Adam Voith is a booking agent at WME in Nashville, where he represents a small roster of world-class badasses. Long ago, before the business of music took center stage, Adam ran the mid-brow micro-press TNI Books which released work from writers and artists like Camden Joy, Damien Jurado, and David Shields, along with two of Adam’s own books. Adam has recently returned to his love for writing and published pieces in The Sewanee Review, Hobart, and an issue of the fictional zine “The Christian Humper”. Adam is working on a novel which lives in the Christian Rock world of the 1990s. You can find more on his website: adamvoith.com.
The first shows I booked were with Christian Rock bands in the early ‘90s, and so I’m complicit in the least cool American youth movement of all time.
For the past two decades, I’ve booked proper shows, outside the confines of religion. Most have been in dirty clubs, some in ornate theaters and fancy ballrooms, and even some — beyond my wildest early ambitions — in big-ass outdoor amphitheaters and basketball arenas.
It’s all very organized now, professional and practiced; guarantees and ticket fees, advertising designs and on-sale times, mileage limits for the bus drivers, deposits for the business managers, days off in the routing for promo, catering costs for the local crew, afterparty passes for friends, family, and lovers. It’s a whole thing. A job. A career.
But those first bookings were simple, noble attempts to get kids in Central Indiana to consider a select few Christian bands who could maybe, almost, possibly play toe-to-toe with normal, awesome, secular ones. It was a duty, my own quiet evangelism.
For the first show, my youth group was the audience I had in mind. By the second, more bravely, I aimed for my high school and other schools nearby; non-Christian kids. By the third booking, I sought to convert the budding heathens in my college town.
More honestly, in the first case I was trying to meet the pretty bass player in the band. In the second, I wanted to show the local punks that a Christian act could kick up controversy. And by the third, I badly wanted to hang out with Christian stoners. Here’s the second story, check out the first right here, and look for the third installment soon.
Scaterd-few at The Ritz Music Hall, Indianapolis Indiana, 1991
The Satanic Panic still had its mythological claws deep into evangelical moms everywhere at the beginning of the ‘90s. As alternative culture made its newest push up from the underground, zealous A&R scouts at Christian record labels looked for born-again facsimiles of those fearsome punk, metal, and goth bands making new, dark noise in the mainstream.
A true marketing genius came up with the Recommended If You Like tag for their soundalikes; advertisements and reviews for Christian records began to include over-simplified “R.I.Y.L.” comparisons. You’re a fan of Depeche Mode? Check out Mad At The World. The Altar Boys will scratch that Replacements itch. Steve Taylor is your Talking Heads. Youth Choir will stand in for Echo & the Bunnymen. And if your parents won’t let you spin Slayer, you can drive them crazy blasting Living Sacrifice.
Scaterd-few were a Los Angeles band who worshipped Bad Brains and Jane’s Addiction, two indisputable pillars of cool. Their debut album Sin Disease is, without doubt, the most controversial Christian Rock record of all time. It’s a scorching mishmash of punk, funk, reggae, and jazz topped off with the enigmatic voice of a frontman who went by the stage name Rämald Domkus. He was a white guy with dreads, before that was inexcusable, who wore charcoal eyeshadow and black painted fingernails. His look was referencing Bauhaus and Bowie, but of course I didn’t know that at the time.
Rämald sang with wild range, going from dungeon-like growls and howls to operatic caterwauls in the span of a single chorus. His lyrics were verbose and confusing, mixing Old Testament tales, spooky references to ritualism, and dark visions of violence and addiction on the streets of L.A.
The album’s cover art was a painting of Rämald looking like Jesus, his dreads a reference to the crown of thorns. SIN DISEASE was either scrawled on his T-shirt or — could it be!? — carved into his chest. The band was said to prefer playing bars over churches, and there were rumors that they smoked weed.
The record was released by a mildly adventurous Christian record label, but the chatter around the band’s lyrical content, shady activities, and questionable associations quickly reached the gatekeepers at the top of the Christian market food chain. The album was quickly banned by key distributors and yanked from the shelves of Christian bookstores, the primary point-of-purchase for sanctioned and sanctified tunes.
