|August 1999 Christian Metal
Resource Interview with Kris k.
The text was recently supplied to
me by Kris after the CMR website went under in 2004.
Previously, the homeplanet just linked to the interview on the CMR
* Start *
This interview is one of those you don't get
too often. It was a chance to hear what a veteran in Christian metal
thinks about the genre, and who has seen all the changes since its
Kris Klingensmith was rocking back when you
thought Pat Benatar was heavy, and when some of you were still in
preschool. Some of you new to metal may not have ever heard of
Barnabas. Well, us old-timers remember quite well. They were one of
the first to take Christian music to the edges of heaviness. Their
albums are about as rare as pink diamonds. You can read the
biography of Barnabas and how they got started by checking out the
Official Barnabas Web Site.
For now, check out this brutally honest interview with Kris, and
give respect to your elders.
What major factors do you think contributed the most to the birth
of Christian metal?
Much like every other form of "contemporary Christian music,"
Christian metal was an inevitable result of the Jesus movement of
the late 60's and early 70's. As the movement spread and Jesus' fan
base grew, what started out as a handful of radically saved
guitar-playing hippies quickly became the fledgling Contemporary
Christian Music Business.
Pioneering artists such as Larry Norman, Paul Clark, Love Song, and
some of the noisier Maranatha bands tenderized - or terrorized, if
you prefer -- the Church to the point where she had to face up to
the influence Jesus Rock was having on young people. That's all it
Since Christian musicians have always copied the trends and styles
initiated by their secular counterparts, "Christian metal" was
unavoidable. It's the same way today with Christian rap, or whatever
else Christian players are doing these days. The Body of Christ has
never been very good when it comes to original thinking, but she is
a master at taking what the world is doing and making it her own. If
you want to know what Christian music will be doing tomorrow, all
you need to do is see what the secular guys are doing today. Of
course, it is true that when pagan artists convert to Christianity
they may continue to maintain their particular style, but based on
what I've observed over the years, the copycat phenomenon is the
primary force behind Christian rock music. It's always been that
way. If you don't believe it, grab your airsickness bag and tune
into TBN some Saturday night. You'll see what I'm talking about. If
big-hair heavy metal ever cycles around again in the world, you can
bet that some shiny, new, big-haired Christians will be following
When Christian metal began to emerge as a distinct new genre in
Christian music, what was your involvement in the musical “scene”?
What are your memories of music and bands of this time period?
The first Christian band I ever paid any attention to was "Agape',"
a true Jesus Freak band from the early 70's. I don't know how much
of a splash they made outside of California during their heyday, but
Agape' did pretty well out here.
They were affiliated with Pastor Ron Turner's
"Church in the Park" in Covina, California, one of those wonderful,
revolutionary ministries that flourished in Southern California
during the Jesus Movement.
I remember seeing Agape' posters at my high school, and from time to
time they would perform at outreach concerts at Covina Park.
Nowadays we all consider Larry Norman to be the "Grandfather of
Christian Rock," and that certainly is true for a number of reasons,
but I think Agape' deserves a significant share of responsibility
for setting the stage for what was to come in the way of Christian
heavy metal. In fact, in his liner notes for the CD set of Agape's
two albums, David DiSabatino claims that Agape' was the impetus for
convincing Larry Norman to begin to play Jesus rock music. If this
is true, and I figure it probably is, Agape' is one of Christian
rock's lesser known, vital cornerstones.
Of course, none of this meant much to me at the time it was
happening. I knew Agape' was a Jesus band, but that was about it. I
didn't care. They were a hot band, I was interested in rock music,
and that was it. Besides, I was raised in the Lutheran Church and
attended a religious private school from kindergarten through eighth
grade, so I figured I already knew everything there was to know
about this Jesus stuff. But a few years later, after my conversion
experience in 1975, I actually found myself auditioning for Dick
Greenburg, Agape's former bassist. Agape' had called it quits in
1974 after six years of ministry, but Dick felt compelled to
continue on, this time as a lead guitarist. I saw his ad in the San
Gabriel Valley Tribune, loaded my raggedy-ass old drum kit into my
Volkswagen, and went over there and played my brains out. I didn't
get the gig, but Dick and his bassist were very patient and polite,
and they advised me to keep practicing. I took their advice, and
that was the last audition I didn't get.
