Mike Rimmer met up with mainstream rock band FLYLEAF and found that it wasn't only their name which had an association with books.
Flyleaf emerged out of the small, quiet town of Temple, Texas and have been causing a buzz on the mainstream almost from the off. Fronted by female singer Lacey Mosley, Flyleaf is comprised of Sameer Bhattacharya and Jared Hartmann (guitar), Pat Seals (bass) and James Culpepper (drums). They've opened for such acts as Flickerstick, Bowling For Soup and Evanescence and with a feisty female lead singer in tow it's not surprising that more than one reviewer has compared them to Amy Lee and co. Flyleaf's EP got them noticed and now their album, on Octane Records, is picking up more interest in the mainstream. Yet here they are at Gospel Music Week doing the Christian press thing as well as continuing to tour on the Christian scene with other bands. The album has had a mixed response though personally I love it. Having heard it and caught a video of the band on American TV, I've been looking forward to chatting to them. Although I'm in a room with the band and their management and a few friends, they seem to be suffering from Gospel Music Week flops. Or perhaps it's just that they're bored with being asked the same old questions over and over again.
As for me, I am wandering around the event interviewing bands and I'm getting bored with some of the dumb bands I'm meeting. I won't name names here but I have been finishing interviews early when it turns out that my victims may be the latest signings but they have nothing original to say. The evening before this interview I'm in the bar with fellow Cross Rhythms contributor George Luke bemoaning the fact that it seems impossible to find an intelligent new band these days.
And then the search is over. Singer Lacey Mosley and bassist Pat Seals sit on a hotel bed with me with the rest of their band and friends and management lounged around the room in relaxed repose while the pair take care of my enquiries. In our opening conversation Lacey describes Pat as the band's intellectual although he pretends not to be. Current reading list for Mr Seals includes Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, And The Ass Saw The Angel by Nick Cave and Herman Melville's Moby Dick. We talk books for a while and whales for that matter and it turns out that Lacey's estimation of her bandmate's intellect was correct! At last, I think, an intelligent rock band!
Obviously talking books is appropriate enough since the name Flyleaf has a kind of literary connotation. Lacey bounces on the bed excitedly, "He came up with it! Pat came up with it! It's the blank page in the front and back of a book and for us it's the moment of clarity before the story begins and after it's over. So it's a Christian reference like the moment before you're born and the moment after you die. It's the two moments when you're supposed to be with God. Meeting together in your mother's womb and then of course after you die."
Meanwhile Lacey admits that she's reading too. On her current book list are Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning. And a book called The Holographic Universe that she isn't recommending to people. Finally, it turns out that she's into numbers! The Magic of Mathematics is her latest read. But how can anyone get excited about numbers? Well, Lacey can. "The idea behind math is that it's an idea; numbers are an idea. And really you do have to have faith to believe in the concept of numbers. It's interesting to see patterns everywhere. I don't really like.math was a horrible subject for me. I hated it!"
At this point I come clean and admit it took me four attempts to pass my Maths GCSE. I am mathematically challenged! Talking to Lacey as she enthuses about numbers, I wish I'd paid more attention in class. Anyway, did I mention how exciting it was to chat to an intelligent rock band?
And a band that isn't afraid to tackle some dark subjects along the way if they think it might help people. My favourite song on their self-titled album is "I'm Sorry". Lacey is reluctant to go into details but says simply, "It's about abuse and it's a little personal. But the thing about it is I like the way it kind of leaves it open to interpreting it. It's just about a bad experience that maybe you hung onto for a while and then you ended up seeing the good that came out of it and being healed after it all."
She will admit it comes from personal experience but won't share details even when I gently press her. "I've never talked about it. Nobody's ever asked me about it. I don't really want to talk about it for different reasons. The words in it have to do with dealing with problems at home. It's really straightforward." When the minidisc player is shut off she goes into more detail and I can understand why she doesn't want to go public. But for you dear reader, I'll have to draw a veil over the song here.
Pat Seals describes what the band are hoping to achieve with their music. "The point of doing this band," he says, "is to communicate Jesus' love through what we do and just be who we are. And actually try and flesh it out and point to God in the midst of our shortcomings. Which are many!" Lacey adds, "Obviously we can do that in anything we do. It's not just the band that we want to do that with, it's everything. Because obviously we don't know what's going to happen tomorrow and if it was all over tomorrow we'd still want to do that. Just like Pat said, we want to be who we are. I think what's cool about being in this band is that it's not really in the Christian world so much. It's in the world and not of the world. It's a light in a dark place. Just by being who we are and not being ashamed of it no matter what the controversy is. No matter who we're gonna upset. We seek to be loving and we want to tell the Good News. We understand as a band what it's like to not believe in God. We understand what it's like because we play with people who are offended by Christianity all the time and we understand that. We don't push our beliefs on people. We are who we are in front of them. We just show love as much as we can. Because personally I know what it feels like to be offended by Christianity because I was. Normally it's not the Gospel messages that we reject, it's the 'religion' that they've seen."
