Fast FWD - What They're Up 2 Now: The Altar Boys

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Fast FWD: What They’re Up 2 Now

The Altar Boys – Mike Stand

Welcome to another new installment of our new feature, “Fast FWD: What They’re Up 2 Now”

Today’s edition will focus in on legendary Christian punk pioneer and vocalist/guitarist for The Altar Boys, Clash of Symbols, and currently: The Altar Billies.

Brandon: Tell me a little back story on the formation of The Altar Boys and how you guys came together back then? What year was The Altar Boys first formed? When were your first shows?

Mike Stand: The Altar Boys were formed in the Spring of 1982. 2 years prior to that, Jeff Crandall (my cousin) and I were in a group together called Image. There were 2 versions of that group. The first version had Jeff’s brother Bill in it and a friend of ours named Armand. They both left in September of 1981. Jeff and I continued the group and got another bass player, and a guitar player by the name of Ken Tamplin – yes, “the” Ken Tamplin from Shout. This format lasted until 1982 when we had an amicable parting of ways.

Towards the end of Image “part 2,” my brother started playing drums for a group called the Lifesavors (around 1981). I began hanging out with Chris Wimber, and Ray and met the guys in Undercover through the Lifesavors. I enjoyed the music, presentation, and saw how the kids took to what both those bands were playing, and said to myself: “I can do that, it’s just the Beatles sped up a little.” So in early 1982, Jeff and I ventured out with this new musical and ministry idea. The initial plan for the group was to have me play guitar and help with background vocals. We went on a search for a lead vocalist, front man and someone who could write songs. We went through probably 10 people, and nothing seemed to work out. In that search we did manage to pick up a bass player, Ron Baca, and Steve Pannier. Both were great finds (especially Steve) but we just hit a wall when it came to finding a front man, lead singer and a decent songwriter for the band. Somewhere along the way we decided that I would temporarily take on the position as a front man, and singer, until we found someone else. I was already writing songs, but did not feel adequate as a songwriter, but since no one else was capable, I just decided I would work a little harder at it and hopefully get better. As we all know, we never found a front man, lead singer, or main songwriter (though the addition of Ric Alba into the group, did alleviate a lot of the pressure to write all of the songs) and so I reluctantly kept the job and it appears, for all intents and purposes, that it was meant to be that way all along. Our first show was in July of 1982 at First Baptist Church of Fullerton. It was Jeff’s home church for many years, and the church I started attending in 1980.

Brandon: Was it difficult playing your type of aggressive music back then in Churches? How receptive were people to the sounds of The Altar Boys?

Mike Stand: From the get go, most of the churches were very receptive to Altar Boys. We did not get a lot negative feedback, most of it was very positive. I think the reason for our acceptance early on was because Undercover, Lifesavors and The Chosen Ones had already laid a lot of groundwork in and around the OC area. We just fit right in!

Brandon: What stories, good or bad, can best be summed up in words in relation to The Altar Boys years? Any horror stories?

Mike Stand: Ha!! Being a band on the road is a horror story in and of itself. I suppose you could say: It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times. By the grace of God I was able to steer clear many of the temptations and pitfalls that so many of my comrades and others in the “genre” have fallen into. For me personally, my biggest struggles were emotional. Being a way from my wife, the stress of having most of the band on my shoulders and trying to perform write songs, record, keep up the ministry aspect of things. We were pretty much on our own, except for our road crew. We did have Frontline, and they helped a little, but did not really provide the amount of spiritual, and emotional support that we needed –and I suppose they had no obligation to do so. I kind of lost it a few times along the way (like when the airline lost both Jeff and my luggage, or in 1988 when we found out we were 15,000 dollars in debt after touring for 6 months out of the year), but thankfully by the grace of God I didn’t completely fall a part or get involved in anything that would have been completely self-destructive. I am grateful for the support that Jeff and my wife played in helping me maneuver the ups and downs of this part of the journey in my life.

Late in 1988 I started attending Calvary Church of Santa Ana and that also helped to steady things. We got involved in a small group and everyone really watched over me. We still attend Calvary Church, and would not even entertain the thought of leaving. That church has been very good to my family and I. Hey anyone who can put up with me for 25 years deserves a medal

You know when you are in a band, and rise to the level we did (which wasn’t all that high, but high enough), there are stresses and difficulties that come with the territory,. There were many things that I was just not prepared to handle. To this day, I really don’t know how we did it! We financed all our tours and videos on a shoe string budget. Our most expensive record was Forever Mercy at 10,000 (Gut level was around 6,000). I suppose it just goes to show you that when you are genuinely doing the work of the ministry, God provides.