I was a regular at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa on Saturday nights
during those days. I saw some good bands, and a few legends too, but
by then the days of the Calvary tent concerts were long gone and it
had become more of a church thing than a music thing. My guess is
that Chuck Smith and his crew were concerned that their rock music
experiment might get out of hand -- being the devil's music and all
-- and they were being overly careful to ensure that everything
stayed "in the Spirit." The only Calvary bands I remember being at
least semi-rowdy were Gentle Faith, and The Way. Everybody else was
Petra's first album was out by then, and it was pretty wild for the
times. They shot a pig at the end of "Lucas McGraw," which must be
some kind of benchmark in the history of Christian rock. And there
were others; The Second Chapter of Acts, Love Song, Larry Norman and
Paul Clark come to mind as being inspirational to me, at least as to
what was possible, but the truth is that these early artists really
didn't do anything more than unlock the door. There was nothing
overtly controversial or influential about anything they did
musically, apart from a few of Larry Norman's lyrics. As I said
earlier, the real musical influences were coming from the world.
This style of music has always been
surrounded by controversy and criticism, both from secular and
Christian sides. The world thinks you are too Christian, and the
Christians think you are too worldly. Record labels won’t touch you,
and Christian labels don’t have the funding to promote like a large
secular label. How did all of these obstacles affect the band?
Barnabas probably would have died on the vine were it not for the
controversy our first album generated, within the Church. I stress
"within the Church," because out there in the real world we were no
big deal. Remember, in the beginning all we were was one of a
million pretty good L.A. rock bands, in an era when Los Angeles was
producing some truly great acts. Had we actually gone head to head
with our secular brethren at the time, it's doubtful anybody
would've noticed. Since we were plying our trade in the Christian
fishbowl, a lot of people noticed, and fortunately for us, they
didn't like what they were seeing. It's funny to me now, but the odd
truth in all of this is that most of the time, the people who hated
our music did us far more good than harm. I can see this more now
than I did then, but the Christian rumor mill was a critical part of
getting the word out on Barnabas. Bad publicity is better than no
publicity. We were being called "The Christian version of KISS" at
the very beginning, and after we whacked our hair off and copped
that wild look for the first Tunesmith album, there was no end to
the rumors and whispering. It's true that several Christian record
shops and bookstores refused to carry our product, but since
Tunesmith Record's distribution was so lousy anyway, this probably
didn't make much difference. We had a hard time getting gigs though,
and that was the one thing about our image that hurt us in the
beginning. Some of the more timid promoters were not willing to take
a chance on unleashing the dragon in some innocent, unsuspecting
Midwestern church or community center.
Looking back on those days now, it's clear to me how weird and
wonderful it was to be mildly hated by a faction of the Church. It's
very satisfying to the ego to be attacked like that -- especially
for doing something as self-gratifying as playing rock music. It
tends to lend an affirming, false sense of credibility to your
religious life, making it easier to appear sincere and
self-sacrificing during those times when you're being an
egotistical, selfish jerk. I see this in Christian players today,
and I recognize it immediately because I was guilty of it. I loved
thinking of myself as a courageous young musician taking the Gospel
to the streets in the face of persecution from the Body, blah blah
blah. I loved that. But it’s just pure ego. It's a total head-trip.
Being labeled a homosexual, or demonic, or worldly, or whatever by
well-meaning bozos who don't know what the heck they're talking
about is not persecution. This is not persecution. It's just sticks
and stones stuff; and it's no big deal. Persecution means being
arrested and jailed, or tortured and killed, because of what you
believe. I have no idea how it feels to be persecuted in such a way,
and the great majority of American Christianity doesn't either.
Listen, criticism is not the same as persecution. We tend to get
these confused sometimes. Criticism is not persecution. If a
believer is behaving like a jackass and the world busts him for it,
he has no reason to roll over like a slapped puppy and whine about
being persecuted for his faith.
What do you feel are some of the other
major conflicts Christian metal faced (or still faces) and what do
you think could help solve some of these conflicts (second rate
Rock and roll music IS conflict. A significant reason for the
attractiveness of rock music has always been rooted in the fact that
our parents, teachers and ministers don't like it. The point of
performing rock music -- Christian or otherwise -- is to shake
I'm ok with conflict. Do your art. People can take it or leave it.
If you suck, and I mean really suck, chances are you won't last long
What are your thoughts on the “ministry” of Christian metal? What
were the results of your ministry early on (favorite memories)?
It depends on the band, I figure. At the very least, Christian metal
is nothing more than bait used by the Church to draw young people
into Herself. There are a lot of crappy Christian bands out there
who have done pretty well for themselves by adopting a sound and
style that is appreciated by young music fans. The music stinks and
the lyrics are shouted gibberish, but the style is familiar and
attractive, since it was borrowed from the world in the first place.