I got my copy of the album before it was pulled. I loved it whole-heartedly, was thrilled and bewildered, and listened to it constantly. But the kerfuffle over its fitness for fragile minds worried me enough to send a letter to the fanclub address listed in the liner notes. I’ve still got Rämald’s reply, and it’s full of righteous irritation.
Thanx for writing and we’re glad you dig our stuff. You wrote that you listened (past-tense) to it all the time. Does that mean you don’t anymore?
Our listing of secular bands shouldn’t have any bearing on your walk with Christ. Would if confuse you if I told you we hang out with people who hang out with Guns N’ Roses? Would it bother you to know that I’ve eaten and drank with Peter Murphy, and a couple of the guys from Love & Rockets have met me? Does the fact that I bump into Jane’s Addiction’s singer all the time backstage at shows stumble you? How about the fact that H.R. from Bad Brains stays at my house when he’s in LA and that we’ve actually been his backing band on a tour playing reggae with a bunch of pot smoking Rastas? Does all this give you the impression that I’m not saved? If it does, you shouldn’t listen to our band but instead read your Bible and get a grip on what Jesus was all about.
Brother, please; be responsible, not ignorant or insecure.
“You can’t understand how a great Christian band could thank such an evil band like Soundgarden.” You wrote that. Let me explain:
- We are not a “Christian” band. You’re not holding a Christian piece of paper. Christian is not an adjective.
- The reason Christians can’t influence the world is the exact reason you’re shocked by us. Christians are afraid of reality. If you don’t deal with it, you can’t influence it.
- Our job as a band is to shred, and that’s what we do.
Now I know I’ve probably really pissed you off or totally confused you. Remember, Jesus is Lord. Don’t stress about it. Thanks for caring about us, we appreciate it. Please write back. Call if you like, collect if you have to.
There it is again. Do you see it? He’s much angrier than the The Throes were when I asked the dumb shit, and Rämald’s more braggadocious (even if some of his claims to cool are a reach), but it’s essentially the same response. Trapped by a fanbase, exhausted by the questions, campaigning for validation and legitimacy.
Some time — and some shame — passed, and eventually I called the number Rämald left at the bottom of his letter. He let me stumble over myself apologizing for my ignorance, and was generally sweet and patient. He boasted a little more about who he knew, who they played with, how non-Christian his Christian band really was, but he asked me about my life, too. I over-exaggerated my own standing in the local scene, claiming I was regularly involved with bringing artists to town to play.
“You got a good scene there?” he asked.
“Oh yeah,” I replied. “Big scene.”
“You think Scaterd-few could come play?”
“You guys should definitely come play,” I told him. “I could set a show up in a club.”
“A rock club?” he asked, skeptically.
“Oh yeah we have rock clubs here. Lots of rock clubs.” I couldn’t name one.
“We’re touring this summer out to the Cornerstone Festival in Illinois. Indiana’s close to Illinois, isn’t it?”
“Oh yeah, we’re actually the state right next door, man!”
He asked whether I paid bands a guarantee, and I answered yes too quickly. With zero knowledge of venue, production, or promotional costs, I guessed at a number I thought would be enticing, but attainable.
Rämald didn’t hesitate: “Adam, if you’ve got 500 bucks, we’ll be there, dude.”
And so I’d booked my second show, and built a steep financial hill to climb. Five hundred was five million in 1991 teenage dollars. I spent the next few days obsessing over two columns I made on a yellow legal pad, one titled WILL COME, the other MIGHT COME.
Tickets would be $5, top-end pricing for punk shows. I racked my brain trying to get 100 names in that first column, innocently unaware that a $500 artist fee was just one cost of many on a gig’s settlement sheet. I tapped out around 50 names under WILL, including every saved soul of my closest friends and youth group acquaintances, as well as a handful of non-Christian punks I thought might have an open mind. I optimistically bumped people over from MIGHT; friends of my older sisters, and kids I hardly knew. I never got there with the math, but had faith the band’s draw would reach beyond my own little circle.
