In my most recent article, part one of “Being a Band,” I shared that I would be taking a bit of a different path in 2014 with my “In the Silence of the Mind” column here on IVM. As a part of that, I sent out ten sets of questions to several bands to get some insider perspectives on what I was thinking of writing about. Initially, I had no intention of releasing these interview questions/responses to the public, but would simply distill from them and allow them to shape my upcoming articles.
However, as I have read through the interviews, I felt a “both/and” approach was more meaningful. Not only do these answers help me flesh out some thoughts that I will be putting into “In the Silence of the Mind” this year, but there are some revealing answers that fans of the individual bands (and the subjects themselves) would probably like to see in their original context. The next question then became whether I would release each individual interview from each band, or find some way to distill them. So, I decided to compile them.
What follows may look as if it were some sort of marathon super-interview, but it is actually the same questions being answered in different settings (well, still all through e-mail, but you get the gist) by a few of IVM’s favorite sons. When brought together, I felt this would give a wide variety of in-the-midst opinions on some of the key topics that readers can expect to see explored this year in the “In the Silence of the Mind” column. So, whereas this is a giant information download, you can come back to the column throughout the year (however long it takes to move through these ideas/thoughts/shared visions) and get my take on these topics interspersed with “opinions from the experts.”
In each case, I want to thank the bands for taking the time to answer these questions knowing up-front that they may only be used as a source. I hope that you, the reader, will be sure to check each band out and support them for their generosity. In terms of the order they appear in each list, I simply went in order of who responded first out of fairness. Astute readers will notice that the mighty Seth Hecox of Becoming the Archetype, who provided some wonderful commentary on the first post in the series, is not featured here. Worry not, true believers (is that just Stan Lee’s thing, or has it entered the realm of public domain yet?), Seth will be making another appearance in the column very soon. Enjoy these answers, and be sure to check back every other week or so for more wandering through the silence in my own mind… as well as those of some these awesome guys.
How did you come about landing on your band name? What does that process look like? Did you heavily consider how your band name would create an identity/branding in the long term? If you could pick a different name at this point in your careers (humorous or serious) what would it be?
Justin Olmstead (Righteous Vendetta): We always had a brand in mind while coming up with a name. It came down to having a name that would stand out in a list with multiple other band names and be easy to find in an internet search. There are certain bands that no matter how big they get, there will always be a movie, color, city, etc. that must be sorted through before finding information on the band.
If we were to change our name, we would probably change it to Nickleback, for Nickelback’s millions of fans who will hear our music because they don’t know how to spell nickel.
Dane Harrison (Eyes of Eli): We got the idea for Eyes of Eli from the movie The Book of Eli. We wanted our name to be based on our faith and to also be something catchy that people would remember. In the movie we felt that the main character was blind and was walking by faith and not by sight and on a mission to change the world by preserving God’s Word. So, this name to us represents keeping strong in faith in God and knowing that we all have flaws, but that our sins, shortcomings, and mistakes were all paid for by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even though we are flawed, broken human beings, God can still use us to help others and to serve others by showing the love of Christ and truly make a difference in this world. Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.”
Logan Freeman (Dorean Lives): The name for Dorean Lives came about as me trying to establish a sense of the meaning of eternal hopefulness that I felt needed to be the basis for the band as a whole. I know of a lot of bands that try to find a “name” for themselves through association of random words or phrases whilst having some sort of “cool” factor, ignoring the fact that the creation of music is as personal of an act as we could ever be a part of.
The fact is, this sense of randomization in the name creation treats fans with a disservice of negating meaning within the context of the group, leaving little more for the audience to draw from it. With deciding on having a personal message behind our name (Dorean Lives deriving from the writing name of a girlfriend of mine that passed away (Lady Dorean) and the desire to let the music of faith act as an eternal testament of eternal life post sudden loss of the physical one), it’s a means to connect with fans of similar experiences while setting the hopeful tone for the band as a whole, even if our lyrics gravitate towards the darker/real subtext.
