Yesterday, I posted Part One of an interview I did over e-mail with the Chicago band Overhang, so welcome back for Part Two today!
The Blah Blah: Which one of your songs is your favorite? Why?
Joel: Currently my favourite is “Escape” but I am also excited about the new material we are working on, some of which we are playing live.
Jeff: At our live shows we do a one-two combo of “Disaster” followed immediately by “Four Winds,” both of which are very strenuous on me as the drummer, but have an energy that’s unrivaled in our other material from Another Hole For You to Crawl Into.
Nate: My favorite songs are ones we haven’t released yet. But I love the funk in the pre-verses on “Scream and Shout” and the grandiose chorus on “Disaster”.
Grant: “Buried in the Earth”. I love the mood in it. Also “Before I Go” because the melody reminds me of the classic songbook songs that people like the Beatles and Brian Wilson were influenced by.
TBB: What is the song “Before I Go” about?
Grant: It was written when I was living in Nashville and my wife and I were in our first year of marriage in this two bedroom apartment with 5 other friends. We had one room and the rest of them had the other. It was a bit stressful at times and I felt torn between loyalties. So I was up early one morning while everyone else was sleeping and I was fantasizing about getting into my car and driving away. I picked up the guitar and started writing a make-believe good-bye letter. There are a lot of conflicting feelings wrapped up in that song. I think I was also thinking about not fitting into the music community in Nashville. It was frustrating to hear music that’s supposed to reflect Christianity coming out of that place and not being able to relate to it even though you share a lot of the same beliefs.
TBB: What about the song “Escape?”
Grant: The first intro, “There ain’t no grave gonna hold my body down,” is from an old spiritual I found on the Goodbye, Babylon box set. It seemed to fit the sense of emerging, of coming out of a deep sleep or the Red Sea or whatever people come out of. The germ of the song goes back to a book that I read when I was in high school called To Prod the Slumbering Giant. The book of essays opened with a poem that likened the institutional church to a prostitute. So I kind of took on the character of that poem and imagined what the prostitute would say when she woke up from all those years of sleeping.
TBB: And what is “Buried in the Earth” about?
Grant: One of my favorite albums is Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads. It’s a bunch of songs written from the perspective of murderers and those who have been murdered. If you can make it through the whole thing, you begin to realize that what you’re listening to are a bunch of love songs. Cave cloaks himself in the words and innermost thoughts of the worst people and explores the vilest parts of human nature. But by the end of the album you realize that he is also honoring the dead by lending his voice to the voiceless.
Another Hole for You to Crawl Into shares some Nick Cave sensibilities. “Buried in the Earth” had this deep longing to it and after several months of listening carefully I started to feel like the song might be expressing the longing of the dead to be heard. So I started the lyric as a kind of “This one goes out to” rock cliche. You know, “I’d like to dedicate this next song to all the dead people that couldn’t make it to the show tonight! (wild cheers and applause) Yeah, all the ones you don’t remember. (sporadic cheers of “Dead people rock!” etc.)” It’s kind of a creepy song.
TBB: I assume you’d consider yourselves to be Christians. Can you describe the process God used to bring you to Himself?
Jeff: God has used many different avenues of reaching me. He’s quite creative – imagine that. When I was younger it was my older sister always watching out for me and telling me all the things I “learned” at church but never took to heart. Later on it was drumming. I found there was a period of a few years in my life where I just couldn’t worship God in church. I always felt a distance and resistance to wanting to truly worship Him until I began playing the drums one day at home and could feel in my heart that I’ve been worshipping all along but in a different way than most churches at the time would allow. I was forced to stifle the spiritual vigor that drumming gave me because so many people scowled and frowned upon these “devil’s drums.” That’s when I knew I had to be in a rock band, come hell or high volumed drumming. My excuse now to people that don’t understand is “God made me do it.”
Joel: God has a way of humbling me in order to bring me closer to him. I am constantly aware of my own inability to carry out his will. Jesus is a healing presence that I need continually. It hurts to admit that but that’s where I’m at.
Nate: I feel God continually bringing me back over and over again, through music, film, books, food, and conversation. In all these things I am constantly reminded of the struggle and beauty of life and am thankful to be a part of it all.
Grant: I think our music reflects the ongoing relationship, the ups and downs of our being with God and with each other. I can’t relate to Christians whose music only expresses the high moments. In any relationship worth having, there are always low moments as well. The people who had the closest relationships with God in Scripture often argued with Him. Abraham, David, Elijah, Jesus – they all challenged God and wondered about God’s way at times. They really suffered on account of their closeness. It wasn’t all health and wealth for them. I’ve found from personal experience that I get in the way of the closeness my Creator desires. Unfortunately, in order to have that whispering kind of relationship with God, you have to give up a lot – your pride, sense of control etc. It’s hard to give that stuff up, but fortunately making music often forces you to do so.
TBB: What’s your goal with Overhang? What would you guys like to accomplish with your music?
Jeff: I would like to see what a sold-out 70,000 seat arena looks like from the perspective of sitting on my drum stool at center stage. Is that too ambitious? There are larger arenas than that, right?
