by Dave Urbanski
From bars to sanctuaries, The Insyderz sing a new -- and controversial -- song on Skalleluia Too: praise & worship to a punk-ska beat.
Worship-oriented music has been skyrocketing in popularity over the last year or so. Churches and youth groups are using more of it, musicians of every genre and style are playing more of it -- and most notably, music consumers are buying much more of it.
Which may beg the question -- like the WWJD bracelet craze that preceded it -- at what point does this movement's relative purity end and a marketing and moneymaking campaign begin?
The Insyderz -- the raucous, metallic, rock-ska hybrid from the suburbs of Detroit -- is no stranger to such grilling. After recording Skalleluia as part of a one-album project for Squint Entertainment last year, among overwhelming kudos for its efforts were a smattering of assumptions that the band was merely jumping on the already crowded praise & worship-music bandwagon to garner more popularity.
But on the eve of The Insyderz' follow up, Skalleluia Too (KMG), the band has a very simple response to doubters: Praise & worship songs have been part of the Insyderz' repertoire from the beginning four years ago -- long before this worship-music craze ever began.
"It wasn't a novelty thing," says bassist Beau McCarthy. "Seventy-five percent of our show is [praise & worship] songs. But we faced tons of criticism that we sold out. People don't realize that's how we started -- and that's what we intended to do in the first place."
Vocalist Joe Yerke notes that the Insyderz faced more resistance to Skalleluia within the Christian music industry than with fans, who he says have been universally supportive. "In the punk generation," adds Yerke, "not everyone is into Keith Green. I love his words -- it's the style I can't get into."
"The thinking was, 'Ska band and worship record -- they're riding two waves!'" he recalls. "That made it hard for some to take our album seriously. Some people just don't think young punk kids can turn out a [praise & worship] album. But we have parents and grandparents and pastors coming up to us after shows and saying, 'Man that was loud, and I can barely hear right now, but that was awesome.'
"When we came together, we took praise choruses and made 'em ska," explains trumpet player Bram Roberts. "That's how it started. Then kids kept coming up to us and asking if the songs would be on our next album. So we felt if we put a whole album out, that would give kids a great opportunity to worship that they wouldn't [otherwise] get."
Yerke notes that The Insyderz don't ascribe to the typical "okay-it's-time-to-write-and-record-the-next-batch-of-tunes" mentality of most bands in between projects.
"When we put an album out, there's a goal behind it," he says. "For our first album, it was to get our name out there. For Skalleluia, it was to have praise & worship with this awesome music. For Fight of My Life, it was to get into the mainstream -- we were sick of preaching to the choir, and we did a couple of [general market] tours. And now, with Skalleluia Too, we've got a hankering to do praise songs again."
Detractors would do well to lend an ear to Skalleluia Too if there are still thoughts that the band's just cranking out any old group of worship songs before this trend grinds to a halt. The project showcases much musical growth -- like a good follow up should.
Unlike the first praise & worship album, Skalleluia Too includes two original songs -- and there's a greater degree of tasty, diverse instrumental touches, too. (Check out the funky organ on the Delirious staple, "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever," the electronica drum machine in Darlene Zschech's "Shout to the Lord" and the mellow cello on the Vineyard tune, "Who Is This.")
"It's our best album yet," Roberts declares. "It's not just ska. There's a lot of different stuff going on -- reggae songs, chill songs, hardcore songs, Motown."
Speaking of growth, a short tour last year presented the members with what was perhaps their biggest -- yet most rewarding -- challenge since they began playing together.
The Insyderz were invited aboard the nationwide "Skelatour," co-headlining with the Skeletones and supported by a band called Jeffries Fan Club. No doubt The Insyderz music would please the itching ears of ska fans around America -- but would they still perform the worship songs that were integral parts of their live shows?
"Heck yeah!" McCarthy says.
"We held Bible studies every day," Yerke adds.
"We prayed the most on that tour -- and even months in advance," says McCarthy. "Now we say to each other, 'Remember how we prayed for that tour?'"
Roberts recalls that while some Christians came out for these poorly attended bar shows (often the audience wouldn't exceed 10 fans), other concert goers would be "flippin' us off while we were [on stage]."
The lack of fans drew the Insyderz closer to their fellow touring bands, and significant conversations soon began.
"There was a guy in the Skeletones who didn't believe in God at all," Roberts says. "But he just kept humming one of our worship songs, 'All in All': 'Jesus, Lamb of God, Holy is Your name...'" "There were a few Christians in Jeffries Fan Club," says Yerke, "and with the Skeletones coming, we had a good 16 people in the Bible study. Then the drummer and guitarist from the Skeletones came to know Christ. It was an awesome thing! The Skeletones saw what a wreck their guitarist was -- what bondage he was in -- and then saw how God affected his life. They started asking, 'If this God can do these things, I should look into this.' Now the whole band is searching for the truth -- they call us all the time." And after the tour, Jeffries Fan Club guitarist Sonnie Johnston joined Five Iron Frenzy.
"It was really good to know that God was with us," Roberts notes. "We didn't know what was going to happen. But we knew that even if just one person heard [the gospel, it was all worth it."