Is Being Labeled a "Christian Rock" Band Toxic For Our Career?
Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist, and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
Dear Fan Landers,
We're a melodic indie-pop band from a small college town in California. When our band first started, we had a great opportunity to put out two records on a record label that is known mainly for releasing Christian music. We figured it was a great way to get our music out into the world and it was; the label had great distro and treated us well. Even though we have since gone fully independent, we still can't seem to get any love from "cool" indie blogs and press outlets who cater directly to the people who would probably like our music--mainly, I suspect, due to our former label associations, not to mention our home base in the hinterlands of California. How can we become "born again" in the eyes of the secular music press?
Not to dismiss your complaint outright, but have you gotten any direct feedback from people all skeptical about whether or not you are a Christian indie rock band? Because it sounds like you are projecting.
Back in the way-back days, nigh a long decade ago, I was the publicist for Pedro the Lion's jump out of Christian rock underground and into the snobby secular light, and I can tell you: post-Sufjan, post-Dave Bazan indie rock is a different world. Indie rock c. 2013 typically treats Christian bands with curiosity rather than contempt. Music press and secular music fans are much more capable of making a distinction between a band like yours that perhaps came up on the Christian coffeehouse circuit and bands that are proselytizing.
There are a lot of career examples you can work from these days vis a vis bands leaving the God Ghetto. Dave Bazan's Pedro the Lion-era political awakening turned out to be a creeping agnosticism and he is making incredible records about that transformation. Rather than trying to skirt any issue, he has been really direct his entire career and it helps that he made records that are now classics. There are bands like your former label mates Underoath, who courted godless hardcore kids by playing Warped Tour for, like, the last decade straight. Folks in Fleet Foxes managed to shake their Christian band bonafides off real well. Mewithoutyou, rather infamously, has made a point to tour with secular bands. Head and the Heart, Danielson, The Hold Steady have all made records that articulate complex and personal ideas about faith and spirituality; much of the stigma about doing such a thing is gone.
So, how to do you wanna handle it? There is no shame in working on both sides of the fence, as it seems like you already are. From what I can tell, your band is the perhaps biggest band in Chico, CA (congrats) and you recently won an actual award for being the best band in city as well (nice plaque). You have done national touring and some regional, but probably not enough. Being the best band in Chico on album three is no small accomplishment, but is the next step really some hot luv from Stereogum or whomever? No, no it is not.