OC Supertones: Skankin' for Jesus

Monday 1st February 1999

America's premier Christian ska band, the OC SUPERTONES are taking the States by storm. Sammy Horner met up with the team in Columbus, Ohio.

OC Superstones
OC Superstones

The weatherman tells me that it's 103 degrees in Columbus, Ohio, and for the 8000 strong audience at the Paramount Park it's gonna get a lot hotter as the blokes in black suits (minus pork pie hats) take the stage. Sure enough, the crowd explode as soon as skanking guitars and the pumping horn section belt out their first number. The show includes rousing ska rhythms with what sounds like hip hop... As well as a fair amount of explaining what the Gospel is all about. Yep, the boys from Orange County believe very strongly in preaching their message, "Oh Yeah.... We're very evangelistic," says the very sweaty lead singer Matt Morginsky.

Backstage the boys are very, very hot and tired, but still keen to talk about what they do and why they do it. Morginsky continues, "We always try our best to make sure that the kids who come to see us know exactly what we believe and stand for. We know that a large part of the audience will be made up of Christians, but encouraging them to share their faith and live for God is important also." When quizzed on the issue of whether playing to mainly Christian audiences was really doing any good Morginsky came back hard, "That is assuming that Christian kids have no issues to resolve or that they aren't going through the same kind of problems as everyone else. We don't apologise for playing to Christians, though not everyone who sees the Supertones is necessarily a Christian. I think we can still minister and help in some way."

This directness is exactly why the band are being applauded by both industry and media alike. They are being hailed as the front runners in a new wave of 'Christocentric' bands (theological jargon for Christ centred) whose potential to play to both Christian and mainstream audiences seems evident to all. Their heavy touring, massive unit shifting and appearances on MTV's Oddville as well as heavy radio play and videos on the seemingly hundreds of Christian video shows all add to the huge popularity of the guys. Even on the strength of tonight's show Morginsky, Jason Carson (drums) Dan Spencer, Darren Mettler, David Chavalier (horn section), Tony Terusa (bass) and axe man Brian Johnson, prove both ministry and musical chops are in abundance.

So, what do the guys think has made their band so popular? Drummer Jason Carson jumps in, "Ska has been around for ages, but 3rd wave ska brings a new dimension to it, another angle. Basically you have your familiar ska rhythm, but you can bring anything else you'd like to that and kind of fuse it together. When we started in Orange County, bands like No Doubt where playing their own brand of ska." "In our case," continues Morginsky, "we added elements of hip hop to make our own sound. We didn't want to copy what some one else was doing, we really want to be innovative and new. That's the beauty of the music; you can keep bringing new things to it."

The origins of the OC Supertones were an 'all styles of music' band called Saved. When pioneering independent label Tooth And Nail moved to Seattle in the autumn of 1994 the label boss Brandon Ebel was on the lookout for a ska band. Saved dumped all their other styles and settled for ska. It wasn't easy to secure Ebels' interest. He told 7Ball magazine, "The Supertones were good, but Saved were not good and I had years of Saved in my head." After countless phone calls, and multiple demo presentations, Ebel finally listened to the band. He liked what he heard, the band were signed to Tooth And Nail and in 1996 the debut 'Adventures Of The OC Supertones' was released. Loved by critics and fans alike the band immediately commenced two national tours, first with labelmates MxPx and then their own headliner. The follow up album 'The OC Supertones Strike Back' was a cathartic tour de force. It was two and a half months in the making (their debut took 10 days). Carson told 7Ball how it was different. "We've got harder edged songs like 'Tonight' and R&B stuff like 'Resolution'. We have these huge, big bouncy parts for concerts and we have songs like 'Shut Up And Play', with more of a laid back feel. We have an instrumental song with battling horn solos and we have an acoustic praise song that Matt recorded in one take. And it's so theologically rich. It somebody picks up the album and reads through the lyrics, the message is really powerful."

Trombone player Dan Spencer adds, "We think it's full of musical and lyrical integrity. None of us here would ever mince words about saying we're about people knowing and hearing that Christ is Lord -that's what our shows are all about. But there are also a lot of people who will buy 'Strike Back' who won't make it to concerts to hear Jason or Matt talk. But lyrically, they're still going to get the same challenge, hopefully in an awesome musical context, in cool songs."

Providing most of the lyrics for the songs on 'Strike Back' is Matt Morginsky, who feels that, even without a lot of veiled meanings, the Supertones' songs are still very thought provoking. "The attitude from some people is to have deep lyrics you have to hide your meanings everywhere, instead of just giving people a lot to think about. The way I write lyrics, I don't use a lot of metaphors. I like to just come out and say what I have to say. The Supertones' main message is Christ and him crucified. We want to help people understand certain doctrinal truths. For instance, the song The Grace Flood' is simply about God's grace, and how no wrong we do can outweigh the ability of the cross of Christ to atone for it, 'Unite' is more or less about putting aside all the ways we categorise ourselves, in order to be more effective as a church, a because we're often so divided. Or 'Perseverance Of The Saints', which is taken from Jude 3, where it says, 'Contend earnestly for the salvation already delivered to the saints. Now our salvation has already been given to us. But we still earnestly contend for this faith. We're going to go out every day and give it everything we've got."

Originally published as part of The Ska Story: A history of the genre CR

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.

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