Tony Cummings spoke to a band from Fountain Valley, California making their first visit to the UK, CPR
There was a time, years ago, when a regular trickle of American Christian music artists, both bands and soloists, were making their way to play the UK, even though all had had it explained to them that such was the size of the UK CCM marketplace there was absolutely no chance of them making money and every chance of losing cash. Now that trickle of artists has retracted to an occasional drip. So Californian punk rock band CPR are to be congratulated for making a lightning trip to the UK and France last month to play concerts in Stoke-on-Trent, Rhyl, London and Paris.
CPR stands for Christian Punk Rock. In the Cross Rhythms studio I asked the band's founder and frontman, Greg Hill aka Jet Wilson, how the band came to make the financially crazy decision to play UK concerts. He explained, "We planned our trip around a Christian festival, and we know the person that runs the festival. It's a pretty big festival, a bunch of Christians and tents and all. So basically, we waited to hear the feedback if we were going to get accepted. We put in our application and we put in all the stuff with all the music, and the feedback came back with something like, 'There's no room for you.' I thought 'Oh Lord! We planned it all around that,' and so I was kind of bitter. Well, not bitter but just like bummed, and well, how can you not be bitter? Then there was another rock-and-roll festival that Peter118 was going to, and they were playing at the end of the week, and the guy said straight up, 'You know we only have Christian bands that are from our country?' and I'm thinking, 'You know, that has to be the stupidest thing ever, because it's like are you serious? We're all one body right? Like, I thought we were all one body in Christ, right? Like there's no Jew, Gentile, whatever, male or female, USA or Britain. I mean, what's the deal?' So I let that one go and I thought, 'Man, is our band cursed or what?' So I thought that was the case, and then Peter started getting some pubs, and we got a show in England, and they were so happy to see us as they said, 'Sorry we can't pay you!' and I'm all like, 'Back line, everything's good'."
Greg was not in the least phased with the reality of making no money from playing UK and France gigs. He responded, "That's pretty much the deal in the USA as well. Two per cent of artists are making money, but the other 98 per cent aren't. It's my theory that the music scene has died as there's the final tour buses, a lot of big labels with all the money, and the reason is because everything's free online. Everything's digital now where nobody has a product they can hold in their hand and smell, look at the pictures to put on their wall. So the industry, if you're out for it to make money, forget it. And most people who aren't Christians are out for it for the fun, the famous music. Well, the Christians have all that too and use it as a reason to share their faith, and they use it as a tool. It can be a ministry tool that they do and they're blessed with a gift, and that's a no-brainer. The guys in the band, they're not even asking 'Where's my cut?' They are all in it for no money either. It's our service to our Lord and it's our enjoyment. How do we get to the trip how do we get the money? The Lord guides and he provides, there is different things we came across that we closed out, whatever, the Lord has always been faithful in providing for our needs, even as a family man. We saved our money and we pooled together, we have jobs you know, will we need to tap into our credit cards when we get home, maybe. But God has always been faithful."
Just before coming to the UK, CPR rush-released a three-song EP, 'Turn It Up!'. It lists their current line-up as "Eric", Rod Crowel, Merisa, Greg Hill, Kevin Gomez and Jacob Hill. CPR were formed in Fountain Valley, California in 2014. Extraordinarily, their debut show on 31st October 2014 was recorded and released the following year as 'Live At Fuzion' by RavenFaithRecords. Greg remembers that extraordinary evening at Fuzion at California's Huntington Beach vividly. He said, "One of the bands that played with us, Christ's Sake, they have an amazing two albums. They're not together now, but Christ's Sake played. Merissa's brother Emmanuel played that show. It was Halloween night. I hired this guy for 200 bucks to record us and he was a real pro. He had a whole laptop and everything and an iPad and he documented the recording. The Lord totally blessed it. I could not believe some of the leads I pulled off. The whole recording was just phenomenal. The quality of the mix was better than our second studio album."
'In The Business', released by Thumper Punk Records in 2016, actually exists in two different mixes, one "more bass-y" than the other, and the Cross Rhythms reviewer wrote, "'In The Business' improves as it goes on: it starts off by hitting you hard and then brings in other elements to keep you listening. It means that the better tracks are towards the end of the CD, but guarantees a great finish."
Talking about songs on 'Turn It Up!', Greg explained, "The band started out as more direct but where the Lord has us play, the Lord has been pressing on my heart to write songs that the choruses could go either way, kinda like Jesus did parables. 'Fire The Fire', 'Turn It Up'. The meat and potatoes are somewhere in the verses but ultimately they are all Christian songs." Greg talked about the hard circumstances which led to the writing of "Fire The Fire". He said, "About a year ago, my nephew committed suicide and that created a huge amount of pain for my sister and brother-in-law. Then, more recently, the first bass player we played with committed suicide after suffering from depression. 'Fire The Fire' is a positive song about reaching out to someone if you're going through it."
Merissa added, "Just killing negative thoughts in your head and rebuking it and saying that it isn't welcome. We hear so many negative things and we believe them and begin to act upon them, and that's why there is so much depression and stuff like that."
Merissa only recently played her first ever gig with CPR, at the Carmen Bar in Laguna. She said, "I have always been around music. I work with Christian rappers because my brother is a Christian rapper, so I have always been in the studio and always been around music, I was just there."
Another new addition, at least to the touring version of CPR, is drummer Kevin Gomez. He's also in the band A-Frame, a surf rock band out of Orange County, very much in the Dick Dale mould. He said, "Greg has been wooing me for a long time, for the past year or so. He wanted me to start being in his band but having another band at the same time, I was very non-committal, although to a certain degree I have committed to his band. . . There's a verse in Philippians that goes, 'Not to look out for your own interest, but to look out for the interest of others.' Greg's interests are his interests, and I may not be totally interested, but God speaks to us. You know what, if someone else has the desire to do this, and if God gives you the ability to do so, go for it. That's kinda what inspired me."
Merissa, too, is finding real inspiration since joining CPR. She said, "When we do go on stage, we kinda lead the crowd into worship in a sense. We're fellowshipping, and if we're worshipping God when we're out on stage, then people see that and they feel the presence of the Lord. When we go on stage, we should be in unison, and if someone in the band is in sin and they're not sharing that with us, it affects the body, it affects us. So I feel like in a band or any group, we need to talk about what we're going through and share each other's burdens. That way, when we go on stage, it runs more smoothly. It's a connection we have as brothers and sisters in Christ. So when we have our shows, we need to pray and lead the crowd to glorify God in what we do, because it's not for us. It's about our creator."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.