Tony Cummings talks to California's alternative rock band the VIOLENT BURNING.
The Violet Burning are a goth-looking, grungey, indie band with droning sound that needs to be heard loud... sorry... LOUD. In the States they play the hardcore clubs and bars of Southern California. You get the picture? No, you don't.
The violet burning are Christians. OK, you can deal with that You read Cross Rhythms, you know all about these radical youth pastor-types who realise they 'need to reach the kids', get some weird clothes and weirder haircuts, coin a name like Scaterd Few or One Bad Pig and go and take spiritual message songs to the moshers and dopers, hookers and no hopers who frequent the wastes of urban clubland.
But the violet burning aren't like that. They were a hardcore band long before they began to play in church or at any Christian festival. Neither are the violet burning a band suffering from a peculiar form of spiritual schizophrenia long known in the popular arts and only too prevalent in this age of Prince and John Updike who indulge in God talk, even Jesus talk, yet seem incapable of living the Christian life. No, the violet burning are profoundly, passionately, totally in love with the Lord Jesus Christ and love nothing better than the things of the Spirit In fact shut your eyes, disregard the fact that their fingernails are painted with black nail varnish and they mate music that one journalist wrote recently appeals "if you like your music blood-red in tooth and claw" and listen to what these brothers are saying. Bass guitarist Scott Tubbs speaking: "What I do on stage I do in prayer first in my bedroom before God alone. Because you can't take anybody where you haven't been. So, night after night, I'll stay up weeping in my room with a guitar, praising the Lord, worshipping God. It's not just about' the stage'. That's what musicians fail to realise. Get into your bedroom, worship the Lord get the presence of the Lord alone, he wants to see you. All four of us spend time alone with the Lord, on our faces before God, worshipping God. So that carries onto the stage."
If s transparently clear that, if you can leave your cultural and theological preconceptions about Art and Ministry on one side, the violet burning are a creatively white hot rock band AND in ministry. Never has the unnecessary (nay, unbiblical) dichotomy of the two dimensions of KINGDOM Life been so savagely exposed as in this quartet of rock musicians. Yet before we discuss the precise nature of the violet burning's ministry, let's fill in the biographic holes. Shawn, Scott and Lonnie Tubbs are brothers who all grew up in Highnton Beach, California. All three played music, Shawn guitars, Scott bass and Lonnie drums. In 1985 Lonnie became a Christian. He also started playing with Michael JL Pritzl the possessor of a broodingly powerful rock vocal chords and no mean guitarist Kirt G entry on bass, Lonnie and Michael formed the violet burning and began playing the clubs. At first they attended Chuck Smith's Clavary Chapel but after a while they joined John Wimber's famed Vineyard Fellowship in Anaheim, CA famed for its charismatic leader and his internationally recognised signs and wonders ministry and famed also for its worship music. Scott kept in touch with his brothers if not his faith. Though Scott had made a commitment to Christ while a child the world of sex, drugs and rock'n' roll seemed more attractive. His band the Ten Inch Men, who were eventually signed to Atlantic Records were happening. They opened for Living Colours and were riding the fast lane. Then the Hound Of Heaven came for His most disobedient of children. Scott himself picks up his story. "I was driving down the freeway at 4 o'clock in the morning. Not thinking of much. All of a sudden the Lord gave me an open vision of Hell. It blew me away. I was crying. Then the Lord baptised me in the Spirit I remember calling Lonnie on the phone. We got together and sat there and cried together for hours as I shared with him the open vision of Hell that I'd had in that car."
In 1987 Scott and his brother Shawn were drafted in to play some additional bass on the album 'Chosen' that the violet burning were in the process of recording at the Vineyard Recording studios. The album was released on New Breed Music, a company formed by Michael Pritzl and Chris Wimber John's son), with the Vineyard fellowship putting up the studio time. Scott Tubbs is profoundly aware that the thought of an indie rock band having their recording costs underwritten by their church is an alien concept to some quasi-radical Christian rock musicians. "We are utterly committed to the church in the violet burning. Sadly, many bands who are Christians are anti-church. But we're pro-local church. Some bands are so completely in the church that they get trapped in the church and can't get out to the mainstream. But many others are so completely rebellious against the church and they don't want anything to do with the church, either because they've been burned by it or the church doesn't give them the freedom God's put in their hearts. That's what John Wimber did -- he gave us the freedom to do what was in our hearts."
