Nov 11, 2002 03:00 AM EST

It's not enough to know that Max Hsu, the band's founder, describes Superchic[k] as "more a movement than a band," that he has recruited musicians at fast-food restaurants, that he considers the band to be "whoever's in the van when it leaves," that he stumbled upon lead singer, Tricia Brock, and her sister, guitarist Melissa Brock, at a Newsboys concert and asked them to audition on the spot.

It's not enough to know that the band's concerts feature random acts of hopping interspersed with a pyro show, toilet-paper blowers, confetti cannons and prizes thrown to the fans.

It's not enough to know that on a recent road trip to South Dakota from Chicago, soundman/driver Bjorn Peterson sneezed with such force that his chewing gum exited one of his nostrils, prompting bassist, Matt Daly, to say: "That is so awesome. I am so glad I got to be a part of it."

It's not enough to know that during Gospel Music Week this year, Daly and drummer, Brian Fitch, conducted their interviews while wearing turquoise running suits, fanny packs, fake moustaches, wigs and headbands, which drew laughter from tobyMac but quizzical looks from some interviewers and bands who thought the guys must have left their hotel room without checking the mirror.

If that's all you knew about the members of Superchic[k], you still would not know who they really are.

All for the Sake of Teenagers

While they may appear irreverent and wacky, their spiritual message resonates. They believe God has brought them together despite disparate backgrounds and ages (Hsu is the oldest at 32, Fitch the youngest at 19). They stand on a very firm platform of teen issues. When they are not weaving that message into a blend of what they call "pop-punk, hip-hop and disco-funk," they are ministering to teens in need of comfort and reassurance.

The band members' hearts are intertwined with those teens who are suffering. And there are so many who suffer.

Consider this letter:

Hi. I'm having some trouble. You see, I'm not one of the popular people, and that's all that matters to some people. Sometimes I cry myself to sleep because people tell me that no one likes me and that everyone wishes I would just leave school and never come back. I know that I need to blow it off, but it's just really hard. I mean, I'm 12, OK? It's not a big deal, and I'll come to bigger challenges in my life. Well, my brother has leukemia and things are really hard, and I just don't need this from people.

That e-mail came from Ali in Illinois in June, after Superchic[k] had recorded songs for its recent release, Last One Picked (Inpop). The band was blown away by her despair, but also by the maturity that helped her understand that she might face more daunting obstacles down the road.

For the band members, it almost seemed as if they had written the song "Real" just for Ali, with lyrics that cut a swath through that despair: "Approval is your sword, popularity your crown/ But I'm not one of your subjects, you can't bring me down/ You say I lose your approval if I'm not more like you/ Well here's a news flash for you, I've got nothing to lose/ Your laughter is hollow because I don't care."

And so the band took the unorthodox move of including that e-mail on the album, with Melissa reading it as a 31-second intro to "Real."

"Ali's letter broke our hearts," Tricia says. "I was thinking, Do people really treat other people that way? We read her e-mail on the album because she's the reason we're doing this. She is this burden we have—kids who are hurting. There are kids who want to kill themselves because they think everyone hates them. They think they're ugly or not talented enough or not smart enough."

No More Britney

The band members are tired of seeing a media-driven society that thrives on shallowness, that envelopes teens in a treacherous web, force-feeding them unrealistic expectations, images of beauty and behavior that tend to make them believe they need to look and act a certain way.

"We watch TV and are subject to an unrealistic view of what life is supposed to be like," Hsu says. "Nobody on TV stays home on a Friday night. They also don't appear to have jobs because they're hanging out in the coffee shop. It's very easy to watch and think, Gosh, I'm not like that. My life's not that exciting. Here I am, sitting at home on a Friday night. I must be a terrible human being. We're trying to tell kids, 'It's cool to be you.'"

According to the band, artists like Britney Spears, cavorting in sexually suggestive outfits while performing sexually suggestive routines, are only making the problem for teenagers and their self-esteem worse.

"She is the epitome of lost innocence," Tricia says emphatically. "I see so many 12-year-olds, and they don't think they can be kids anymore. They're expected to act like they're 20 when they're 12. She [Spears] has taught girls that it's OK to show off your body and try to be sexy. That 'being sexy' is what men want, and it's how you're going to get a good-looking guy to like you and it's how you're going to end up being married and happy.

