NRT Contributor Andrew Funderburks speaks with Sanctus Real's lead guitarist, Chris Rohman, about their new album, Pieces Of A Real Heart, and what the band is continuing to learn about their walks with Christ, their families and themselves.
In the industry of cool known as rock 'n' roll, it’s a particularly rare feat when substance actually triumphs over swagger. Even more surprising is when a band blatantly wears its heart on its sleeve, rather than simply championing lyrical ambiguity set to a catchy beat.
But in the musical world of GRAMMY-nominated Sanctus Real, substance and style have peacefully co-existed over the course of five albums that have garnered seven No. 1 radio singles (and six more that landed in the Top 5). Not afraid to experiment with new textures or leave things stripped-down and simple if the song calls for it, the Dove Award-winning act that features Matt Hammitt (lead vocals, guitar), Chris Rohman (lead guitar), Mark Graalman (drums), Dan Gartley (bass) and Pete Prevost (guitar) also hasn’t shied away from tackling life’s tough questions. Offering glimpses of the guys’ own joys and heartbreaking struggles, that refreshing level of candor—and unflinching commitment to honesty—has endeared the band to fans around the globe.
And now with the release of Pieces of a Real Heart, Sanctus Real has continued to push themselves both artistically and thematically. Fueled by the real-life experiences culled from a life often spent traveling from city to city, not to mention the maturing that inevitably results when raising families, the album is confessional, thoughtful and really anything but surface-level.
NRT Contributor Andrew Funderburks sat down with lead guitarist Chris Rohman to talk about many of those life experiences and how they have shaped some of the more powerful and emotionally filled songs on Pieces of a Real Heart.
Hi Chris! Thanks for taking your time to do this interview with NewReleaseTuesday.com.
Thanks for having me!
How did the band choose the title, Pieces Of A Real Heart, for the new project?
Something like that doesn’t come easy for us so, this time, we left it up to the fans. Our representative at the label, who is in charge of handing in the record for us, gave us a deadline to meet by 1:00 p.m., by a certain day, because he had to have a title. We put the word out on Twitter, and we were between two names. “Pieces of a Real Heart” seemed to be the winner, so we just trusted in that and said, “That’s the name.”
What message does the band hope to convey to the listeners of Pieces of a Real Heart?
These songs are special to us. There’s actually a pretty wide variety on the record. The record is true to its name; it’s pieces of who we are and things we might have gone through in the past few years. This is our fifth record, and we’ve been together for thirteen years, so we’ve definitely been through a lot together. They’re honest songs from our heart, and I think that people will be able to relate to them because it’s not just music for the sake of making music or for the sake of having a song on the radio. We feel that it’s one of our best projects to date, not only because of the way it sounds, but also because of the lyrical content and the issues that are talked about on the record.
The first single off the project, “Forgiven,” has already impacted so many lives. Is there a story that stands out to you of a life that was touched by the song?
"Forgiven" is a real heart-opening song. It came out of an experience, as a band, where we just needed forgiveness from each other. We had no idea that when we released it to radio that it would have the effect that it did. We started a spot on our website where people could come and share stories about forgiveness. It was flooded by people opening up the deepest things they’ve struggled with in their lives—things that have affected them personally and also things that they’ve held against other people. This song has helped them to forgive. We put out a song that was personal to us, but others were able to deal with their own issues after hearing it. People wrote on the website, saying things like they were abused as a child and now they’re able to forgive their father. It’s deep! I would never have guessed that people would have that kind of connection with a song! It’s pretty wild to read the stories people chose to share and, because there were so many, there’s not one that really stands out.
One song I know that is poignant for the band is “Lead Me.” Would you mind sharing the story behind the song?
It’s a pretty amazing song. Our lead singer, Matt Hammitt, had most of the song written. It was written after Matt and his wife had a pretty gut-wrenching conversation, where she told him that she needed him to be a better spiritual leader to her and their family. It rocked Matt’s world. They’re the ones who have been married the longest in the band. They’ve been married longer than I have. They already have two daughters and they’re expecting their third child right now. Matt said that he found it humbling that his wife would have the courage to say something like that out of love. Secondly, he realized that he had to do something about it. There was no way around it. We don’t believe in divorce. There were some things they had to work on to keep that open dialogue between the two of them, so that they could admit problems and work through them. That’s where the song came from.
The idea is actually at least a year and a half old. We had a rough idea of the song because he had a demo, but it got put in the pile. The president of our record label somehow found the song before we completely finished the record and said, “Something is going on with that song. I think it could really be turned into something special if you guys finish it.” Until he said that, we hadn’t even entertained the thought of putting the song on the record. When we went in the studio to finish the song with this writer from Nashville, the story came together perfectly. The song is kind of a father’s prayer for his family and wife. It’s an honest cry out to God saying, “If I’m going to lead my family, I need You to lead me.” I can say this because I didn’t have a lot to do with it. [Laughs.] I hope that hearing the story behind the song, and what went into writing it, will touch a lot of lives. It’s a powerful song!
