Nashville-based rock man RICK ALTIZER has proven, through two superlative albums, to be one of the finest new songwriting talents to hit the scene for years. Mike Rimmer reports.
One of the surprises of this year's Cross Rhythms festival was the late addition of American singer/songwriter Rick Altizer. Long a favourite on Cross Rhythms radio with his biting "Make A Monkey" and the haunting "Surrender To You", it is evident from his music that Rick is a bit of a split personality. Blessed with a satirist's eye and an ability to lampoon some of the more bizarre elements of our culture (Christian or otherwise) Rick writes songs that have the same sort of lyrical impact as a Steve Taylor or a Terry Taylor. And don't we need them?
But underneath the clowning lies a thoughtful man with plenty to say and a humble heart that seeks to minister. On stage he's spontaneous and during his Cross Rhythms set he suddenly breaks out in the middle of a song doing a pretty good imitation of a cheesy TV preacher. Later he shares with me that he plans on taking the stage at the Flevo festival as Elvis! But even the crazy stage antics have a purpose. "The zaniness is just a way to entertain in order to get someone's attention," he shares. "It's what you do with that attention after you get it that's the important part. Do you say, Thank you - goodnight - now go buy my CDs and T-Shirts?' Or do you make the most of that opportunity and turn them to Christ? I prefer to get their attention and then lead them to the Lord, not to myself. It's almost like, if I'm good and entertaining, then I've earned the right to preach and be listened to."
Wandering around the Cross Rhythms festival site we're taking in the sights and sounds. Watching Rodd & Marco perform on the outdoor stage, he listens carefully to the guitarist and above the rock riffing roars in my ear, "Eddie Van Halen". Clearly the guitarist's major influence. When it comes to guitarists, Rick should know. His two albums include contributions from world class player Adrian Bellew although Altizer plays all the other instruments himself. "I'm a major control freak and I'm also just plain cheap," he jokes. "I played all the instruments because everyone else wanted money to play with me. I'm too cheap for that. Adrian came in to the picture after the record was already finished. He recorded over my solos and helped with the mix. My record company called him and asked if he would be interested in working with me. He listened to the CD and said he liked it and that he would. Adrian is very supportive of Christianity and its positive message. He doesn't agree with a lot of the negative stuff that's out there."
At home he tells me that his wife Jan isn't really a music fan and only listens to Rick's music around the house. Returning from a trip to Europe, he gave her some new CDs to check out including '63' from Tree. The good thing is that it turns out that Tree are now her favourite band. Rick laughs as he tells me, "The bad thing is that I've had to listen to the Tree CD constantly for the last four months! I know every lyric, every backing vocal and every guitar lick." He loves the album but after endless exposure to the CD he's intrigued to see that Tree are also at the festival.
Later, backstage I introduce Rick to Tree's John Ellis. John's immediate response is to say, "Rick Altizer! I love your music!" This is all too much for me and I force John to prove it. In response he breaks out into a chorus of "Make A Monkey". Rick is clearly freaked out that Ellis has heard of him and they immediately form a mutual appreciation society! Photos are taken, phone numbers exchanged and Mrs Altizer is going to be very impressed that Rick met Tree!
It's a long way from the home where Rick was raised. He remembers, "I
was not raised in a Christian home. I got saved when I was 14. My
parents were going through a divorce and there was a lot of anger in
my home. All that anger made me angry. I knew there had to be
something more. I was in a band in high school that had some
Christians in it. They shared about Jesus Christ with me and I went
with them to a Young Life meeting one night and received the Lord at
the meeting. My life was changed immediately and has been ever
Out of that life changing experience has come a pile of music that has been startling both musically and lyrically. Rick comments about his two releases so far, "On 'Blue Plate Special' all of the songs were written to please either the Lord or myself. There really was no thought of a 'Christian' record deal. Songs like, 'How Many' and 'When You Walked Up That Hill' are total worship songs to me. The new record, 'Neon Fixation' also has quite a few worship songs on it. Those albums are much more personal and not written with a congregation in mind. A worship album must take the 'congregational' element into account. Something that can be corporately as well as intimately sung."
Rick is already excited about his next project which will be a worship album. This is not such a great departure since he was leading worship before he got a record deal. He confirms, "I've been leading worship for a while now and have always considered it my greatest love musically. I got the record deal with KMG and continued to lead worship. It's great having a record deal but, musically, the most fulfilling stuff I've ever done has been worship. It's so awesome to have that immediate and intimate communication with the Lord through music."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.