A Christian might share a CD with a pagan friend as a prelude to
witnessing, or better yet, invite that friend to a concert where
some hot-shot youth minister closes the show with a fiery altar
call. The band is the bait, and nothing more.
Then there are the bands that are actually trying to communicate
something with their music. I clearly remember when I was a young
Christian, listening to records and tapes over and over again, often
late into the night with my headphones. Of course I loved the music,
and it was good music. But it was the lyrics that made the
Bait is ok, if that's the best you can do. I'd rather be a
Regarding Barnabas, whatever ministry we have is wrapped up in the
songwriting, recording, and fan mail, since we didn't do a lot of
concerts. We were always careful to be certain about what we were
saying lyrically. Apart from the first album, most of Barnabas'
lyrics are mine, and I took that part of the gig very seriously. I
still do. Even though a lot of water has passed under the bridge
since those days and my worldview has evolved significantly, I feel
responsible for those songs to this day.
But even more than performance and songwriting, answering the mail
was probably my biggest contribution to the work of Barnabas. We got
a ton of mail during our active years, and I answered virtually
every letter we received. I often found myself acting as a Confessor
to many young Christians who felt they could trust and confide in
Barnabas because of the topics we covered on our albums. I
understand this, because the truth is I spent some of the weakest,
weirdest, and horniest times of my life with Barnabas, and most of
that stuff went straight into my songs. People felt safe with us,
and they were. Listen, if a young Christian guy was feeling guilty
as heck for going to church with a hangover, or he was struggling
with the Penthouse magazine he had hidden under his bed, he knew he
couldn't write to Carman or Sandi Patti about it. But he could bring
that stuff to Barnabas, and we'd be ok with it. They knew this
because I'd already admitted to it myself on one of our albums.
How do you feel about the music “industry”?
Records companies are pimps. They grab you by your art, dreams and
ego, dazzle you with visions of what might be but probably won’t,
pat you on the butt, and send you out to work for them. With a
little luck, you might make enough of a splash to make it last for
awhile, and some of those youthful dreams actually will come true.
For the rest, it all comes to an end practically overnight, and
you’re right back where you started, with perhaps an addiction or
two tossed in as souvenirs. You might even end up owing your pimp a
The problem is that we need pimps sometimes. The record companies
are the bottleneck an artist must get through in order to connect
with his or her fans and supporters. Nobody wants to toil away as an
indie forever, so the much-touted recording contract continues to be
the Holy Grail of the music business. The internet has injected an
interesting spin on all of this, and maybe – MAYBE – new
technologies such as Streaming Audio, MP.3 and the like will provide
a link to the consumer that is more artist-friendly than dealing
with the record company devils.
Looking back, what do you hope to have
accomplished during this time as a Christian metal band?
Personally, selfishly, I'm grateful and relieved that I was able to
become more than just another frustrated, garage band wannabe. The
music business is a crapshoot -- the power of God notwithstanding --
and the deck is wildly stacked against anybody infected with the
toxic dream of "making it," whatever that is. Considering I was one
of thousands of self-taught drummers in Southern California during a
time when guys far more skilled than I were as thick as fleas, five
albums with Barnabas suits me just fine. Besides, I never would have
survived in any of the other Jesus band of the era; that's for sure.
I'm grateful to Monte, Gary, Brian, Mick, Nancy and all the others
for the greatest time of my life -- so far.
As far as what Barnabas might have accomplished, my bottom line hope
is that we provided our friends and fans with a friendly pat on the
back, or kick in the butt. One or the other. That's all we ever
Are you involved in any other musical projects currently?
I’ve been messing around with a boxed CD set of all five Barnabas
albums for awhile, and it looks like it’s finally starting to become
a reality. It’s taken a long time because I really don’t care to get
involved with all of the BS that comes with this type of project, so
I’ve been letting things come to me in their own time. They have,
and it looks like we’re in business. The Barnabas Website has been
going strong for two years now, with most of the major Barnabas
players contributing and participating. I communicate with Mick
Donner regularly, either on the phone or via email, and we’re
planning on collaborating on a few tunes, just for the heck of it.
I’ve settled into a decent career in the printing business here in
San Diego, and the truth is that I don’t always feel a whole lot of
passion burning within me to jump back into the music thing. I
certainly wouldn’t mind firing up Barnabas for one last race around
the block, but I have no desire to get up on a stage somewhere and
embarrass myself, either. We’ll just have to see what happens. I
bought a nice new drum kit a couple of years ago, and I’ve only
performed with them once.
Sometimes late at night I can hear them rustling around, if you know
what I mean.