An email interview with Reese Roper, current lead singer of Brave Saint Saturn and former frontman for Five Iron Frenzy and, briefly, Roper.
In the wake of Five Iron Frenzy, many fans wondered if the Brave Saint Saturn trilogy would ever see its third installment. But five years after “For the Light of Things Hoped For” hit stores, the new “Anti-Meridian” was finally delivered to the public. Out of this development emerges two questions. One, what were you doing between now and then? And two, what made you decide to go back and finish the project?
Well, many things. I started a new band that failed, worked at a genetics lab, was an electrician, and went back to school to become a Nurse Anesthetist. Mostly, that is why it took so long. All of us had to (and have to) have real jobs now, so it tends to smother the time we used to be able to make rock in. I had it really easy my first semester back at school, so my wife suggested I get a part time job. I was able to talk her into letting me use the time I would have spent working, into finishing the Brave Saint album, which Andy, Dennis, and I had been writing for five years. It was actually a terrible decision, as the next few semesters came about, and proved to be about ten times as difficult. The good thing is that it actually was finished in that time, and something that I think we are all proud of was made.
In what ways do you think you’ve grown between the two records (personally, spiritually, musically, etc)?
Musically, I think I am a much better songwriter, but I still have a long way to go. I have a problem with being obsessive about things that I am doing creatively, and it makes it very hard for me to finish anything I start, because I always feel like what I am making isn’t good enough. Spiritually, I think that I have really just become disappointed in the church and its response to the rest of the world’s needs. I think that the Christian church is as insular and backstabbing as it has ever been, and it has really affected my relationship with God. I know that I need to get over it, but it is definitely a struggle to separate that from the character of Christ. It’s hard to go to church, but I know that I need to be in fellowship, so I do. Personally, it’s good. Married life is good, school is good, etc. Also, Micah just had a barbeque for all the FIF alum, and everyone was there but Sonnie and Dennis. It was really cool to see all those guys and their families, and a lot of our old friends.
Now, without spoiling it for those who haven’t heard the record all the way through, the first space mission has come to a close, but there is an obvious hint at a future for the crew of the USS Gloria. Speaking in real-life music industry terms, what might this future look like for Brave Saint Saturn?
Honestly, it kind of depends on how this album does. A few weeks ago, I was about ready to throw in the towel on it all, but it seems that our digital sales are going through the roof (comparatively, of course). I’m not sure if it’s just because we don’t have distribution, or that no one wants to buy actual CDs anymore (or the album completely sucks), but online sales are still strong. Another problem that we are facing is that it is really hard to get songs on the radio without label backing, and without being a touring band. We hired someone to work “Starling” as a single to the Christian market, and it was really only added to about 12 radio stations. Even with the deal he gave us to pitch it to radio stations, I’m not really sure it was very cost effective. It’s sad that the fact that we’ve had relationships with the people at some of those radio stations for 12 years or so, and it means nothing. I think it’s even more sad that what goes on Christian radio has more to do with money than it does with reaching the lost, or even just something as simple as playing good music. It’s stupid. In a perfect world, House of Heroes would be bigger than Fallout Boy right now, but it just doesn’t work that way. The system stinks, but the common denominator in all of it is that radio stations won’t take risks. They are concerned with the business end far more than they are with the music end, and especially the Christianity end. So, long story short, I don’t think I have it in me to do it this way again. We still might have some more albums in us, but we are still waiting to see if it will be feasible to do financially.
Writing a concept album can be a difficult task. How much do you make sure each song relates to the larger theme, and how much do you allow other more personal songs to enter the record?
We decided early on to make it a thematic concept, rather than a type of rock opera. As we came up with the idea for making a trilogy about astronauts lost in space, and using that metaphor for a person’s life, it became easier to write those songs, just because they are really about our own lives. We actually chose the metaphor haphazardly, but found out that it was amazing how easily it applied to us. The song “Daylight” may seem like it is about astronauts trapped in the dark and then suddenly seeing daylight for the first time in years, but it speaks volumes about where I was at that point, and where I think most people will have to go in their Christian lives. So, basically, we try and write the best and most honest songs as we are able to, then we arrange them on the albums so that they at least fit the story emotionally. Some of them are written more about the actual story line than others, so we try to fill in the gaps in the plot with soundbytes, or with spoken word, or, like on this latest album, the fake interviews. That way it comes together as a whole, but each song can usually stand on its own without the story.
One song that stood out for me on the new album was “Blessed Are the Landmines.” I love the message behind this song, but I was surprised to hear the sound clip from Pat Robertson. What made you decide to insert that? Are you worried about any backlash?
