The Crucified. Stryper. DC Talk. When you think of the icons of Christian music, these are just a few of the heavy hitters that come to mind. In this post, Joey takes you through a blast from the past as he recalls his own history of "Christian" music and how he couldn't help become a bit jaded at the thought of it. You too? Well, we've got a band that just might change your mind - Kings Kaleidoscope.
A History of Christian Music. And then there was King’s Kaleidoscope.
Chapter 1: 80s Radio and Psalty (Google it: Psalty’s worship songs)
So, here’s a little journal of my “music journey.” Hop on for the ride of your life as we explore where “Christian music” has been, where it’s gone, and how it got to where it is now. And by the way, the title was for shock value. I don’t hate “Christian music,” I just wanted you to click on this link so we could report more clicks to this post.
First and foremost, you must know that I don’t even really use the terminology “Christian music.” I know what it means, but I think it’s way too arbitrary to define. For example, Toby often laments how bands like Coldplay, who are not professing Christians, could say something positive about Jesus and be seen as heroes. They’d have Christians’ support at the snap of a finger, even though they don’t really claim Jesus as savior. While if Emery, who are known for being Christians, were heard saying something or seen doing something that didn’t fit into their small box of what “church life” and “being a Christian” was all about, people would say stupid stuff like, “Farewell Emery. The Church doesn’t need your influence.” Way to be there for your fellow brother in Christ. For more on that read the following post: Kanye West vs. Worship leader.
From the early days through 3rd grade, I grew up on pop 1980s radio and whatever Christian music (like Psalty the Singing Songbook; look it up) my parents would play in the car or in our small tape recorder at home (Google tape recorder).
The third grade brought my “secular listening music” to a screeching halt when my parents decided enough was enough after hearing some vile conversation/commentary on the radio station between Phil Collins, Run DMC, and Bon Jovi songs.
Chapter 2: And then there was Stryper
Stryper were the heroes of our household, and eventually led us into the world of less girly “Christian Metal” (no offense, Stryper). Bands like Vengeance Rising, The Crucified, Scatterd Few, and Mortal. While I listened to this some, this super heavy stuff was more my brother’s scene, while I really delved more into tame, more pop sounds like Petra, DC Talk, White Heart, PID and the like. Don’t judge baby.
My brother and I both started listening to early “indie Rock” type Christian music as well, these bands never really being embraced in mainstream church circles. Bands like The Choir, LSU, and Breakfast with Amy weren’t “bold” enough lyrically, and too poetic, kind of leaving you guessing; you know, like a lot of the Old Testament. Other bands like Poor ‘ol Lu, Prayer Chain, and Dig Hay Zoose were able to bridge the gap a little more smoothly; this was probably due to a higher “cool factor” that stemmed from an edgier sound as well as the more overt Christian lyrics.
Chapter 3: And then there was Tooth and Nail Records.
Brandon Ebel saw something so clearly, that he would go out on a limb, filling his apartment with “Pet the Fish” CDs and tapes (by Wish for Eden) with the plan of continually signing bands that the world needed to hear. This label, in my humble opinion was a necessary ingredient that made all “this kind of music” more palatable and acceptable in Christian circles, which was obviously a very good thing. Also, Christian music needed more profound credibility, and Tooth and Nail delivered, especially by the likes of bizarro albums from Danielson and Mike Knott as well as early hardcore bands (Focused, Everdown, and Unashamed), all of this music contributing to more acceptance into regular “secular, devilish” music culture.
It was indirect communication from Mr. Ebel, but it was loud and clear to me and many others. There was no longer any needed distinction between Christian and secular. As guys like Rob Walker (Wish for Eden), Mike Herrera (MxPx), Jason and Ronnie Martin (Starflyer 59 and Joy Electric), Bill Powers (Blenderhead) communicated through their music, “we are Christians and here’s our music,” and that’s all you need to know.
But Christians weren’t ready for this. Just one example was a late nineties Sometime Sunday release called “Drain.” There was 25 minutes of “goof around studio talking” at the end of the last track and people apparently heard the word “shit” and went ape “shit.” Even my brother and I tried to find it, but to no avail. Honestly, at the time, I think I was relieved that it was either not there at all or at least not overtly in your face. I was also in this up-tight, “non-Jesus centered” music culture.
