Andrew Shirley, lead guitarist for hot newcomers {{All Together Separate}}, is a bit excited. And can you blame him? His band's music, a tight, meaty blend of rock, funk, jazz, and soul, has given them a {{Jars Of Clay}}-sized advance buzz. Their self-titled Ardent debut blazes with the authority and the chops of a young Dave Matthews Band. And, to top it all off, this is all for a band that was literally plucked from indie-land and given the chance to record with renowned producer Skidd Mills (Robert Cray, Sister Hazel). "We are still amazed at what God is doing for us," he tells me early on in the interview. "We never really pushed too hard to become a signed group. We figured if it was God's will, it would happen."

What Shirley, lead singer Dex Alexander, drummer Ben Rayls, and bassist Charles Rumahleweg possess is a talent and tightness that lies beyond their years - all four members reside comfortably in their mid-20s. Their influences run the gamut from Bob Marley, U2 and Earth, Wind and Fire to Kings X and Miles Davis. "We all rally around anyone who takes risks, musically," Shirley admits. "There are a myriad of artists including Sting, Dave Matthews Band, and {{dc Talk}} that we all would agree are collective influences."

The band got their start playing together four years ago at California Baptist University in Riverside, CA. As the band went from leading worship at a campus Bible study to being invited to work with such organizations as Youth For Christ and Campus Crusade, their popularity spread, thanks largely to word-of-mouth. "After a while, we began writing our own songs and eventually did a couple of recordings," Shirley explains.

One of those recordings made it into the hands of Ardent Records, thanks to a famous friend.

"Randy Williams (of {{Big Tent Revival}}) was in California and (he) knew our manager, who talked him into coming and emceeing a showcase that we were performing in," Shirley says. "He came out, liked what he heard, took a few CDs back to Ardent...and the rest, as they say, is history." Before long, the band found themselves in the studio with Mills, recording their major label debut.

"Recording was great," Shirley says. "We can all honestly say that we were stretched and challenged as musicians, in addition to personal and spiritual growth. Whereas we had already done a few recordings, I don't think there is anything that can prepare you for recording at Ardent studios. Tons of amazing artists recorded there including Led Zeppelin, Elvis and Stevie Ray Vaughn...and when you first walk in, there are all these gold and platinum albums on the wall. It was kinda intimidating.

"But as soon as we started recording," he continues, "it began to become the adventure we hoped it would be. We were all nervous, we all felt we were in a little over our heads, but, we knew God had something in store for us. Working with Skidd Mills was great. He was very patient, he invited and encouraged our ideas, and although everyone there has seen real stars come through, they respected us. That was cool."

The end result is a stunning, twelve-song effort, replete with pop hooks, jazzy interludes, mind-blowing guitar jams, and enough soul to launch {{All Together Separate}} into the stratosphere. From the breezy, hooky melody of "Face To Face" to the bouncy, smooth stroll of "No Condemnation," which comes with its own horn section, it is bouncy enough to bring a smile to anyone's face, while rock-steady in its jam-band leanings and tight as a rubber band.

"'No Condemnation' was just a real stretch for us musically because, although we all wanted horns especially for that song, we had never experimented with them before," Shirley explains. "After we recorded them though, I was like, 'Let's write all our songs with a horn section!'"

To hear Shirley explain it, the songwriting process for ATS is a time-consuming, meticulous task. "We all take part in the songwriting, from lyrics, to melody, to grooves, to riffs," he affirms. "Everything is shaped by the group at large. But for the most part, we would agree on a groove or a riff, then shape the song around that; adding and subtracting our various components. Some songs had lyrics that were complete before the arrangement was, others were just music and a concept until we recorded. We committed ourselves to this process even though it was difficult, and sometimes strenuous, because we wanted all the songs to be a blending of our personalities, and a melding of our spirits."

And there's no better way to describe the end result then "fun." Sure, "eclectic," "innovative," "passionate" - those all come to mind. But the music these talented musicians create is a blend of the old and the new, and it backs up, word for word, the advance buzz it has attracted. Not that ATS is going to let it get to them.

"As far as the 'buzz' in the industry right now, we are pleased, but unfazed," Shirley says at the end of our interview. "We only know about the 'buzz' because we hear from people that there is one. We were pleased to record what is an introduction to {{All Together Separate}}, but it isn't the complete story. If people enjoy the CD, the praise goes to God because of his inspiration."