American hard rock band DISCIPLE have clocked up years of powerful ministry. Tony Cummings reports.
The release of the 'Disciple' album in 2005 hearteningly catapulted to the CCM big time one of America's most faithful ministry bands. For Disciple, from Knoxville, Tennessee, had long been viewed by those in the know as full on, hard touring, hard rocking evangelists offering songs crammed with in-your-face declarations of faith in Jesus Christ. And in an American Christian hard rock scene where dozens of bands were prepared to "do a Tooth & Nail" and go after mainstream acceptance and sales by substituting songs of love or inner turmoil for the timeless truths of Scripture, it was encouraging to find Disciple passionately committed to ministry. They toured constantly, made excellent independent albums and even had a brief deal with a major, though there always remained the danger of the band being confused with other similarly named acts (there have been a lot of Disciples: Jesus music's Andrae Crouch & The Disciples, a Pennsylvania metal band xDisciplex and an award winning rapper Disciple).
Lead singer Kevin Young is the first to admit that the band's moniker is less than unique. He told Cross Rhythms broadcaster Greg Sammons, "I would concede that there's a lack of originality. There's a story behind the name Disciple. We were 13 years old when we came up with the name and we couldn't think of anything better at the time. We always had the plan to change our name once we found something better but we just couldn't think of anything better. As creative as we've been over the years in creating all these different songs, we couldn't come up with a more creative band name than Disciple. You know every time we tried to change it, it just seemed to stick. I guess it's just God's way of saying that this is who you are supposed to be."
Greg commented that with a name like Disciple there was no hiding the band's spiritual agenda. "I think every artist wears their colours on their shirt, from the most positive to the most negative, that's what art is. You express yourself and I think it's a shame when artists are not being themselves and just trying to become something they're not, for money or fame or whatever. People see through that and that's when people begin to lose interest. You can take a band as old school, like Nirvana, simply being themselves and people loved the fact that they were being themselves. That's our approach. We're just being who we are. You don't have to like us. You can hate us, that's fine. But we're not going to try to change ourselves just so that people will like us. We're going to be ourselves and share ourselves and hopefully do it in a non-threatening way. We're not trying to make anybody mad or anything but just trying to put out the best music we possibly can and be ourselves and share our faith with people."
The origins of Disciple go back when Kevin and drummer Tim Barrett started playing music together. The pair met guitarist Brad Noah in December 1992 and Disciple emerged as a three piece grunge outfit. After two years of gigging wherever the young rockers could get a booking the band made their independent debut 'What Was I Thinking'. Influenced by Soundgarden and Alice In Chains, by the time of their next release - the EP 'My Daddy Can Whip Your Daddy' for Warner Resound - the band had moved into Rage Against The Machine musical territory. Not that their brief flirtation with a mainstream major meant Disciple denying their upfront spiritual message. The song "Easter Bunny" boldly attacked the wholesale secularisation of Christian Festivals with Santa Claus getting a right tongue lashing. In 1999 they signed with Christian label Rugged. Again Disciple's militant message pulled no punches as one could gather from the title 'This May Sting A Little'. Their song "Big Bad Wolf" was directed at Satan and came complete with growling noises, "Worship Conspiracy" criticised lukewarm Christians for their lack of fervour compared with those who "pray to Buddha everyday" or "Moslems who fast for 40 days" while the song "1-2 Conductor" contained the eyebrow-raising line "I don't give a rat's rear end what they say, as long as my God's happy."
In 2004 Disciple released 'By God'. On its release Kevin Young gave an intriguing summation of the band's history up to that point. "On 'What Was I Thinking' we were really, I guess, still kinda grooving, getting a little rappy. . . and by the time we got to 'Scream' we were just real heavy, screaming a lot, no slow songs whatsoever." In contrast, 'By God' did contain some slow worship orientated songs. But it also contained out-and-out metal. Said Young, "Metal rocks, that's the bottom line. . . and it's much better live. We just love to go nuts." The album contained the song "Not Rock Stars" which HM magazine described as sounding "like 'This Means War' ere Petra, with way crunchier guitars."
'By God' was produced, like most of its predecessors, by Travis Wyrick, the hitmaker for such acts as P.O.D. and Pillar. Kevin Young told Cross Rhythms, "Travis wasn't a Christian when we first started working with him and we actually got to see the process take place and just watch God move in his life and start working. He actually received Christ back in 1997/98 and so we felt very blessed to have had a part in that. We are really close and kind of like a family."
