Fast FWD – What They’re Up 2 Now: Strongarm (Part 2 with Chris Carbonell)
We are following up our Strongarm “Fast FWD” feature with Part 2, this time with Chris Carbonell answering some deep questions. Let’s relive the past and travel back to the time of DIY hardcore spirit to celebrate the accomplishments of this great Florida band.
BrandonIVM: Tell me a little bit of the history behind Strongarm. Where you guys all met? How did you become a band? What were your first shows like? Etc.
Chris C.: I would like to start by saying thanks to Brandon and Indie Vision for the opportunity and the interest. This is not a rebuttal to Jason’s interview. These are my thoughts as viewed from my angle only.
Me and a friend Dave Bean used to go to secular shows and pass out homemade tracks Dave designed for the hardcore and punk scene. Dave was the original singer of Ikthus, the band Jason and I were in previous to Strongarm. We met Josh, Nick, and the other guys in the “first street crew”, at local shows. It was refreshing cause not many Christians went to secular shows back then. About 6 months to a year later I met Jason at Calvary Ft Lauderdale and we began our sometimes clumsy but fun front line ministry journey through punk rock and into hardcore. Josh was in a short lived band called Planet X with Matt Fox (who later started Shai Hulud) and Mike Hurley who later started a band called Tension, Josh, Nick, and our other friends Mike Hurley, and Jamie Bryan started a band called Endure. I have to say for the record here, these bands in my opinion had the best sound coming out of South Florida at the time. Me and the other members of Ikthus were definitely jealous. We basically all lived together with the exception of Dave, Jason, and Matt Fox. Josh and his mother took me in after I was kicked out of my house, which was a real blessing and life changing for me. After a little while Endure broke up and evolved into Tension which Josh was not part of. At the same time Ikthus base player Matt and singer Dave left the band, while Chad moved to Florida to play bass making us a 3 pc band. It took a while but I kept asking Josh over and over to come on board with Ikthus. To be quite honest it was going to be a step down for Josh, but once we got him writing songs for us things would come together. Endure was just better musically, and in some ways taken a bit more serious I think than Ikthus. Anyway, Josh came aboard with the stipulation that we start from scratch. Which we all felt needed to be done anyway.
BrandonIVM: Your first official (Distributed) album was “Atonement”, released on Tooth & Nail Records in 1995. It featured Jason on vocals and had melody intertwined with a brutal and furious blend of hardcore. For our music scene, it was something fresh and the spiritual content made it all the much more original. How do you guys feel about “Atonement” as a total package and the music you created? Do you think it still stands up to today’s standards?
Chris C: I love the album. I had a lot of fun doing it. Along the same lines as what Jason said, when you’re limited on time and money you can only go back and fix so much in the recording, so there are a few little things here and there that we had to leave. It makes it a bit grittier maybe.
BrandonIVM: What were some of your influences as a band? Favorite artists? If you could pick three bands that the music of Strongarm closely resembled, what would those artists be?
Chris C.: I don’t really know of anyone we resemble with the exception of Shai Hulud. That’s to be expected since we all grew up together and the amount of time Josh and Matt spent sitting in the living room by themselves just playing guitar together. There were some magical songs that were written by those guys together and unfortunately forgotten from that time. God certainly gifted them both with an ear for music and an ability to play. I remember sitting and just watching them writing and playing the most amazing things off the top of their heads. Of course when I would point it out they weren’t as amazed as me, at least outwardly. We all listened to bands like 7 seconds, Burn, Gorilla Biscuits, Social Distortion, Minor Threat, Chain of Strength and a long list of other bands from the 80’s and early 90’s punk and hardcore scenes with the occasional Oi band thrown in. This of course was before the internet so we’d go to a record shop and sometimes you had to take a chance on a piece of vinyl. There were some bad ones but there were also some greats. Heck I still listen to some of these old bands.
BrandonIVM: Your second release with a slightly revamped line up was “The Advent of a Miracle” in 1997. It also served as your final record as a band. Do you feel that this is your more popular album? If not, what album do you feel people most resonate with? What are you favorite songs from this album?
