Holy Rollin'

by Rachel L. Martin

ONLINE STORY: After years of touring the Christian circuit, FIF and The Ws challenge the Church as it moves into the new millennium.

Maybe the road never ends, but there are always a few stops along the way. “We had to cancel the show with FIF in Denver, Colo.,” says bassist Todd Gruener of The W’s. “Last week, while we were on tour, Bret [Barker, trumpet for The W’s] ate some bad food; turned out he got food poisoning. We stayed in Des Moines, Iowa, for Bret to recover.”

The odd culinary disaster notwithstanding, this a pretty good time to be a member of The W’s or Five Iron Frenzy. The two just wrapped a 35-spot tour of the nation’s skating rinks, “The Holy Roller Tour,” with special guests The Insyderz and newcomer Justin McRoberts. They also have plenty going on as separate bands.

The W’s, hot off selling close to 200,000 copies of their debut, have a spot on the new VeggieTales video (a closing-credits cover of “The Rumor Weed Song”), and a hot new soph release, The Trouble With X.
The veterans on the tour, FIF, had a Top 10 debut with their new live record, Proof That The Youth Are Revolting, and topped the 7ball Reader’s Poll for the second year in a row. They already have a new studio album slated to come out in just a few months.

The two bands are kinda cut from the same cloth—The W’s may be a little bit swing and FIF may be a little bit ska, but both like to rock and both like to take their fans on a wild ride. And, just as importantly, both bands are searching for fresh and different ways to reach new audiences with the message of Jesus’ love.

For FIF, that exploration has a lot to do with the way they tour, which makes the live album such an important document for them. Pieced together from 11 different shows from across the country, the crowd was as key to the recording as the band. “We encouraged people to come and sing along,” says FIF bassist Keith Hoerig. “If they did, we had them sign their name on our ‘additional background vocalist’ sheet. There’s like 7,000 names inside our album credited with additional vocals.”

To foster audience participation, FIF focused on those songs concertgoers would find familiar—so the album is chock full of fan favorites. “But we arranged some songs differently,” Hoerig says. “There also are two new songs and a cover song that won’t show up anywhere except for the live album.”

Even with all the roadwork, the guys have also been hard at work on their next full-length studio album, due next spring. “I think the stuff being written right now is seriously our best stuff,” Hoerig says. “With every album we’ve done, we’ve tried to make it sound different, but still like Five Iron. We’re experimenting a little bit more with salsa music, and there’s a song on there that’s influenced by heavy metal. Pretty hardcore.”

“I think our new album is along the lines of the EP,” says lead singer Reese Roper, referring to the wildly eclectic (and fairly silly) Quantity is Job 1. “Just a bunch of styles mixed in with ska, and maybe returning to the feel of our first album, where it’s a little bit more punk rock.”
Unlike their previous records, they also have time scheduled to hear and approve the final mastered version of the spring release. “Even for the live album, we didn’t get to hear it until it was already sent off to the CD manufacturer,” Roper says. “With our other albums, we’ve wished we had time to do more vocals, fix the drums, etc. This album, we asked if we could postpone it two months, so it’s coming out sometime in late spring.”

Because most of the people at their shows are already Christians, several songs on the new album challenge certain behaviors or sins that seem to be accepted within the Church. “I felt like God was laying it on my heart to write about problems within the Church,” Roper says. “There’s one [song] about homophobia—everyone will readily admit that homosexuality is a sin, but not that homophobia is just as bad in God’s eyes.”

Another song addresses the way Christians use their resources. “When I was in jr. high, I thought that if Christians could control certain aspects of the media, more people would get saved,” Roper says as he discusses the growing number of Christian TV and radio stations. “We have all that stuff now, but we just use it for padding ourselves. For the most part, [it] is meant to make [Christians] feel good and not at getting anyone saved.”

However, FIF is taking pains not to fall into the same trap. For example, last fall’s “Holy Roller Tour,” which took place in neutral venues, was designed to draw in kids who wouldn’t feel comfortable going to a concert in a church.

And, after the band’s spring sabbatical—and their usual tour of the summer festivals—FIF plans to depart on a secular tour. “We’re talking to a bunch of different bands about touring with them,” Roper says. “Before we were on Five Minute Walk, we were one of the only ska bands [in Denver], so when big bands came in, we got to open for them. There’s lots of things that we’d like to do, but we’re looking for God’s leading. If we got to play more secular shows, or if He didn’t want us to play any more secular shows, we’d be totally open to that. There’s lots of places we want to go, but it depends on where He wants us to go.”

Their label mates, The W’s, are also looking for opportunities in the secular market, and calling for the support of the Church. “I really love the support we get from Christians,” says James Carter, who plays alto sax in the band. “I wanna have them all support us as if we were missionaries.”

In the meantime, the swingsters are glad to demonstrate their growth on The Trouble with X. “The last album, we wrote about our everyday lives—skateboarding, bowling, going to school, that kind of stuff,” Carter says. “We had a few songs that had overt Christian lyrics, but the majority of the songs were about skateboarding and stories we made up. This album, pretty much every song is about Christianity.”
He adds that the album finds them stretching musically as well. “The swing aspect is still there, but there’s a lot more poppy stuff, some things that are really emo-ish and some Dixieland songs.”

One of Carter’s favorite new songs, the fast-paced and swingin’ “Tip from Me,” sums up their philosophy pretty well. “It’s basically talking to a non-Christian,” he says. “The chorus is like, Take this tip from me. We know that things are screwed up. We’re trying to change things.”
The song reflects the band’s growing burden to talk to the world and to Christians about the problems which plague today’s Church. “A lot of non-Christians don’t want any part of [church] because they see it’s screwed up in a lot of ways,” Carter says. “A lot of the songs are acknowledging that, saying, Yeah, we see the problems, too. We need to start being realistic with these problems and trying to do something to fix them.”

For the spring, the band plans on taking a needed rest. Beyond that, they are still waiting to see what God has in store for them. “We want to do everything in our power to be available to God, to serve God and to serve other people,” Hoerig agrees as he discusses the future. “That’s always been our goal, and it will continue to be our goal.” 7

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