So could Disciple ever envision the day when they'd work with another producer? "Well you know we are definitely keeping open minded to using a new producer but only if it makes sense and I think that would be an open ended conversation with Travis as well. I mean, we wouldn't make a decision like that without talking to him because he's like the fifth member of the Disciple band."
In 2003 Disciple released the 'Back Again' album. Kevin told HM magazine, "'Back Again' has been very special, above and beyond what we have done before. At the very beginning, we set out to create an album that all of us in Disciple liked. We had never been so ruthless in reshaping our songs before. The song 'Fear' was rewritten probably six or seven times. We just had an attitude that we're not going to settle for the first thing that comes along. We were going to work hard until we felt like there was nothing else we could do to improve the songs. Therefore it is very special to us, and in my opinion it is a step ahead for everyone in the band as far as the musical and vocal performances are concerned."
Kevin ran through some of the album's outstanding songs. "'Back Again' is about a time in my life where I was completely backslidden from the Lord, but I could see his hand there to save me. 'Not The Same' is a song about an incident that I had with a street preacher, and 'One More Time' is about a rough time that I went through recently that God really pulled me through. A spiritual theme that we do hit on a couple of times is the return of Christ. In 'Wait' we talk about being ready for Jesus' return and in 'Next Time' we talk about the return itself.'
Later that year the trio added bassist Joey Fife to the line up. Kevin spoke about the relationships within the band. "We are brothers in the truest sense of the word. We have loved each other, argued, fought, made up and done it all over again to the point where we know each other so well. We have sharpened each other over the years, and we can't wait to see what the future holds for us."
Disciple went into the studio in early 2004 to record their next album with Travis Wyrick. Explained Kevin, "This time we were listening to a bunch of different music. We felt like we could keep our edge, but sing melodies. We felt like we could write a hook. We sat down with Travis and asked him to really dig in and help us. We were blown away by the results." Those results are bold choruses, rapid-fire drum rhythms, huge guitar riffs and passionate vocals, a 14-song combination of true progressive rock tunes. Commented drummer Tim Barrett, "Some of the stuff we were recording started to get out. All of a sudden people were calling us. We signed with a management company and found ourselves sitting in record label meetings with guys that we had heard about for years but never had the opportunity to talk to."
The hugely successful INO Records announced their diversification into rock music with the launch of their S/R/E Recordings by signing Disciple. And though long term followers of the band were irritated by silly publicist-speak announcing the release of the band's "debut" album, few could have argued that 'Disciple' (originally to be titled 'Back Again') was a quality album. Fusing huge stadium-ready guitar riffs to anthemic choruses 'Disciple' soared into the American Christian music charts. Kevin admitted that several of the songs on their breakthrough album contained very personal lyrics. "Stripped Away" is a song he wrote about the pressures of being placed on a pedestal and the difficulties of living up to the standards that are placed on people. He said, "There have been many times that I felt like I should be the one being guided by someone else instead of being someone who is guiding others." "Worth" is a song that makes light of the fact that even though there have been many hard times that people face over the years, it's worth it all just to see someone's life impacted and changed. "Backstabber" is about a relationship that ended rather bitterly.
Now Disciple's 'Scars Remain' is pulling in the sales and airplay. Kevin told Cross Rhythms about the title track. "'Scars Remain' talks about a theme in Hebrews, I think it's in chapter three or four and maybe chapter nine. It's talking about how Jesus has been tempted in every single way, the way we've been tempted and yet he is without sin. There's another place where it says because he has experienced the exact things we have experienced he knows how to relate to our situation and because of that we can go to his throne with boldness and find mercy and grace whenever we find ourselves in a time of need. That's basically what the song is. When we see Jesus, whatever scars we have in our life, whatever we've been through, we can look at him and see matching identical scars because he's been there too."
Disciple continue to spread their message and music to as many new faces as possible. "We want to play for more people than we have every played for," enthused Young. "We have never been in this thing for money and I hope we never will be, but at the same time we want to reach as many people as we can with our music. We feel that our songs are more than just music - we've seen them have a positive impact on people's lives. As a band, we feel like we have had the opportunity to do more and be a part of more than we ever dreamed. We are thankful for that. But we feel like we have so much more to give. Things have fallen into place for us. We've got the right team around us for the first time in our careers and we think we've made the right music. I feel like we are just getting started."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.