When Plus One, the Christian version of ’NSync, comes to town, for one member it will be a homecoming
“Why should the devil have all the best music?”
While the above quote is attributed to William Booth, who in 1865 founded what later became known as the Salvation Army, it could serve as a rallying cry for artists plying that genre known as CCM, or Christian contemporary music. Knowing that the kids might protest vehemently if forced to listen to the staid old gospel sounds of the Gaither Family or the Imperials, in the 1970s savvy Christian artists and marketers began combining the form of pop music with the content of gospel. The result was clean enough to pass muster with concerned parents, ministers and church ladies, but was cool enough to get the kids to respond.
Today, you can pick nearly any pop genre, outside of Scandinavian black metal, and find a Christian analogue. You want pensive radio alt-rock? Try P.O.D. Softer folk-rock? Sixpence None the Richer. There are even Christian boy bands.
In fact, one of the better-selling Christian boy bands, Plus One, has a member who grew up right here in Sacramento. His name is Nate Cole, he’s 20 years old, and his father is pastor of the Assemblies of God megachurch Capital Christian Center, a landmark off Highway 50 in Rosemont.
Plus One, a five-member group in the style of ’NSync or the Backstreet Boys, is currently based out of Nashville. If Cole were given his druthers, that might change. “I miss California,” he says. “I’m trying to plan the right timing, but I definitely would like to move back. There’s no place like it.”
The homesick Cole is speaking by phone from Springfield, Missouri, hometown of singing Attorney General John Ashcroft, along with the Assemblies of God denomination. Plus One is on tour there, promoting its second album, Obvious. The disc came out on Atlantic Records on February 26, sold 41,000 copies its first week and made its debut at No. 29 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart. The tour lands in Sacramento on Wednesday.
Like other boy bands, Plus One was assembled in 1999 via the audition process; the group’s Lou Perlman/Svengali figure was Mitchell Solarek, a San Francisco-based modeling-agency owner and artist manager who saw a market for a cleaned-up version of the Backstreet Boys. Solarek knew Cole from a talent competition in Estes Park, Colorado; he invited the young singer to try out.
Once the five members were cast, they holed up in a one-bedroom apartment near Union Square and commuted via BART to a rehearsal studio in Oakland. “Which was a blast for me,” Cole recalls. “I’d graduated from high school the week of the auditions. So I basically went from graduation right into this group.”
Solarek had connections with Atlantic Records’ Nashville-based Christian division and with producer David Foster, whose 143 label, then a custom imprint through Atlantic, released Plus One’s gold-selling debut, The Promise, two years ago. Foster, a very successful mainstream record producer whose credits include Whitney Houston, Barbra Streisand, Chicago, Celine Dion, Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson and many others, oversaw the project, giving it the kind of slick Europoppish sheen—derived from ABBA and the Bee Gees—that drives so much of contemporary pop.
While it’s easy to imagine a group of compliant puppets manipulated by behind-the-scenes industry players, Cole, who lists as a current favorite the British emo group Coldplay, insists that isn’t the case. “The five of us in the group really had a heart for it, too,” he says. “It wasn’t like we were doing anything to get a record deal. We were all so passionate about doing Christian music, and at the same time doing it on a level that wasn’t going to keep us inside of a box, [appealing] only to a Christian market.”
Cole admits he knows that the boy-band ride will be over eventually, but the preacher’s kid continues to see value in what he’s doing right now. “What you’re giving to God,” he says, “can be done through art or through poetry. Or,” he adds, “through music.”