First things first

Zero Theory proves that Christian rock can have a ‘seriously jagged edge’

Zero Theory is (clockwise from top left) Cody Williams, Joel Robertson, James Navares, Tai Navares and Dan Pike.

Zero Theory is (clockwise from top left) Cody Williams, Joel Robertson, James Navares, Tai Navares and Dan Pike.

Photo By David Robert

Zero Theory’s self-titled CD is available at His Word Christian Bookstore, 7689 S. Virginia St., Reno, or 810 Holman Way, Sparks.

What distinguishes a Christian rock band from an ordinary, secular rock band?

In a hypothetical “man on the street” poll, one of the most common answers would probably be that Christian rock is gentler and calmer, with fewer rough edges.

Zero Theory blows that notion out of the water.

Even in the first few seconds of their debut album, also titled Zero Theory, it’s clear that this is a band with a seriously jagged edge. Far from gentle, the first lyrics voiced by vocalist Tai Navares, 17, are “No, I won’t stop the war!” It’s an insistent, angry song.

To me, the message is clear: Christianity may be peaceful, but it can’t always be pacifist. There are times when force (what kind of force is left to the listener’s interpretation) is necessary to do the right thing. The song’s lyrics say: “I know where I stand when it comes to demon slaying!”

With one notable exception, “War” sets the stage for the rest of the album. If you’re into categorizing music, Zero Theory would probably be called “rapcore,” loosely defined as rap set to a metal (rather than R&B) background. Often, their sound closely resembles Rage Against the Machine. The band acknowledges the similarity, but insists that it’s unintentional.

“I don’t think [Rage] was an influence,” Navares says. “Just all the Christian groups … God is the first thing, of course.”

Zero Theory didn’t latch onto the rapcore genre until the addition of Navares as a vocalist in January 2000. Prior to that, keyboard and violin player Dan Pike, 19, guitarist Joel Robertson, 20, and bass player Cody Williams, 19, were writing music best characterized as “grunge rock.”

"[Joel and I] both sang, but we both kind of sucked,” Williams says.

“That’s why it was grunge rock,” Robertson adds, laughing.

Shortly after the addition of Navares to the band, their drummer didn’t show up to a practice, so Navares suggested they try playing with his older brother, James Navares, 22. The five found that they were so effective together that they were able to play a show that very next day.

“The first time we played, it just clicked,” Williams says.

Zero Theory’s best-known song is the only non-rapcore track on the album, the melodic ballad, “Secrets of the Heart.” It received radio play in more than 40 cities nationwide, and debuted at No. 8 on, which the band describes as “Billboard for Christian music.”

Ironically, the song was a last-minute addition to the CD, written just as the band was about to record.

“It just goes to show, it’s up to God, what he wants to choose,” Robertson says.

Unlike most bands I’ve encountered, they don’t play music to meet women, or get rich and famous, or even for the music’s sake itself. And they have little use for being signed to a label; they prefer to promote themselves.

“We don’t want to get trapped … Once you sign that, you’re stuck for three years,” Tai says.

“We don’t really want to become rock stars,” adds Robertson.

James sums up the philosophy of Zero Theory.

“We have a reason why we play our music," he concludes. "We have a purpose and a plan. We know that God has a plan, and we give the credit to him. And because we have that attitude, I really feel that he’s blessed us."