Pursuing art and preaching Jesus, religious bands take to the bars and clubs of Reno
For members of the punk band Tomorrow’s Eve, performing is all about faith.
“Every show, we try to do a set of worship songs to remind [people], ‘Hey, this is about God,’ “ said bass player Brett Harrison. “It gets pretty showy sometimes if you’re not careful.”
Harrison, a computer science student at the University of Nevada, Reno, started the band, which used to be called Employees Only, about two years ago with friends Jesse Smithson and Josh Bissett. This year, the group nabbed drummer Chris Clark from the now-defunct Martyr 2:10, once a popular local ska group.
Tomorrow’s Eve is one of a handful of local bands balancing music-making with what they describe as a desire to help people find meaning in life.
“Sometimes, you get an offer to do a show, and you think, ‘There’s not going to be many people there,’ “ Harrison said. “But then you have to remember that you’re not there to entertain, you’re there to get out a message.”
Harrison called the band’s sound “rock-punk, but not Blink-182.” Though he’s played trumpet since sixth-grade and picked up guitar to play some Metallica songs about four years ago, Harrison traced the band’s roots to a youth pastor at Reno Christian Fellowship.
“One day, I was sitting in church and playing ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ when the youth pastor said, ‘Hey, want to play bass?’ “
Tomorrow’s Eve may have started out in a church, but they’ll play anywhere they can book a show, like the Hard Hat Bar & Grill. That’s an attitude that’ll help ensure survival from a musical standpoint, according to a founding member of the Reno hardcore band Uplifted, Jim Booth.
“Christian bands don’t end up playing the bars and clubs with the normal bands,” Booth said. “They play churches and youth groups, and it ends there. That’s too bad. … They [need to] get out there and do the bars and clubs and parties, whatever they can.
“That’s been a blessing to us, to play all those and really be judged on our musical abilities. People go, ‘Wow, you guys are really good. Christian music is usually bad.’ “
Forget the piano in need of tuning or the organ cranking out hymns. Reno’s larger nondenominational churches are more likely to have three or four electric guitars, drums, keyboards and thousands of dollars worth of sound and lighting equipment.
And while Sunday morning programs may feature mature musicians (some who may have played a casino gig the night before), the set-up is perfect for young musicians hankering to get on stage. Churches seem willing to oblige.
In northwest Reno this fall, Covenant Presbyterian Church opened its parking lot to a half-pipe for skaters and its auditorium to four or five punk, rap and metal bands for a music festival last fall. And at Reno Christian Fellowship on Zolezzi Lane, teens run a coffee house that tries to feature at least one band every Saturday night.
“We just kind of wanted to create a place for kids to come and hang out, a safe environment,” said Leo Gervais, an RCF youth pastor. “Obviously, we’re a church, too. Hopefully, [kids] get a different idea about what Christianity is all about. It’s not a bunch of do’s and don’ts and stuffed shirts and ties and hymns—not that all those are bad.”
The religious community can provide a matrix of support more developed than that of your average garage band. Besides a place to practice, some groups offer financial support to young bands. Before the Martyr 2:10 breakup, fans at the Fire Escape coffee house pitched in money to help the band with recording costs.
“For any band, it’s the team behind them that will make or break the act,” said Doug Robertson, a Reno musician who works with the local branch of the Nashville Songwriters Association International.
Robertson’s son, Joel, helped start a band, Zero Theory. My son, Dan Pike, plays keyboards for the group. They call their sound “rap-core.” The group has played at the Fire Escape and church music events. But they’ve also booked shows at the new Sparks all-ages club, Rack’em Up, in February.
Performing for Sunday services and youth group events may give bands needed stage experience, but it can have a down side, Robertson said.
“It’s easy to go to church and hear a band and love them, whether they’re good or not,” Robertson said. “Sometimes, [the audience] doesn’t expect the quality to be there.”
Given that kind of uncritical support, it’s easy for young heads to expand. Bands start thinking they’re pretty good, Robertson said. Members don’t practice as much. Then they wonder why the outside world doesn’t notice them.
“It’s easy for bands to be a little fooled, thinking they’re better than they are,” Robertson said. “That holds them back a little bit.”
Robertson holds workshops on writing lyrics and tunes that are aesthetically pleasing and that get a message across without any artistic sacrifices.
“There are elements of art that transcend theology,” Robertson said.
On the Web, you can find a homepage for the Reno band Uplifted by linking from Renohardcore.com’s “People We Like.” The guys who started Uplifted, Booth and Nick Green, did the band thing before they did the church thing.
“We didn’t start out with a church,” the 22-year-old Booth said. “We started to attend church, and it clicked for both of us. … I’d gotten to an age where I could say it works for me.”
The two started what Booth called “a crappy little band.” They played mostly covers, using a drum machine.
“It matured from there,” Booth said.
Uplifted picked up a drummer, Jeremy Orris, a couple of years ago. Interest in the band picked up, too. The group started playing at Del Mar Station, Harry’s Watering Hole and the Horizon Casino. Lately, they’ve been playing shows at Hoss Hogg’s in Lake Tahoe. But after Booth headed off to the Bay Area to study computer graphic design at the Academy of Art, Reno venues stopped calling.
“They think the band broke up,” Booth said. “But we’re still performing everywhere, and we’re trying to plan a month-long West Coast tour for July.”
While band members are open about their beliefs, they don’t use religion as a musical crutch.
“We keep playing music and keep practicing. … We’re not out there shoving Christianity down other people’s throats,” Booth said. “We’re just writing songs about what we found to work, just like other bands. We’re direct. We just try to be everybody’s friend.”
Booth said people are surprised by the approach.
“Everybody thinks of Christianity, and they think TV preachers and people yelling, ‘If you’re not perfect like me, you’re not good,' " he said. "We try not to be judgmental. We treat everyone on an equal level. That takes people aback."