The Calgary Herald
August 21, 2010
Pat Seals sounds uncomfortable.
The friendly, soft-spoken bassist for the alt-metal act Flyleaf
is supposed to be enjoying a few days off in his Texas home before
joining his bandmates in Calgary for the Rock the River West tour
this Saturday. Instead, he's being forced to choose his words
carefully after being asked about the strange world of Christian
To be fair, it has always seemed a sticky topic for the Texas
five-piece act. While never reluctant to label themselves
Christians, the band has been leery in the past about lumping
themselves in with the billion-dollar industry known generically as
But the chart-topping band's decision last year to align itself
with evangelist Franklin Graham's Rock the River tour as it rolled
United States seems to make Seals and bandmates Lacey Mosley,
Sameer Bhattacharya, Jared Hartmann and James Culpepper as good a
source as any to talk about the subculture's booming fortunes.
In the past 20 years, it's gone from a small world defined by
spandexed, hair-metal bands and numbingly wholesome AOR singers to
a parallel universe that covers all genres and generates millions
of dollars. Was it divine intervention or more earthbound
motivations that led to its rise?
"I think there are a lot of business people out there who can
see how to make money very easily," says Seals. "As much as the
Christian industry has helped us, as well as the secular industry,
it smacks of 'We can sell this product to a lot of people.' I think
that's how it arose. I guess the U.S. -- particularly in the
Midwest and the South -- is so predominantly Christian that there
is a ton of people there.
"I don't know," Seals adds sheepishly. "I feel like I'm digging
myself in a big hole here."
Seals stresses he does not include the controversial Graham --
who made headlines earlier this year after being banned from a
Pentagon prayer meeting because of past anti-Muslim remarks which
he recently reiterated -- as being among the more mercenary power
brokers of Christian rock. After all, the Rock the River festival,
which mixes youthful but safe music with Graham's sermonizing,
often offered free admission for shows in America. At Calgary's
Canada Olympic Park today, the festival's ticket prices are set at
Flyleaf's apparent discomfort with the term Christian rock seems
to stem from a desire not to limit itself to faith-based fans. This
often finds the band falling into a blurry netherworld between
secular and Christian music alongside other
Christian-but-not-really-Christian-rock acts such as Paramore and
Creed. While the subculture certainly offers a ready supply of
youth and their money, being thought of as God-centred tends to
alienate kids who would prefer their alt-metal and pop-punk not
come with overt Jesus-boosting.
"We are Christians and we are a band," Seals said. "But what we
were leery of was the connotative sense of being a Christian band
-- a band that only Christians would listen to. We like to think
our music is for everybody and our message is for everybody to
hear. But we really love what Franklin Graham is doing. The Rock
the River shows last year were really special and seemed to
resonate with the crowd. It seemed to not be about, 'Hey, let's
make some money,"
Flyleaf has certainly made waves, and more than a little money,
in the secular world. Its sophomore album, Memento Mori, came out
in 2009 and entered the Billboard charts at No. 8, offering an
expert blend of muscular metal, vague Christian imagery and
Mosley's impassioned vocals. In 2006, Flyleaf joined the
long-standing Family Values tour, an event that appears on the
surface to be the polar opposite of Rock the River.
Founded by rap-metal act Korn in the 1990s, the tour's ironic
name seemed a cheeky lift of the middle finger to America's
evangelical leaders who were using the term to boost socially
But Flyleaf, armed with its thundering self-titled debut, were a
hit. The exposure no doubt helped the band eventually sell more
than a million copies of its first album.
"As different as the ideologies seem on paper, a lot of it is
the same," Seals says about playing the raucous Family Values tour.
"People want to come and have a sense of communion with the band
and with each other."
That said, Seals admits that frontwoman Mosley is more likely to
openly pontificate about her faith at events such as Rock the
River. But he says the band's "message" doesn't change, whether
it's being delivered directly or in a more abstract way.
"Our band's message, in my opinion, is the message of Christ and
how he's affected our lives," Seals says.
"It's not a sales pitch. It's that truth as filtered through our
experiences. We try not to deny that life is difficult, or hard or
ugly. We try to make an attempt to be honest about ourselves and
not present it as just a product."
© Copyright The Calgary Herald
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association of Canada