Bands who make a big splash with their debut disc often feel a sense of pressure when it comes to recording their sophomore CD. Pin the label "Christian" on a band and the pressure extends beyond the art to include lifestyles as well.
Christian rock band Sanctus Real is ready for the challenge on both fronts with "Fight the Tide," its second major-label CD, set for release Tuesday by Sparrow Records,
The Toledo group's debut disc, "Say It Loud," was nominated for two Dove Awards and was one of the fastest-selling Christian rock albums in Sparrow's history, according to label executives. Sanctus Real's lead singer Matt Hammitt, meanwhile, became the first Toledoan to earn a Dove Award for his solo performance on the multi-artist soundtrack to the musical Hero.
The title of Sanctus Real's new disc, taken from a song lyric, represents the band members' determination to stay true to their art and their faith.
"●'Fight the Tide' is about maintaining spiritual and musical integrity," said Mr. Hammitt, who in addition to singing lead vocals plays guitar and writes the majority of Sanctus Real's songs.
He and guitarist Chris Rohman, drummer Mark Graalman, and bassist Steve Goodrum decided to celebrate the new CD's release with their local fans by holding a concert Friday night at the Mill in Toledo. The band members also will be on hand to sign autographs between 4 and 5 p.m.
The four musicians have had an extremely busy recording and touring schedule this year, racking up more than 62,000 miles on their band's van in less than 12 months.
In addition to the new album, the group contributed to a compilation of U2 songs covered by Christian bands as a fund-raiser for fighting the African AIDS crisis.
Sanctus Real's version of U2's "Beautiful Day" ended up being the band's first No. 1 hit on the Christian charts, a mixed blessing for the musicians who were glad to hit that landmark but would have preferred doing it with one of their original tunes.
In the midst of preparing for the release of "Fight the Tide," Mr. Hammitt and Mr. Rohman - both graduates of Toledo Christian High School - took time out for an interview during a recent break in their hometown.
The two 24-year-old musicians said they understand and accept the responsibility that comes with putting their music and their faith in the public eye.
"We believe in presenting life as we live it as Christians," Mr. Hammitt said. "This is the life we are living. We believe in the Bible."
Some Christian musicians may feel it is unfair for the public to review their every move, but Mr. Hammitt said it goes with the territory.
"Any athlete or musician who appears on TV, people automatically look at them as if they're superhuman," he said. "That's just the way it is. We try to do our best. Maybe we make a few extra sacrifices. But this is what God called us to do. I don't mind giving up some of my personal freedoms."
Using alcohol as a hypothetical example, the Bible does not forbid moderate use of alcohol but the musicians in Sanctus Real would not drink a beer after a concert because they would not want to set a bad example or throw their integrity into question.
"Even if I wanted to - and I don't - I wouldn't," Mr. Hammitt said. "But that's my choice. I don't expect all artists to feel the same way."
Mr. Rohman said he hopes people understand that being on stage does not elevate a person to a higher spiritual plateau.
"People need to know we're not perfect," he said. "We go through the same struggles other people go through."
As on "Say it Loud," the songs are "Fight the Tide" are not all overtly religious, but they deal with real-world situations, thoughts, and feelings from a Christian perspective.
"You have to be creative in with the way you present the message," Mr. Hammitt said.
They said it's getting more common for them to play in a city for the first time and see audiences singing along to every lyric.
"It's pretty cool," Mr. Hammitt said. "You see the kids up front singing along. It blows me away. Who would ever think that I could write a song in Toledo and have kids memorizing the words in California?"
"It still freaks me out," Mr. Rohman added with a smile.
Being on the road for days or weeks at a time, being separated from family, friends, and their home church, is still one of the toughest aspects of being a recording artist, they said.
But the members of Sanctus Real said their family members have been incredibly supportive, and they say it is a priority to find time to pray and read the Bible despite their often hectic schedules.
"It's really hard. It takes a lot of discipline," Mr. Rohman said. "You look at the calendar, and you know we're not going to be home a lot. We just try to find time on our own to read the Bible and pray."
While Sanctus Real strives to make music that is as good
it is God's guidance, not just their own talents, that enables them to "Fight the Tide."
"In the past seven years, there's not even a handful of times that we haven't prayed before we go on stage," Mr. Hammitt said. "It's important to us. We ask God to help us communicate properly.
"What's the point of driving 10 hours to a show," Mr. Rohman said, "if you can't even find at least 10 minutes to pray?"
Sanctus Real's CD-release concert at the Mill, 5115 Glendale Ave., starts at 7 p.m. Friday; doors open at 6. For admission, buy a $6 ticket; bring a copy of the new "Fight the Tide" CD, or buy a copy of the disc at the door. The band will sign autographs from 4 to 5 p.m. at the Mill. Information: 419-389-0893.
- DAVID YONKE