So how was Lacey offended by Christianity when she was younger? "Like everybody else, I think I saw a lot of hypocrisy." She pauses to think, "It's not Christianity, if you're defining Christianity as what Jesus taught. It's the traditions that WE teach. It's the attitude that WE put ourselves in. The holier-than-thou attitude. Like, we take on our convictions for ourselves. Like, let's just take drinking. For me, it's a conviction for me that I can't drink at all. I know about abusing it. I know about it destroying relationships and I've seen it. But I'm not gonna push that on someone else and I'm not gonna look down on them if they drink. I'm not gonna say that they need to not drink either. That's my conviction. For me, I know I'd abuse it because I've done it in the past. So I know it's wrong for me. So if I see somebody else doing that, that's their thing and they have their own thing. So that's how we approach everything. The Bible says if you know something is a sin and you go ahead and do it then for you it is a sin. And maybe my faith is weak in some things where I can't do certain things that other people can do. The main thing, which I love, Saint Augustine, in Confessions said, 'Love, and then do whatever you wish.' Because if it really is loving, as the Bible describes loving: 'Love is patient, love is kind, it's not jealous or rude or proud. It keeps no record of wrong, it's not self-centred, it's not boastful.' If you test it all that way then you are being loving and you can do whatever you want so long as it's in love."
Now, how many rock bands do you know who understand the teachings of St Augustine or can quote 'Confessions' at you? Lacey Mosley confesses that she's studying the book. "I'm really impressed. There's just a lot of me in there! A lot of the falling and grace. And it's relevant because it doesn't define the age, it defines the spirituality of humanity. Which is timeless."
The song 'I'm So Sick' is another favourite of mine and it turns out it was also partly inspired by Augustine's ideas. Lacey says, "We live in a messed-up, sick place. Sometimes we can feel like sick and messed-up people and sometimes we are! I like the word 'sick' because when you talk about something - 'that person's sick!' Sometimes it makes you think something real derogatory. But really, sickness is exactly what it is. It's like something's not right. I love that Brennan Manning, from the Ragamuffin Gospel, where it says that 'our church should be a hospital for sinners not a museum of righteous saints.' With 'sick', it's admitting that yeah, in the deepest part of my brain there's messed-up things. Sometimes it comes out and sometimes it doesn't. Either way, I'm messed-up sometimes and I live in a messed-up place. It's constantly in front of my eyes. It's constantly being put in my ears and we have to struggle against it. We have to struggle to not be that way."
One of the things that excites me about Flyleaf is the way that they write songs that speak straight into the heart of things and these are strong songs that work in the mainstream and in the Christian scene. Pat Seals explains how he sees the difference between the two markets. "The general market," he observes, "it seems like it's more real. There's supply and demand whereas in the Christian market you immediately have the youth groups and the Christian festivals and there's that demand for music that's positive or safe. Being in the general market, it's like you're in the real world. The whole band look up to U2. Not in every single aspect, but I think in most ways, they really command a presence in the general market and still hold their spirituality in their life. I really look up to that. That would be the 'pie in the sky' goal in my mind but it's just whatever God has for us really."
So if the band are not deliberately being positive and safe, does that mean that Flyleaf are negative and dangerous? Seals laughs, "I didn't quite word this right! We want to be who we are and say the message of Christ, which is positive in the end." Lacey is also laughing. "You can say we're negative and dangerous!" she enthuses. "You can say that!" Seals observes, "There is a lot of negativity in there. There's danger and sadness in our music. But we say look, this is real. This happens. But there IS a solution." Mosley chips in, "And didn't C.S. Lewis say that 'God is not safe at all'? In The Narnia Chronicles he talks about Aslan not being safe but he's good."
Seals is warming up to his theme now! "God calls you to die to yourself and that's not safe at all. The Christian environment has become very, very safe." But Flyleaf continue to push out beyond those safe areas into a general market that needs them and their message to be salt and light in a tasteless dark world. What are they doing? Lacey shares, "Just playing, being on tour and being in bars and going out with Korn. Whatever it is, you know? We're actually gonna be in the UK with Korn on a few dates. But just that in itself, sometimes it feels like going to war for a time. Like we're doing what we're supposed to do. Like in Haggai, which I think is really good for us, it's real encouraging to me when Haggai talks about God's house is in ruins. The people are busy building their own houses and God's house lies in ruins. So we go out to rebuild God's house. And then we can go home and build our houses. Sometimes we want to go home now!"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.