Chris C.: I think Advent was a more popular album but we had a larger fan base by then as well. The guys grew as song writers and in my opinion more fully, or at least more confidently, stepping into the sound we were putting out as a band. Josh as always was writing the majority of all the music with some ideas here and there from the other guys. Chad, Nick and Steve of course worked out the details of what they played after we all learned the song. The lyrics were collaboration as well with the majority written by Jason. Chad’s sister Alexis (now Josh’s wife) is a very talented writer and artist, and she wrote some lyrics as well. I think all of our songs from both albums resonate with anyone that has ever struggled and strived in life. On the Advent album I really like Advent, Sorrow…geez, it’s hard to pick.
BrandonIVM: What was it like Chris, going from Drums to Lead Vocals in Strongarm? What led to that drastic transition? Who wrote the majority of lyrics for “Advent of a Miracle”?
Chris C.: Oh man, I have to say, when Jason went from guitar to vocals I don’t think Chad and I really understood the learning curve. We probably weren’t as supportive as we should have been. What led to the change is a long story that I will tread through carefully. We were touring for Atonement and we were all at a time in life when changes come quick, and often arguments arise from the discomfort of change. Everyone in the band was very close friends and hung out basically every day with the exception of Jason. He had other friends he began hanging with that he went to school with, etc. He would hang out with us sometimes but mostly we’d just see him at practice. In the First Street Crew (A name we gave ourselves cause we lived on 1st street) loyalty was an unusually strong issue. Jason’s closest friend at the time and roommate was a very talented and trained musician, Bob Franquiz , was a former member of a secular metal band Amboogalard. So, anyway, on the tour Jason met with me and told me he wanted to replace Nick with Bob. I most definitely handled this the wrong way by flipping out. In my opinion, I don’t think Jason was trying to be a jerk. He thought the band would go to the next level if we added someone with Bob’s talent. My thoughts were, ‘we were friends before the band, loyalty comes first and we’ll be friends after the band. We all started this together and we’re all in this together to the end.’ It was opposite to the mafia to me and the rest of the guys; you can leave if really want to, but no one is kicking anyone out. Anyway, through some efforts and details that I will not go into, Nick and I both were kicked out of the band. This proved to be the biggest test to the friendships between me, Nick, Josh, and Chad, and it was the end of an already rocky friendship between us (me, Nick) and Jason.
BrandonIVM: Can you name any tour highlights from the past? Bands you most enjoyed playing shows with, festivals, etc.? I personally saw you guys a few times in Capo Beach, CA. back when Jason was on vocals and loved the shows.
Chris C.: There are so many memories and stories. There were a lot of bands around too. Off the top of my head we had some great touring stories and forged some good friendships with Shai Hulud, Stretch Armstrong, Tension just to name just a few. We toured with a lot of good bands and met some great people. One memory that just popped up was playing with Strife. Rick was an unbelievably nice guy. Strongarm would open for Strife on the east leg of their tour and the typical heckling would take place, but Rick wasn’t havin’ it. Even though he didn’t share our beliefs, he still “reminded” the audience that hardcore music was an outlet, no matter what the subject, and we had the same right to say what we wanted to in our music. The first time he went off on the hecklers it was a total surprise to us. We thought he felt the same way they did. Lol. Tension did something similar when we played in Detriot it was hilarious.
BrandonIVM: Was there any animosity with Jason when he quit? Do you guys all talk now? What is the reason if any, that you guys aren’t on speaking terms (if that’s true)?
