LZ7 have fused rock, hip-hop and grimey street beats to become cutting edge evangelists. Tony Cummings met up with Lindz West.
The release of the stunning album 'Ruckus' by LZ7 catapults Lindz West back into the music ministry frontline. London-born Lindsay first came to our attention in 2001 when The World Wide Message Tribe did one of its regular personnel shuffles, became The Tribe and recorded and released 'Take Back The Beat'. Lindsay's powerful raps and charismatic stage presence brought a new urban edge to the Manchester musicianaries and by the time the band retired to do other things in 2004 Lindz was a gig-seasoned musical evangelist with a passion for Manchester's youth. He'd married another musician from The Message axis, Lucy Britten, who had become one of the mentors of girl group BlushUK. It was at the final Tribe gig held at Manchester's Apollo that Lindz experienced a flash of divine revelation about his future. He remembers, "I was just about to join thebandwithnoname - I had been working with them for six months, kind of team leading, sort of looking after, recruiting Zulu, getting hold of Chip, just kind of gelling it together and stuff. I just felt as we were doing our final presentation at the Manchester Apollo, we do the whole Genetik thing at the end of the tour; it just, I don't know, God just placed on my heart, 'You're a missionary from down South to Manchester, not to go from Manchester out.' It just hit me again, I was just like Manchester kids, Manchester schools, Manchester prisons, that's why I'm here, that's why God has got me here for this mission field, for this thing. So, it wasn't that I didn't want to join thebandwithnoname because I really wanted to join them, it was just God said I don't think it's right for you at this time, you know, you need to own something. You need to run with the vision God's given you. I didn't think that the vision of what The Tribe was doing was far from over, it's far from over, there's such a big mission field up here.
"It's all those things racking round my head and I thought, 'Oh man, what am I doing?! I'm just about to go and join this band and God's telling me to go and do something else!' You know, God always comes in generally at the 11th hour, doesn't he? I was like, 'Oh no, what should I do?' and then approached Andy and just said, 'Look, I really still feel God's pulled us here for a reason to Manchester, me and Lucy, especially Lucy being in Blush.' What I didn't want to do was end up with a V*enna and Tribe situation where V*enna were gonna go off touring and The Tribe was still in Manchester. It would have been the same. Blush would still be in Manchester, thebandwithnoname would have been off doing their thing, different itinerary and stuff and I just thought that first comes my wife, then second the vision of Manchester. This is a good idea so I just approached Andy and said, 'Let's do something else, work something out, so we did."
That "something" is LZ7. Lindz tries to dispel the confusion as to who exactly constitute LZ7. ". There's me, there's Lewis; me and Lewis are LZ7. Lewis is the DJ that's full time with me. We've got one free runner, Danny, who's with us full time. A free runner is a kind of street gymnast. They flip between buildings; like he could climb this building and flip off the back of it and land on another one, or land on the back of your car and all that kind of stuff. So there's me, Lewis, Danny and four live members so it's seven without us even thinking about it!"
At some gigs LZ7 will operate in a stripped down format. Lindz explains, "If you basically want us to go to a youth group and there's 20 kids there and you don't have space for anything else, me and Lewis would go as LZ7; the basic format. But we can add a singer, we've got a whole pool of session singers that we use. It's very much got that kinda TobyMac feel; he pulls in session singers and acrobats and stuff and we are doing very much the same thing, but the live band is the same. So if we go to a big festival we will take the live band and the free runner and the DJ, me and Lewis and the singers, so you get the whole caboodle!"
Stylistically, LZ7 set out to make music that was pretty revolutionary for a Christian band. "I was always into the tougher end of stuff which is why thebandwithnoname suited me very much cos I was always in the tougher end of wasted, those kinds of tracks. I just buzzed off them. So I said, 'Well, AG Linkin Park, have you heard that album 'Collision Course'? Let's focus it on that.' It's a fusion of rock, hip-hop but then let's add grimey kind of street beats like the British kind of side to it. So you get a fusion of all three of them and that's kinda what we came up with but the first step was saying I got to get in a recording studio; got to find a sound. So we got into a recording studio and came up with three tracks and then just started touring schools again.
"We did one version of 'Start Something' which is track one on 'Ruckus', an initial version of that was very much - it's still on a similar tip that it is but the course has slightly changed. We did a version of 'We Came Here' which had a female chorus on it which is now just a very mobby kind of lad chorus, and we did another track called 'Turn It Up' which didn't feature but we still do it live. It's not an album track, it's more of a kind of live thing, R&B sort of stuff. So yeah, got in there, did them, found a direction, did a lot of praying, a lot of seeking from God of what he wanted us to do. That was the first step I guess."
To get the monster beats which makes the 'Ruckus' album such a tour-de-force Lindz was well connected. He explains, "George and Quinn were very much into it whilst in The Tribe and they have got connections with Obi their brother, who's very much working in the secular. So I phoned them up and said, 'Look if I did this thing would you back us up production wise? Would you be able to find us producers?' and they said, 'Not a problem. We would be very much up for it, we would like to sow into your ministry.' They are going down with Whistlejacket which is their new band. They are going down a hip-hop, outcast version of pop; a very quirky version of pop kind of stuff. Well, they were like, 'We like the tough edge so how can we sort of release in that. Let's do it that way.' And then they wanted to sow back into Christian stuff; you know, didn't want to keep their finger off the pulse. They wanted to learn everything in the secular and sow it back into the Christian thing. So it was Obi and Skills, Adam Mills down on the south coast and we did a couple of tracks which was all good."