The prior booking at the church was easy. The venue was the sanctuary itself, and while ours wasn’t a mega-church broadcasting on television, there was a suitable PA with mics and monitors in-house. The artist fee for The Throes was covered with a minor dip into the church’s coffers. I’d seen the cash and personal checks pile up in the golden offering plates passed around on Sunday. My parents dropped something in every week.
To secure an actual club for Scaterd-few, I enlisted the help of Doug Vann, a guy from another church who was known to put on shows regularly and managed the only local Christian punk band I was aware of. Doug was a fan of the band, and excited to hear about my letters and calls with Rämald. He knew the manager at the Ritz Music Hall, which often played host to touring metal and punk bands, including a legendary DRI gig that ended in a riot. He offered to secure a date there, and lend a hand with the promotion.
I asked a local non-Christian band to open the show, an attempt to add cred to the bill, and was pleasantly surprised when they agreed. Doug found an artist to design the fliers, and spent a weekend stapling them to telephone poles all over town and posting them on bulletin boards in record stores and churches. Doug knew about the $500 commitment I’d made, but if he was concerned about covering the dough, he didn’t let on. Christian Rock was necessarily optimistic.
The capacity of The Ritz was 500. We sold roughly 18 tickets. Add to that number the guest list (minimal), the headcount of kids in the opening band (four), and the skeleton staff of the venue, and we had a solid 25 or 30 in the room for the show.
My memories from the night are not of the band ripping it up on stage; the performance was understandably uninspired. Instead, I cringe when I recall trying to get a circle pit going, a few unselfconscious Christians joining in, four or five including me. As we went around, I reached out for the arm of the bass player from the opener, and pulled him in. I saw the lack of commitment in his body. His half-assed skanking carried him around one single time before dropping out, embarrassed for himself and me alike.
Between songs, Rämald sat on the edge of the stage and looked out at the pitiful crowd, unable to ignore the unused square-footage in the room, the vastness of the exploded concrete floor. He shook his head, smirked, and asked what we did for fun. “We’re in the heartland tonight, right? You guys into cow tipping?”
Leading up to the gig, I allowed myself to imagine a celebratory hang with the band. Sweaty and satisfied after a sick show, I’d talk more with Rämald, picking up where our letters and calls left off. I’d thank him for coming to town, and he’d thank me in return. Youth group kids would be stoked to have seen one of the great acts from their scene, the hipsters’ hearts would soften to the idea that Christians could kick ass.
Instead, after the band’s gear was struck and Rämald came looking for their fee, I sheepishly hung back on the fringes, ashamed for my part in the weakness of the whole affair. I watched Doug explain they were short; the money from the ticket sales didn’t even cover basic costs of the club.
The failure of The Throes show was a personal one. No one knew I was trying meet a girl, and no one heard me interview the band. The disappointment and awkwardness were contained.
This time I was exposed, on display. I’d talked a big game to Scaterd-few about the Indiana scene, boasted to the local act about the big opportunity to open, and was out on a limb with my friends after hyping up how rad our first night out at a rock club would be.
Doug and the few of us who remained emptied our wallets for whatever was in there there, getting us close to the $100 mark. An older dude who had a full-time job hit the ATM and withdrew another $75. There was a head shop nearby which stayed open late and also sold used CDs. A true hero took some favorites from his car over there, sold them and contributed another $20 to the cause.
Meanwhile, the band hung around their tour van drinking canned beers and chain smoking cigarettes. Their behavior felt like a signal, a passive-aggressive protest of our small-minded Midwestern religiosity. The drummer milled around the parking lot, muttering to himself loudly enough for us to hear: “Ripping off a touring band sure isn’t very Christian. What would Jesus do? I think he’d fuckin’ pay us.”
Someone suggested a prayer circle. Perhaps the Big Guy upstairs would work a miracle; maybe turn photocopied fliers into $50 bills. A few of us gathered up, but no supernatural help arrived. Doug, defeated, climbed into his car and headed for his mom’s house for a loan. The band’s mood lightened when he returned with the remainder of the cash needed to cover the guarantee. The band stayed at Doug’s house, and I’m told the drinking and smoking went deep into the night. I didn’t go. Too pure to party, and too embarrassed to hang.