Mike Rimmer met up with the zany rockers [DWEEB] to talk of sci-fi, boy bands and the secular/Christian divide
Having [dweeb] round for lunch could be a daunting experience but here they are rolling up on my drive in a couple of cars and spilling out into my house! Their debut album 'It Came From Outer Space' has already won them plenty of new fans and their British tour has introduced their unique brand of rock'n'madness to even more people.
The album takes its title from a lyric in "Mediocrity Schmediocrity" - one of the outstanding cuts on their album - which says "Here it comes, falling down from outer space." Singer Tim Alford explains, "That sparked the idea because we thought: we still want to have a funny album title and want it to be a bit of laugh but we perhaps want it to be a little bit more accessible for the not-crazy [dweeb] fans!" He laughs, "So we thought 'It Came From Outer Space' sounded like a B-Movie so we went along that theme with the B-Movie artwork and a movie poster."
Normally, of course, sci-fi wouldn't be something that would interest the band members, especially Tim who has no interest in sci-fi at all. Tim thinks it's all a bit sad. He says, "I think that all these people that get really into it; like, what's that about?! Posters, going to conventions, going to midnight showings! I would never do things like that! No! Because I'm in a rock band and I'm way too cool for Star Wars!"
At this point guitarist Badgerman helpfully interrupts to point out, "Can I just say that Tim's done all those things on numerous occasions!" It makes me remember that the last time I met up with the band to do an interview, I went over to the [dweeb] house and there was a huge Lego model of Yoda. Tim immediately responds, "Dave and I built that together." Drummer Dave Ashworth suddenly becomes very animated, "We found it! It was half price and we thought, 'That would be amazing! Let's build it together! It would be a nice bonding experience between two good friends and we both love Star Wars; it would be really nice.' Honestly, it took us about eight months to build that thing!" Tim remembers, "If you had a free evening you got Lego Yoda out and you'd build a little bit more! But it took us aaaages!" Dave explains, "The novelty wore thin after awhile but in fairness the end result was pretty cool I have to say." Now that the boys no longer share a house, who has custody of the Lego Yoda? "I do, Dave didn't want it," admits Tim. "No, Dave's wife didn't want it!" corrects bassist Matt Donald. There is general agreement. Maybe Mrs Ashworth isn't a fan of sci-fi.
Mrs Rimmer however is a [dweeb] fan and on seeing the sleeve of the album decided that the photography made them look like an indie boy band. Surprisingly [dweeb] aren't offended. Do they consciously create an image or is it just what it is? "We've started to co-ordinate what we wear on stage," admits Matt, "to make sure that the look is as professional and as tuned as it can be, but if we're just hanging out we don't wear certain clothes if that's what you mean." So you won't find [dweeb] hanging round street corners wearing their stage clothes? "We have stage clothes," explains Badgerman, "which we think enhances the visual aspect of the show. It's mostly because we're not very good-looking people and so to put clothes on and kind of dress us up. . .do you know what I mean? We tried to get a mask for Dave but he wasn't really up for it."
There was a short period of time in the band's career when Ashworth actually used to drum in a Star Wars stormtrooper mask. "Yeah, but it just got really hot," he explains. "I couldn't really cope with it. I couldn't really breathe, that was the problem." Strangely, I'm realising it seems that it's impossible to get this conversation very far away from Star Wars. Meanwhile Badgerman is examining the CD sleeve to see whether the band look like an indie boy band like The Kaiser Chiefs. "I like Matt's hair in the photos; it's cool," he finally pronounces. "Thank you Badgerman!" responds Matt, taking the compliment.
So now that they have managed to get their debut album released, what are the band trying to achieve with their music? "Well, have you seen Bill & Ted?" Dave asks. "They bring world peace and unity in the future. That's kind of our aim." Badgerman chips in, "In fact we were contemplating changing our name to "Wild Stallions" but then Keanu Reeves sued us so we couldn't do it. . ."
For a moment, there is an eerie silence that descends on the room. Finally, Tim enquires, "Do you want the serious answer then?" Ehm. . .why not? I wait with eager anticipation as Tim explains, "We do have direction and we do have purpose; however we're only going to go when God says 'Go.' And do when God says 'Do.' There is absolute validity and a necessity I think, in having plans and having goals, but only when God sets those for you. We've made the mistake of being pressured by ourselves and by others around us into doing something and doing it fast and we won't be making that mistake again. So what we know God has for us is getting this album out and going to tour it. We're going to see how that goes. There's some cool stuff coming up in the summer in terms of festivals and but we will wait on God. There is other stuff which we're weighing up and so I don't want to really talk about it yet but directional stuff that is a purpose for us and is a goal for us. But we won't be acting; we won't be moving until God says. And even if that means an extended time of waiting on him, then we'll do that."