He brought a lot of great people into our lives that helped us more than you can imagine, and a lot of credit goes to them for their support. There was one person by the name of “Sonshine,” that wrote us an encouraging letter every day for years, and prayed for us constantly. Again, we had a great road crew as well, and they were a huge help to us! The story of Altar Boys really is a miracle. To rise to our level, with the amount of things going against us, is nothing short of a miracle from God…it really was! Someday I need to write a book about it!

Brandon: What do you think of the newer generation of youth picking up their guitars, basses and drums, slamming away tunes to that same punk spirit The Altar Boys became known for back in the day? Any favorite current bands you guys like or appreciate?

Mike Stand: Well, thanks to my son I am able to keep up with a lot of today’s music. He is always showing me new songs, and bands otherwise I wouldn’t bother listening to anything new. We hang out a lot in our studio and he will yell across the room at me: “Hey dad, listen to this!!!”. So I get an earful of anything and everything new!!, My favorites are the Foo Fighters, angels and Airwaves, MUSE, and Grand Funk Railroad…wait…GFR is a 70s band…ooops, just showed my age!!

Brandon: Tell me what some of your favorite Altar Boys songs have been over the years. What albums stand out as your personal favorites now here in 2013?

Mike Stand: Most of the songs we wrote still hold up. The production is a little embarrassing at times though. But faves would have to be: Heart lost in Nowhere, When You’re a Rebel, Alright, almost everything off GLM, and the song “Forever mercy.”

Brandon: Tell me a little bit about what you and the other former members have been up to in recent years. What do you guys do for a living now? Is it tough working a full time job and not playing music 24/7?

Mike Stand: Out of all the guys from the group, I probably stay in touch with Jeff the most. That has a lot to do with him being my cousin, and because he continues to be in the ministry, so we have that in common We text back and forth and actually converse quite a bit. Currently Jeff is Worship Pastor / Men’s Ministry Lead at Saguaro Canyon Evangelical Free Church in Tucson, AZ.

As for my day job, I love it! I teach music full time at a school district in Orange County District. A few years back I got a master’s degree and a second CA. teaching credential. There is nothing I would rather do, and I do consider it my ministry and Calling. It is a privilege to work with some wonderful teachers and serve about 1,000 elementary students a week with music instruction. I teach everything: Beginning and advanced band, beginning and advanced orchestra, piano, recorder, music theory and choir. I teach about 9 to 10 classes a day on average, …so yeah,….. I’m busy!!.

Brandon: What do your kids and their friends think of your past accomplishments over the years? Are they embarrassed of Dad or are they excited that you were such a legendary songwriter? Do they appreciate your contributions to the music scene at large?

Mike Stand: My son and his friends get a “hoot” out of what we are doing in Altar Billies. My daughter…ummmm?..that’s another story!. But I believe she will come around in due time. But my son Keith and I are close partners on the Altar Billies. He isn’t a huge fan of rockabilly, but he gets it. He appreciates and values the music from Altar Boys, Clash of Symbols, with his favorite being “Full Circle”- my solo release from 2002. He tells me all the time: “Dad that is such a good record, why didn’t it sell better?” What can I say? – some things just are not meant to be. His band – the A-symmetrics – cover “This Day is Mine,” from “Full Circle.”

He is also very interested in recording some of the songs that were supposed to be on the Altar Boys sixth project, “No Substitute”- the one that never happened. He mixed the recent release of “You Found Me,” and “I’m still Stand’n,” along with our new single “Titans of the Wasatch” (Ballad of the Big Boy). He is currently a senior at orange county high school of the arts where he is studying production and design. He originally started there in 7th grade on viola, played in their orchestra for 6 years, but decided to try something different last year. He produces a lot of bands out of our home studio and is getting known around the school as the guy to work with on recording projects. He is an excellent drummer and guitarist, and overall musician. As for really pursuing a career in music, that’s a whole different situation. I tell him it is good to have a plan A (music), but plan B needs to be a lot bigger (ANYTHING else!!)!

Brandon: Is it difficult sometimes in this “industry” being forgotten on a worldwide stage considering how much time and effort you put into building your band and contributing to what we call “Christian Punk”? What words of wisdom do you have for bands today that are experiencing their 15 minutes of fame?

Mike Stand: The thought of “being forgotten” has never entered my mind. I don’t feel that way at all. I am in contact with a lot of fans and friends from the day. Besides, no one owes me anything, and I feel very fortunate to have accomplished so much, and to be playing again is just unbelievable.

As for words of wisdom to Christian artists I would encourage everyone to count the cost. The chances of you “making it,” or earning an income from making music are slim and none. If you are doing it just for the sake of ministry, or because you just enjoy it – like me – then trying to make a living from it is not pertinent, and that is a whole different thing.

There are also the temptations that naturally come from being on the road as well as just the grind of touring. Then again, I never enjoyed touring, so consider the source. I am by nature a homebody.

