When I Learn to Sing
The process of finding a front man for a rap-rock band is no simple task. There are many stringent qualifications that must be met. You need someone who can hype up a crowd, rhyme words at a fifth grade level, look good in parachute pants and a backwards hat… and maybe even sing. Matters became complicated to an even further extent in the case of Christian rap-rock bands circa the year 2000.
In addition to the previous check list of “skillz”, the mythical creature known as the “front man of a Christian rap-rock band” was in this era expected to be one part adolescent rebel and another part pastoral guide and counselor. They were required to switch seamlessly from one persona to the other at the drop of a hat… though usually with the assistance of a power ballad. They simultaneously filled the roll of youth and youth leader.
Things had been progressing well for our young band as we rolled into the summer of 2000. We had been jamming fairly consistently and had written the music for a couple of songs. We had even discovered some Christian rap-rock bands to supplement our diet of worldly jams by Rage Against the Machine and the like. At the top of our short but growing list were two bands called Beanbag and Pillar.
Beanbag was an incredibly original band from Australia. Packing a tripped out avant-garde mixture of hip-hop, grungy-hard rock, and electronica, this band had a compelling sound that was all their own. Their lyrics were poignant, though at times bizarre, and spoke of a seemingly frustrated post-modern faith life. The only simple clichés to be found on Freesignal, their American debut album for Inpop Records, were witty sarcasm or pithy satirical jabs.
By contrast, Pillar was as clichéd as they came. With lyrics that could have been written by an amped up Sunday school student with access to the Urban Dictionary, and a sound ripped straight from the latest 311 or Limp Bizkit album, Pillar was below average in the creativity department on their first album for Flicker Records, ironically entitled Above. At the time though, we were too dumb to know better and were totally into it.
Not to make more of this than need be… but, the dichotomy that these two bands embodied serves as a great symbol, representing the split personality of Christian rock. On one hand there is the devoted artist and on the other the propagandizing industrialist. Just some food for thought…
Anyhow, we had decided that the song we would use to try out any potential vocalists would be “Whiplash” by Beanbag. It was a heavy rocking anthem with a slamming beat and dissonant guitar screeching that had more common with Korn than Linkin Park. I remember struggling to learn the quick double kicks of the songs slamming drum part. This was by far the hardest-rocking jam that we had ever busted at our practice space in the shed out at the farm. We were stoked and ready to hear someone lay some vocals on that beast. We would soon have our chance.
Shane asked if we would let his younger brother try out for the band. Prince and I were hesitant due to his age and the fact that he couldn’t sing. Shane dressed him up pretty well for his audition in a baggy pair of what were possibly JNCO Jeans and a fitted North Carolina Tar Heels hat flipped backwards. We were surprised by his fashion, not by his lack of vocal chops. Other than the tag-line “Jesus will never let you go!” Shane’s little bro couldn’t remember, let alone spit out any other lyrics for the song. Sorry little buddy. Not happening.
We talked about trying out another friend, and even went so far as having them come sit through a practice with us. We were all extremely enthusiastic about the possibilities… until we realized this friend of ours had no real interest in our Christian faith and just wanted to rock out. It was at this point that we were forced for the first time to make the difficult (misguided) decision between sticking to our guns on the whole Christian band thing, or, forsaking our desire to create faith filled art by grabbing whoever we could get. We decided to hold out.
We were dismayed to say the least. After each of our band practices we would sit and brood over a box of Pizza Ranch pizza, trying to think of someone who might fill our vocal void. Finally, one of us had an epiphany. What about our friend Kyle? He was energetic, funny, musically inclined, and just as importantly… he was into Christian rock. Heck, he had been the one to invite me to my first Christian concert, DC Talk’s Supernatural tour. Now this could be something.
JNCO Jeans and rap-rock. Synonymous.