Punk lives, thanks to Chicago's Jesus People USA and a band called CRASHDOG. Jonathan Bellamy spoke to their leader Spike Nard.
Love it! The excess of energy, the raw drive of throbbing guitars and powerhouse drums, the high octane propellant of channelled distortion and finger-flying feedback, that gut-grabbing fist of musical tension that only gets torn by the ripping release of a suppressed vocal cauldron with lyrics that burn with rasping clarity. Yes, if you lament the evaporation of your pogo-heart and weep for the blunting of your Liberty-spiked hair then cry no more. Crashdog, from Chicago, purvey late 70s punk rock at its best. And what is more it sounds remarkably fresh for today's alternative and metal freaks too. From the same Jesus People USA camp as Rez and proclaiming the same brand of Gospel Truths, Crashdog now have their first British release via Nelson Word. I spoke to the band's founder Spike Nard (real name Tim Davis) who when not bawling out the truth with Crashdog writes for Jesus People USA's 'Cornerstone' magazine.
"Pretty much all of our songs speak oh the darker side of social issues (particularly the first album 'Humane Society'). And as a band we do feel called to bring up sometimes the harder side of life." Crashdog consists of Spike Nard (vocals), Andrew Mandell (guitars), Brian Grover (bass) and Greg Jacques (drums). In March in the States the band's third album 'Mud Angels' will be released.
And what is a 'Mud Angel' I asked. "To us mud angels are really the young innocent people that end up having to take the brunt of other people's sin. You know, the two-year-old boy who got brutally killed (Jamie Bulger), for us if grown adults go and shoot each other that's one thing, but when young kids are introduced to such a wicked world it breaks my heart. Of course I have shed tears for that child that got killed but I also shed tears for those boys that have already been introduced to such a wicked world and are going to have to spend the rest of their lives with that on their conscience. Those kids didn't just think that up in their own mind 'Oh, let's go and kill some kid', they were the product of something. In America our televisions are full of violence. You practically have a hard time even watching a game of baseball without someone throwing fists at each other. It is just a sign of how society is starting to think the solution to your problems and aggravations is just beating each other up. As a band we want to stand up totally against that."
It'll be a while before we see 'Mud Angels' in the UK however. We Brits have only recently seen the release of Crashdog's second album 'The Pursuit Of Happiness' - a gutsy look at a western world of greed and selfishness where everyone stamps on everyone else in a vain attempt to reach the summit of supposed happiness.
But that's not it. There are more tracks than simply the social stirrers and Spike was keen to declare the band is not simply a bunch of gloom merchants but they have a vital element of joy to their lives they want to proclaim.
"We don't want people to think 'Oh, I'm in the mood to hear death and destruction so let's listen to Crashdog!'. We want them to feel the other side of life that God totally digs us having a good time. So that song 'It's A Boy's Life' glorifies what it was like as a kid. Just to be free and carefree with none of the worries of the world. When having fun didn't mean being totally weird, it was just going out and having a good time. I wish in society our entertainment and fun could return to being as innocent and pure as when we were kids."
Spike Nard (as everybody finds out, his name is that of the ointment used by Mary Magdalene to wash Jesus' feet), has a great talent. The brain behind all the band's lyrics, he often shows great perception. The title track is a brilliant expose of man's greed-based motives, which surmises finally "that Jesus Christ is the end of the search in the pursuit of happiness".
And, in defiance to the traditional punk rock image, the vulnerability and openness expressed in certain songs, particularly "See The Unseen", is very challenging. These are the lyrics: "I pulled the skin off my skeleton to see what no one's known/Lying maggots eating inside out have picked me to the bone/Have you taken a look, have you seen the unseen/What we do to ourselves, from the outside in/I weighed my heart in the hands of love to see where it would lead/Fear, lust and selfishness is all that it would bleed/I took a drink from the well of never ending grace/It changed my fate, it made things straight and I saw you face to face."
