'Christian rockers' no Oxymoron

Jan 27, 2003 11:50 AM EST

The first people to gripe that rock 'n' roll is the devil's music would turn in their graves if they could hear what's currently playing on Christian radio.

I've stated before in this space that faith-based music sounds better than ever. And just as progressive worship has been the genre du jour the past few years, there's another trend in Christian music now on the cusp that also implements a back-to-basics approach: good ol' fashioned guitar rock.

One of the most promising new groups of guitar slingers is Sanctus Real, which released its first major-label record, "Say it Loud," a few weeks ago.

For Sanctus Real, the story of going from an indie garage band to signed professionals tells like a fairy tale.

The group - made up of vocalist/guitarist Matt Hammit, 23; lead guitarist Chris Rohman, 22; bassist Steve Goodrum, 23; and drummer Mark Graalman, 24 - have been together six years, finding success in their hometown of Toledo, Ohio.

Their break came in 2000 when they entered a best-band contest sponsored by a local radio station and promptly beat out every other group to become the No. 1 fan favorite.

"It was totally last-minute," Graalman recalls. "It was just do it to do it. I don't know if we totally knew what the contest was about.

"The contest was literally over like that day. We turned in a tape to the station and ended up taking first place out of 75 bands."

He says even the group members themselves were surprised at the response they got not only from fans but other artists.

"I think it was one of those things where we didn't realize that we were halfway decent," Graalman says. "Other bands were like, 'You guys aren't bad; you can actually do this.' "

Not surprisingly, after winning the contest, labels noticed too.

"The phone was ringing off the hook," Graalman says.

After much prayer and discussion, the group signed with Sparrow (also home to the Elms, another great up-and-coming guitar act), and hooked up with Pete Stewart to produce "Say it Loud."

Graalman says the group feels blessed to have worked with Stewart, known for his guitar work with the Tait band and as former frontman for rockers Grammatrain.

"It was amazing," he says of working with Stewart. "Pete is just one of those guys who is a legitimate rock 'n' roll kid. He grew up in Seattle and was there for Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.

"Ten years ago, people involved in Christian music didn't really know what rock 'n' roll was. It's cool to have people involved now like Pete who know what legitimate rock 'n' roll is. Pete just knew how to get the sounds (we wanted). He's very inspirational, as well. He'd be the guy who would say, 'That sounded good, but I think you have something better in you.' We're young musicians; it was really encouraging."

Their labor yielded an album whose 12 songs make up a stellar rock 'n' roll soundtrack, from the screaming opener, "Sink or Swim," to the tender closer, "After Today."

The group just finished a successful stint on the traveling Festival Con Dios and is preparing to join the O.C. Supertones, Relient K, Pillar and others on the nationwide See Spot Rock tour, which will make a stop at UC Irvine's Bren Events Center on May 4. (The group will also be in Riverside on Tuesday. See below for information.)

Yes, things have changed much in the past decade for Christian music, and Sanctus Real knows there couldn't be a better time to be coming into the scene.

"I'm excited to be a part of the industry now," Graalman says. "Christian music is growing more and more every day. In a time when economically the (mainstream music) industry is not going so well, the Christian (music) industry is going forward. I think the world is starting to take notice.

"We're definitely excited to be here."

Here's what to look for in the coming month:

Album releases:

Veteran singer-songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman releases "All About Love" (Sparrow) on Tuesday. Also that day: "Let Your Glory Fall" (Sparrow) by Phillips, Craig & Dean, Furthermore's "She and I" and Dogwood's "Seismic." (both from Tooth & Nail).

Jars of Clay returns Feb. 4 with the double-disc "Furthermore: From the Studio to the Stage." Also Feb. 4.: Caedmon's Call releases "Back Home" (both from Essential).

The always-satisfying Audio Adrenaline will release "Worldwide" (ForeFront) on Feb. 25. Also that day: Sandi Patty's "Take Hold of Christ" (Warner Bros. Christian) and Switchfoot with "The Beautiful Letdown" (Columbia).


Sanctus Real and Bleach will be at Grove Community Church in Riverside at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Tickets: $8. Information: (909) 544-9654

Slickshoes will be at Chain Reaction in Anaheim at 7:30 Feb. 8. Tickets: $12. Information: Ticketmaster, (714) 740-2000.

Chevelle will play House of Blues Anaheim at 8 p.m. Feb. 18. Tickets: $14. Information: (714) 778-2583.

By Matt Degen