Justin Olmstead (Righteous Vendetta): We initially decided on our sound because it was what we enjoyed at the time. We were all exploring a new more complicated style of music, and it was popular for our peers at the time. Over the years of full time touring and greatly improving on all aspects of our playing and songwriting, we have matured as musicians. We went from focusing on throwing parts together and trying to show off to wanting to write good songs that have a mass appeal while not losing any of our musical integrity. With that becomes even greater challenges and more opportunities that will force us to continue bettering ourselves and never settling in with a particular sound or routine.
Dane Harrison (Eyes of Eli): We have all been fans of heavier music for a long time and all grew up together having many of the same influences over the years. We wanted to play music that we love and that we feel good about while not try to limit ourselves at all into any specific genre.
We all love metal and hardcore music, but also have been influenced by many different styles of rock as well. Some bands that have influenced our sound include but not limited to: P.O.D, Project 86, Pillar, Blindside, Nonpoint, Sevendust, Norma Jean, Bless the Fall, Deftones, Korn, Rage Against the Machine, Metallica, August Burns Red, Demon Hunter, Destroy the Runner, Inhale Exhale, Skillet, Dead Poetic, The Devil Wears Prada, Incubus, and many more. All of these bands have helped influence our music to some degree but our goal is to be able to create our own unique sound that is known as Eyes of Eli immediately when you hear it.
What pointers would you give new/upcoming bands about finding their sound, identity, or branding in today’s music market?
Justin Olmstead (Righteous Vendetta): Finding your sound and identity is just a matter of trial and error. Some find it fast, some find it over time. The biggest tip I can give for every single band is to be patient and make sure everything you do has progression and intention in mind. You need to establish your goals from the beginning, whether you want to make a career out of it or your goal is just to play regionally.
It all plays a role in what approach you take to marketing yourself. Find the music you enjoy listening to and enjoy writing, and find the happy balance of your influences. When you play music you personally enjoy, there is is a greater chance of never having a lack of inspiration.
Another huge element to marketing is being personal. Every band tries to find easy ways to gain fans in mass quantities, but when it comes down to it your true fans are going to be who you take the time to be personal with. If you start investing early with personally asking everybody you can to check out your band and consider supporting you, they add up fast and you have a much stronger foundation of fans rather than big Facebook numbers of people who never have any intention of interacting with you or following your music.
Dane Harrison (Eyes of Eli): Just be yourself and play music that you love to play. Make sure that you have the right members in place and that each of your members is very passionate about playing music. Work hard and dedicate yourself to the band and make sure everyone is having fun. Don’t try to be like anyone else. Try to create your own sound.
Logan Freeman (Dorean Lives): Write. Write. Write. Write and turn every song into a hit. Write every song like it should be the best song you’ve ever written. Naturally, your lyrical/musical compositional chops will strengthen and your overall songs will reflect the work you put in it. The more you write, the more chances you’ll stumble upon the core of what makes you a musician in the first place. You’ll get the confidence in your own songs, removing the doubt of not knowing who you are as a group. Once that worry is removed, you would have removed the one thing keeping you from finding the true sound of you, your song and your group.
What has changed about the music industry in the last 10 (or so) years and how has that shaped how you “do music as a business?”
Justin Olmstead (Righteous Vendetta): It is most definitely the incorporation of the internet. It is o easy to get your music out there for people to hear, which has its benefits but also results in everyone from the hardest touring musicians to the laziest egotistical dreamers trying to market their music the same way. Because of this, the bands that are working their butts off really trying to get out there and make a career out of it are having to get extremely creative and work that much harder to have people take them seriously. Bans putting the necessary investments into their band and spending their time truly earning their stripes need to rely on more personal ways of getting fans.
Dane Harrison (Eyes of Eli): I’ll just say that it is completely different and that it has changed the whole landscape of the music industry.
Logan Freeman (Dorean Lives): You ultimately don’t need a label, just a lot of cash (which a lot of the best labels have) at hand. You can hire radio promoters, media promoters, any promoter you might need for promotion…and they’re all readily accessible for every band on the planet. Ultimately you still need a good product and a good live show, but bands can act as their own aggregators of sorts and distribute music to the online media websites, magazines, online/analog radio stations with the right amount of gall to raise and work for money to pay the team.
What are your thoughts on re-branding a band? For example, what has to happen for a band to honestly need to change their name/rebrand (prominent member leaving/change in sound/etc.)?