Spike explained, "The first verse says that if I really don't tell myself the truth about God or about my friends or I allow the Devil to tell me a lot of lies then I can really be consumed by gossip and fear and hate and judgment and bitterness and in the end I realise I've been totally eaten up. As for the second verse, a lot of kids when they hear how we live in Jesus People think, Man, what A bunch of straight prudes.' But then, on the other side, they tell me, 'Man, I'm really struggling with masturbation or lust or I'm struggling with not having pre-marital sex with my girlfriend or boyfriend', and I say well really that's why we have those rules set up for our lives. There is a cause and effect. If you jump off a ladder you're going to hurt yourself. In our community we have a buddy system where we try to keep accountable to each other. There is this one brother that I specifically come to at the end of every week to let him know how I'm doing in my different areas of lust and the problem is if I don't set those things up I'm going to be consumed by that sin. I can be a compulsive person and I don't want to ruin the blessings the Lord is giving me. So, as Christians we need to see there is a cause and effect spiritually. Obviously looking at a pornographic magazine is not going to bring me closer to God! A lot of times kids don't see that. Society tells them 'hey, get what you want. If it feels good it's OK'. So we try to tell them 'Hey, if you really don't want to be engulfed by bitterness or lust or anything that hinders your relationship with God then there are steps to take. But first you need to see the unseen.'"
It is a passionate theme running through Spike's views that he and the band have a real heart for today's youth and I was keen to hear about Spike's own background. "I grew up in Boulder, Colorado," he began. "It's a pretty wild town. It's like one big Grateful Dead concert, just full of hippies and freaks and punkers and stuff. I got into the Dead Kennedy's, Generation X and Circle Jerks. But there's a load of straight people in Boulder too - it's really diverse. I grew up in a family with a brother and sister. We were your average church going family but I never really grasped the fact that I could have a personal relationship with Jesus. It was pretty rough in school and stuff like that, just dealing with hot drugs and other things, you know normal temptations growing up as a teenager. I wanted to really do right but I absolutely had no will power and I pretty much fell away from any moral standards. When I was about 16 years old there was a guy I grew up with who said, 'Hey, I'm moving to the Jesus People, would you like to come?' I said 'sure' you know, I was living on the streets, I was a runaway. I'd ran away when I was 15, just walking around. I just really needed a place to stay and food to eat 'cause I was pretty much a bum. So I looked at it pretty much as a free ride and a place to stay and food to eat. I lived at Jesus People for about a month without being a Christian and I was pretty miserable. I was around 500 people who really had that peace and joy I didn't have, and then this guest speaker from Italy came and spoke and at the end of the sermon I just knew I had to come up forward and ask the Lord to take control of my life and try to untangle the mess I'd made. So that day I did, and I got baptised in the Holy Spirit and baptised in a tub and I've been living for Christ ever since."
Since then God has really done a healing job on Spike's relationship with his parents. "Before I came to Jesus People I thought I'd probably had the worst childhood of anyone, but that's a pretty ignorant thought because once I came I met other people who had way worse parents and I realised my parents did pretty good. My dad wasn't living for Jesus at the time and I thought 'Man, he did really excellent for not being a Christian'. We had fights though and my dad and I even battled it out a couple of times. We had a lot of different problems and one of our biggest I think as a family was lack of communication. Really not wanting to talk about the problems and not wanting to change. There was a lot of tension and so at 15 I just said 'Okay, that's it, see you later, I'm out of here.' But a month or two after I had become a Christian my father became a Christian too. He just got sick of living his life and I think he also saw that if I could turn around and be changed and apologise to my father for all the years of craziness and pain and heartache I gave him, I think he really took that as a shock and realised 'Man, something happened to my child, Jesus really made a difference in his life', and he wanted it to. And now we can go home and laugh and hang out with each other, and I think that's one of the most priceless things I have in my life today. I have that relationship with my parents where we can really look at our past, the times we really said a lot of hurtful things and did a lot of hurtful things towards each other, and we can say 'Man, I forgive you and I'm sorry.' And so the Lord's really blessed us and I'm really proud and happy that I have such an awesome relationship with my parents today.
"But also for me now, my prayer is for the kids who come to our shows who really do have a problem with their parents, where there's that big gap. And I really want to share with the kids that we need to pray for the peace of the Lord and the grace because there's no magical pill you can take to suddenly get along with your parents. And in society today temptation is so available and the standards of morals are so loose it is hard for kids to grow up and really find good values through abstinence or not doing drugs or really loving their parents. So, it's a struggle, but hopefully through the band and our music we can encourage kids that that's the right way to go."
And for anyone over here who'd like to see this prickly preacher and his three mad mates in action, you're not alone. Spike himself is dead set on it. "Let me tell you something. Man, I would sell my right arm to come to the UK and that is the honest to God truth."
Good job he doesn't play guitar!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.