Reflecting on the Moment
Most artists’ base their albums on lessons recently learned, struggles they’ve faced in the recent past or victories and encouragement they’re currently experiencing. But, David Dunn’s latest release, Yellow Balloons, revolves around one single moment. “Almost every record you listen to of mine, all of them are snippets of some period of time in my life,” Dunn shares. Tragedy strikes hard, leaving us lifeless. Dunn shares the healing, reflection, grief and lack of understanding from one moment through this honest, heartfelt album.
During a visit to his hometown in Texas for a show, Dunn made a stop to his sister’s house to visit his two young nieces. Before he left that day, his sister put the youngest down for a nap. Sadly, she never woke from the nap and died for unknown reasons. The Dunn family is left broken, with numerous questions and a long journey of healing.
The grieving process for David took on the form of his sophomore album, Yellow Balloons, which he invited his sister to help write. Though he has not yet fully healed, Dunn offers a thought-provoking album full of hope in the midst of misunderstanding.
The title track records the incident and the aftermath. Dunn says it took him eight months to finish the song after reworking it over and over. “I wanted to write a song that went, ‘This terrible thing happened, and it might’ve happened to you in some way—whoever you are, listener—but God is in control and he knows what He’s doing.’ And I believe that,” he says. But, then the truth comes out, “I do believe that, but I don’t feel that way. There’s no explanation. And so it ended up just being a song saying, ‘This is really bad, God, and I’m not going to pretend like it’s OK because it’s not; but the one thing that I do know is that if You’re not here with us—with me—when we’re going through this, then it’s an unscalable mountain’.”
In need of hope, Dunn and his family release yellow balloons at the memorial service of his 2-year-old-niece. He urges readers to pray if they ever see a yellow balloon floating into the sky because it means that somewhere a family is mourning the loss of a loved one. A yellow balloon, the color of sunshine, symbolizes hope as it effortlessly drifts in the vast expansive blue sky above. As the balloon glides upward, the sky seems like a never-ending abyss of dark clouds hanging over the family. Hope is all they can hold on to when everything else seems so barren and uncertain.
In contrast to the dark, deeply emotional overtones of the title cut, sunny, nostalgia is at the forefront of “I Wanna Go Back” which reminds us of the longing for childlike faith. There’s something about going back to the basics of faith. Sometimes we make things to complicated. Musicians feel this pressure to create something new and innovative, with layer upon layer of meaning. But, the truth of the Lord is so substantial in its ease and accessibility. David Dunn brilliantly breaks down the basics of faith by making truth uncomplicated, clear and straightforward
In the battle between hope and hopelessness, Dunn retreats to faith like a child. “We almost always talk about little kids in degrading terms. ‘Stop acting like a kid. Act like an adult.’ We say things like that all the time. I do it all the time,” Dunn confesses. “If you look in the Bible, the majority of the time Jesus speaks about kids, it’s almost always in positive terms. He’s encouraging people to be more like kids, not less like them—especially when it comes to faith… When I was a kid, the only things that mattered were that Jesus was—He existed—and that He loved me. The rest of it didn’t matter,” he continues. “‘I Wanna Go Back’ was very much a wishing to go back to the time where I hadn’t gotten so smart that I became stupid.”
At first glance, Yellow Balloons can be split into two categories: songs about kids (not to be mistaken by kids songs) and songs about heaven.
“Worry” speaks on the simpler, carefree times of childhood. “I started thinking about why little kids don’t really worry,” Dunn shares. “When I was a kid I went to Vacation Bible School and heard all these crazy stories about a God who was so big and so powerful that He could part the sea; and he could keep a man from getting eaten by a lion in the lion’s den; and He could have a little boy kill a giant guy with a stone. These stories I ended up hearing about God made the world a place that was the opposite of scary… There was no reason to worry, and that still holds true as an adult.”
Moving into the sector of heaven, the song “Grace Will Lead Me Home” is suitable more for worship rather than internal reflection, but it’s filled with insight and concepts of hope. “It’s outside the scope of what I would normally record,” mentions Dunn. ”It is really just a song about looking forward to being with God. This world is a difficult place, and there’s a lot of things that happen, and I’m just looking forward to being with Jesus.”
Dunn uses the parables of Jesus as inspiration for the percussive “Kingdom.” “Most of the time when He refers to the kingdom of heaven, He’s talking about the way we treat one another,” Dunn observes. “The main difference between heaven and earth is that heaven is a place where exclusively God’s will is done; and so when we do that here on earth, we are actually bringing heaven to earth. The kingdom of heaven—the kingdom of God—I think is a thing that exists here and now if we are ushering it in by treating each other the way God wants us to treat each other. Just like the Lord’s prayer says: ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’.”
“Your world implodes, and it’s in pieces. From our perspective, that’s really awful, but there’s a really good chance, even if you can’t see it while it happens, that it’s actually one of the better things that could happen to you,” Dunn says. This is the perspective of the song “Ruins” which reminds us that God uses the shattered pieces of our lives that stem from immense loss and personal pain to build something strong and beautiful. “My life might be crumbling to pieces and wasting away to ruins, but God needs those pieces of rubble to build the new bigger and better me.”
While Dunn and his family are still grieving, he stands firm in his faith. He knows that God is building a work of art within him. He’s picking up the pieces and creating a masterpiece. “God is this master builder,” he explains. “He’s a craftsman, and if He doesn’t have the correct pieces to be able to build the best version of you, then a lot of times the best thing that could happen to you is that your life goes up in smoke.”