Tony Cummings reports on Christian music hitmakers from Houston, ROYAL TAILOR
With a sound that creatively fuses pop, rock, hip-hop and R&B and lyrics that speak directly to the concerns and feelings of modern youth, Houston's Royal Tailor are creating a major buzz in the US. And with Cross Rhythms radio selecting four songs from the band's 'Black & White' album debut there's every possibility that Royal Tailor - consisting of Tauren Wells (lead vocals), DJ Cox (guitar), Blake Hubbard (bass) and Jarrod Ingram (drums) - are well on the way to connecting with an international audience. The band members grew up in church and are proud of it. Wells told blog.beliefnet.com, "We all grew up loving God, going to church. Blake's mom is actually the music minister at her church. We all went to Bible college. Blake, DJ and I went to Indiana Bible College and Jarrod went to Gateway College of Evangelism. It's the church that kept me. I had a very influential student pastor, David Morehead, who really inspired me and made me realize that there's a calling on my life and to embrace that and to chase my dreams. God has really shown us favour and allowed us some really incredible opportunities. There's no regret here. We're thankful for the church and we love the church."
After forming Royal Tailor, the band spent a year working fulltime at a church in Granite City, Illinois, mentoring the youth. Blake Hubbard explained, "We were personally working with these kids and dealing with their issues. Every Saturday morning at 10 o'clock we'd do a thing called Making The Band. We'd split up and do music lessons and teach them how to play in a band."
In 2008 the band hit the road to begin the gruelling trek across America. Said Wells, "We played over 300 shows in two years. One of those shows was at the Moorings' church. Leeland and Jack Mooring's parents pastor in Baytown, Texas. So we played a show there and Leeland was actually there. He heard us play and we exchanged numbers and developed somewhat of a friendship over that next year. GMA week came up and Leeland asked if we were going and I told him we weren't able to go. And he said, 'Alright, let me call you right back.' He called me back and he said, 'You can't say no to this. We want you to come to GMA week. We're going to pay for your hotels and introduce you to people.' We went there. They put us up. They showed us around town and introduced us to tons of people. They invited us to their listening party for their label, Provident Label Group, and at that listening party they introduced us to Jason MacArthur, the vice president of A&R and he got our demo and lived with our music for a little while and really liked it. We started talking and now here we are."
Royal Tailor signed with Essential Records and began working with Aaron Lindsey, Chuck Butler and Daniel Kinner. Said Tauren about the resulting 'Black & White' album, "The overarching message is a call to action. A lot of our songs have to do with being Christ in the world. We want to create a culture where students are doing the ministry. They are creating the ideas. They are dreaming the dream, and then they are actually going out there and doing those things."
Said DJ Cox, "We feel like there's an identity crisis in our generation. Everybody is searching, and we want to give an identity to those searching for Christ. We want to give them the truth. The songs on this record take you through a journey of faith and boldness. We encourage youth to have faith, step out and be who they are. Believe in God even when it's hard. Sometimes you hear really cool music, but there's not a lot of meaning to the words. We feel if they are going to be listening to the music and singing along, why not be singing along with songs that build you up in your faith and give you strength and hope."
On its release 'Black & White' was enthusiastically embraced by the industry though reviewers tied themselves up in knots suggesting certain tracks resembled various mainstream acts like Maroon 5, Bruno Mars and Michael Jackson. In fact, there was no sad evangelical plan to replicate current hitmakers. Said Wells, "What I really love about our band is that we didn't go into the studio and think, 'I wonder what secular band we could be a Christian version of.' We believe that believers can create the template and they can make something new or as original as possible. I think we're blessed and God has given us favour to do that. We all grew up listening to a lot of different stuff. In this band, you've got everything from bluegrass to black gospel. You never know what somebody's going to answer when people ask what the influences are because they're so varied. We just are who we are and we do what we do."
The danceable vitality of 'Black & White' might be made for radio play but the group are only too aware that its lyrics are miles away from much of the material aired on mainstream radio. Said Wells, "This record is pressing against the flow of the mainstream market. We have nothing against mainstream artists, but some of the messages and values coming out of mainstream music today are poisoning the culture. We hope to be a remedy to that, to stand up against that and show people this is not normal. There's something greater for you than just partying. We hope to press back against that and create some awareness and awakening in our listeners."
A song that spells out Royal Tailor's aversion to pop poison is the song "Control" which makes oblique references to Lady Gaga, Kanye West and Katy Perry. The blog.beliefnet.com website asked whether the song was meant to be provocative. Wells responded, "No, it wasn't really a hit at them. What we're trying to do with 'Control' is - this is what happened. We were listening to Top 40 radio on our way into a writing session for this record. A song came on and it was like, 'Take your clothes off. Take your clothes off. Take your clothes off.' Literally, those were the lyrics, and then even the messages of other artists like Brittany Spears, 'Sin Is The New Thing'. Hearing all these messages, what we realized was that even outside of their message is how unapologetic they are about bringing their message to the front of people's minds. It seems like the attitude of the Church has become, 'Well, we're going to take our ball and go home and write worship songs.' Do we need those songs? Do we need songs that edify the Church? Absolutely! But at the same time, I don't think that we should be unapologetic about our Gospel or unapologetic about things happening that we disagree with in culture. That's what Jesus did. He confronted people, cities, Pharisees. It was the Church. It was sinners. It was everybody. He spoke the truth to them, and that's what we're trying to convey with our music - the truth of who Jesus is and the truth of who people are and how we live our lives and navigate our lives according to that truth."
So was Wells aware of Katy Perry's background as a Christian artist? "Yes," he responded. The interviewer then suggested that the song spoke about Katy Perry's story and to the story of any young person who might aspire to achieve fame or popularity. Said Wells, "Yep, that's exactly what we were trying to do with that. It is by no means a shot at Katy Perry or any of those artists. If the opportunity was there, we would be friends with those people. Our heart breaks for them and we want them to realize the gravity of what it is that they are doing. They have tremendous influence. They have a tremendous voice to speak to people and when they speak, people listen. If there was any way to get them to say more positive things to inspire people, especially from a biblical viewpoint, then that would literally change the world - literally."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.