The "Bad Boys of Christian Music" the PRAYER CHAIN are back once again, with the release of their acclaimed yet highly experimental album "Mercury". Liz Liew caught up with all five members on a sunny afternoon at Flevo Festival, Holland.
Chatting with the Prayer Chain for the first time was, I admit, a little unnerving. Seated in front of me was, if not one of America's most popular Christian alternative bands, definitely one of its hippest. However, I was quickly put at ease by their engaging personalities, infectious humour and natural charm.
Hailing from Southern California this quintet comprises Tim Taber (vocals), Andy Prickett (guitar), Eric Campuzano (bass), Wayne Everett (drums) and more recently, Jeremy Wood (additional percussion). The band formed in 1990, originally for fun. Says Tim, "We weren't a Christian band at first but shortly after we decided we wanted to be one and serve God."
Prayer Chain became the first alternative rock band to be signed by Reunion Records in 1992 and have since released three discs. After a tentative start with their 'Whirlpool EP, they slowly began to gain recognition as the pioneering Christian indie rock band with their first full length album 'Shawl'.
With 'Mercury' comes a complete change of musical direction as well as band image. Gone are the head-banging days of 'Shawl' and in their place is a more multi-faceted style of experimental rock.
Andy explains, "It got to a point where we would be playing and the audience would be jumping on the stage and hurting each other because the energy was so high... So I purposely tried to write parts (in 'Mercury') that didn't let anybody feel that kinda energy."
Wayne adds, "We wanted to do something that was a lot more emotional and moving - something that stirs the Spirit and the heart rather than the head."
In their attempt to create something that was the 'opposite of rock', they tried to adopt a more exploratory and 'artful' approach.
Andy continues, "The music hadn't been going anywhere for a long time until three weeks before we were going to record. We consciously decided to limit ourselves, by for example writing songs with just a hand drum, which thereby expanded our musical horizons. So yeah, it was a bit of a conscious decision (to change the band's musical direction) but it also came out of pure boredom and disgust with some of the older style - for some of us."
Wayne confirms, "Beforehand we really decided that we wanted to challenge ourselves to do something that was original, not like anything we'd heard before." Influences on the album seem to have stemmed predominantly from Britain and include The Verve, Curve, Peter Gabriel and My Bloody Valentine. Also inspirational in the drums and percussion were the African group Drummers Of Burundi and Pakistani musician Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. From these influences they developed a style which Andy describes as "more like ancient rhythms and sounds mixed with modern noise-pop." They have come a remarkably long way since their 'Whirlpool' debut. 'Mercury' marks a significant development in the band, with Andy and Wayne particularly displaying some astonishing musical competence.
Whereas previous releases relied very much on the talents of principal lyricist Eric, 'Mercury' draws from the experiences of all four-core band members. 1994 had not been an easy year for Prayer Chain. Relationships were strained at times and life on the road was tough. 'Mercury' reflects this and is thematically linked by two main subjects - love and struggle. As ever the band display a depth of honesty in their lyrics which supersedes that of many of their Christian counterparts. The title track, for example, relates the experience of being as far detached from one's feelings as the planet Mercury is from the Bering Sea.
Tim explains, "What (the album) turned out to be was a lot more internalised lyrically...because most of the songs deal with personal issues whether they be feeling numb or remembering your wretched past or that you're in love with a girl."
Indeed the subjects dealt with in the album are varied, from the declaration of love in marriage in "Bendy Line", to anger towards an individual in "Grylliade", to Andy's dream of a near-death experience in "Creole".
I ask Prayer Chain if they found it therapeutic to write about their feelings. "Totally. Completely," replies Andy. "Because it gets them out in the open and they get dealt with in a certain way. It's just our way of doin' it. I think our goal has always been to write about things that are realistic, so that many people can identify and say, 'I feel that way too! I'm not alone.'"
Tim continues, "I don't think there's a set, clear Christian message or essential goal that our band is based around. I think our goal is basically to be honest with ourselves and with our crowd, writing songs that detail (our lives and) how we as Christians cope with life and certain situations."
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