By Quincy Smith-Newcomb
Forward: When Barnabas’ debut album on Tunesmith, Hear the Light, was released early last winter, everyone got curious. Who were these bizarre looking people in this rock ‘n’ rolling mystery band? They didn’t even put their names on the album, and those strange punk-like clothes, what was a Midwestern boy to think? One thing was very clear though, in the midst of their high energy music, they were declaring the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The song titles were blatant in their intent: “Savior”, “He Loves You”, and “Playin’ For Him” captured the core of their message.
At the time of this interview, Barnabas was no longer a mystery. Nancy and Gary Mann (husband and wife) are the vocalist and bassist, respectively, They both play synthesizer, The drummer is Kris Klingensmith, Esquire (the Esquire is optional). The guitarist that they recorded the album with had since left the band (his first name was Monte, I never learned his last name). Mick Donner had joined Barnabas as the new guitarist just three weeks before I met them. Donner is from Des Moines, Iowa, where the band had just relocated. He has played the local coffeehouse circuit in a small time band called Shiloh.
We first met Barnabas at their campsite at Illinois Jam. They were better musicians than they were at putting up their tent. During the weekend, we got to know and love them. They have a real gentle spirit when dealing with people. During the interview we were interrupted by a young woman who was seeking help to sort out what God had been saying to her. I watched as they ministered in simple honest language to her need. Their words were liberating and encouraging. Barnabas is a great group of people, and you can’t miss them in a crowd.
I was able to talk with three of the Barnabi. Gary was off with their manager getting their spare tire fixed so they wouldn’t have to travel home on three. They were a captive audience. We talked about their future, adding Mick to the band, and the color of Nancy’s hair. I hope this interview raises your curiosity enough to buy their album.
Pacer: Kris, how long has Barnabas been together as you know it?
Kris: Well, as I know it, two and a half years. It started about four years ago when Gary, our bassist, and Monte, our first guitar player, got together. They got together in L.A. and went through a couple of drummers and singers. Nancy and I joined the band 2 ½ to 3 years ago. As it is now, Barnabas has been together a little over three weeks.
Pacer: Has Barnabas always been a Christian band?
Kris: Yes, since its inception. Well, actually, it’s been a band made up of believers. I always tremble at the term “Christian Rock” because I still have a lot of headknocker friends who wouldn’t come near a Christian rock concert. They’ve either had some over-zealous friend who pushed some dumb record on them, or they’ve walked by a church and heard music coming out of it. Up until recently, Christian music hasn’t been good enough to hold their interest. So we like to think of ourselves as a band composed of believers who are writing about what we believe—expressing how we see the world as believers.
Pacer: Now, you recorded “Hear the Light” with Monte. Is it true that it was recorded in just ten hours of studio time?
Kris: Yes, we went in on a Saturday night after a gig, and did drum sounds until some ridiculous hour. We started recording at ten Sunday morning and we were done before three with the rhythm tracks. We went back in to Salty Dog Studios later on and did vocals. Most everything on the album is a first take— we did a couple of things twice, but for most of the songs we just turned up and played.
Pacer: That’s really amazing, your playing was so polished.
Nancy: After three years of the same songs, they ought to be polished!
Pacer: Mick, you joined the band three weeks ago. What’s it like to be in Barnabas? Have you felt pressure to fit into Monte’s shoes?
Mick: I’ve never tried to fit into Monte’s shoes, we’re just two totally different guitar players. I’ve learned his chord changes but I haven’t had time to do anything but try not to get bushed this last three weeks (the members of Barnabas work day jobs and then practice evenings).
Pacer: People have described your music as new wave, punk, and other things. How would you describe your music?
Mick: And other things.
Kris: And other things (laughs).
Nancy: And other things (much laughter).
Kris: You’ve got to remember that we were born and raised musically in Los Angeles. We weren’t trying to do anything, as much as we were a product of our environment. Everybody doing the L.A. rock band thing looks like we look, or a little weirder. On the album we just played high energy rock ‘n’ roll. It’s heavy metal.
Pacer: How is the new Barnabas album different from the first album?
Kris: A lot of what we did on the first album sounded the same. You know, thump, thump, thump. I’m really pleased with the stuff Gary’s been writing because it’s drifting away from the simpler music. We’re doing a lot of more intricate things.
Mick: It’s a musical challenge. Last night, if we could have done our whole show, we would have covered the gamut. You would have heard everything from scream-and-holler-rock-n-roll to tech-rock to funky stuff and country.
Kris: We’re in the process now of seeing if songs are going to work. We need to try our music out on people. This really wasn’t a good place for that because there was so much music, and Barnabas did get a raw deal with the police and all. Right now, we’re testing our songs to see which ones are going to go.
Pacer: I love the way you guys look. What prompted your style of dress, both live, and on the album cover?
Nancy: That’s the thing that was in L.A. That’s the culture that we came from. We were not trying to blow anybody away, we just did what we were comfortable doing. We were just being us. We were not trying to be somebody or put on something. We were rock ‘n’ rollers before we ever knew Jesus, and we still rock ‘n’ roll, but we rock ‘n’ roll for Jesus now. We are not trying to do or be anything. We are artists who are Christians that play rock ‘n’ roll.