Chris C.: I wasn’t there when Jason quit. I do know that the guys were let down. This was the final nail in the coffin in their relationship with Jason I believe. Nick immediately took up where Bob left off, and Strongarm started having try outs for singers. They asked me to come along for an extra opinion of the guys trying out. It was a crude experience. People don’t realize that screaming your guts out isn’t all there is to it. It takes a lot of practice to build up your sound and strength. After listening to a number of people try out I thought “heck I may as well try out”. It wasn’t a great performance by any means, but we were close friends and there was a decent platform for growth, so they went with me. The following months were rough as I built up the sound and strength to do a full set night after night on the road. As far as us still talking now, we all still talk and hang out regularly though we aren’t in touch with Jason. He hurt us pretty bad, and I imagine we in turn have probably done the same to him. I don’t necessarily think he was out to hurt us, but he did what he wanted when he wanted to seemingly with no care for the rest of us. I don’t want to dishonor Jason here cause all of us were trying to work out our places in life and the Lord. There were times when I couldn’t have even talked about this subject without becoming enraged, but now I can honestly say that I have forgiven him, and I hope he can forgive me for anyway I hurt him. What it basically amounts to is that Jason’s personality clashed with ours. The clashing happened time and again. Sometimes it was minor and sometimes it was heavy. So I think we all individually decided it was healthier for us to end the relationship, but really we were going in different directions already anyway.
BrandonIVM: Fast FWD. What do you guys all do now for full time jobs? Where are you at spiritually and financially compared to when you were in a touring band?
Chris C.: Currently I am a construction superintendent. Financially there’s no comparison. We’d often take shows for gas money just to get the Gospel out, and end up trying to cook ramen with hot water from a gas station coffee machine or something similar. We’re family men now, so the stakes are higher. Spiritually speaking I went through the hardest time in my life for a good 5 years ending around 2011. There was a lot of things from my life growing up that I wasn’t able to or even knew had to be dealt with bottled up. There was a lot of rebellion and anger that lay deep beneath the surface, and boy it came out like a reckless volcano. I felt ripped off cause of my circumstances growing up and I was angry about it. I thought I dealt with it but shoving it down isn’t dealing with it. I basically blamed the Lord for it all and remember telling him,”OK Lord I’ve known you for too long to say I don’t believe in you. The fact is your real, but I don’t like what you’re doing so, although I will always believe in you, I’m doing what I want from now on.” LOL! What an idiot. Things, as you can imagine, went downhill from there. Haha, I remember telling my wife “You can go to church all you want, I may go every once in a while but I’m never gonna be one of those sweater wearing Christian nerds”. Oh man that’s so embarrassing. Funny now, but it wasn’t back then. I would stay out till 2:00-4:00am sometimes, drinking out of spite, with some friends, then come home and drop to my knees on the kitchen floor crying out to God. I was an island of despair. My compass was broken and I had no directional bearing in my heart. My rebellion and anger was strong, and I partnered with it instead of the Lord. God, being eternally gracious and loving, was always close, saving my life more than once, but letting me come to grips with my choice to leave Him out. He was ready and waiting with open arms for that day when I would turn back to Him. That day came powerfully, and he swept me off of my feet. I know the Lord intimately in a way I never had before now. I wish I had learned this without the pain but I would pay any price for the relationship I have with my Loving Creator today! The fire is burning in my heart again, but like it never has before.
BrandonIVM: Do you guys all hold the same beliefs on a spiritual level that you had during the hey day of Strongarm? If not, is there a reason why?
