By Jon Nicol - 10/07/2004 - 11:05 PM EDT
My first band. I was a sophomore in high school. Our line-up included:
>> the lead guitarist who played a white Les Paul and wore a black top hat over his bushy, dark brown hair (are you picturing Slash from Guns & Roses? Yeah, he was, too)
>> a Malaysian kid who liked techno, wore MC Hammer pants and played a Casio keyboard just slightly bigger than a 12-inch Subway sandwich.
>> a drummer who put enough AquaNet in his Rod Stewart-esque hair to warrant a citation from the fire marshal.
>> and me: a kid who had a really cool electric guitar and knew the blues scale, a few chords, and the intro to White Lion’s “When the Children Cry.” (The chicks dug that one!) I don’t remember specifically what my hair was doing back then, but I’m pretty sure it was in one of the early stages of “mullethood”.
Our first rehearsal lasted about an hour. We practiced a Dokken tune for 10 minutes or so, and then moved on to more pressing matters: “What are we going to call ourselves?”
As I was stuffing my Peavey Bandit amplifier into the hatchback of my Dodge Omni, I had this feeling that our still unnamed band wasn’t going to get too far. My first band...it lasted one day.
Fast-forward about six years: My first REAL band was formed in the Minneapolis area with some Crown College buddies. I was not too far from graduation. This band was made up of Sam—an incredible bass player with Latin roots; Luther—a goofball who talked way too much, but was a great vocalist and could write oodles of hook-laden melodies; Dave—a high school phenom drummer; and me. By this time I had studied some classical and had developed my lead playing. Songwriting was something I did in secret, and I had no confidence to actually sing into a microphone. So being the non-singing guitar player in a band was cool with me.
We’d jam in the drummer’s basement for hours. It was euphoric. Those were some of the most spontaneously creative experiences I’ve ever had. But like all things (and definitely all bands), things changed. Dave had too much homework so we pulled in another drummer. His replacement, Matt, was an awesome drummer, but his style was more heavy rock. We played a few gigs and added a keyboard player. Eventually, Luther left to take a “real” job in Chicago, and we stopped telling the keyboard player when the practices were. We were now a trio in search of a lead singer.
Our moniker at the time was “Broken.” As with all unoriginal band names, there was another band out there that had the same name and was more established. So we began to think of some new names. One name kept coming back up: Passing Thru. I hated it. But I was outvoted. So “Passing Thru” we became. About that time, we were writing new music and looking for a lead singer. Our music was moving toward the hard rock sound. The decade had witnessed the death of heavy metal (at least in the mainstream) and I was all for leaving it dead. I was pushing towards a more progressive and “sophisticated” sound. Eventually, I got the call to move out to Ohio to take a ministry job. I sorely missed playing with the guys, but I could tell I was holding them back from the direction they wanted to go.
Fast-forward another six years. This summer I grabbed my current CCM magazine (July 2004) out of my mailbox began perusing the periodical at the editor’s section. Jay Swartzendruber, managing editor for CCM, had recently been in Minneapolis to judge a music tournament at the faith-based Club 3 Degrees. Here’s what he had to say:
“Enter hard rock band Passing Thru (passingthru.com). In a word, ‘Wow.’ These guys rocked H-A-R-D, created a thick wall of sound, knew the power of melody and had a terrific stage presence. They also had a new fan.”
Passing Thru ended up winning the tournament and were scheduled at several festivals this summer. (Hope you got a chance to see them.) It’s so cool to see them get this success. And it is in no way tied to my early involvement. There’s not a vestige of my influence left in that band (other than a mic stand I think I left behind). What really blows me away about Sam and Matt and the 3 guys that joined them later is this: tenacity.
These guys had a vision for the kind of music they wanted to make. It wasn’t the most popular in the mid-90s when they began to head that direction. But they knew they could do it and they did it well. They’ve been bustin’ their humps playing churches and clubs and any other venue they could for over half a decade to prove this.
So why am I reminiscing on my old band? Because we can learn something from them. Continue to write. Continue to learn the craft. Continue to study popular songs, whether on the radio or on the worship charts or wherever. But don’t become a slave to what’s popular right now. It can be good exercise to try to write in the “style of now,” but in a year (or sometimes even sooner) that sound will be “so last week.” (Sad thing is, I think saying “that’s so last week” is actually “so last week.” D’oh! I can’t keep up…)
Most of what’s really popular in worship music right now was written at least 2 years ago—in most cases longer ago than that. There are cases when a big name writes something and it circulates quickly. But for the most part, the songs we’re enjoying and singing along with (and wishing we’d written) weren’t spun yesterday. They’ve gone through the writing process (anywhere from one day to 10 years), the recording process, and so on.
Write what you know and love. Write in the language of your heart and your audience’s heart. Be aware of current styles and trends, but don’t let them get you off the track you were made to run.
And make sure you check out Passing Thru at www.passingthru.com. Tell them I sent you. They’ll say, “Who’s that?”
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