First things first as Denise Jones, Shelley Breen, Heather Payne and Leigh Cappillino assemble at 11 a.m. for a recording session at the Franklin, Tenn., home of producer David Zaffiro (Kim Hill, Tim Hughes) in late May. What’s it going to be for lunch? A menu from a Chinese restaurant is produced and passed around as the pros and cons of each entrée are discussed.
“We have our priorities,” laughs Leigh, an old friend of the group and the new arrival in contemporary Christian music’s most relentlessly hit-prone quartet. Then the TV show “American Idol” is mentioned and opinions fly about who should win and why. “American Idolatry,” quips Shelley, noting the passion with which views are expressed.
With those essentials out of the way, the girls settle into an animated conversation about the many changes that accompany this new version of the group.
Flashback for a little history lesson: When they started out, they were single girls fresh out of college with the stamina, independence and willingness to live out of hotels and tour buses. Today, all are wives and mothers in an entirely different season of life. “Back then, we would just go hang out in the mall during our downtime. Now, if our families are with us, we stop and find out where the Chuck E. Cheese’s is,” observes Denise.
It was the desire to stay home with her husband and three young children that compelled Terry Jones, one of the founding members, to deliver the bittersweet message to her girlfriends that, after 13 years, it was time to hang up her carry-on bag.
Saddened but understanding, Heather, Denise and Shelley didn’t have to look far to find someone who would be in sync with their souls. Her replacement, Leigh, is hardly a stranger. In fact, her husband, Dana, is Point of Grace's musical director and has toured with the group for seven years. “She has such an incredible work ethic,” says Denise of Leigh. “She practiced so hard that she really made us improve.”
“One of our first concerts with her was technically one of the best performances vocally that we’ve ever given,” applauds Shelley. In fact, Heather laughs that “Leigh was so on top of things that when she made a wrong move in the choreography, we all followed her because we figured she knew things better than we did.”
Although she may be the “new chick on the block,” Leigh says that she has been wholeheartedly welcomed as an equal member. “Women can sometimes be so hard on one another, but they are so gracious in accepting each other’s differences,” Leigh offers. “It’s just a wonderful, encouraging environment for growth.”
And part of that environment is the increasing role these four are playing in young women’s lives. In fact, their concern for how today’s youth will become the role models for their own children led them to create “Girls of Grace,” a series of two-day seminars hosted by the group, which candidly explores what it means to be a woman of God.
Although they set plans in motion with the intention of influencing this generation of teenagers, it has, perhaps, been a greater catalyst for change among the members of the group. “‘Girls of Grace’ has taken us out of our comfort zones,” states Denise. “It’s made us realize that we can do more than we think we can. I think those kinds of things are going to show up on our new record and in our concerts.”
“We’ve put ourselves in the situation of having conversations with girls who are going through things that just blow your mind,” Shelley concurs. “We’re just closer to it.”
Having that new perspective has also changed the way they approached the new album. “We’re just bored with what we’ve been doing — not that it’s been bad; but after four or five albums, you want to do something different,” states Shelley.
“In the past, we called together a bunch of great songwriters and told them what we wanted to say with our next album,” she continues. “This time there was no meeting. We just asked people to send us their best songs.” To that end, Shelley says they’ve become “the lyric police,” a comment that draws approving laughter from her colleagues. “We wanted writers to write the best songs they could, and we wanted to find those songs and make them ours.”
They’ve also changed their habits in the studio. “We’ve always done things the same way on our records,” explains Shelley matter-of-factly. “A person sings solo. The chorus comes in. Here comes the four-part harmony. Stack up four times. Make it sound big and perfect.”
Although they love that sound, expect the unexpected with the group’s next album, scheduled to release Oct. 12. With a new slate of producers comprised of Zaffiro, Mark Hammond (Nichole Nordeman, Jump5), Wayne Kirkpatrick (Amy Grant, Wynonna Judd) and Brent Bourgeois (Rachael Lampa, OC Supertones), the girls are tweaking the pure pop formula. Leads are traded off, parts have been exchanged, stacking of background vocals has become the exception rather than the rule, and artsy tangents are being explored.