Chris C.: I will only answer for myself and tell you, I do more than ever. We’ve all heard it said that we never fully arrive but are constantly growing, or something like that. But rarely do we live like we’re going somewhere or embrace that we are on a beautiful journey. We often live as though it is our right to “arrive” when we’re adults. And in that vein we build a life or a set of rules around us in an effort to establish our arrival. Many times the whole thing crumbles under us like a house of cards. The fall from such things is often hard but the restoration the Lord gives is so beautiful, and so much more tangible. I feel that it’s a similar act of the flesh that created the denominational separations in the church. It may have been done through good intention to protect God’s Word (which He doesn’t need us to do)or to protect the body of believers in attendance, but it’s a line in the sand, and we as believers suffer from it. Our ministries and the churches reputation from the worlds point of view suffers from it. It’s a reaction in fear that doesn’t need to be there. The Lord is moving mightily around the world erasing denominational lines. We still may worship differently, and we may have some minor differences in doctrinal beliefs, and that is fine. If we are whole heartedly seeking the Lord with total abandon we will learn the truth. If Holy Spirit dwells within us then we need to commune with Him. We need to see that the same God of all creation lives in my brother’s or sister’s heart that does in mine. Will I judge their beliefs or style of worship when the living and powerful Spirit of God doesn’t? No, I may not get along or agree with someone but I love the Lord that lives in them, I am compelled to honor the Spirit of God in them, and be understanding of the learning process Holy Spirit has us all in. We must be unified! If we were all unified and living wholeheartedly for the Lord the impact in the world would be tremendous. It’s already happening in other countries and in pockets in the U.S. Personally I am totally fed up with people arguing about what version of the bible is best or predestination etc. I have never heard of anyone that has laid their life down in tears on their knees before God because of such arguments. I want to note that the Word of God is living and important. Its truths should be adhered to with conviction, relying on Holy Spirit for guidance and revelation. If you’re a Christian but don’t have a firm grip on the Gospel and you have no real relationship with the Holy Spirit then you open yourself up to be swayed. You may become uselessly stiff, ardently arguing doctrine while pushing people away from the church without notice, or to the other extreme and end up with cultish beliefs. There is a healthy balance. The apostles did not have a New Testament bible, but their relationship with God was deep, and they remained ever open to the movements of Holy Spirit, God dwelling in them.
BrandonIVM: You guys probably get asked this question a million times by fans both old and new but is there EVER going to be a Strongarm reunion show and/or album in the future? Maybe celebrating the 20th anniversary of Atonement and Advent of a Miracle? Any chance fans could support you guys through a kickstarter campaign to fund a new album with a big producer? I know I would totally help contribute to a kickstarter Strongarm campaign if there was one.
Chris C.: Brother, you just tell me when and where, and give me enough time to build the throat back up. I love this band even with all its quirks. Knowing what we were like, our struggles, our lives, it blows me away every time I listen to the songs. How did we do this? We didn’t talk like that man. Those lyrics were breathed by the Spirit of God, period, end of discussion. I don’t care who wrote what, the fact is, God chose a handful of awkward fatherless sons , for a micro-blip in time, to use together even with our differences, for His purpose. What an honor! The songs still pull a tear out occasionally just because of how much I see Him in them. Jason and I may have had a hard time seeing eye to eye sometimes, but I love that he was listening to God, even in the midst of struggles, and I love what the Lord did through him in the band. It’s the same for all of us, we all struggled but we pressed on by God’s grace.
BrandonIVM: Any chance you’ll play a festival and/or show date in the near future? Maybe just show up and surprise everyone?
Chris C.: As I mentioned, I would love it, but it may take some effort to awaken this sleeping giant. LOL
BrandonIVM: Was it difficult watching your former members (a question for you Chris C.) go on to start FSF and continue with that band for a decade or so to relatively good exposure?
Chris C.: Absolutely not! I loved their music. They deserve all the success they had and more. A funny little secret is one day when FSF was just about to get started Josh called me to tell me they were starting another band (which I already knew) and asked me if I was interested in singing. LOL! I said come on man you know I can’t sing melodically. Then he says yeah I know but I wanted you to know we’re not going around you or anything. That’s love right there. The thought of them going around me hadn’t ever entered my mind. God bless ‘em!
BrandonIVM: I know this is a discussion on all things Strongarm but I have always wondered, what was the reason for switching lead vocalists out between all the Strongarm/FSF bands over the years? Was it bad timing, bad luck, unfortunate circumstances? I don’t mind personally since I have enjoyed all your projects and releases equally as much.
Chris C.: Bands can be hard on relationships. Creating things in any art medium is a passionate work, and so there is a lot of emotion involved. Now you add a group of passionately emotional artists together, mix in personality conflictions, with a little ego, and pride. Then BOOM! It’s an atomic bomb. Haha! I enjoy all the singers as well, from Jason B. on Atonement to the FSF singers. I definitely am the hardest on myself when it comes to vocals. Let me side track right here and say to any working bands out there, never ever…ever let a record company push you around in the studio. Yeah it’s their money but that music and its recording is your legacy not theirs. Your partnership must be as equal as possible. Our label was in such an all fire hurry to get the freaking recording done that they forced me to do vocals during what is still the sickest I have ever been in my life. Listen, they don’t care that you’re gonna cringe everytime you hear that one part or that one song. They care only about the $. A record company is an investment firm they are not there to support artists in the fine details of creating their next masterpiece, unless it affects their wallet.
