Belief forms the foundation of Christian faith. With their first single release, "I Believe," ZOEgirl not only expressed the essence of Christianity but also directed listeners to the heart of their message.
The three-member trio originated in early 1999. Because of their longtime association with Christian music pioneer Chuck Girard, Peter York, president of Sparrow Records, and producer Norman Miller chose Girard's 25-year-old daughter Alisa as the group's first member. She agreed to meet with Kristin Swinford to determine if they could combine to produce a successful recording.
"Norman introduced the two of us (in Nashville) and we hit it off just wonderfully," Kristin, a former student at Belmont University, said. "We just had an instant chemistry that I knew could only be confirmation from God. We couldn't wait to start writing and working together."
But the ensemble needed a third member to round out its sound. Two months passed before a friend of Swinford mentioned, Chrissy Conway, a singer he knew in New Jersey.
"It was amazing how it all came about," Chrissy says in ZOEgirl's official biography. "I received the phone call from Kristin about the group the day after I prayed to God for a direction in my life. He couldn't have made the decision any clearer."
Although Alisa and Kristin both grew up in Christian families and had long histories of service and ministry, Chrissy had only recently encountered the faith. A childhood musical prodigy, she signed a major recording contract while in her teens, but the group's demise left her disillusioned and questioning her future.
Several months prior to joining ZOEgirl, Chrissy attended a Harvest Crusade led by evangelist Greg Lorie in Philadelphia, just to hear the secular group En Vouge. But when Crystal Lewis sang "Come Just As Your Are" at the end of the concert, Conway accepted Christ as her savior and dedicated her musical talent to His will.
As the group searched for a name, they came across the Greek word, "zoe," meaning life. By joining it with "girl," the combo presented themselves as individuals living according to the will of God in Christ Jesus.
"It (the group's name) began as ZOE from a Greek word that is life; more specifically, "a God-like life," Kristen revealed to Songwriting, the Journal. "We actually added "girl" at the end so we could use it as an example of someone living their life according to God's will. We hope it's an example. It's not just for girls, you could be a ZOEboy as well."
The three young women combined their songwriting talents to pen the 11 songs for their self-titled CD released by Sparrow Records in August 2000. With input coming from three directions, the artistic process sometimes appeared chaotic and haphazard.
"We all came into the group with ideas and songs that we had already been working on," Kristin revealed. "When we went to record we started working that way, and we composed from scratch on some numbers as well. There would be days when we would literally come up with a new idea, and right there we would spend the whole day working on a new song."
The first single cut, "I Believe," cracked the Christian top 20 on August 21, 2000, and remained on the charts for 12 weeks, topping out at number four. The song heralds a tremendous message of hope as well as a strong sense of connection to the musical tastes of today's generation. Its vocal interplay and pulsating dance rhythms showcase ZOEgirl's talent on both the airwaves and stage.
"'I Believe' really spells out in black and white what we're all about," Alisa says. "In a world where it's becoming less acceptable to talk openly about Jesus Christ, we want people to know we're not ashamed, and we want to encourage kids who are believers to take a stand with us."
The verses reflect a Christian's confidence secured by a relationship with God, ending with the lines, "Oh, when my emotions flow, He comes to sweetly say it's all gonna be okay." The chorus echoes a convert's exuberance exhibited when faith takes control with the lyric, "Now I'll shout it from the mountains that I'm not the same that I used to be. I believe in God, believe in God."
In addition to their strong vocals, ZOEgirl incorporated synchronized dance movements into their fall concert tour with Clay Crosse and Nichole Nordeman. The upbeat, high tempo performance received accolades from both fans and reviewers.
"We worked with a choreographer because we thought that would be an extra thing to bring to the music," Kristin explained. "With all the energy, it was just a lot of fun,"
ZOEgirl returned to the road beginning in December 2000 as the opening act for Carman's Heart of A Champion World Tour. The 47-date Christian extravaganza concludes in April 2001. Although the group has been together less than a year, their two concert series have reached some of the largest crowds in the history of contemporary Christian music.
"These wonderful things have been happening, and it absolutely thrills us," Kristin says. "It is one of the many things that God has done."