CCM Magazine Rewind column featuring Barnabas. By Devlin Donaldson
(Publisher's note: The interviews for this article were conducted in July '98. There have many new developments in Barnabas space since. This article was obviously intended as a retrospective of Barnabas, and Devlin did not mention the plans for the box set, the possibility of a reunion, nor the homeplanet website. With that said, read on.)
Smash Mouth may be a huge group best known for its hit "Walking on the Sun," but back in the early '80s "smashmouth" was the adjective often used to describe the intense music of Barnabas: powerful rock 'n' roll, unbridled musical aggression.
Through an amazingly short career of seven years and five albums, Barnabas helped push forward the course of Christian metal/alternative music.
Barnabas started when bass player Gary Mann and guitarist Monte Cooley hooked up in Santa Monica, Calif., in 1978. Forming a band together that year, the lineup temporarily settled to include Nancy Jo Mann (vocals) and Kris Klingensmith (drums).
"I was living east of L.A.," remembers Klingensmith, "and I had put an ad in a local rag called The Recycler. Musicians use it to find gigs and sell equipment. Monte found my ad looking for other players, and he invited me to come audition for Barnabas." Fending off gas crisis lines at the pump, Klingensmith joined the group, making the drive to Santa Monica for rehearsal.
Quickly getting things organized, Barnabas recorded a demo tape featuring "Directory Assistance" with "Nicodemus" on the B-side. "We shopped these demos around," Klingensmith says. "Everyone rejected them because it was too ridiculous, too outlandish to everyone except for a small Canadian label called Tunesmith, a part of Praise [Industries]." The band's first album,Hear the Light, was released in 1980.
On the advice of fellow rock artists Servant and its Highway Missionary Society, Barnabas hightailed it out of L.A. in 1981. After a few weeks of living in the Jesus People, USA community in Chicago, the band set up shop in Schaumburg, Illinois. "The move was prompted so we would be more accessible to tour," says Nancy Jo. It was the first of many moves for this transient pack of musicians.
Founding member Cooley left the band and returned to L.A. before the second Barnabas record was recorded. Find Your Heart a Home found Barnabas living in Des Moines, Iowa,having added Mick Donner and Kris Brauninger to fill the shoes of Cooley. But more changes occurred before the group caught widespread attention. On the next album, 1983's Approaching Light Speed on Light Records, the band replaced Donner and Brauninger with guitarist Brian Belew, forming the line-up most people envision as Barnabas.
The Manns, Klingensmith and Belew created (with producer Tom Tucker) 1984's Feel the Fire and then moved to Edmond, Okla., where the members would go on to release their final album,Little Foxes, in 1986. Though plagued by constant change in location or personnel, Barnabas richly contributed to Christian music's emerging diverse landscape.
"There really wasn't a whole lot of that type of smashmouth music going on," Klingensmith says, "particularly when Monte formed the band with Gary back in L.A.. It was all sort of Chuck Girard [acoustic] sounding. [Our sound] was new, and it bothered a lot of people. The stage presence overwhelmed them. We had our share of detractors, that's for sure."
"I used to answer mail from parents, believe it or not," says Nancy Jo. "They were inquiring [about the music], and I support that. Parents should probably write more letters. I still get a lot of mail. I still feel responsible for the work we did back then, I really do. Because I wrote it and even though there is a lot of water under the bridge, and everyone's worldview has evolved somewhat, the work is still out there. And I feel like we should support it."
By 1986, Barnabas was crumbling under the pressure of having lived in each other's pockets for some seven years, and the external pressure was beginning to take its toll. "We were just getting burnt out," says Nancy Jo. "My kids had needs, and I wanted to provide them with what they needed. It was just time to go our ways."
Today, the members of Barnabas are scattered. Klingensmith is living in San Diego and is an art director. Gary and Nancy Jo are divorced; he is remarried and living in Texas working in the computer industry while she is remarried and living in Coffeyville, Kansas. Cooley is living in Boise, Idaho. Details about other former members were not available.
"Those were hard and lean years, but it was a pretty amazing time," Klingensmith reflects.. "I consider myself fortunate to have been able to do this. When we were doing it, we were shooting arrows over the horizon. We had no idea who we were hitting or what it was doing. I have now gotten E-mail from children of people who were our fans. The kids have pulled their parents' records and are listening. We didn't make any money or have the trappings of success, but to have our work endure at some level is very gratifying."
Originally published in the 10/98 issue. Copyright 1998 by Devlin Donaldson and CCM Magazine. All Rights Reserved.