BrandonIVM: What do you guys think about the current state of the music scene at large? Do you have any favorite current artists or bands you guys are into? Any old stuff that you still go back to? If there was ever a new Strongarm album, would you guys shy away from autotune and all that jazz?
Chris C.: I don’t really stay up on all the new stuff going round. I really never did. I’m sure there are some great new bands out there. I will say that I know quite a few musicians that are trying to get out there and it annoys me to watch them sit around and do nothing because they need a $25,000 budget for recording. Gee Wiz! Modern technology should be a punk rock dream come true (real roots punk rock not boy band punk like what’s on the radio today)I know we didn’t sit around waiting for anyone, and had we never been signed to a label we still would have carved out a path for ourselves. Honestly being on a record label did very little for us at all other than paying for recordings. We booked our own tours, made our own shirts and we never made a dime off the record sales from our label or anything they did. Some of the people in the music scene today seem to have lost that fighting pioneering spirit. That attitude that was so rampant in the scene when we were kids. People were recording demos anyway they could, then making better recordings after playing enough shows they could afford it. There was always a new “zine” that someone was putting together in their bedroom at home etc. Some people now aren’t willing to play unless they’re getting paid well. If no one has ever heard of you why would they pay you? It’s a hard road but you gotta put your boots on and hit the pavement.
BrandonIVM: Do you ever speak to Brandon Ebel or Tooth & Nail Records staff at all anymore? What do you think about the label now as it sits today?
Chris C.: I don’t speak to any of them. Not for any reason other than life taking us in different directions. Brandon and the staff were always nice to me. Even when I flipped out about the “boob” on the first printing of the Advent cd! lol
BrandonIVM: Can you believe it has been almost two decades since Strongarm first released Atonement and probably 20 years since you guys first started playing shows. Time flies. How do you guys feel about the current trend of bands reuniting and going on tour? Gameface is doing it, Braid is doing it, Sunny Day Real Estate did it, Texas is the Reason did it, Knapsack is doing it, and many others. Would you guys ever consider going on tour again? If so, what bands would you most want to play shows with?
Chris C.: These are great bands man. Why does a band have to break up anyway? When I come home from work on Friday I take my hat off, but I put it back on after the weekend on Monday. Some bands need to break up but some don’t. I’m not a huge fan of the Rolling Stones but look how long they’ve been doing it. I’d love to do a handful of shows but touring would be hard. With families and jobs I don’t think it would be possible unless you were talking Rolling Stones type money. Haha!
BrandonIVM: As you know times change yet so many of these Churches we all went to shows at back in the day are still in operation now. Why have so many of these Church buildings shut their doors to Christian rock/metal/punk/hardcore type shows? I know here in Orange County, CA. it’s rare that a Christian hardcore show will ever take place at a big Church like it did back in the day. Why is this happening? Why are Churches closing their doors to youth culture?
Chris C.: It’s impossible to speak to all the churches, but just like anything else, if you want it you gotta buckle for your dust and fight for it. Raise the support, show honorable intention and persevere until you get it done. Our youth pastor always says “there is not a junior Holy Spirit for kids, there is only one Spirit working in all of us”. The youth is just as important to the fabric of any church as the adults. As youth you must work to see that culture of equality take place. Do it honorably though if you want to be honored.
BrandonIVM: How do you feel about “Christian” bands like For Today, Impending Doom, Sleeping Giant, Underoath (RIP), Norma Jean, The Chariot, The Devil Wears Prada, Oh, Sleeper, Phinehas, etc. blowing up and playing large gigs across the country since the demise of Strongarm? Do you follow any of those bands? What do you think about their music?