Justin Olmstead (Righteous Vendetta): Coming fresh off a recent change, I can definitely say that it is extremely beneficial in certain situations. Bands evolve musically as they grow up and their tastes change. Often, bands are tentative to switch things up because of the potential risk of disappointing fans, but this is when bands start to become stale and write music strictly to keep their current fans happy, even if that means writing mediocre music. Without inspiration, music loses its impact. If a member leaves or the band is ready to move on musically, do what you need to do to keep your inspiration. The style may change and people might be disappointed, but in the long run it will be more beneficial to make sure your music is inspired.
Dane Harrison (Eyes of Eli): If there has been significant member change and you feel you want to go in a different direction and have a fresh start it would be a good idea to change names and rebrand.
Logan Freeman (Dorean Lives): Break up. Write a great record. Be awesome.
Sam Coates (Declaration AD): I would like to think that no member of a band is “irreplaceable”, but that’s probably naive of me. If a band abandoned its message, then I’d hope that the members would be honest enough to re-brand and call it what it is (a different band). If they completely and suddenly changed their style dramatically (more than just sounding a bit “more metal” or adding clean singing or something), then maybe that would also be good grounds to change names?
Brady Leonard (Southbound Fearing): I’d imagine that if a band has truly hit a wall in their career then they may have to rebrand or change their name but for us we’ve always slowly been changing and improving, there has never been a night and day change.
What harsh realities do new/emerging bands need to prepare to face?
Justin Olmstead (Righteous Vendetta): New bands need to know that to make it anywhere they are going to need to be ready to do some hard touring. Not just a couple tours a year, or just a tour when they have enough money or when it is convenient for you. If you really want to make a career out of it, you need to be on the road constantly dumping your own personal money into it and expecting nothing in return. The more sacrifices you make, the more your band can benefit from it in the long run. If your band is burned out touring after 3 or 4 tours, there is something wrong.
Dane Harrison (Eyes of Eli): It’s tough to make money in the music industry, and it’s a lot of hard work, time and dedication involved. It has to be a passion of yours and you have to really enjoy playing and entertaining people.
Logan Freeman (Dorean Lives): It’s a very rare instance where you can make money on the road. The public perception fails to acknowledge the high cost of gear maintenance, travel and food, which leaves little to pay for personal expenses. The fact is, you can make more money through your own online store while supporting your connective presence with your fan base with strategically spaced out, well promoted shows. It can’t be discounted that touring does drastically increase your brand awareness if planned/promoted correctly. Otherwise, touring for the sake of touring is destructive. The stress that comes with touring, compounded by the lack of upward momentum in your band’s stance within the musical climate is a sure recipe for a break up.
What are your thoughts on distinctly “Christian” or “faith based” music becoming a part of a larger business model?
Justin Olmstead (Righteous Vendetta): It is one of those things that is disappointing, but also is something that needs to be accepted. The music industry has turned into a very complex business and it takes money to survive in it. Christian musicians are trying to make a living doing what they love just like everybody else is and, unfortunately sometimes that means playing the game. It’s important to set your boundaries through and stay as grounded as you can in it, and not let the industry change your vision.
Dane Harrison (Eyes of Eli): I love it.
Logan Freeman (Dorean Lives): You shouldn’t brand or label a faith. A faith is a personal journey. Here’s an experiment, take the worst person you’ve ever met in the the world, but a semi-talented musician and convince them to be a Christian artist for the sake of a business model, because Christians love Christian artists. Get him to release a PR campaign listing a conversion and total sway from secular music. Have him put out an album that sounds like U2 or Of Monsters and Men, throw in Jesus a couple times in the lyrics, hire a promoter, throw a few interviews and you find you’ve got a hit on your hands.
This person is still terrible at their core, but the fans don’t know that part of the artist, they only know that the label in place of “Christian” and what he says he is/isn’t doing and they buy the music because of the Christian brand. The placement of this artist’s heart and ultimate actions remain a mystery to fans, but he’s playing the part and the world knows no better. The term “Christian” in “Christian Music” is deceptive because it acts for sake of labels, remaining a hollow vessel which anyone who is a good actor can fill.
Why do you feel so many faith-based artists don’t listen to “Christian” music?
