Some people want them in the basement being goofy, while others want them in church four days a week. Having done both, RELIENT K continue to follow their own path.
Story: Brian O’Neill
Although it joins the likes of such mischievous precursors as The Anatomy Of The Tongue In Cheek and Two Lefts Don’t Make A Right… But Three Do, the name of Relient K’s new record, Five Score And Seven Years Ago, has much more significance than goofing on Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address or some inside joke between the band members and three of their friends.
“It’s our fifth album,” explains vocalist Matt Thiessen in the lounge area of the band’s tour bus. “We’ve been together for seven years when we started to do [this] record. It kind of celebrates our history.”
However, as Relient K’s members-Thiessen, guitarists Jonathan Schneck and Matt Hoopes, drummer Dave Douglas and bassist John Warne-will willingly admit, not all of the Christian pop-punkers history is worthy of celebration. After all, there were those awkward formative years the group spent banging out tunes in producer Mark Townsend’s Canton, Ohio, basement. It was then that Thiessen penned such kooky pop-culture-referencing songs like “Hello McFly” and “Charles In Charge,” as well as the infamous “My Girlfriend,” the track that accused Marilyn Manson of eating his girlfriend’s soul. There’s something whimsical about the band members cringing at their youthful selves in that song’s video (a clip YouTube won’t let them forget), defeating shock-rockers in a round of Rock, Paper, Scissors for the soul of a possessed 40-foot-tall female.
“Those are songs that we wrote when we were 15 and 16 years old,” explains Thiessen, now 26. “It was a cool way to start out our career, I guess, but it’s kind of embarrassing. We’re 10 years older now. We did it in this dude’s basement and we never thought that anybody would ever do anything with it.”
It’s certainly not uncommon for any band to dismiss some of the public growing pains they experienced early in their careers (nothing against Michael J. Fox or Scott Baio, mind you). What the K-Team have been scrutinized for is their alleged detachment from the contemporary Christian music scene (CCM for short) that launched them. Although the band still play Christian festivals like Cornerstone and Purple Door, and Gotee Records (the indie label founded by dc Talk’s Toby McKeehan) is still involved in marketing the band to that audience, the group specifically avoid church shows. Being upstreamed from the EMI-distributed Gotee to the major-label big leagues of Capitol four years ago has brought the quintet out of Christian bookstores and onto TRL.
“Churches are not built for rock shows,” says Douglas, sighing. “You run into a whole set of issues when you play churches, like, you don’t want to ruin the carpet.”
“We’re not afraid of CCM,” Hoopes says defiantly. “We definitely have a problem with a genre of music that’s totally based on lyrics. Obviously, art doesn’t work that way: If you’re going to be a painter, you’re not going to be a ‘Christian painter.’”
“I feel like kids growing up in youth group like we did are taught to think in a certain way,” says Thiessen, addressing both the band’s relationship to CCM, as well as his own youthful enthusiasm with the same words. “If people don’t believe what you believe, you need to tell them about it, follow up and make sure. But it almost becomes judgmental because kids don’t really know how to maturely encompass that teaching. Over the years, we’re not just touring with people who believe the same things as us. Our friends don’t all share the same beliefs; it’s obviously important to be accepting of that.
“In the same way, our music has transformed,” he continues. “I’m still addressing the faith issues-I love to write about them because that means a lot to me-but I address those issues in a way that’s not shoving things down anyone’s throats because that’s the last thing we want to do. It’s important to us and we’ll sing about it, but we don’t preach onstage. We’re not that kind of band.”
What kind of band are Relient K, anyway? Let’s start with “successful.” Since Capitol picked up the group, their last disc, 2004’s Mmhmm, and two catalog releases (Two Lefts and Anatomy) have been certified gold, with sales in excess of 500,000 copies. This massive leap in popularity set the band up for some big expectations for Five Score And Seven Years Ago, which, like thousands of bands before them, have manifested themselves with the label’s involvement in various stages of the recording process.
“When we used to do records for Gotee, they would let us do whatever we wanted,” says Thiessen, reflecting on last year’s recording process. “They were like, ‘Just let us know when it’s done. We’re sure it will be fine.’ For this record, we had the staff at Capitol coming into the studio [during pre-production], throwing their opinions out there. I even got a call from a guy at the label I never met, and he really wanted to have someone else do a remix of a song. I felt strongly about not having that remix made. In no way was it a bad thing, but it was interesting to be on the phone with someone I never met before and having them talk about changing our music.”
For the rest of the story, pick up AP 226.
Click HERE for the official AP review of Five Score And Seven Years Ago.