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 site. MV
 

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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 inception.

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.

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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 took.

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 close behind.



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 way clean-cut.

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 musicians/cloning)?

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 things up.

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 anyway.
 


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 difference.

Bait is ok, if that's the best you can do. I'd rather be a communicator.

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 fortune.

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 really need.
 


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.