Since you are a family man, is there any advice or encouragement you could offer dads, husbands, or even the couples?
I think we’re all learning. There are four of us in the band that are married. We lead pretty crazy lives, what with being gone a lot of the time and trying to balance being in a band and being fathers and husbands. It’s a bit crazy, but it’s no crazier than working 9-5. I think that there’s a balance that needs to be met and that’s the key. I think that if you want to keep it real and fulfilling in your heart, you’ve got to keep Christ first. Christians in our world always say that’s the way we should live our family life, but it’s a whole different story to be able to live it out and to put those words into action. You get busy and distracted, and then kids come into the picture, which adds a whole other level of distraction. But if the foundation isn’t right, you’re not building anything worth building. There’s hope if you feel like you’re on a track where you’re drifting through your relationship or your family life. There is that moment where you can strive to make it better. You can cry out to God and say, “Lead me! This is something I’m going to take seriously. I’m going to pray with my wife and family. I’m going to make sure that I’m being led by God so that I can lead my family.”
Is there a song off the album that would be a favorite for the band?
Oh, yes! [Laughs.] Good question! The cool thing is we’re about to leave for our spring tour, which is the main support for our record. We’re about ready to learn every song on the record because we haven’t done that to this point. It’s sad to say that you record a CD, but you don’t learn every song. We gave ourselves a challenge, in that we’re going to play the whole record, from front to back, every night. So I’m sure that there will be some songs, that I haven’t even played yet, that will become my favorites. Just listening to the record, I can say that there’s a song called “The Redeemer”, which is probably my favorite, but it’s a tough call. There are several on the album, like the song called “Take Over Me.” It has some cool guitar parts in it so, naturally, [because I’m the lead guitar player] I love that song too. This is definitely my favorite record we’ve done. I’m excited about it as a whole, so it’s hard for me to pick only one song.
What Scripture verse has been a pillar for your life or the group as a whole?
For me, my favorite would be 1 John 3:18 which says, “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”
There have been several along the way that have been an encouragement to us, but that verse, for me, describes what we try to do as a band. We try to lead with love in all that we do, so that people will know us because of our love. I think that the main thing for us as a band is that we aren’t rock stars, we don’t pretend to be. [Laughs.] All we can do is share the love of God that He has shown us. He allows us to do what we do. It’s humbling to be on the road, to meet people every night, to share our lives and music with them and, in return, to hear how their lives have been impacted by it. It’s a pretty amazing thing! On top of that, doing it out of a loving heart is something we always strive for.
At this point in the band’s lives, what do you feel like God is speaking the most to the group about?
Wow! I think it could be patience. [Laughs.] There are a lot of things, right now, that are challenging for us as a band. We’ve put out this new record, and we feel super confident about it, but I think, at the same time, we struggle with doubt. It’s not that we don’t feel like we’re supposed to be doing this, but it is how we make a living. It’s one of those things where you think, God, how am I going to provide for my family? I think God is showing us how to be still so that we can focus more on Him before we get busy again. We’re used to being super busy, but this winter has been very slow for us, and it has been good to be home. It’s a different season for us and, hopefully, it’s because He’s showing us some things now that will prepare us for what’s to come this year.
What aspirations does the band have for the future?
[Laughs.] I hope that we’ll be able to continue to make music. Like I said before, this is our fifth record, which is hard to believe. We hope that there’s still plenty more music to come. We feel well-connected as a band and hope that we go out there and tour with some great artists this year. This spring, our tour is with a band called Addison Road and a couple of new bands—Me in Motion and Above the Golden State. We’re really excited to be on the road with all those bands. We get to go out on the road, not just by ourselves, but with other great artists, so it’s pretty crazy to say, “Hey this is my job!” I hope the future holds more of that. I hope people find a place for this record in their lives, and I hope that the next record will be coming soon!
Chris, it’s been great talking with you! Before we check out of the interview, are there any words you’d like to share with your fans or the people reading?
When we put out a record like this, it’s just another step along the way that reminds me we have so many great fans. I’m guessing that people who read this will be the diehard fans or people who have been following us for quite a while. If that’s you, I’d like to say thanks. Thank you for the support of our ministry. We hope that you enjoy the record, and we also hope to see you out on the road sometime soon!
Andrew Funderburks is a fan of a wide range of Christian music including punk, pop and black gospel. His interests include missions, writing songs and drama. He currently lives in Houston, MS.
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