For a group that holds the record for consecutive No. 1 radio singles in any genre of music, it’s a significant gamble. Still, Heather isn’t terribly worried about a fan backlash. “We’ve had good response. I think they’ll like it.”
“It doesn’t sound perfect, but it sounds like us,” affirms Shelley, summing up this new direction.
One album title currently under consideration is "Make It Real," taken from a song lyric. “It says where we are, both musically and personally,” underscores Denise. “We’ve all come to new places in our lives, and I think that’s what we’re trying to reflect.”
“Every person is dealing with layers of issues, and if we don’t really get to a point of believing who God says He is — that He can do the impossible — then we will be as statuettes in front of people,” asserts Leigh. “We have to have passion and a clear understanding that God is who God is in our personal walks, so what we do with Him publicly is just a reflection of what we do with Him privately.”
“My husband is always asking, ‘What is your passion?’” says Heather. “I think, for us, right now as a group, it’s investing ourselves in the next generation of women through our music and our lives.”
“If we’re not touching people in a helpful way, why do it?” asks Shelley.
Points of Interest
All-time favorite P.O.G. song:
Denise: “The Great Divide”
Heather: “The Great Divide”
Leigh: “Blue Skies” and “Who Am I”
Shelley: “The Great Divide”
Last book you loved reading:
Denise: "Heaven Is in This House" (Bobbie Houston)
Heather: "Don’t Waste Your Life" (John Piper)
Leigh: "In Case You Ever Wonder" (Max Lucado), for my daughter
Shelley: "Goodnight, Moon" (Margaret Wise Brown, Clement Hurd), for
my little girl. For me, there’s barely enough time to read US Weekly.
Pastimes: hobbies, sports, activities
Denise: Golf, hanging at the pool with the kids, going out to eat
Heather: Decorating, reading, shopping, spending time with my family
Leigh: Shopping (of course), swimming, walking, reading books to my
daughter, spending as much time with her as possible
Shelley: Eating, shopping, anything that requires no physical activity
When you grow up, you’d like to be …
Denise: Jennifer Garner (“Sydney” from “Alias”)
Heather: Beth Moore
Leigh: Luci Swindoll
Shelley: Maya Rudolph on “Saturday Night Live”
Favorite thing to cook:
Denise: Barbecue brisket, hash brown potato casserole, green bean bundles and salad
Heather: Homemade dumplings, poppyseed chicken, Chicken pot pie
Leigh: Breakfast casserole — one of the few things I actually cook
Shelley: My mom’s salsa recipe
Something you’re good at:
Denise: Sports! Shelley will never let me live down throwing this girl
to the ground at intramurals in college
Heather: Bargain shopping, decorating
Leigh: Shopping — I can conquer an entire mall in a few hours
Shelley: Business and organization, picking out restaurants
Something you’re really NOT good at:
Denise: Organization — it’s truly quite pitiful
Heather: Anything that has to do with organization
Leigh: Reading directions or how-to manuals.
Shelley: Working out
Favorite reward to self:
Denise: Sonic’s “Route 44,” Dr. Pepper with extra ice
Heather: Diet Coke with cherry and vanilla
Leigh: “Love Potion #9” sundae at Shakey’s
Shelley: Pappasitos chips and salsa, any cheese dip
Vehicle you drive:
Denise: Ford Expedition — it can carry the most junk
Heather: Volvo station wagon or Suburban
Leigh: Honda Pilot—I love it!