Justin Olmstead (Righteous Vendetta): “Christian” music tends to have a distinct sound. A lot of musicians marketing their music as Christian typically rely on the lower musical standards in the scene due to the fact that a lot of fans will listen to anything that is “Christian.” Most musicians stick to listening to secular music because it is more likely to be honest music that is not just expecting to play to the Christian market. Obviously, this is not speaking of all Christian artists, but it is typically what I have seen.
Dane Harrison (Eyes of Eli): Everyone has their own individual preferences on what they like to listen to and it could be various different reasons for this.
Logan Freeman (Dorean Lives): Most Christian music is kitsch, a distillation of many other artists who refrained from being bound by characteristic restraints of their genre. They, instead of readily placing themselves within a market that demands certain content, chose to pursue something un-inhibited. There is a time in place for “Lord I Lift Your Name On High” or “God of Wonders” or anything else of the similar, but you’ll find hundreds of other songs with the same exact chord progressions, syllables, phrases, accenting guitar fill, etc. in every church or Christian radio station in the world. It seems that a lot of faith-based artists restrain themselves lyrically/musically because they feel that’s what’s expected of the genre, not because that’s what the song calls for.
Simply put, a lot of Christian music is trite, unchallenging and boring, many times just an imitation to drive listeners through familiar structure. Cool, that’s a Christian Pearl Jam. Awesome. That’s a Christian Postal Service. Wowsers. A Christian Skrillex. The real artist is ,9 times out of 10, better than the alternative.
Sam Coates (Declaration AD): I don’t really know. Do they not listen to Christian music?
It could be because they’re not inspired or touched by what they’re hearing. Maybe some secular bands just make better music? Or maybe it’s more honest music in some cases because the artists don’t feel the need to portray the image of being a person who has it all together (ticking off their Christian check-list and the like)? I like a bunch of bands that proclaim Jesus, and a bunch that don’t. For me, liking a band is a mix of hearing a sound that I like, and respecting the lyricism and thoughts being portrayed, even if I don’t agree with their conclusions.
Brady Leonard (Southbound Fearing): A lot of Christian music is terrible… (laughs) Don’t get me wrong there are some good Christian artists out there but there are alot of bad ones.
If there were one part of the industry you could change, what would it be?
Justin Olmstead (Righteous Vendetta): It would definitely be eliminating the segregation of record labels. The industry has become so cutthroat that most labels will only let their bands take out other bands from the label on tours. Certain labels have more connections with certain venues, managers, studios, etc. and it has just resulted in a big race for who can have the next one-up on the competing labels. It makes it very difficult for bands to do anything independently anymore.
Logan Freeman (Dorean Lives): The “Christian” label as a selling point is equivalent of a star-bellied sneetch (Dr. Seuss reference anyone? Bueller? Bueller?), wanted simply because of its label and not considering the true content/motives that are unable to actually be measured.
Sam Coates (Declaration AD): Seeing a particular sound becoming popular, and then a million bands being pushed because of it is often really painful. “Quick, we need an answer to Mumford & Sons!” It must be horrible for some bands to have put in years of work, get exposure because their sound becomes popular, then be forgotten soon after by fans and label because the market is pushing something else.
Brady Leonard (Southbound Fearing): This is an easy one… most bands/labels etc are in search of the next niche, the next gimmick that will turn a quick buck. I can’t wait until the industry shifts back to REAL music, real heart, real lyrics. I just want to turn on the radio and hear someone being real.
Have any of these questions sparked a thought-train that I did not directly ask? If so, feel free to give me that thought:
Justin Olmstead (Righteous Vendetta): In the end, the future of your band is going to revolve around relationships. If you spend your time throwing your ego around and disrespecting venue owners, promoters, and fans, you will end up shooting yourselves in the foot. Word spreads fast and people are much less likely to want to spend time working with you if you have less than respectable reputation.
Sam Coates (Declaration AD): One of the weird things I’ve noticed is how much people seem to be getting their theology from the bands they’re listening to. I don’t know if that’s a good thing a lot of the time. There are so many different faith traditions within the Christian community, so it’s hard to know what you’re going to get from bands. I’d like for fans to be more diligent in reading the Bible and other theological works, not just relying on bands to shape their view of who God is.