For example, I’ll never forget talking to Geoff Riley (drummer of Puller) after me and Toby’s band opened up for them, and he said “dumbass” or something. I remember thinking “I guess he’s not really a Christian.” Or an obscure release on Tooth and Nail records, Delta Haymax whose singer Tobey, used the word “HELL” in a song. What the F, Tooth and Nail?
Let’s not even count all the punk rockers, including Mike from MxPx and Jackson from Slick Shoes that were heckled for smoking at their shows. And for GOOD reason, you sons of bitches! Way to represent Christ (please note sarcasm)
Chapter 4: And then there was Jimmy Eat World and Appleseed Cast
It was summer of 1998 and Toby and I were living together in an apartment in Rock Hill, SC. I decided to take a plunge into “secular music” with Jimmy Eat World’s “Clarity.” I had been warmed up by “Diary” (Sunny Day Real Estate) earlier that spring. Next thing I knew, a new label based out of New York City moved to Charlotte (Deep Elm Records) that was putting out music from Appleseed Cast and Brandtson. Irresistible. Emo. It was new to me and the rest was history. This was the real deal. It was like life to me. Sounds weird, but I was emo, okay? Way before emo was cool.
Around this time, due largely to Tooth and Nail’s influence, the Church had seen a lot of progress (in my opinion) with its view of “what Christians should listen to,” (no longer prohibiting listening to secular or Christian songs that make you dance, for example), but what we had made very little progress with was “what kind of music Christians should create.”
Here’s my take: I don’t really care.
Now, real quick. I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m stoked when I find out some homeboys that are spitting out rhymes with the best of the best and are also Christians. Like 4th Avenue Jones. This guy’s a Christian?! I love these sorts of discoveries, but I think this is mainly due to the fact that I believe in the cause of Jesus and am excited that such kick-ass rap is coming from like-minded believers with a message that I think is so important. I can’t imagine how cool it must have been for some of you guys to find out at an Emery concert, “These guys are Christians??!!”
But, ultimately what I love getting out of ANY music I listen to:
1. No intentional drive for image: I use the word “intentional,” because I believe we cannot shed this drive for a particular image completely, but man oh man, there is nothing better than listening to music in which “image” isn’t the focus. Rather just playing music and being oneself.
2. No drive to copy: Bands will always be influenced by the music they listen to. That’s the beauty of music. That’s proof that music is an integral part of culture that can’t be stopped from permeating other generations of music.
3. No drive to distinguish: What I mean here is that we are all human. We all believe differently. Let’s just be true to music and not worry where we are categorized as people. The point of music is to let personhood shine through the art form. Whatever you are, how ever you feel, whatever you believe should come out of the music you make, if it’s going to be anything significant.
4. No drive to be someone you are not. And this is intricately connected to #3. If you are trying so hard to distinguish yourself as a Christian or thug or indie, it comes off whack because if you have to shout out, “Look at me! Look who I am,” you probably aren’t that at all.
Chapter 5: And then there was King’s Kaleidoscope
Is this worship music? Well some of these songs sure as hell are hymns. Have they led worship at churches and played at Christian conferences? Well, they sure have. Now some of the “stay true,” “don’t sell out,” “down with big church” people will roll their eyes with a big “whatever.” My take on these naysayers?
I don’t really care.
BadChristian’s official first band added to the lineup to supplement our beloved Matt and Toby and their world renown post hardcore outfit, “Emery,” (I can gloat about these guys since I’m not in the band) meets all the above listed “important/core principles” and that’s all that matters. It should be the only thing that matters to you too.
If the music is awesome, honestly, for some of us that may be all that’s needed. I know it is for me, sometimes. However, if you add #’s 1-4 on top of “awesome music,” you are on the way to something epic. I believe that King’s Kaleidoscope walked the line of epic with their first release on BadChristian “Live in Color.”
Image isn’t the driving force for these guys. That’s good because that will water down the music. Look at the videos here on YouTube: You just see a bunch of quality musicians jamming because they love it.
There’s no drive to copy other music. In fact, I think for years to come, KK’s rather large orchestra of awesome musicians will lead the way of influencing other bands.
They have no drive to make anything other than great music. Do you like the Christian lyrics? Well, good. Super awesome music too, right?
Don’t like the Christian lyrics? Well the music is too good to ignore, and these guys are just being themselves; so why would you want anything different?
BadChristian Music presents “Becoming Who We Are,” by Kings Kaleidoscope. Christians are infiltrating and influencing the culture of music in a new way. KK is leading the way. We are happy to be a part.