Tony Cummings tells how a trio from an obscure Minnesota farming town have become the exciting punk rockers CHILDREN 18:3
Latest band on Tooth & Nail Records Children 18:3 seem a mass of contradictions. Though their name is taken directly from Scripture (Matthew 18:3, "Unless you are converted and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven") their appearance is the antithesis of the clean cut Christian band with 23 year old frontman David Hostetter, with his black mascara looking like a son of Alice Cooper, and their crunching punk rock with its echoes of old school anarchy ala The Clash isn't the kind of music you'd expect to originate from a tiny rural town in Minnesota. But then, these two brothers and a sister seem to delight in avoiding the rock music stereotypes. The genesis of Children 18:3 goes back to 1999 when the group originally formed as a five-piece ska band that featured David Hostetter on guitar, his brother Seth on drums and friends that played bass, saxophone and trumpet. David told HM magazine, "It wasn't like we wanted to be a ska band. It's just that our friends, who wanted to play horns, wanted to play with us. So it was like, 'Okay, we'll be a ska band.' It wasn't like a conscious decision." The ska direction didn't last. The other three musicians left the group in 2001 and though the brothers Hostetter tried out a few bassists there wasn't one that stuck around for the long haul. So a year later their sister Lee Marie filled the void.
The new lineup came up with a new sound, eschewing the clichés of bloated pop rock in favour of an intriguing synthesis where classic song structure and vocals switched between David and Lee Marie are given a raw, gutsy performance which is excitingly direct. In 2004 the group released an independent EP, 'Places I Don't Want To Go', to sell at local shows. They also entered the annual Music Tournament hosted by Club 3 Degrees in Minneapolis, winning the grand prize in 2005 which included free recording time at Minneapolis' Winterland Studios. Using their prize they recorded an eight-song mini album 'Songs Of Desperation' and when that CD came out in 2006 the group mailed a copy to Brandon Ebel, the legendary CEO of Tooth & Nail Records who had been one of the judges as the Music Tournament talent search. Ebel singed Children 18:3 in January 2007.
David is delighted with the band's record company home. He told HM, "Tooth & Nail is unique in the fact that they put out records in the Christian niche market and it's very accepted. But they also have bands who are in the general market and have a strong presence like Underoath, He Is Legend, Anberlin and MxPx. They're just a good label. They're very artsy. If you're in the Christian music industry you're judged by the lyrics and what you say, but not so by Tooth & Nail. Obviously, Brandon doesn't want any of the bands to swear or be directly anti-God on the record, but there is a lot more artistic freedom."
Those fans who might be nervous that Children 18:3 might be another example of "Tooth & Nail Christians" (bands with a negligible Christian faith who had signed to T&N simply to be with a cool Seattle record company) needn't worry. As CCM magazine acknowledged, the band are seriously committed to their faith. Journalist Dr Tony Shore wrote, "As you talk with them, you realise their vision and integrity are amazing, something very rare in this genre. David, the eldest of the three, is the main songwriter. His knowledge of the Bible and ability to quote Scripture is the first thing that stands out, and he manages to intertwine that with his passion for art and music. Yet, his lyrics often have desperation as a theme, which he explains saying, 'Happy, sappy lyrics just don't seem real to me. If people really believed what they were saying in songs, the world would be a better place. I'm trying to be real.'"
The band's self-titled Tooth & Nail debut is full of songs striving to confront complacency. The CD's opener "All My Balloons" uses emotive images to punch home its point ("Oh so sucker for the sugar substitute and artificial flavouring/Small wonder I felt so safe inside nothing more than a smoke screen and masquerade. . . But outside a car bomb is ticking").
Another standout track on the high energy album is "Samantha", a stripped down composition where David pleads with someone to put the gun down and live for another day while the careering "You Know We're All So Fond Of Dying" is already picking up US rock radio play. The band are looking forward to touring the US. "We've been a band for eight years and we really haven't been able to go on tour. The longest tour we've done is five dates around the Midwest and promoting a festival. We got hooked up with a booking agency a couple of months ago, but they haven't booked us any shows yet. So that's kind of a drag. . . but they're booking a tour for the spring."
In his CCM piece Dr Tony Shore asked David what he hoped fans would take away from Children 18:3's high octane live shows. Responded David, "Trying to figure out how to love thy Lord your God with all your strength, and then love your neighbour as thyself; then you'll probably start to see the Kingdom of God. I think that needs to be a relevant part of all that we do."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.