Pacer: That’s your two songs “Playin’ for Him” and “B.C.”
Nancy: Right, we just do what we are. The Word tells me that my Lord loves me just the way I am. We don’t try to be weird. People have asked me why my hair is purple/pink. And I’ve simply told them, “Because I think it’s pretty.” They usually respond, “Well, praise the Lord, that’s good!” I really like my hair, and it does fit what we do.
Kris: I like it. I think it’s great to have hair that goes with your clothes.
Pacer: Has your appearance and your album cover hurt your ability to find places to play and minister?
Nancy: Well, yes, but people are calling us now. We don’t have to call promoters to get gigs. We are becoming more known. Enough has been written about us so that people are beginning to realize that we’re not just a bunch of clowns trying to pull something off in Jesus’ name. We’ve been called off the stage and people have accused me of looking like a whore. But they’ve always come back the next day, and the Lord has done something, and they apologize and ask our forgiveness. Now people are beginning to accept us for who we are. We’ve set the date of February 1st as the time that we want to go full time. Right after we set that date, our manager got six calls from different parts of the country asking for us at around that date. That was a real confirmation from the Lord. We’re starting to get ready for that.
Pacer: When do you foresee another album?
Nancy: We’d like to see a release before Christmas.
Kris: That’d be a year from the first one.
Pacer: How did you guys feel about the bad review “Hear the Light” got in CCM magazine?
Nancy: You know that review sold over 300 albums in a weekend in Costa Mesa. They wanted to know what was so radical.
Mick: That was the beginning of my relationship with Barnabas.
Pacer: You mean, you bought the album because of that review?
Mick: No, I never did buy the album (laughter). Seriously, that review was printed in January. When I read it I had to sit there for five minutes and try and figure out what the guy was trying to say. For the next four months I read that magazine and Barnabas just kept popping up, it was neat. The next thing I know I’m in the band.
Pacer: How did that happen? They said that you found them, they didn’t find you.
Mick: When Barnabas hit Des Moines, the New Life Center put them up. I know a guy who fellowships over there and he mentioned that Barnabas was there and that they were looking for a new guitarist. I was just hanging around so I thought I ought to put my name in. The more I thought about it the more I was convinced that I should. So I got hot on the phone trying to get hold of Gary and Nancy. When they finally got back to me~ we agreed to get together and talk.
Pacer: So you talked, and then auditioned?
Mick: Yeah, we talked twice because Kris wasn’t around the first night.
Pacer: how did you even know that Mick could play?
Nancy: At that point it didn’t matter. We really needed a guitarist.
Kris: I knew it when he came, I said to myself we’ll take this guy (laughter).
Nancy: It was Mick’s personality, he just fit in.
Mick: I grew up in the Midwest living mentally on the West Coast. I worked with this guy at a radio station and we were always getting literature from the West Coast. My tastes were always a couple of years ahead of everybody else. I fit personally, but I actually had three nights of audition. My first two nights of audition were just terrible (laughs).
Nancy: We went upstairs after he left and sought the Lord. We said, if this is the guy, Lord, then you better let his fingers cut loose more than they are
Mick: The third night we brought in a Marshall cabinet, I had been playing through one bass fifteen and it just didn’t sound. With the Marshall it was suddenly rock ‘n’ roll.
Nancy: All of a sudden he just cut loose, that was the turning point, he came in and we did one song, and he pulled off some licks and we just went woah! I said, “Hey man, those were some licks.” He just sat and said, ‘1 don’t think it was me playing because I don’t know how I did it.”
Pacer: How do you feel about the fact that Barnabas hasn’t been well received, for whatever reasons? Are you concerned about marketability?
Mick: I don’t think I need to worry that much about marketability. As long as I do what I do well, and in honesty and truth.
Kris: I’m more paranoid about that. I never even picked up CCM until I heard that there was one that had Barnabas in it. When I did, I realized that it was just like Cash Box and that there were marketing trends. I found that bands that I don’t like are the ones that are really getting over. If the music I don’t like is selling, then the music I do must not. On the other hand, thing do change, and getting Mick has helped because he’s got the licks that people like to hear. We have a real goal to do some steady touring. As a musician you know you’ve really done well when people are buying your albums and coming to hear you play.
Mick: The fact is that right now I’m a carpenter more than I’m a musician, and I’m not a very good carpenter.
Kris: We all work at 8 to 5 jobs. I’m a printer, he’s a carpenter, and Gary programs computers. Then we go home to our cockroach-ridden basement and write songs. I’m just kidding, edit the cockroach (laughs).
Mick: I wish we could! (much laughter).
Kris: No, really we have a nice house. We just want to play as much as we can. I ‘m sure that the second record is going to be a turning point.
Pacer: You guys have sold pretty well for a band that hasn’t toured much.
Nancy: Yeah, I just found out that we’ve got quite an underground following on the West Coast.
Mick: We haven’t toured, we haven’t gotten a lot of promo, but we’ve gotten a lot of good bad press.
Kris: People treat Barnabas like they do cats. They either love them or they hate them.
Pacer: I hate cats.
Kris: I like them.
Pacer: Well, I like Barnabas.