Shelley: BMW 525
Verse that helps you get through hard times:
Denise: John 16:33
Heather: Galatians 2:20
Leigh: 2 Timothy 1:7
Shelley: Psalm 23
Music you’re listening to these days:
Denise: Fields of Grace, Big Daddy Weave
Heather: Best of Anita Baker
Leigh: New Universe, Wilshire
Shelley: The Purest Place, Watermark
Looking Back on a Legacy
With more than a decade of music to Point of Grace’s credit, we asked Shelley Breen to look back and provide personal reflections on the group’s albums.
"Point of Grace" (1993)
I had an emotional breakdown in the front yard of the studio because I thought we would never finish the darn thing. On a more positive note, I remember having all of the Word [Records] sales team listen to the album in the studio and how they flipped out when they heard “I’ll Be Believing.”
"The Whole Truth" (1995)
My favorite recording experience to date. All of the pieces were in place, and we sort of felt we knew what we were doing the second time around. We knew we were in such great hands with John Mays [former Word A&R representative] and Rob Sterling [producer].
"Life, Love & Other Mysteries" (1996)
The hardest album by far. We were missing John Mays, who was no longer with Word. But it turned out to be sort of “the best of times, the worst of times” because this record had some of the biggest hits of our career.
"Steady On" (1998)
We loved, loved, loved working with Brown [Bannister]. I remember the first conversation we had with him in the studio. We said, “Look, we’ve heard stories about you, how you never stop working to eat; and you need to know that food is of extreme importance to us. So where is the [delivery service] menu book?!”
"A Christmas Story" (1999)
My absolute favorite album that we’ve recorded. It was weird to record a Christmas album in the summer; but, somehow, we managed to get into the Christmas spirit. The best part was going to London to hear the London Session Orchestra play on our record. Recording at Abbey Road was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"Rarities & Remixes" (2000)
The easiest ever — because we didn’t have to do a thing. We were amazed that they could take our songs and completely change them. I cried when I heard “The Great Divide” remake.
"Free to Fly" (2001)
We welcomed a couple new producers—Nathan Nockels from Watermark and David Tyson—who each recorded a few songs with us. Both got a great, different sound from us. Nathan was actually a friend before he became our producer, so we had lots of fun and laughed a lot during this one.
"Girls of Grace" (2002)
This was really fun because we used a girls’ choir for all of our songs. They were so cute and did such a great job. The other artists on the album were so awesome and loved being a part of a project for teenage girls.
It is such an incredible honor to have an album of No. 1 songs. We are still confused as to how that actually happened. A lot of people worked really hard to make it possible.
"I Choose You" (2004)
We haven’t been this excited about a new album in a very long time. We have the privilege of working with John Mays, who signed us 11 years ago; so it has been a bit like coming home a complete challenge and breath of fresh air, all at the same time.
2 (point) 0: Introducing Leigh Cappillino
by Denise Jones
Transitions are hard, especially in families; and, to us, that’s what Point of Grace is. So, obviously, when Terry retired, we all felt a loss; but we feel strongly that God brought Leigh Cappillino to us full of life and laughter and enthusiasm.
After completing college, Leigh became a member of the group TRUTH where she met her husband, Dana. For four years, she toured and recorded with the group. Then she moved to Nashville, where she teamed with Karen Childers to form the duo Karen-Leigh. They recorded the 1995 self-titled album that featured the hit “Save It for a Rainy Day.”
For the past seven years, she’s been deeply involved as a worship leader with “Women of Faith” conferences and has recorded seven albums of her own. As Leigh’s involvement began with “Women of Faith,” Dana began playing guitar for P.O.G. and has since become our band leader. Through that relationship, we developed a friendship with Leigh. We have many things in common, including the fact that we are moms. Leigh and Dana have a daughter, Darby, who’ll be 3 in December.
She’s only been officially on board since Jan. 1, but already it feels like she’s been with us forever. She totally fits in with our passion for ministry, our commitment to our families, our musical inclinations, our love for fun—and our quest for great food.
