Rock The Party
Around the turn of the century a new genre of music would see a meteoric rise in popularity. Teenage boys were stoked. Music critics were not. This genre would come to be known as “rap-rock”. Rap-rock was exactly what it claimed to be, a mixture of hip-hop and alternative rock or metal, usually played with down-tuned guitars and loads of testosterone fueled angst.
Although pre-internet North Dakota was always a couple of years behind the rest of the world, rap-rock made a fairly timely breakthrough thanks to MTV and massive radio hits by groups like Rage Against the Machine, Linkin Park, Kid Rock, Limp Bizkit, and 311. Like North Dakota, Christian rock has often (and accurately) been accused of being perennially late to the party, and has suffered much ridicule because of it. Though there would definitely be imitators of the aforementioned bands, there were also some very important innovators among the Christian rap-rock ranks.
As early as 1989 DC talk had been melding rap and rock, albeit with a much more pop-oriented bent. They were, perhaps, the first group to attempt this fusion. More importantly bands like Payable on Death (P.O.D.) and Every Day Life (EDL) would become active in 1992 (before Rage’s eponymous debut album would hit the shelves) and would carve out their own unique sounds. Over the next several years, these Christian artists with secular street cred would serve as pioneers, helping to blaze a trail to mainstream popularity for the genre. In the early 90’s rap-rock was still in its infancy. However, by the time Shane and I connected with our guitarist, the Prince, it had taken over the airwaves… and we did not escape its influence as our band began holding our first fledgling practices.
Still lacking a front man, our practices were more or less instrumental jam sessions held at either my house or Shane’s place where we’d blow through sloppy versions of songs by groups like the Newsboys, All Star United, Skillet, and Audio Adrenaline. Eventually when our parents and neighbors got sick of the noise we were forced to relocate.
Finding a practice space is one of the first important litmus tests for whether a young band will succeed or fail. It can be extremely difficult to find a place tucked far enough away from the intolerant ears of those outsiders who “just don’t get it”. Those who are not members of the sacred musical brotherhood often can’t comprehend the wonder and mystery of the phenomenon known as “band practice”. Many a young group have broken up over the lack of a solid place to jam. Those who do find somewhere consistent to rock out have a pretty good chance of making it to a first live show.
Practice pads come in all shapes and sizes. Closets at frat houses, the unused (unfinished) basements of local businesses owned by parents of band members, abandoned buildings, or empty rooms in churches with hip youth leaders and gullible pastors all serve as excellent free spots to play. The walls are usually plastered with posters, the floors covered with old pizza boxes and Mountain Dew cans, and the air smells of sweat and resonates with out of tune guitar chords and the crashing of cheap broken cymbals.
Our first real practice space was a shed that my dad owned 5 miles out of town. Other than the fact that it didn’t have water, air conditioning, or heat… it was pretty much perfect. This particular location would play a large role in the musical legacy of Shane and I. Much of the music we would write together over the next decade, including most of our Hands material, would get hammered out in the sheet metal storage building located on a couple of acres of land that we referred to as “the farm”.
It was during one of these early sessions at the farm that we made our first attempt at writing an “original” song. This innitial spark of musical creativity manifested in the form of a melodious three chord power ballad with Shane attempting vocals. The lyrics had something to do with being “lost” and then “found”, being away from “home” and “never being alone”. I think the song may have been called “Never Alone”. Like I said… “original”. Actually, it wasn’t bad for a bunch of Jr. High kids. Our moms were stoked anyway…
Though Shane’s singing wasn’t the worst we’d ever heard, we really wanted a stand-alone front man. Someone who would be totally free of instrumental obligation, who could hype up the massive crowds we were pretty sure we’d be playing for within the next couple of months. We also wanted to start playing rap-rock. Fred Durst did not play guitar so neither would our front-man. Thus, we began in earnest our search for a vocalist.
Not necessarily all “rap-rock”, but I feel like Weird Al really captured the essence of the movement.