By 1990 the violet burning had settled on its proper line up. Kirt Gentry left and Scott and Shawn (who, as already mentioned, played on bits of the first album) became 'official'. The band began work on their second album. Says Scott "It's called 'Strength and the whole album's about weakness -- how we are weak in God, and we must lean on Him and not on our own understanding." Stylistically, its edgier, more tightly focussed than the first somewhat eclectic 'Chosen'. But nothing can take away from the profound significance of' Chosen' now belatedly but welcomely given a UK release via Word (UK). For though 'Chosen' has gotten rave reviews no review that I've read has grasped the particular dynamic of the album and indeed the whole ministry of the violet burning.
Neither the radical rock chick of Christians in ART nor the "Lord I Really Just Want Lord To Praise You Lord Just As I Really Am Right Now Lord" constituency of middle class, middle-of-the-road praisers have yet grasped that the violet burning are praise and worship musicians. I'll say it again, praise and worship musicians. I don't just mean that they've now started to play on Songs Of The Vineyard albums; they're on the excellent 'Hear Our Cry'. I don't even mean that if you examined, without prejudice, the lyrics of' Chosen' you'd discern they were lyrically worship orientated i.e. addressed directly to God. What I'm getting at is deeper than that It stands at the centre of the Big Debate 'What is praise and worship music?' It stands at the centre of Mike Pritzl's comment in the Greenbelt Festival programme this year "we believe we are a band that change the way the world looks at Christian music."
This isn't some arrogant throwaway from some Christian rock muso whose flesh has gotten out of hand. Neither is it apiece of "we play in hell holes so we're radical" rhetoric rapidly becoming a cliche in the section of the church grappling with rock culture. If s laying down an exciting new agenda for 90s rock, leapfrogging over that 'is it ministry?' 'is it art?" debate which is still clogging the thought processes of the Church. An indie rock band going on stage and worshipping God with all their heart, mind and souls. The world will respond to that, or so they have with the violet burning. That's why when they perform the breathtaking "The Killing" (stunningly written by Michael Pritzl when he was a mere 18 years) the violet burning have been known to stop a nightclub full of revellers and move into a time of prayer and deliverance.
Their message to the churches is this. You can praise and worship God with grunge, goth, thrash, rap, acid, house or any musical style as effectively as you can praise and worship God with melodic ditties written by Graham Kendrick or Carl Tuttle. That is the central thrust of the violet burning's attitude to praise. The fact that Tuttle, composer of seemingly hundreds of Songs Of The Vineyard, is a friend of Scott adds special relevancy to his comments. "We were talking to a pastor friend last night and he was talking about how the youth can't get into the worship in the church. He asked us, 'What do you guys do about that in your church? We said, Listen you've got to go with God's anointing. If God's not anointing Cari Tuttle worship right now, or God's not anointing Kevin Prosche then don't do it Go with what God is anointing. Because when ifs anointed of God it transcends generations."
I believe God has anointed the violet burning. The band could be called an 'evangelistic band'. During the concerts they played at Greenbelt dozens of people made decisions for Christ They could be said to have 'a signs and wonders ministry. They utter words of knowledge from stage and frequently see people healed of physical illnesses when they pray for them. But first and foremost the violet burning are worshippers of God, and strive to worship God with all their heart and soul and mind when playing rock music in sleazy California nightclubs or a Christian Arts Festival. 'Says Scott "When we play our primary thing is to worship God. When we go on stage all I see is God, all I want to be is in the presence of the Lord. That's all I want -- to see Jesus. Nothing else. I count everything else loss. Sure, give me a world of knowledge, somebody gets healed - I'd rather see people saved though. Personally I'd rather see one man saved than 50,000 healed. But when we go on that stage, we go on our knees to glorify God. We are concerned about Jesus, then everything else falls into place."
Scott feels that the church often relies too heavily on a formula in
these things. Tm not sure the formula is even biblical. There's too
often a typical approach to ministry rock music. The band comes on,
the preacher preaches and then an alter call. Well, I dunno. I've seen
some pretty incredible things that God's done with the violet burning. I've
seen salvation come just through the music. We are open to whatever
God will do -- we'll do alter calls, but sometimes the music does it
without us asking. People just start falling and giving their lives to
Christ within the music."
Scott Tubbs' words go out to a Church still often locked into the vehicle yet having lost the concept of movement Where once the church took Hymns, Ancient And Modem and allowed them to ossify into dead religious ritual, so today modem charismatics are taking another worship expression, simple musical strumalongs, and believing that is the total sum of worship. Concluded Scott, "I don't think that the church nor us have even touched the worship of God. I don't think any of us have even come close to it I think that the worship that God is getting ready to release is going to confound the wise."