There was considerable trial-and-error experimentation in getting the rith kind of street vibe on 'Ruckus'. "Lewis, the other guy in LZ7, is very much a producer as well. He did 'Top Rockin' which is track 11 on the album. He remixed it and he's really into his kind of tough beats. He knows what he's looking for. He knows what sounds to look for and I sort of sit there going, 'Oh yeah, I'm well up for that one! What's that, what's that one?' So we'd go through a whole array of stuff, reference it and take it in and say, 'Can you create this kind of sound? Can we do this?' I mean, Lewis and me would sit there and direct the tone of the track, where it's going. Samples, guitar samples and yeah, so it works like that. We put a lot of kind of research into it, background stuff.
The launch concert for the release of 'Ruckus' at the Manchester Apollo was a huge success. Remembers Lindz, "I think a lot of the kids had a kind of pre-conceived idea that LZ7 might be like The Tribe, so when they came out they just had their faces melted off because it was so bass-y, sort of whoh!! Like what the heck is that! We had three dancers, two free runners, a full live band, me and Lewis - it was just an extravaganza! You could see the kids' faces, like what do I look at? What do I watch? So it blew their expectations, which was exactly what I wanted to do. Then seven o'clock Monday morning after that launch I was in prison, still with my Dax wax stuck up in my hair; sweat all up my face! Then we did the same tracks with the prisoners and it was pretty much the same reaction. A lot of the harder tracks like 'Get Out Ya Seat', 'Come Around', all these kind of garagey sort of break beat; they were loving them! They wanted us to keep playing them and performing. They even learnt all the lyrics of 'Come Around' and then performed it at the end of the week with me and Prescha, who used to be in thebandwithnoname and who is now called Adapt. We both did it together and they all came on and performed it and knew all the lyrics and rapped it and it was really good! It connects with both so that was exactly what we wanted.
For the future LZ7 will be spending a lot of time engaging in the gruelling challenge of prison work. "We've set up a partnership with YFC and The Message here to go into prisons, called Reflex and they have got a whole thing called Locdown, which is unlocking musical potential. So I will go in, Lewis will go in; we take a whole week of workshops. We take breakdance, performance skills, all those kinds of things but it's all kind of God orientated. You can't proselytise but it comes out in your lyrics you know - why did you write that, what's all that about? You can get in there. So at the end of the week we put on a big performance where the lads write over some of the beats that we've got and they perform their own tracks. So LZ7 does a track at the beginning, they then do their five tracks and we all do a track together at the end, which was 'Come Around', so it just worked really well. So I think as a pilot kind of project (we've done four kinds of pilot projects in prisons) they have really worked. It looks like it will take off but at the same time we are looking to work alongside Blush. Blush will go into a school and take RE lessons or PSE lessons. As good as they are and as credible as they are they need a 'boy' factor, a boy thing. That's why The Tribe worked because you had a girl and the boys to attract that other side; the harder side, the tougher side, the scally lads. So we will run MC workshops, breakdance workshops, dance workshops and flippin', you know, bring our free runner in and then at the end of the week double head the gig. So we are working side by side and it's cool! Hopefully it's gonna work, just have to wait and see, should do, they have loved it so far.
LZ7 admits that the amount of physical and creative effort necessary to achieve such a well established ministry in such a short period of time has been phenomenal. "It's been really tough," Lindz admits. "But one person, and I must big her up loads, is my wife Lucy. She gets up an hour before I get up and spends an hour with God and I come down and the house is all warm because she has been sitting there reading the Bible, like an hour praying, praying for me, praying for LZ7. I am the kind of bloke who can't do without my sleep. I try to get up like 20 minutes earlier and do a bit of Bible time but she's been such an example, such an inspiration. It's kind of inspired me to up my game. You know, The Tribe thing 'Raise Your Game', the album, that kind of thing. It's inspired me to raise my game, knowing that now The Tribe has gone; it's gone from five to one almost, five to two with Lewis, so the pressure's on. I felt that pressure and I went through a patch where I was like, I didn't know, we just carry on the same way, but no, God wants to move us on and move us deeper. The prayer times here, half an hour every morning before we even start work with The Message has been absolutely invaluable to LZ7 and the way it's gone forward. Our prayer days, making sure we get to church, getting up 20 minutes earlier, praying, seeking new, fresh stuff so you are not jaded, you're not giving from an old bucket.
"I meet up with Mr Hawthorne (Andy Hawthorne) on an evangelist accountability kind of thing and we go through questionnaires that are like 50 questions all about your spiritual life but also about your personal life. Are you sleeping right, are you maintaining time with your wife, are you keeping non-Christian contacts, are you reading your Bible, did the Holy Spirit work for you, did the Bible work for you today? As we go down it we just pray over each issue, if there's one that's really messing up then we pray over it, spend time in it, just keep yourself sharp, do you know what I mean? Hard, it is tough, I'm not trying to say it's easy at all cos I find it really difficult. If I could choose my bed over praying I would choose my bed, I would go to sleep."
And driving Lindz forward is the same, focussed, passion to see people won for Christ. "Evangelism is the whole fundamental thing behind LZ7. We want to see kids changed. We want to plunder Hell and populate Heaven! If kids can understand something I have understood; I'm not the most intelligent bloke in the world and if they can grab hold of the thing I have managed to understand, anybody can and LZ7 - we want to see hundreds and thousands of kids become Christians. If that means it goes secular it goes secular, you know. If it takes it to step out the boundaries and break the boundaries instead of what everyone thought it should do then we are going to do that just to see."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.