, Cloverton submitted its song to that contest.
“We ended up winning the whole thing,” Stafford said. “We got to go on a couple of music cruises and opened up for Toby and his camps. That got us noticed by some pretty big players in the music business.”
Along with getting the chance to work with a Grammy-winning producer, winning the competition gave the band another first: being on the radio.
“‘Take Me into the Beautiful’ was our first single,” Stafford said. “It took off. One of the big radio stations, K-LOVE, offered our song on their website for us.”
K-LOVE, a satellite-fed station based in California, available locally on FM-99.1, featured the band and its single for download on the website, and it was an immediate success — so much so, in fact, it broke the download record for the radio station. And it didn’t stop there. After gaining radio airplay, the song earned a spot on the top-25 Billboard Christian rock charts in the United States and abroad.
“It’s weird to chart in a country you have never been to before,” Svorinic said. “We charted in Australia and the U.K.”
And even with that success, the band has no plans to end up anywhere other than Manhattan, at least for now.
“People in Nashville told us, ‘Don’t get anxious to move there,’” Layne Stafford said. “‘Everyone gets anxious to move here. Win over your town. If you can get people to love you and get a good fan base there, don’t leave that.’”
Along with the established fan base, the band can use technology to get its music to and from Nashville and various radio stations.
“Everyone has a Macbook and can record their own music,” Svorinic said. “When you go to mix the final mix, you drive to Nashville and then come back.”
For now, keeping the band local is the most important thing, the band members said, along with working on their next album.
Because the band isn’t on a major label, they will be footing most of the bill for making the record. But because of their established fan base, they have a plan in mind to get the funds.
“We are going to be having a Kickstarter campaign to help pay for it,” Stafford said. “We have a really supportive fan base, and there is potential there for them to partner with us.” As Cloverton makes its way in the Christian music industry, band members said they aren’t surprised at where they have ended up.
“I knew for me this is what I was created to do,” Lance Stafford said. “Does it surprise me? I didn’t expect anything less. That might sound really arrogant, but I really do think this is what we are supposed to be doing and I could see it being a lot bigger.”