Spiritually I've observed that the band want to communicate their
faith to other people, and it is something that drives them, but
they're not doing it in an obvious way. They're not bashing people
with the songs on the album. It's more subtle. Badgerman sums it up,
"What you'll find in these songs is a display of experiences that
we've personally been through as a band; they're written about stuff
that we've experienced and witnessed firsthand. The overall core
message of it is that Jesus has the power to change lives because he's
changed ours. And so I hope what people will take from the album and
from the live show is
that they might listen to the song and it's got power because it's real for us. We're not standing and singing and saying, 'Hooray! Jesus is Lord! La de da!' Not that there's anything wrong with that but what we're saying is, 'Check out this, and look what it did to us in this way.' For example, the song 'Identity Is Not A State Of Mind' is one we find that, live, is really powerful. It's speaking into a situation which is so prominent today. Probably 90 per cent of the time we play live there's probably people there who suffer with self image and stuff like that, and to say and to sing and to play out to those people that there's an answer - and we know because we've found it - that's got power. That's the real power of Christianity really. It's not in the words. It's not in the theories and stuff. It's in the actual reality that God CAN change lives."
Tim chips in, "I think also, even though we probably rarely write specifically for this, it's worth considering your audience as well. Some of the gigs we play and some of the people we play to just wouldn't take on board any of the messages we're saying if we came out in sandals and a robe with a tambourine singing really blatant Christian lyrics. We'd lose the respect of the audience and it would be a waste of time." Matt joins in the discussion saying, "But you won't go to a [dweeb] gig and not know what we're about. That wouldn't happen." Badgerman adds, "And lyrically, I understand what you're saying in terms of the songs being subtle. But I would say the majority of the songs if you were to sit and either listen, or read the lyrics, you'd know what they were about. I think that it's told in our way. I mean Tim's our main lyricist and it's told in his style and the way he tells things and maybe that's not the same as the next band, but the fact is I think it's effective and you understand the point we're getting across." Matt adds, "I think we're also using bizarre imagery less and less which will make it much easier for people to understand what the song is about."
For a while, there have been rumours amongst some of their fan base that they are going to crossover and go into the mainstream. Is that something that the band desires to do? "Well the thing is," Dave responds, "I can understand why this has probably happened. A majority of our fan base would consider us a Christian band but that was never our goal to be purely a band for Christians. And it's never our goal to be purely a band for people who aren't Christians. It was something we were challenged on quite early on in the band's life; that we wanted to try and straddle both those things, which is something that's very difficult to do. We've been told numerous times by numerous people that in some ways it's not possible; you will be lumped in with one or the other. So I would say to the people who think, 'Oh, they're gonna try and go the mainstream.' We've ALWAYS been trying to go the mainstream!"
He laughs and continues "We've just been doing Christian stuff as well. And we will continue to do both; we feel like we've got something to offer Christians and non-Christians. Christians - sharing with likeminded people our experiences and our journey with God. And non-Christians - maybe trying to get across the fact that Jesus probably isn't who they think he is. That he is the Saviour and he will change their life. And so I would say to that; we never really think like that and it doesn't really concern us because we always try and do both." Matt chips in, "It's not even like we go through periods of doing Christian stuff and secular stuff. Like last night we were playing in Coventry in a club and tomorrow we're playing in a church-based event. So we just try and mix it up."
Tim explains "I believe that 'the earth is the Lord's and everything in it' and I believe that the only secular thing is sin. The rest belongs to God because he created it. So I'm not sure where this whole secular/Christian divide came. I'm not sure when we made ourselves a little clique and separated ourselves from what is the Lord's. Where there is a Christian music scene, as Dave rightly said, we don't want to pigeonhole ourselves just to that but we do want to be involved in it too, and that is not the best way for commercial success. It's not. The fact is that there IS a Christian music scene and if you're involved in it, it makes it harder for you to have mainstream success. We were challenged very early on that that was what we were to do in this band and that is what we will continue to do. It makes it more difficult for us to have a commercial success but because it's what God said, we're doing it because for us, success is obeying God. We would chose that decision to obey God over X amount of album sales hands down; every single day that's the purpose. We're not driven by commercial success, we're driven by trying to live our lives the way God's called us to live our lives."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.