"That's what the media feeds us. Spears has lowered the standards. So if a 13-year-old boy can watch a woman disrespect herself on TV, how is he ever going to respect women in the real world?" asks Tricia.

Boys of God

One of the catchiest songs on Last One Picked is "One and Lonely": "It's not like they meant to hurt me/ Watching TV, checking Britney, televised, my guys checking out her thighs/ And I roll my eyes and sigh/ It's not like I even need to be competing with unreality TV, fantasy/ Not for a smart girl like me."

The song, like most of Superchic[k]'s, was written by Hsu through the eyes of Tricia and Melissa. They came to him with strong feelings about members of the opposite sex who say they are Christians and say they want a godly woman to marry some day, yet they'll sit and gawk at a Spears video.

"I want to find a guy who proves he wants to seek purity in his life," says Tricia, "that he'll walk away from the TV when she's on it. He may not realize it, but it hurts us girls."

Though Tricia says the lyrics were inspired by friends who have worshiped Spears, lead guitarist Justin Sharbono says, "I think that if that song was written about any person in the band, it would be me. It's difficult because I really like Britney's music."

A lot of people who have seen Superchic[k] perform live have jokingly described the blonde-haired Tricia as the "anti-Britney." Both Tricia and Melissa manage to stay trendy and accessorize their outfits without exposing skin. Melissa is into the "vintage thrift-store" look, frequently going with a logo T-shirt and her father's camouflage cutoffs.

"It's about not making guys lust," Melissa says. "My dad has always told me, 'Guys are very visual.' I don't want to make my brother in Christ stumble. So there's no point in showing him anything he doesn't need to see."

The Call to Minister

Hsu never envisioned this. No one in the band did.

Hsu, who won two Dove Awards with his old band, Church of Rhythm, in 1996, found that in his travels, he was consistently meeting teens—particularly girls—who had issues that weighed on his heart. He decided to start a band fronted by females.

Tricia and Melissa weren't necessarily sold on the idea. "I didn't think I could sing pop music, and I really didn't even want to," says Tricia. "It seemed like the opposite of my personality. It was another test of my faith because I had to believe that if this was where God called me, He'd give me the ability to do what I needed to do. I had to trust Him."

Both girls felt God empowering them to take that leap of faith. Melissa learned how to play guitar. Tricia learned how to head bang. The others in the band felt the same drive.

And though Superchic[k] could feel God's calling, they weren't necessarily expecting big things. "It was sort of a side project we started, and it became the thing that swallowed our careers," Hsu says. "It's our job now."

Getting to the Point

The original name of the band was Superchic11—the screen name of a fan who wrote to Hsu during his time with Church of Rhythm. It changed when he realized people were pronouncing it super-sheek. They regard the band's name as a gender-neutral term, representing a person who is secure and seeks the approval of only God.

And even though the band has seen much success, the members of Superchic[k] do not view themselves as anything but ordinary people doing God's work. In fact, they recorded both of their albums in the basement of a house in the suburbs of Chicago.

"I've always tried to shift the focus away from the band," Hsu says. "I've always wanted Superchic[k] to be more of a Peace Corps type of thing—something kids could get involved with and help to make an impact. Our goal wasn't for kids to follow us around and think we're really great. The whole value system where some people are celebrities and some are not, and some people are cool and some are not—we're against all of that.

"I just wanted as much as possible to not be like, 'Hey, we're a cool rock band,' and be more like, 'Hey, you can start your own band. Or you can paint.' Inside every kid, God's created something very special. They have to figure out what it is. Society basically only gives them two options: supermodel or athlete. Our goal is to focus them on options outside of that. Inside every kid, there could be a Mother Teresa or Billy Graham waiting to be let out."

Hsu points to the parable of talents in Matthew 25:18. The whole idea is that abundant life is realized through developing talents and abilities as God reveals them. Says Hsu, "You don't want to be the guy who said, 'Well, I buried it in a little hole.'"

The members of Superchic[k] realize that kids today need to be empowered to serve others. They desire to see teenagers' perspectives be that of helping people rather than focusing their attention on looks, clothes and sex. "We feel this is a generation of teenagers capable of massive change," says Hsu. "More than anything else I want to see Superchic[k] help kids impact the world around them."

By Pauline J.