Part of the decision to put this album out ourselves was that we didn’t want to have to deal with a record company telling us what we could and could not put on the record. I guarantee you that any record label I have ever been on would have made us cut that song, so I am glad we made the decision to release it ourselves, if just for that. I have nothing against Mr. Robertson personally, (in fact I grew up watching the 700 Club and I know that they are responsible for so much good in the world), but I felt that when he said that we should “assassinate” Hugo Chavez, it sounded like he had become the mouthpiece for what much of the American Church actually is feeling today. I was always taught that our interpretation of Scripture should be done through examining the character of Jesus Christ and His actions. From most of what makes it to the media, the church is moving farther and farther away from acting anything like Jesus. We picket the funerals of servicemen with signs reading “God hates fags.” We are obsessed with stopping homosexuals from getting married while the divorce rate within the Church is higher than outside of it. We are overwhelmed with preaching prosperity and new ways to obtain wealth. We have stapled the name of Jesus Christ to our politicians, our political movements, and our wars, and we have told every scared girl and woman who accidentally gets pregnant that she must live with the consequences, while we shun her, and that we hate all who have made the choice to have an abortion. There is not a very public face of Christianity telling the world that Jesus Christ is not like that. He loved the poor; He was homeless and died in poverty; He was murdered by the religious people; His closest friends were thieves, extortionists, and prostitutes who knew they were wrong and knew that they needed Him. The only time He ever even really lost His temper was to overthrow the money-changers in the temple who were corrupted by their position of power, and using it to manipulate and oppress the less fortunate. If this song is offensive, it’s because the Beatitudes are offensive. No church, or Christian, should ever think that war can bring peace.
Violence only begets more violence. Either we are to live our lives trying to emulate the character of Christ, seeing violence as a last resort, and ONLY to save the weak from the strong, or the beatitudes are wrong. It has nothing to do with politics. If you have chosen to follow Christ, then you should be known for making peace, not for siding with one political party over another, and certainly not for warmongering. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” I don’t think that aligning the Church with any political party has ever panned out well, since Constantine made Christianity the official religion of Rome in 312 AD. So, to answer your question: no, I am not worried about any backlash.
The other song that jumps out right away is “Fortress of Solitude.” Have things really been that bad with old Five Iron fans? How do you deal with still being so idolized? Is it creepy that when I was thirteen I named my cat Reese? (I was almost too embarrassed to include that last part.)
That is a weird name for a cat, for sure. Really, that song isn’t so much about me being idolized as it is about how the expectation for me to be better than I actually am, was kind of making me crazy. As I said before, I tend to have a really obsessive personality. For instance: I can’t start a new video game until I have completed the old one. I can’t let anyone else help me, and I have been known to play the same game for days without sleeping. It’s not that I am obsessed with video games, more that I have this obsessive personality. So with music, it manifests itself in the fact that it is very hard for me to finish something, because I can’t ever seem to get songs the way I picture them in my head. It is hard for me to ask for help, and very hard when somebody who is helping me makes the music worse. As a joke, I started calling my studio in our basement, “The Fortress of Solitude” to my wife. One day I realized that I was spending almost every spare moment down there obsessing over this album. The Superman imagery in the song kind of came from that realization that I was trying to be something that I was not. I was growing angry at all of the fans for expecting me to be something I never was, but I felt like I had to be. So that is basically what that song is about, not so much about the fans, but about me- driving myself crazy.
What message might you have for such fans that are still living in the glory days of FIF and haven’t realized the band broke up? Is there really, as they believe, hope for a reunion to play the major festivals or whatever?
I guess there is someday. Right now, I would say that I never want it to happen, but I think I warm up to the idea a little bit more each day. I would do it for the rest of the guys, but personally, I just don’t miss that part of my life. What I do miss, are my friends from the band, so I would rather just have a giant barbeque, or vacation with them and all of their families. Being in Five Iron was crazy enough before we were married and everyone had kids. I can’t imagine just trying to play one show with that many extra people to manage. Give it about 5 more years or so. Maybe we can talk about it then.
Your guitarist, Dennis Culp, sang on more tracks than usual this time around. Did things just work out that way, or is this a calculated new direction for BS2?
No, not a new direction. I think in the past, Dennis was writing most of the songs for Five Iron, so Brave Saint went on the back burner for him. Now, this is all we have, musically, so we both wrote a ton of songs for it. I had four songs cut, Andy had three, and Dennis only lost one. It just turned out that his four were better for the album than the others that were cut. Also, he is a baritone usually, who can go into the tenor range, while I sing like a girl. So he quit trying to get me to sing melodies he had written after “Dandelions.” His voice just sounds better on his songs.
What’s one of the most important things you’ve learned over the past fifteen years since the inception of Five Iron Frenzy?
I think the most important thing I could tell you is that whatever you are doing in life, you need to sit down and figure out a plan. Then give that over to the Lord with the knowledge that He is good, and wants the best for you, so it may not happen, but the Lord is good. We never thought ahead in Five Iron because we were always just so amazed that we were able to be doing the things that we did as they happened. Now I wish that I had a time machine to go back and tell myself to plan for the future. We never did, and so we ended up fighting for stupid things that don’t matter anymore, while letting some really important things just pass us by. Plan ahead. Pick your battles.
Lastly, I have a question about Space Robot Five. Is he alive?
He is. And he has greatly enjoyed answering your questions.
Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for those of us at Indie Vision Music. Anything else you want to say in conclusion?
How about a quote… “All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom; justice; honor; duty; mercy; hope.” -Sir Winston Churchill