Whitecross: Heavy metal band with ministry focus

Saturday 1st September 1990

Steve Schmutzer reports on American metal team WHITECROSS.


Success has come hard for Whitecross," explains Gavin Morkel, the band's manager, friend and trusted advisor. "If anybody's had to pay their dues to get where they're going, Whitecross has had to do exactly that. We've had to establish some long-range goals, and realise that fulfilling them takes place only one gruelling step at a time."

Rex Carroll, Whitecross's extraordinary guitarist agrees.

"We're the musical Rocky Balboa of the Christian rock and metal scene; we've got the heart and the desire to do it against the odds."

Though some may argue that the band has had some lucky breaks in their short career thus far, Whitecross has methodically moved forward under the powers of solid judgement and sound business principles. It remains a most remarkable and commendable quality that the band has been a project that has stayed "in the black" since its inception.
The band's desire for good stewardship of their resources has led them to avoid taking out any loans against their tours and ministry. Tight budgets, and long-term financial plans have demanded that Whitecross make some significant sacrifices in order to assure a liveable income. Their life on the road has borne this fact out, having all cramped themselves (along with others at times) in a standard-sized van while enduring character-building tours from one end of the country to the other. Until recently, Whitecross have had to resign themselves to using different, varied, and often inadequate PA systems provided to them while on the road - a situation which they have frequently found frustrating.

And sleeping quarters? "Anybody have a spot on the floor somewhere?" laughs Rex. He continues: "Face it, our visual show in the past was not enhanced by our necessary stands on financial issues. But, rather than having our expenses grow faster than our ability to keep up, we've felt it was more important to establish some good stewardship with what we did have. Lack of finances, or poor financial management, has contributed in a major way to many bands breaking up. We, the members of Whitecross, have made a deliberate effort to eliminate that factor of stress as much as that is possible."

Like a shot of adrenalin, the addition of newer members Mike Elliot on drums and Rick Armstrong on bass have pushed Whitecross over the top musically and visually. Both members received their positions in the band only after extensive auditions, and both cite some outstanding influences on their musical styles.

With a broad background in everything ranging from country to jazz and fusion, Rick Armstrong puts on an incredible bass performance in White-cross's live shows now, receiving his own slot in the programme to slap and dance out an extended bass solo that most metal heads will never have seen in a typical hard rock concert. Whitecross is Rick's first venture into metal, but on crediting Louis Johnson and Earl Greco, both jazz/fusion greats, as his major influences musically, it's no great wonder that Rick will establish himself as one of Christian rock and metal's finest and more innovative bass performers.

As for Mike Elliot...woah, hold on to your chairs everybody! Big influences on Mike's drumming have been the likes of Tommy Lee (Motley Crue). Rikki Rocket (Poison), and Robert Sweet (...what's that band's name again?). It is obvious that Mike Elliott is not only an excellent drummer who loves what he's doing, but that he's a showman of the highest rating as well. Spectators at a Whitecross gig will now see a drumming performance unusual and largely unchallenged in the genre of Christian rock and metal. There's a reason for all this excellence, and Mike states it well, "Sometimes you have to grab an audience and give them what they want to see before they'll hear what you have to say. We have a lot of to say to our concertgoers, so we've got to give them everything they have come to expect...and more! Therefore, we are striving to be a great visually-orientated band for the 90s."

Rex agrees, "We got a little tired of people coming to our shows and saying. "Great record; but an okay show.' Now when an audience comes to our gigs, it's going to be a different situation. We're definitely a live band now, and each person is going to get each guy in the band 110 percent. We love to play; we need to perform! We're much, much more visually oriented than we were before, and absolutely nobody's going to be disappointed in what they see."

"Two specific things that have held Whitecross back in the past," maintains Gavin, "have been their live shows, and the actual production of those shows. These things have seen incredible and steady development; now Whitecross is at a crossroads, and we've decided to concentrate some of the band's momentum on the development of an excellent live show.

"We've grown as a band to where the audience now expects increased production, pyrotechnics, lights, and road crew. Now we have it and they are going to get it. Whitecross has been a musically oriented and ministry-oriented band, and now we've come a long ways in developing our visual excellence."

Mike expands the same point "Come on out and see us; you'll get top-notch music and performance. It's the talents that God has brought to each one of us, and we want to deliver it all back to Him the best way we can."

Avid fans of Whitecross have seen the excellence of the band's music consistently climb with each subsequent release. "'Hammer And Nail' was musically the full potential of the band at that time," Rex states. "We now have new heights we can strive for with our new personnel. Mark (ex-drummer) and Jon (ex-bassist) are super guys, and we all still keep in touch with each other..-However, as God has led those guys into different walks of life, White-cross has had the opportunity to keep the same audience, but substantially raise itself to a new level of artistic expression.

"Ministry is so very important," Rex adds, "and in order for it to be as effective as possible, the music must be the best it can be. You see, there's a formula for the way things work in this business. A kid will generally buy an album first, and if he like what he hears, then he'll make an effort to see the band live. It generally works in that order: hear the music, and go to the gig. Basically, it's all in the record, and seldom does the pattern deviate much from the primary importance the quality the music first shows itself to be."

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