Tony Cummings reports on the raw rock three-piece AMBASSADORS OF SHALOM
In America a thriving Christian punk rock label Thumper Punk Records has demonstrated that punk culture and Christian faith are not necessarily mutually exclusive. But one of Thumper Punk's recent releases emanated not from California or Illinois or the other punk epicentres, but from Britain. Ambassadors Of Shalom have their debut album 'Abdicate Self' released on the label, and pretty powerful it is too. The Cross Rhythms reviewer wrote how the band "have the raw edge and sense of dynamics to compete with any band out there in the thriving punk underground."
Recently the band's Neil Roddy (guitar and vocals) was a guest on Cross Rhythms' Rock And A Hard Place and spoke about the band's origins. "We're a three piece punk band, from all over the UK. The drummer, Joe Wilson, lives in Chester, I live in Warrington and the bass player, Pete Field, is from the Stoke-on-Trent area. We've been together since 2012 after I did an open mic night in Stoke - got to meet Pete there; shared the same taste in music. We got along quite well. I'd been looking for a drummer and a bass player to form a Christian punk band and we started jamming and it worked quite well. Then my son Joe, who's 16, had been having a few drum lessons - been practising a lot - he jumped on board and it went down quite well and we thought, yeah we could do something with this. The band formed in 2012 and by August 2012 we'd done several gigs, put a few videos on YouTube and got a record deal with Thumper Punk Records from California. So it happened quite quick. For me that's confirmation of the fact that God's behind all of this."
Being in different locations causes considerable problems for Ambassadors Of Shalom. "Being in different places and also our lifestyles - Pete has a full-time job, I have my own gardening business and my son is at college - make getting together for practise quite difficult. We use a church over in Stockport, Bridgeway church. Big thanks to them, they've really supported us."
How would Neil describe the band's sound? "We try to be as original as possible but when I sit and listen to the album I definitely hear influences coming out. Pete the bass player's influences are really old-school UK punk: UK Subs, Exploited, Peter and the Test Tube Babies, a lot of that sort of thing. I was heavily into the Pixies and Nirvana, bands like that and you can hear stuff like that on the album. My son is a big Killswitch Engage fan. And then System Of A Down was a big influence in my life and you can hear it coming out in the album too. To me that's quite a beautiful thing because we've got this mix here. We've had several reviews, people saying we sound like the Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys, early Nirvana - the 'Bleach' era."
Those reviewers also talk about Ambassadors Of Shalom's in-your-face gospel lyrics. Neil said boldly, "It's God's band - it's in his plan. He'll do with it what he desires, we just want to serve in that area, we want to engage into that culture, the culture of hard-driven guitar music. We want to take it out to people who would probably never go to church. The church isn't a building, the church is us; the people, the body of Christ. So we desire to go out to your kids skate boarding in town centres and venues where your punks are and your mentalers and all the rest of it. People who I would call the un-churched and who wouldn't necessarily go to church. We just want to be messengers; we're vessels being used by God to carry the message through our music and to engage into that culture. Ideally I'd love to see people come to love the Lord, I'd love for the message to come through in a way that has power. And also to be able to build relationships with people out there and also if it pays the bills, praise the Lord. If we sold a lot of albums and made a load of money then even better.
"I do believe that our hearts are in a place where we're not sort of ambitious for fame ourselves, we want to make Jesus famous, we want him to be glorified and that's a spiritual battle that goes on with us. We pray a lot for the band, we're committed to God - we desire to serve and we have to guard our hearts because we know that it's a dangerous field out there. Before I was a Christian I worked at an amateur level in the music business, I had my own rehearsing studios and I worked with bands and it's dangerous out there. If we are going to engage Christians, we need the armour of God and we need to be equipped. If we're going out on mission, this is our ministry, pray to the Lord will keep us safe."
It took 18 months of writing and recording to put 'Abdicate Self' together. "There were a couple of original tracks that we ditched because we felt like we were writing better songs - because it would suit the album more. We were still developing our sound, we were still a very young band and we're experimenting with the sound and different extortion panels and different tunings. We ended up with these 13 which we thought yeah they're worthy to be put on the album. We recorded it in Stoke-on-Trent at Brohnis Music. Again, big thanks to Tim Davis for producing us and helping us out with some session guitar on the album, amazing guy and he's done us a good job. We're very happy with the album. We sent it of to Thumper Punk a couple of weeks ago and it was released on 11th February."
The media has been particularly receptive to 'Abdicate Self'. Said Neil, "We've had several reviews on the album; different magazines from all over the world. One in Switzerland, one in Holland, one in Australia, one in Brazil, Canada, America. Played on quite a few radio stations as well. It's been received a lot better than we thought because a lot of people are going to be like 'what, Christian punk - you can't do that, why you doing that, it doesn't make sense'. But we really believe that God's not bothered about what music you use, it's about the state of your heart."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.