When Danny Gokey released his previous album, Hope in Front of Me, he lacked a key component most artists count on to help create awareness of the project.
“I had no tour to support it,” he said in a mid-January phone interview. “I remember we did the release and then it’s like ‘All right, now we’ve got to do work’ and we didn’t (have any) … We couldn’t land a tour to save our lives. Nobody was interested.
“And so it just got to this point where we just kind of had to work and grind and create our own thing.”
That isn’t a problem with his new album, Rise. Gokey, along with Unspoken, is providing support for headlining act Casting Crowns, who will bring their The Very Next Thing Tour to James Brown Arena Thursday, March 16.
Gokey is thrilled to be part of the tour.
“It’s so amazing because it’s going to support this record so well,” he said. “Man, I think it’s a huge deal. I’m grateful for it.”
Gokey first came into the public eye in 2008 on American Idol, where his back story may have gained as much attention as his singing performances.
A month before auditioning for the show, Gokey’s wife, Sophia, died during what was supposed to be a routine surgery to repair a heart valve problem.
Before her death, Sophia had urged her husband, a truck driver by day and singer by night, to try out for Idol. He did and made the show.
Looking back, he said the Idol experience helped him with his grief in ways he never anticipated.
“A lot of times when we go through really difficult situations, our world becomes very small,” Gokey said.
“We isolate ourselves and we fall into a very dark place because our vision of the world is small. That show enhanced my world and made it bigger.
“The bird’s-eye perspective allows you to see a much grander view, a bigger view of what you thought it was,” he said. “And that actually helped bring healing because I was able to find life after death, which at that time I didn’t think was possible.”
Gokey finished third that season on Idol, was signed by RCA/19 Recordings and made a 2010 country album, My Best Days. But he got dropped by the label after that album failed to meet expectations.
He pushed forward, though, self-releasing an EP, Love Again, in 2012 and writing a 2013 memoir, Hope in Front of Me: Find Purpose in Your Darkest Moments.
He also began shopping for a deal in the Christian market, only to be turned down by Christian labels that, Gokey said, thought his vision and message were too broad for their audience.
But Gokey persevered and was signed by BMG, a mainstream label that didn’t want to dictate his music or message. BMG released Gokey’s first Christian-oriented album, Hope in Front of Me, in 2014.
Even without a tour to coincide with its release, the album went No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s Christian Album chart and the title song topped the Billboard Christian Airplay chart.
After releasing a holiday album, Christmas Is Here, in 2015, Gokey started turning his thoughts to a next studio album.
Well before those career successes, things had started looking up on the personal front for Gokey.
In 2011, he began dating Leyicet Peralta, and they married in January 2012. The couple now has a son and a daughter, and they keep the memory of Gokey’s first wife alive with a charity, Sophia’s Heart Foundation, which provides scholarships and support for children in homeless families.
Gokey had already started pointing toward a pop- soul sound on Hope in Front of Me.
But where that album mixed a good deal of acoustic and organic tones with more modern sounds, Rise pushes further into a synthetic/electronic direction, while keeping pop melodies and danceable beats at the center of the songs.
That sound is a good fit for today’s mainstream pop trends, but Gokey said he went into Rise without a set idea of how he wanted the songs produced and let his producers and the songs themselves (all but one co-written by Gokey) dictate the sonic direction of the material.
He also found a central theme of finding the inner strength and faith to overcome life’s challenges. Gokey said his current live show will echo that message, which runs through new songs like Rise, Stronger Than We Think and Never Be the Same.
“I kind of want to take the approach of more like a, almost for lack of better terms, a Tony Robbins-type set,” Gokey said of his show. “It’s not talking, but through my music, letting people know through the message of the songs and the video content and the light sets, you’re stronger than you think you are.
“You have more inside of you than what you thought you did. You don’t have to be bound by what you went through. You can actually rise above and change peoples’ lives through your stories.”