Chris C.: Man, I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t heard of but a few of these bands. You make it sound so bad “the demise of Strongarm” lol! I think it’s excellent that they are getting those kinds of shows though. I don’t know any of the members of those bands, but I would say that I hope they are sticking tight to the Lord. We’ve seen a lot of Christian bands fracture and spin out of control; losing their spiritual identity as they became better known. It can be difficult to keep the line from getting blurred.
BrandonIVM: What do you think about so many of these youth and their 15 minutes of fame flash in the pan type of pop culture significance? As an artist, how do you want your legacy to be remembered? Do you feel there is a certain sense of realism and diy ethic that is missing from today’s music market?
Chris C.: As I mentioned earlier there is a lack of DIY persistence today. A year or so ago I was so happy to hear the number one song in Americas top 40 was from a guy who had no record label. Not my style of music but very catchy and funny. He may be on a label now and that’s fine, but the point is this guy was writing quality, entertaining songs and he was not gonna stop until it was heard. You have to know what you’re creating is good, so you must have the guts to hear if it’s not so you can make it good. Sometimes you just know, other times you need someone’s opinion. Once you have something good, drive it home and don’t stop till you get there.
BrandonIVM: Moving on a bit here. A few last questions. Some of you guys have families now I am sure and possibly some kids. How do your kids react to the music of Strongarm if they’ve heard it? Will you guys still be the uncool Dads to your children? If you ever played live again, what do you think your children would say?
Chris C.: I have a 6 yr old. I don’t know what influenced him, but he seems to lean toward heavier music. I’ve played our albums for him and he likes it but I don’t think he believes it is me. Haha! I joke with my wife about parenting and say that my only rule is: “Don’t be dumb”, but truthfully I will support this kid in whatever he wants to do and as far as he wants to take it, as long as he considers the outcome beforehand (Counts the Cost, LOL) and takes responsibility for his decisions win or lose. It’s about honor and integrity. There is lots of love and affection in our house, but I will not sugar coat things, and while he’s in training I don’t always help him if he’s having a hard time with something. Sometimes I let him work it until he gives up, then I give him some gentle instruction and let him go after it again. Everyone learns differently in certain areas, and Jack learns by doing. So when he fights through the struggle and figures it out the victory is sweeter. These aren’t parenting tips, these are what I do with my son. Our next kid will probably be completely different and we may have to change things up a bit. God doesn’t use a cookie cutter when he creates us so we can’t teach as though He does. God gave Jack to us for a reason, entrusting us specifically to raise him the best way we can. Its an honor to be part of the plan.
BrandonIVM: That about wraps up this feature for the week. I want to thank you for contributing and for making such powerful and significant music through your time in Strongarm. If there are any last minute prayer requests that us fans can lift up for you, let us know.
Chris C.: Pray for a reunion if you’d like and let’s see what happens. I’m thinking we should line up some of the bands we use to tour with and play a handful of strategic shows, and maybe for those that couldn’t make it to the show we’d do a live recording of it. Maybe if we all prayed hard enough a new song might emerge. I can already feel the flames rising and hear the Rocky theme playing in the background. LOL This is me dreaming right now. Nothing is in the plans, but pray and we’ll see what happens.
I also want to say to anyone that needs to hear it out there that the Lord doesn’t care about your sin as much as you may think He does. He didn’t make His sacrifice for the sake of sin, or just so that you could go to heaven. He made the sacrifice so the relationship between you and Him could be eternally restored. He is in love with you personally just how you are. It’s not about good vs evil etc. that’s a smoke screen. He is all about you. God doesn’t look at the earth from some distant location in the universe and see a multitude of people scrambling like ants. He is standing right next to you and He’s looking at you specifically with the heart of a loving father. Don’t let life’s mistakes slow you down. If you screwed up, dust yourself off, learn what you can from it, pray up and move on. Don’t let anyone (yourself included) tell you that you have to sit there despairing in it for punishment. Christ already took care of that on the cross. We are rising together. We were all created with a purpose that is eternal. Let’s take up our mantels and push through together!
If you missed Part 1 of our Fast Fwd: Strongarm feature, then click here.