Manafest, Thousand Foot Krutch, Hawk Nelson. These are bands well-known to the moderately interested Christian music fan, and what they all have in common is their homeland: Canada.
It's not a country known for its incredible Christian rock scene, and yet some of the best tunes in the genre are coming out of the North. It's not just the established acts, either; up and comers are rising out of the woodwork, such as Alberta's eclectic rock renaissance pioneers All Above Me.
Singer/songwriter/guitarist Guiller Contreras, vocalist Britt Harris, drummer Tim Wikkerink and bassist Andrew Holem have seen tremendous momentum, growth, interest and favor in the last seven months of the band's short, two-year existence. Having come into the band prepared, skilled and focused, All Above Me jelled at just the right time--and now they're poised to help usher in rock's glorious return in 2016.
That's evident in the band's latest EP We Are Outcasts, which features surprising stylistic blendings and innovative arrangements. And a stamp of approval (and featured appearance) by Manafest doesn't hurt, either.
I talked with founding member Guiller Contreras about the band's hyperfocused, passionate mission, as well as the band's perspective on rock's resurgence.
Guiller, tell us your musical history. You grew up playing in punk, pop, rock and metal bands... but how'd you get your start musically? And tell us about those bands you were in.
The story of how I got started in music is pretty much the same for every member of the band. Our parents got us started with one specific instrument at a young age and we ended up experimenting with different instruments until we all found the one that we identified with the most.
All Above Me is a pretty young band--about two years old. How did you find each other and develop your sound and mission?
The name All Above Me has existed for two years, but things didn't really get moving until everything clicked, which was in the fall of 2015 when we had Tim (drums) and Britt (vocals) joined the band, which definitely makes us a very young band. But the reality is that before we met, we had all been working hard on our music for many years, and so when we came together, you could tell that we all had invested what was necessary to master our instruments and our role in the band.
Because of this, the vision and goals were the same for each member of the band, allowing us to accomplish all we've been able to in just seven months. Britt, Tim and I studied music at the same college so we were connected through friends. Andrew responded to a local ad that I had posted looking for a bass player, which was a miracle because I was starting to think I was never going to find the right bass player.
Rock music has been in a rough spot the last few years, but seems to be making a comeback. What are your thoughts on the status of rock music?
All music genres will keep coming and going over the years. I think rock music has been in a rough spot because of a lack of fresh new artists. I like to think that it is coming back because of new artists like ourselves, and that motivates me to keep pushing. It seems like every time it comes back it's got something new added to the sound. In our case, I think it's a little taste of metal, combined with punk and rock, with a nice touch of melodic female vocals. It's a new mix that will help rock music come back strong.
Your music is definitely rock, but there are also elements of rap, ballads and worship--and not just within your latest project, but within some of these individual songs! How do you fit so much in without it sounding crowded? How do you go into writing the way you do?
People think that rock is one sound and pop is another, but the reality is that you will find pop in rock, and Classical music in metal and the list goes on and on. So the All Above Me sound is simply a blend of genres that we have found that works well together and we enjoy. I'm sure our sound will continue progressing through the years, but either way, when it comes to songwriting, we will only write songs with a sound that we enjoy and lyrics that we believe in and stand for.
What's the Christian music scene like in Canada?
The Christian music scene in Canada in not as big as it could be. It all seems to be happening in the U.S., so a lot of Christian Canadian artists end up moving there. We are the only Christian hard rock band in Canada that is pushing to make a name for themselves.
How did you get connected with Manafest? What has that relationship been like for you guys? Who else have you been able to connect with?
Funny story, I attended a big conference called YC, where Manafest was performing. I wrote him a letter and placed it in an envelope with our CD, and ran up to him after his show and put it in his hands. That's where it all started. Since then he has coached us and has been a great mentor to have behind us. We have performed with him a few times and we are very excited that we were able to have him on one of our songs on the new album. This has opened many doors for us and this summer we will be performing alongside Switchfoot, Tenth Avenue North, Michael W. Smith, Long & The Outcome, We Are Messengers and many more.
We Are Outcasts is a great, high-octane rock collection. What's some of the feedback you've received that's really stuck with you so far?
We feel blessed to have had the great response we've been getting from the album. I think the one that has stuck with me the most, is that it is the perfect "next step" for us. The album clearly shows you how much we have matured musically and lyrically, as well as it really gives you a good taste of what this band is all about.
Describe your live show for people who haven't seen it.
We have one rule for performing live: Every show, no matter how big or how small, we perform like we are in a sold-out Madison Square Garden show. Our live show is what is helping us grow our fan base rapidly. We also have one goal for our live show: beyond the performance aspect, is to know that what we are doing is bringing more people to Jesus Christ.
How can people be praying for you? What's on the horizon for you all?
We would really appreciate prayer so that God will continue to open doors for us, especially in the U.S. We simply want to use our talents to bring more people to Him and the best way for that is to get a chance to do what we do best, in front of an audience. We are in the middle of booking the first leg of a Western Canadian tour for this September with two other great Canadian artists. After that is booked, we'll see if we head to the U.S. to continue touring or head to Eastern Canada.
Marcus Hathcock is the Executive Editor of NewReleaseToday.com, a husband to Savannah, father of three and a worship leader living in Boise. He just released his first EP, Songs For Tomorrow, and occasionally blogs at mheternal.com.
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