In NOG we trust
Members of Number One Gun take time to look at themselves before moving ahead
Musically, Trevor Sellers is seasoned well beyond his 24 years. The soft-spoken bassist for Number One Gun is also one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet—a solid musician (he also plays drums and guitar) who hasn’t forgotten where he came from, despite his band’s success. In fact, Sellers credits those he grew up with in Chico’s music scene as the ones who have, to this day, helped keep him so well grounded.
Right now Sellers is antsy—and it’s not from the cup of Joe he’s sipping at a downtown coffee shop. He’s ready to hit the road again. And although Number One Gun is scheduled to play a show this month in Sacramento, it’s going to be awhile before Sellers resumes touring with his friends and band mates—vocalist-guitarist Jeff Schneeweis, drummer Jordan Mallory and guitarist Chris Keene.
Over the past few months, the members of Number One Gun have taken some time off to reassess the rock band they’ve managed to turn into full-time jobs, at one point questioning whether or not they should even continue. Just a year ago the band signed with the independent and well-established Christian label Tooth & Nail Records. But the grind of extensive touring, something the band members have always embraced with an iron grip, has become more and more taxing.
Sellers explained that after scheduling a show at The Boardwalk in Sacramento, however, the band realized it didn’t want to hang things up just yet—no doubt a relief to their fans.
“It’s something we all built from the ground up,” Sellers said. “It’s not just a band we’re filling in for.”
So what’s to reassess? Sellers said life on the road has become less appealing (understandably so) to the married members of NOG, Schneeweis and Mallory, and downtime allows them to regroup and dip their hands into other projects.
Schneeweis is writing new songs and producing new music for locals Brighten and Cabrini Green. Mallory and Keene are writing songs for a new project called Surrogate, which they plan to shop around to labels over the next few months. And Sellers will hit the road with Tooth & Nail label mates Waking Ashland for the next month-and-a-half and may even jump onto a few other tours before NOG reconvenes in the studio later this year.
During the past five years the band has traveled what appears to be a seamless path to success. Schneeweis and Mallory have known each other since junior high and formed the band Paper Trees in the late ‘90s while attending Pleasant Valley High. Schneeweis jokingly referred to their first band as “total ‘80s butt rock.” Around the same time, Sellers was a boy among men (albeit a respected one) cutting his teeth with some of Chico’s finest musicians in bands like Cowboy, Isabel and Either.
What followed, of course, is well-known around these parts: From the ashes of their previous projects rose Number One Gun, a rock band that embraced melody as well as muscle.
NOG released its first EP Forever in 2002 and its first full-length collection, Celebrate Mistakes, one year later. It wasn’t long before the words “Number One Gun” and “success story” were being spilled on to the pages of publications in Chico and beyond.
Things turned even more promising from there. NOG signed with Tooth & Nail and released Promises for the Imperfect that summer. The band then did what came natural and took the show on the road—kicking off a national tour here by opening for MTV modern-rockers Jimmy Eat World before heading out with Tooth & Nail bands Project 86, Spoken and Mourning September. The fans were excited. The members of NOG were excited—and rightfully so.
After the release of Promises, Number One Gun seemed poised to follow the footsteps of former Tooth & Nail punk trio MxPx as a Christian band that could find crossover success. But it’s no easy task with religion being such a hot-button topic in this country. Sure, there’s a built-in audience, but there are also those out there who are quick to dismiss bands that fall under the “Christian rock” umbrella as no-talents with a message.
A lot of that might have something to do with the surge of savvy record companies in the’80s that encouraged groups to latch on to whatever was popular to spread their messages. God knows a lot of the groups were terrible. Enjoy metal? How about a yellow-and-black leather-clad Stryper singing “To Hell with the Devil.” And hip-hop? Recall dc Talk telling us how cool it is to be a “Jesus Freak?”
“It’s either a curse or a blessing,” Sellers said, adding that he’s heard about Christian labels encouraging bands to add “screaming here” or an “octave chord there” because that’s what’s in vogue at the moment.
However, there are a handful of artists who have transcended the “Christian rock” label and found that elusive crossover success. Bands like power-pop punk rockers Relient K and modern rockers Switchfoot have both found success on major labels.
Sellers said bands like Relient K, with whom NOG has shared the stage, find success simply by doing things on their own terms. He also cites David Bazan and his project Pedro The Lion (the band has played the annual Christian rock Cornerstone Festival) as another successful crossover who’s signed with Jade Tree Records instead of a Christian label.
“If you don’t want to be labeled a Christian band then don’t go that route,” Sellers said matter-of-factly.
Number One Gun did go that route—signing with Seattle-based Tooth & Nail Records—a label with an 11-year history of promoting Christian rock bands. But Sellers said the label is in a position to be a bit more choosy—signing Underoath, Emery and Further Seems Forever—bands that he says simply write good songs.
Sellers said it’s a difficult business where bands are trying to expand their audience without alienating the fans they already have. Not only do they face being called “sell-outs” if they choose to sign with a larger label, but they have the added pressure of being accused of selling out with their religion.
“When you start wanting to play clubs and have a beer, you feel as if you have to watch yourself.”
He said the members of NOG have never tried to hide anything from their fans—or youth groups the band deals with that may expect certain things from them. And it would be a challenge for anyone to find any hidden religious agenda in Schneeweis’ lyrics, which the songwriter says he simply pulls from his own life experience.
Number One Gun will enter the studio at the end of the year. It’s something Sellers said he looks forward to—explaining that they will likely record the basic tracks at Schneeweis’ studio in Chico. Sellers said he expects good things, considering the members have had time to grow as musicians and people.
“We know the full process and we know what we’re getting in to.”