Nate: Overall, as musicians we want to make the best music possible, and as artists we want to reach as many people as possible. Our hope is to see things change, the music industry specifically.
Joel: Music can be a healing presence. Sometimes we may need something as physical as “Disaster” and sometimes we might need something more serene like the intro to “So Long.” I hope Overhang can continue to move into larger venues as the palate gets larger and the Spirit gets stronger.
TBB: Which Chicago-area artists should Blah Blah readers check out?
Joel: Bill Tucker and friends. [Check out their MySpace.] Also our soon to be good friends Common, Kanye West, and Wilco.
TBB: What artists are you currently listening to?
Jeff: A lot of Latin music and island rhythms. Basically anything Grant, Joel, and Nate give me.
Grant: I’m listening to lots of Bob Dylan again lately. And Latin music. NIN’s With Teeth and Year Zero. Rev. Gary Davis, Muddy Waters, Hank Williams. I’ve been on a big contemporary music kick lately too, especially Steve Reich, John Adams, John Cage, George Crumb, Olivier Messiaen…
TBB: What books are you reading?
Grant: I’m in and out of a couple of books all at the same time right now: The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross, Robert Alter’s new translation and commentary on The Book of Psalms as well as Augustine’s Psalms sermons and The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution by David Kusek and Gerd Leonhard.
Jeff: I usually read about 10-15 books a day. You know, like Curious George Goes to the Zoo, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, The Giving Tree, and Horton Hears a Who. [I can relate to that…]
Nate: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and Hola Amigos, a Spanish textbook.
Joel: The Catholic NAB translation of the bible. Rolling Stone and the odd Redbook and Sports Illustrated that I’ve been recieving free of charge from some unknown source.
TBB: What’s your favorite movie?
Joel: Currently No Country For Old Men.
Grant: Anything by Andrei Tarkovsky… anything by David Lynch and the Coen brothers, especially The Big Lebowski.
Jeff: The Princess Bride has got to be in my top 5. It still stands the test of time. Also Alien, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, oh yeah, can’t forget The Land Before Time and The Fox and the Hound.
TBB: What do you think of the MP3 downloading revolution? Bad for artists or good?
Grant: The way I listen to music has changed in the last few years, thanks to iTunes. I haven’t really gotten involved in what’s called “illegal” downloading, more because I’m too lazy to figure out how to do it than any moral reasons. But being able to hear just about anything you want before buying it is great! I’m able to be more experimental that way. There are some things that bother me about iTunes still, but using iTunes is better than having to take a chance on cds in a mega-store that usually doesn’t have what you’re looking for anyway.
We’re not happy about the degradation of sound quality that’s happening in the name of portability. When producers are making mixing decisions based on the requirements of mp3s and cell phones, that of course does not bode well for the future of music. But we’re hoping it’s only a temporary thing that will be a non-issue once the technology gets better. Over-all, I think greater access to music is great!
I don’t think the major labels are ready to give up their power and go to a subscription service model, but that’s the only thing that makes sense to me as things look right now. I would like to see people using internet technology more and more to build communities of people defined not just by the music they listen to but by the causes they support, their church communities, their favorite films, books, etc. Unfortunately, the recording music industry has built up an unsustainable structure for how people participate in music. Music has become merely an entertainment product, a piece of hardware, a fashion statement. Free downloading has revealed the disconnect inherent in an industry that perceives music as a “product” rather than a process.
Part of me finds great pleasure in seeing music slip through the major labels’ fingers as a marketable product. Though I think there may always be a place for majors in some form or another, the internet is a subversive character that reminds us music belongs to all the people, not just Sony or ClearChannel. Album sales is not the end of the process. Communication is what it’s about. People in the music business would be much better off if they understood that they are in a service industry, not a manufacturing industry. I’m not a business person, so my analysis can only go so far. I only know what music means to me and why I’ve been willing to pay for it all these years. My experience as a music listener, performer and costumer is only part of the over-all equation, of course.
TBB: I’ve been trying to figure out what to make of this whole “Christian music” thing. See my posts here for more on that. Anyway, what does the term “Christian music” mean to you? Like it, hate it, or don’t even think about it?
Grant: I think about this issue quite a bit. I wrote an article for www.cultureisnotoptional.com a while back called “Music in the Name of Christ” to try to sort through my thoughts. To sum up, I think there’s a place for calling something “Christian” but we shouldn’t be too exclusive or definitive about it. Words and labels do their job, but it’s not the whole truth. Unfortunately, much of what is called “Christian” music is such a reduction of Christ’s lordship that it’s almost slanderous to use the Lord’s name in such a way. But if someone asked me if I’m trying to do Christian music, I would have to answer yes only because I refuse to let the music industry’s genre of CCM have the last word on which music belongs to Jesus Christ. Does our music fit in CCM? No, probably not. Our goals are quite different. But that doesn’t mean OVERHANG could not be considered a Christian band.
TBB: Any final thoughts?
Jeff: This is your brain–> (!) This is your brain on drugs–> (?)
And that brings us to the end of the interview. Be sure to check out Overhang if you haven’t already, and come back tomorrow for a special pre-release glimpse of a new single by Eugene Francis JNR.