On first, second, and even third glance Back To The Alley, San Francisco Bay Area rock‘n’roll band The Hyperdrive Kittens superb debut CD, seems like an odd choice to mention in conjunction with evangelical news. Once placed into proper context, the connection becomes obvious.
Yesterday, Billy Smiley, veteran Christian rocker best known for his work in Whiteheart and presently involved with The Union Of Sinners And Saints, wrote an article titled The Musings of an Artist and Producer in Today’s Music Culture, posting it on the band’s Facebook page. Quoting from same:
Two statements that I have read recently gave even more clarity to my own thoughts while John Schlitt (Petra) and I talked, wrestled, and worked on lyrics and music that we were writing for our new album The Union of Sinners and Saints. Our perspective from an additional twenty years of living, learning, and being away from the popular Christian culture that we were both part of and in in the 80s and 90s helped us write with a perspective of “What can I do in this season of my life that is meaningful,” “How can we use this platform to encourage others to do the same with their lives,” and “Where is this world heading into?”
I do not necessarily long for the golden years of the music industry (although I am so thankful to have grown up in the creative decades of the late 60s and 70s where music seemed to thrive on each artist wanting to be different from the next), but John and I both seem to have a passion to almost prove ourselves all over again, because we have to write and we have to sing. That is what we love to do!
One of the statements that triggered this response from me came from a fellow musician last month, Regie Hamm, who said:
“Christian music as the platform for an artist performing for an audience is pretty much a thing of the past. It has morphed into a forum for worship leaders. The new incarnation of ‘faith-based music’ is the white, acoustic guitar-playing singer/songwriter who has a good (but nondescript) voice. He is just dangerous enough looking to give him some street cred. And his music will be a very well constructed amalgam of all of the least sexual popular music of the day.
“In the end, it will still essentially be created with barriers and roadblocks and hindrances. And there’s the rub. Creativity requires freedom. Why did everyone from the Jonas Brothers to Katy Perry start out in Christian Music … but then leave? An artist can only paint the same painting – with implied instructions to only use the same seven colors – so many times.
“I love Jesus. But I would imagine even HE probably gets tired of having his name continually rhymed with ‘frees us.‘”
I listen to Christian music now and ask, “Where are the poets? Where are the questions? Where are the champions or thought? Where are the dreamers? Where have they gone? What are the mysteries around us that we still don’t understand and are willing to write about and question?” As Christians shouldn’t we be obsessed with humbly challenging the culture of today with the best music, art, and performance the world has ever seen? Why don’t we do that?
Enter The Hyperdrive Kittens. Three of its four members are openly Christians (since recording the CD in question the band has added a fifth member who is also Christian), coincidentally the same percentage of believers as in U2. Yet even with this, it is highly doubtful the band will be invited to play at your local Christian music festival. This is entirely to said festival’s loss.
The Hyperdrive Kittens are pure rock‘n’roll, equally at ease with roots rock, punk, and most every point in-between. Lyrically, the band takes a very Alice Cooper-like approach in that without demeaning, or in any fashion offending, the members faith skillfully plays characters and tells stories designed to entertain with a knowing wink. The chuckle-inducing easy relatability of “Roommate Hell” and a searing rendition of “Fever,” originally made popular by Peggy Lee, are immediate standouts. Repeated listens reveal a collection of seven songs, all but the aforementioned “Fever” and one other composed by guitarist Lee Nails with one co-write with lead singer Jenene Curtis, with no weak links.
Billy Smiley justifiably simultaneously wonders about and laments the shallowness of today’s Christian music scene. Thankfully, there is at least one band out there bucking the trend. The Hyperdrive Kittens would easily stand out in a pre-fabricated music landscape of autotune and virtual instruments layered atop drum machines regardless, but the fact that The Hyperdrive Kittens operate out of a love of Christ takes their music from great rock‘n’roll in and of itself to great rock‘n’roll that is vital to everyone searching for truth in art.
The CD is available at Amoeba Music in Berkeley, California and directly from the band through its Facebook page.