From the very beginning, she has thrown herself wholeheartedly into Point of Grace. Anytime we called her house, we could hear one of our songs playing as she practiced. I remember being over there one day and seeing all these pieces of paper taped around her door frame. I realized that they were guide sheets to our lyrics and stage movements. This was her “stage,” where she stood to practice performances. That’s dedication.
She was so into doing everything right that she actually found vocal parts missing and other things we had been doing wrong for five years. Obviously, she feels like a member of the P.O.G. family to be so honest with us… and we love that.
As you get to know her through the songs on our next album and our concerts, we’re confident that you’ll come to love Leigh as much as we do
Greetings from the New Girl
by Leigh Cappillino
What’s it like to be the new member of Point of Grace? Well, it’s been a whirlwind of a learning curve. There was (and still is) so much to learn. And not just the songs. The P.O.G. girls are involved in every aspect of their careers—song selection, musical arrangements, choosing producers, planning their concerts and organizing the “Girls of Grace” events.
And then there are the quirky little unexpected things I’ve had to learn. For example, I’ve had to train myself to sing “right-handed” because I’m a “lefty.” Heather, Shelley and Denise are right-handed, so all their choreography was designed with that in mind. As strange as it might sound, I’ve spent a lot of time in front of a mirror practicing with my stereo remote control doubling as a microphone.
Joining the group is like living out every little girl’s dream. Just imagine the fun of “playing dress-up,” singing in front of people, traveling to so many exciting places and meeting wonderful people. The intangible rewards are enormous. The first time I sat with the girls at a record table after a concert and saw how they responded to each person who came by, I was absolutely blown away. Just listening to the gratitude that parents expressed for P.O.G.’s influence was absolutely overwhelming — and humbling.
It’s also humbling to be so readily embraced by the girls. From the moment I became a member, they treated me as an equal, accepted my opinion as valid and encouraged me to fully invest myself in this ministry partnership.
I love the impact this new chapter of my life is having. I find myself often praying for God to change me into what He needs me to be in order to serve the people who are drawn to our music. What a privilege and a joy!
Growing with Girls of Grace
by Heather Payne
We call them “our girls”—and so far, there have been 80,000 of them. They’re the young women who have attended one of the 17 “Girls of Grace” events we’ve held so far. We call them ours because we feel such a deep connection to them and an even deeper responsibility to help steer them toward godliness.
When we held our first two-day conference in October 2002 in Lakeland, Fla., we had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to accomplish—to inspire girls to live Christ-centered, confident lives. We wanted them to make wise choices in the ways they lived. We wanted them to feel good about who they were. We wanted to expose them to great speakers and great music in a context that was really fun.
When the event was over, we wanted it to be a beginning—not an end. Our prayer was for them to start thinking about themselves in new ways, to be encouraged to walk through hard times, knowing they were not alone, to avoid mistakes that we have made and to be transformed by the powerful love of God.
We had no idea that the events would transform us as much as the girls we were trying to reach. They have given us a new perspective and a new passion for what we do. Our hearts have been made softer as we’ve talked with our girls and read their letters.
We’ve moved from ministering as singers to ministering as people. Instead of just singing songs we love, we’re telling our own stories. It’s made us pray harder, become more transparent and see, in a deeper way, the opportunity we’ve been given to really make a difference.
Now that we’re all moms, we recognize that the generation we are touching will be the young women who will have a profound influence on our kids as they become teenagers. I want these girls to be good examples to my little girl.
We know that our investment will be multiplied as these “girls of grace” become women of God, who will shape their world in exciting, new ways.
“Candle Burning” on Both Ends
As if the girls weren’t busy enough being recording artists, performers, speakers, event organizers, wives and moms, they’ve added “authors” to their resumé. Keep the Candle Burning (Warner Faith), released last November, features devotional reflections based on each of their first 24 No. 1 songs. As they write in the book, “There’s a story and a lesson behind each one.” It’s yet another way that, as Denise says, they’re “stretching beyond their comfort zone.”
© 2004 CCM Magazine. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Click here to subscribe.