Shhh. Don't say the C-word. In the secular world, it's like a scarlet letter.
Just ask Alice Cooper.
The venerable shock rocker was once quoted as saying, "Drinking beer is easy. Trashing your hotel room is easy. But being a Christian, that's a tough call. That's rebellion."
Indeed. Christianity truly is the one taboo in a culture of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Some bands embrace their spirituality and use the word of God as lyrical fodder, while others prefer to keep their faith closer to their hearts. Although Tifah Al-Attas and her bandmates -- drummer Dann Stockton, bassist Juli Royster, violinist Aubrea Alford and multi-instrumentalist Reid Phillips -- are unabashed about their religious beliefs, they tend to fall into the latter category.
"We, by no means, want to contribute to any sort of tension between the idea of Christian music and non-Christian music," Al-Attas emphasizes. "We play in a lot of churches and Christian venues, but we also play in a lot of bars and clubs that aren't religiously affiliated at all. It's really important to us to be able to play in both of those places.
"For us," she adds, "we're not really looking to identify ourselves by that one thing, in regard to Christian music. We're not looking to alienate ourselves or anyone else."
Being outcast among outcasts is one reason for underplaying the child-of-God tag, but fear of misrepresentation can be a part of it, too.
"A lot of people think that we're a Christian band because of the name or because we've toured with Christian bands," remarked Fear Before the March of Flames guitarist Adam Fisher in a recent TruthExplosion.com interview. "That's definitely not true. A few of us have our beliefs, but we are definitely not a Christian band, and I would never want to be grouped with that."
But, really, what's the harm? Plenty of Christians have been integrated into popular music over the last century. The past several decades have produced a range of artists -- from Sam Cooke and Bob Dylan to P.O.D. and Switchfoot -- who have garnered mainstream acceptance while exploring their spirituality. Even homegrown acts -- Five Iron Frenzy and Rackets and Drapes, most notably -- have developed substantial followings on both sides of the religious fence without compromising their faith or diluting their message.
And yet for some, the designation is just too big a cross to bear. There are certain preconceived notions about faith-influenced music, and much of the stigma seems to come from the persistent view that Christian bands -- and even those outfits with only loose affiliations -- are out to proselytize audiences. (This, of course, is not entirely unfounded.) But the decision to preach or not to preach is often based on whether the intent is to play music for God or for yourself.
The members of Foolish Things, an Aurora-based pop-rock act that recently signed to the Christian imprint InPop, make no qualms about their aspirations to inspire religious zeal. The quintet came together nearly a decade ago at New Life Evangelical Free Church, when the guys were still in their teens. The youth group needed a band to play worship songs, and the adolescents, who had no prior musical experience, volunteered to learn how to play instruments. From there, as bassist Nate Phillips attests, "The Lord just kept opening up doors for us."
By the fall of 2001, the boys were in college and had decided to take a semester off in order to undertake a three-month-long tour. If successful, they decided, the band would go full-time. None of them ever returned to school. "We saw on the road that we were affecting people's lives by the songs that we wrote," Nate recounts, "and also by our lives, because we are people that the Lord has radically transformed.
"All of us are married," he adds, "and so to leave our families and to go out and travel and to make very little money doing this is not worth it at all, unless there's something bigger than us behind it. We would quit right this moment if we were doing this for any other reason besides sharing the love of God with people."
In contrast, Al-Attas has a much more self-effected reason for making music. Raised in Houston, she had formal training in piano and cello at an early age; she picked up guitar when she was about sixteen. After high school, she moved here and attended the University of Colorado. Like the boys in Foolish Things, it was during her college years that Al-Attas decided to pursue a career in music -- but she didn't need to tour to convince herself that it was the right thing to do. She just sang.
"I was in the stairwell at my dorm at CU, which has the greatest acoustics in the world," Al-Attas recalls, "and I was singing this song, just for myself, this song I had learned to play, and literally, I cried. I realized that I have to do this for the rest of my life -- like, I can't imagine doing anything else."
After graduation, Al-Attas moved to Long Beach, California, where she enrolled in grad school and continued to write music. But she got distracted when the relationship with her then-boyfriend spiraled into her "first substantial total complete utter heartbreak," she says. Six months later she moved back to Colorado at the urging of her friend and manager, Jimmy Lakey. Shortly thereafter, Al-Attas put together a band and recorded Safe & Sound, slated for release this Saturday at the Marquis Theater. The album is immersed in beautiful, transcendent melody and weighted with Al-Attas's almost overbearingly melancholic voice. Nonetheless, her McLachlan-esque delivery points to a bright-blue sky behind grey-black clouds. Her songs are her life, reflective of her own struggles and personal demons.
"I know people who write music and never share it with anyone, and they're totally content with that," she offers. "But I just can't do that. I write a song and I look for someone to share it with right away. It's not because it's like, ŒLook how cool I am!' It's just that I feel the need to share this with you -- which might be inherently selfish, I'm not sure.
"I know that I'm not the best musician in the world," she continues. "I have been humbled time and time again, but I also know that I will always work really hard to become better than I am. I feel that I can be the best person I can be when I'm writing music or playing someone a song."
And despite the fact that Al-Attas and her bandmates choose to eschew overtly Christian imagery in their music, the humbled intent for many of the songs remains, well, pretty darn godly. Most outfits don't have a motto, but Tifah's members encourage everyone to consider theirs: Love Wins.
"It's a really compelling way to live your life," Al-Attas affirms, "because to be loving is just to be honest and to be encouraging and to also be able to have those hard conversations and everything else. Faith is definitely a part of that, in that I believe that God loves me and that God loves the people that he's made.
"For us, too, it's something that we can really hold on to that is accessible to people," she continues, "whether they identify with Christianity or they identify with whatever they want to live their life by."
And lest you think that trumpeting a holy message makes Al-Attas holier-than-thou:
"I am the first person to admit that I am selfish and that I have hurt people and I've been conceited and all these things that are really awful," she confesses. "I am by no means saying that I've got it down. I mess up a lot, and I write about that a lot in my music. I am definitely not the icon of rightfulness, by any means.
"It's really important for me to write things that are true," she concludes. "True to me, true about me, true about who I think God is. I never want to write a song just because the words sound good."
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