Although the internet does have its advantages, all the pirating and copying of music makes it much more difficult to derive an income from music sales. Back in the day, if you wanted to listen to our music, you had to buy it. Yeah, you could copy a cassette, but the quality was pretty bad, but the internet has given rise to more pirating of music. The internet has also given rise to more bands, so it is harder to get your voice heard above everyone else. Either way, to really “make it” takes a 24/7 level of commitment, and even then, the chances are slim and none that you will rise to the top. Also, the X factor and all those reality shows are just lame. I can’t think of anything more terrifying or humiliating than to stand in front of those judges. Personally, I would not have the skin to do something like that, stand in front of a bunch of yahoos telling me whether I am good or not. Forget that!

Brandon: Are there any new groups you’re currently listening to, Christian or otherwise? Do you have any current favorite albums?

Mike Stand: Again, My son helps me to stay current with all of the groups. But to be honest, it is hard to get me away from my old favs: Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Grand Funk, Beatles, The Clash, and the Who. I also love a lot of the new rockabilly groups as well as the early rockabilly classics: Favs being a lot of the tracks Grady Martin played on “All I can Do is Cry,” “One Woman man,” etc…Collins Kids, Joe Maphis, and of course the early stuff from Elvis, Cash, Cochran, and Gene Vincent, and anything by Brian Setzer. I also enjoy listening to the Dirt Daubers , Reverend Horton Heat, and am amazed by Junior Brown!

Brandon: What do you hope to accomplish with the music of The Altar Billies that you couldn’t with your last group? Your sound is so unique from a Christian standpoint and I really appreciate seeing a Christian rockabilly/punkabilly band playing with such fervent spirit. What are your thoughts on the style of music you’re playing and how far are you willing to take it?

Mike Stand: The whole Altar Billies endeavor really has taken me by surprise. It was Johnny X that basically connected the musical dots and revealed to me that a lot of my music was rockabilly in nature – but I didn’t know it. To tell you the truth I’m not quite sure what to think of this direction other than I am enjoying myself, it is fun, I’m grateful, and I think I have a pretty good understanding of it, and grasp the importance of this genre. Ya know, playing rockabilly just feels very natural to me, like this is what I should have been doing all along!

We are committed to singing and presenting the Gospel in our music, that is first and foremost, and we will not deviate from that “business plan.” The Lord has made it very clear to me and the guys, that this aspect of the group cannot be compromised or “He that giveth, can taketh away!” We have been entrusted to be good stewards with this group, and I sense the Lord is really monitoring our priorities and direction – as it should be!

We are not sure how far we will take it, we are working on a new album of mostly originals with a few of the Altar Boys tunes in there for good measure. I do know I love to write, and perform. I don’t enjoy the recording process as much, but the joy I get out of writing music is something that cannot be measured. But, we really have no intention of quitting our day jobs any time soon (or at all), or of leaving our families to hit the road. That is not to say we might not be opposed to hitting a festival or two. But a tour?…..uh, I wouldn’t count on it! Then again, 5 years ago I had no intention of starting another band, so who knows???? I do believe we will be together for a long time though. We have a good chemistry, are good friends, and are all on the same page.

Brandon: Will we see an Altar Billies full length of original tunes in the near future?

Mike Stand: We are getting ready to go into the studio as of this writing. We are recording about 13 songs for a project called “Head’n out West.” We already have two songs recorded in “I’m still Stand’n,” and “Titans of the Wasatch.” So the record will have about 14 or 15 songs on it..so that’s sizeable

Brandon: That about concludes this feature for the week. Any last prayer requests us fans can lift up for you and the band? Do you have any last words?

Mike Stand: I wish I had started Altar Billies a few years back. But I suppose later in life is better than not at all. Playing with Johnny and Chuck in a group is amazing. Not only are they both just the neatest brothers in Christ, but they are incredibly talented. Chuck is just an incredible drummer, has a lot of wisdom, and brings a lot of experience to the group and is a great family man. Johnny is one of the most talented musicians I have ever met. He is an incredible guitar player, and plays drums, and mandolin, as well as a mean upright! He has amazing insights into arrangements with songs. If he tells me that a song I have written is good, then I believe him. And on the flip side, he’ll tell it to me straight when a song misses the mark (as will Chuck). I remember showing them both my initial demo of “Head’n out West,” and I could tell they were less than impressed..they were like “Um..you’ve got some problems here……not quite Mike.” So I had to kind of go back to the drawing board with some of it. I did another demo and they listened to it a week later, and they were like “Heck yeah!!!”…So that kind of honesty and objective viewpoint is just priceless!

I am grateful that both of these guys have the where-with-all to put up with me! And that can be a daunting task!!…Their patience, grace and understanding has most certainly earned them a “few” extra jewels in their crown!

Keep up with Mike Stand, Johnny X, and Chuck Cummings in the band The Altar Billies [Facebook]

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