..Kathy Barrett..

Pop Music With a Purpose

During a visit to the New York City Meditation Center and Gallery, run by the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual Organization, I discovered an extraordinary and relatively unknown group that seems destined for superstardom. Bliss, a four-piece band from Oxford, England, and the songs from their new self-entitled CD, "Bliss," transported me to musical nirvana.

Founded by lead singer and lyricist Lucinda Drayton and music mastermind Andy Blissett, the group is rounded out with cellist Jonathan Hughes and guitarist Robert Smith. For the last seven years, Bliss has refined their sound to a hybrid of pop, jazz, and folk. Their music is, in a word, unforgettable.

Lucinda's astonishing vocals remind us of great singers like Karen Carpenter, Ricki Lee Jones, and Joni Mitchell. Her voice embraces you like a hundred thousand angels singing, and her deeply insightful lyrics inspire automatic introspection. Andy's remarkable writing, arranging, and producing talents create musical soundscapes that leave listeners breathless and longing for more.

Bliss is free in their creative process. In lieu of signing with a traditional record company, they opt for their own recording studio and sell CD's from their website. They refuse to compromise the integrity of their music or the messages therein. Without any promotion or radio play, they have sold in excess of 20,000 CD's -- all through word of mouth.

It was not always this way. There were many difficult years of struggling to achieve pop stardom. All the near misses of record deals, broken promises, and auditioning for bands she did not want to be in was frustrating to Lucinda, to say the least. Fed up with the disappointments, she opted to do her own thing, and while performing in a local pub she met Andy. As Fate would have it, Andy was not only a terrific keyboard player -- he also had his own recording studio. The two joined forces and began writing and producing together. Bliss began as a side project for them.

In 1994, they co-wrote a song called "The Real Thing" with artist Tony DiBart, and it became a number one club hit throughout Europe. They followed that success by writing two other top twenty hits, "Do It " and "Falling For You." It was also during this time that they were introduced to Raja Yoga by Tony DiBart's sister, who practiced meditation at the Brahma Kumaris center in London. Lucinda explains, "Raja Yoga is a simple form of meditation that focuses on the idea that we are spiritual beings, souls, and we have these bodies; but our identities are these divine sparks of light whose true nature is pure, peaceful, truthful, powerful, and loving. If you constantly come back to the idea of yourself as that, it changes the way you look at yourself and the way you look at other people."

The practice of this meditation did change their lives and influence their music. Signed to a small independent label, they put out an album under the name, Luce Drayton. The album received four-star reviews. However, lack of distribution and radio failing to embrace any singles resulted in their being dropped by the label, their manager, and their publishing company. The people in power did not have a clue about what to do with their new sound.

People were sending their condolences to Bliss for losing their record deal, but Lucinda and Andy realized that it was an opportunity for them to do what they were destined to do. Lucinda states, "The Raja Yoga philosophy teaches you that everything happens for a reason. You learn not to fight life and just flow with it. Life does not have to be a struggle. We choose that."

Andy and Lucinda took the music they had been producing together, made demos, and gave them to the Brahma Kumaris. This became their first two recordings, "Flying Free " and "The Journey. " Ironically, the CD's began to sell well at the Brahma Kumaris centers, of which there are 5,400 in 83 countries. This inspired Bliss to make an album of beauty, and so "Through These Eyes" came to be. They continued to get a positive response with their next CD, "A Hundred Thousand Angels." With each album the production value improved, and the CD's were critically acclaimed. Their most recent CD, "Bliss," is their most popular by far. Their first pressing has sold out. They cannot press them fast enough to appease the fan demand.

A woman who saw them perform on the UK show, "My Favorite Hymns," went out of her way to track them down. Her daughter had committed suicide and she had been in a terrible state of depression over it. As she heard Lucinda perform the song, "A Hundred Thousand Angels," she felt peace for the first time since the tragedy.

A woman, seriously ill with brain cancer, called from California to order CD's. Coincidentally, at the end of June, Bliss is scheduled to play at the very spiritual center this woman belongs to. Lucinda is so grateful for the opportunity to perform for her. "It's amazing when things like this happen, and they happen all the time." It is the purity of intention that comes across in their music, and that is what seems to bring so many of their fans comfort and inspiration.

In addition to running their own record label and performing, Bliss is involved in many other projects. They teach meditation, co-produce a theater group that works with young children, and as part of their work with the Brahma Kumaris, Lucinda works twice a week with young offenders and prison guards.

"I really believe that if you work with purity of intention and integrity, whatever you're doing will work. Stop asking, 'What can I get?' and ask 'What can I give?'" Not the usual banter you would hear from a performer in the spotlight, but that is what makes Bliss so unique and their fans so devoted.

As the world becomes less and less predictable, people are reaching out for something in which to find comfort. Everybody needs a little peace of mind, and Bliss offers that. They truly are at a crossroads as they embark on their tour of the States, one that with a little distribution could very well have them back in the commercial spotlight again. Lucinda explains, "I understand when I'm standing in front of an audience and there's a standing ovation, that it's not about me. This music is a gift that has been given to us. We merely pass it on and feel honored to be a part of that process."

In closing, I can only say that this interview was a gift to me, and I pass it on to you and feel honored to be a part of that process.

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For more information: www.blissfulmusic.com