It's Springfield, Missouri not Seattle from which grunge team JOHNNY Q PUBLIC stem. Their debut album 'Extra-Ordinary' is just that, as Tony Cummings reports.
One of the most welcome names on this year's Greenbelt bill is Springfield rockers Johnny Q Public. The band are young (lead guitarist Oran Thornton was only 15 when the band recorded 'Extra-Ordinary'!) and already the band are experiencing big time attention with their album being picked up for mainstream distribution by Electra. JQP are also a zany bunch of funsters.
"We want to break the mould that being a Christian means being serious," lead singer Dan Fritz says. "There's a fine line you can cross that's going too far and it's been awkward sometimes, but the reason we have so much fun is because it's real to us. For us to jump around means we're having a good time."
With members ranging in age from 16 to 24, Johnny Q Public's enthusiastic persona is readily explained by its built in youthfulness. Fritz and drummer Brian Duvall co-founded the band after playing together in a group called the Turn. Johnny Q Public's current line-up also includes lead guitarist Oran Thornton, guitarist Shawn Turner and bass player Ken Bassham.
The band's 'Extra-Ordinary' album debut was released on the Gotee label. Oran explains how the band got signed to DC Talk's hot indie label. "We were doing this demo tape with Steve Griffith - he's a producer in Nashville. He produced Audio Adrenaline. When we were making the demo tape there, lead singer Mark Stuart came by and listened to us and got talkin' to us. He hooked us up with a guy named Joe Baldridge, who is our producer. He's engineered a lot of DC Talk albums and stuff. He basically gave the tape to Toby and Joey and all the guys at Gotee Records."
Despite their avowed sense of fun there's also a ministry dimension in what Johnny Q Public are about. Says Shawn, "I think the last concert we played, there were 80 kids that came forward and got saved. So, our main goal - our always goal - is to stay completely focused on God, and make sure we do what he wants us to. First, we're Christians. We're on this earth to please God and that's our main goal. If we don't do that, then whatever music we've done and however great we could become, we've still failed. We've still lost everything. So we try to really keep our focus on pleasing God and being in his will, and letting the rest fall into place."
One of the outstanding cuts on 'Extra-Ordinary' is "Preacher's Kid" which describes the true story of a boy lost underneath the weight of his father's pastorate. Fritz learned a valuable lesson from the youngster referred to as "Aaron". "The scenario of that song is about a particular kid that needed a lot of help from a lot of Christian people," Fritz explains. "His surrounding was extremely religious because of his dad being a preacher and being at church all the time, yet he was very spiritually malnourished. But the conviction of the song, because I don't want to come from a judgmental point of view, is that I had my chance too. I could discern that there was a problem but didn't take the time (to help) myself. We're hoping that the song challenges people not to miss the opportunity."
Other superb cuts on 'Extra-Ordinary' are a jazzed up version of Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody" and a rollicking roots version of Larry Norman's "Reader's Digest" (complete with pumping accordion from Phil Madiera). But the band's originals are equally strong. "Women Of Zion" tells the story of the arrogant daughters of Zion in Isaiah 3 whom God caused to lose their hair with sores. Fritz, Turner and Thornton all switched instruments to purposely create a "hokey" sound, while maintaining a catchy melody line and comical lyrics.
"We didn't actually get the track we wanted until about four in the morning," Fritz says. "We'd been playing all night with headphones and going back and listening to how it came out. We were in the living room so it wasn't insulated and the garage door was open." "I walked over to turn the bass amp off and I started walking out through the hall," Turner interjects. "When I got to the living room, the door bursts open and a cop's got his hands on his gun. He's in my face and he yells, 'Why didn't you answer the door?'" The officer had been banging on the door for 45 minutes unbeknownst to the three band members. Turner took a $50 ticket for disturbing the peace and received an uncensored tongue-lashing while Fritz and Thornton hid in the back!
Shawn says the band's musical influences are wide. "When we went down to Nashville, Joe took us back to a lot of older bands," continues Shawn. "We've all been influenced by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and all the bands like that. We've learned stuff from them."
"Jimi Hendrix, especially, for me," interjects Oran.
"We try not to be influenced by the Pearl Jams and Nirvanas and bands like that, because we don't want to sound like that," explains Shawn. "We just want to be Johnny Q Public. It's easy to get named, in Christian music, as the Christian Nirvana or Pearl Jam, so we want to stay completely away from that and just write from ourselves and be influenced by the people that influenced those bands, instead of being directly influenced by them."
Unusually, the band has not had the problem of many CCM ministries - finding finance. "We're really blessed," says Oran. "We are part of a ministry. Shawn's dad is head of a ministry, so we get financial support from them." Shawn continues, "Since he's my dad, and he has a whole construction business outside of the ministry...if we need money, it's there. When we did our album, we weren't signed. He paid the budget for the album. The record company will pay him back. If we go on the road and one of us needs money, then he can give us a salary and then it will come out later on down the road. We'll pay him back."
With many opportunities clearly ahead for Johnny Q Public, Fritz is quick to focus the attention back onto the band's ultimate agenda. "When we face the judgment of God, it's not going to matter how famous we got, and it's not going to matter how many records we sold," Fritz says. "The only thing that will matter is whether or not we made it because then you're talking about eternal destination. We try to keep our eyes on that."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.