Eight years of hard gigging and still committed to ministry, Bristol rock team STEVE are all set to play their part on the Revolution Tour. Stuart Blackburn spoke to the band.
Anyone who caught Steve's storming sets at either Greenbelt or
Festival: Manchester will know that Bristol-based rock band Steve are
in fine form. Despite losing two band members in 2001 (their current
line up is Neil Wilson, lead singer/guitar; Lee Slater, guitar; Paul
O'Connor, bass; and Joe Clegg, drums) the band's edgy guitar rhythms
and Neil's passionate vocals have never sounded better. Things have
not been particularly easy for the band since the last time Cross
Rhythms spoke to them. Their 'Falling Down' album may have been
identified by Cross Rhythms as a near classic of radiofriendly pop
rock but things didn't work out with EMI Christian Music Group who
released it (September 11th putting the kybosh on a planned US tour
and American Christian radio failed to play it). Now the band, long
associated with Bristol's pioneering NGM organisation, have come
bouncing back. The group have just released an EP, 'Prelude', and I
spoke to Lee Slater and Neil Wilson about it, and a good few other
topics, in between sound checks for their Festival: Manchester gig.
"I suppose that the EP is almost like a 'sitting on the fence' type of thing. It's not a single, it's not an album," explained Lee. "We don't want to get caught up in the legalities of how many songs a single should have and all that, so you just say, 'let's do an EP.' It's got three songs on it, it's got an interactive video on it - so it's a bit of a mongrel! It's been two years this summer since we have had something out, and we just really felt it would be good for people to be able to go home with something from the summer knowing that this is the new sound of Steve. It will be interesting to see what people would say about it. There are obvious changes. There are two different people in the band but it's still very 'Steve'. We know what we want to sound like. There is still a good element of rock going on there and progressive rock, the modern style; but yeah, the lyrics are still very worship filled and it's my heart as a worship leader and worshipper that I just want that to come through the lyrics. We are still pushing the technology side of the band and want that kind of 'fun' element to be what Steve is."
The band have taken their disappointment of their encounter with the American CCM industry in their stride. "I think the American thing for us is on the altar," mused Lee. "We are like, 'God, take us over there if we have something to give these people, take us over there if those people have something to give us.' But we don't see that success is only if you break America, you know? We have a desire to see America and to meet people and every time we meet Americans who are over in this country there does seem to be some sort of a connection; but there does seem to be a bit of a bridge to cross. It was prophesied over us a while ago that we would build bridges with America, but we don't want to necessarily just do it in the same way as everyone else. We are very open to God doing a new thing with us and who knows what America is for us, it's a big place."
How does the band deal with the harsh financial realities of being a full time band with a passion to minister? "That's a biggy," exclaimed Lee. "I think first of all, you can only really be in a band like Steve if you know what God's saying to you because the rewards don't come in the shape of finance and all of us in the band live in faith. We have got no unrealistic agendas of becoming millionaires through our music, although there are pressures to be paying your bills and things like that. We are part of a church back in Thornbury in Bristol which has also looked after us as our management and our sort of discipleship. Neil and I have been in the band now for eight years and we learnt from a very early time that there is no money in this industry unless you become the biggest thing. But the fact is that we see God as our provider, we see God as the person that gives us the ingredients to keep going and that means in the way of creativity as well. We are on this journey together, we have had some ups and downs, but you know, things are good."
When asked whether he had any guitar heroes Lee's answer was surprising. "I have always been a fan of The Eagles actually. Some of it can be a bit cheesy, but it's just knowing when to play the right thing because some guitarists are a bit busy for me. I'm not going to start naming any 'cos I don't want to discredit anyone. I have never really grown up on the guitar hero thing, but I have always been really inspired by guitar players like Johnny Greenwood from Radiohead. He is trying to take guitar in a different direction with the use of effects and plugging them into things that you just would not do if you were a real guitar hero. I am more inspired by that. Some of the old school guitarists I do like listening to, Hendrix when I hear it. That's cool!"
Steve are renowned for their ability to connect in the demanding environment of the pub gig. Said Lee, "We grew up in that really. In some ways it was the beginning for us of starting to play to bigger audiences. We grew up playing to people who are un-churched, whether or not it was working in cities with churches that are doing their own events, schools work and things like that. But we grew up musically working alongside bands that are not Christian bands, influenced by the same kind of music. I had a friend who wasn't a Christian and I asked him what did he think about the message that was within our music and he said, 'To be honest I don't really care, your music is really good and as long as your music is good and credible, people will respect you for it. People will be okay, they won't be put off by the fact that you're Christians. It's maybe when the message is backed up by average music that people come unstuck.'"
How does the band find the balance between making good art which a non-Christian giggoer can relate to and engaging in full on ministry? "We would find it really hard if we never did anything evangelistic like today," responded Neil. "Obviously everyone is playing in Christian groups but there is such an evangelistic message going out through today. We would never want to get stuck into a scene or just playing in churches where we never got to see anyone who wasn't saved, you know. I think we have got a healthy balance being in NGM; the mission will never go from what we're doing. So I think you have got to go back to your calling and what God's called you to be and to do."
So how would Steve summarise their calling as a band? "I think it's a bit like what we've been doing this week," continued Neil. "We've been sort of rallying the troops together, encouraging them to go for it, get your hands dirty, go for it this week. That's the message in our songs. Also we want to release worship in people in a new way. I mean Andy Hunter is a classic example. He's doing it. He's repackaging the whole worship thing, encouraging people to worship through using vinyl. We just want to repackage the whole worship thing, thinking outside the box a little bit more, using hopefully really good music and great lyrics to bring people into a sense of worship and then mission and being evangelists. That's the calling that Jesus put on all our lives. You can't just put that down."
Steve are really looking forward to the Revolution Tour. "It's really Yfriday's baby," said Neil. "They asked us and the bandwithnoname to come on the tour with them and join in. The thing they were talking about was the whole revolution thing that they want young people to be. Basically they don't want this tour to be a thing that goes out there for the sake of it." Lee continued, "Fundamentally it's going to be Christians there but they don't want it to be just something that entertains the Church. They want to get out there and encourage people to get out there in their cities and in their towns and start seeing people saved and using their gifts and talents and to see people changed. It's really the whole thing 'come on guys let's get out there!' Really it's like Festival: Manchester. It's the same thing, the same message all across the country. We need to take church to the people and not expect the people to come to the church. You take it where the culture is and it's really firing at that. So they asked two other bands to come along to support it, try and get a good billing and hopefully loads of people will come out and support it. There are 12 dates in November - be there!"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.