Vince Lichlyter is the lead singer and founding member of the explosive, high-energy rock band Jonah33
. Based out of the college town in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the band has managed to put a number of impressive accomplishments under their belt. They were voted "The Best New Artist of 2003" in ChristianityToday.com's Readers' Choice Awards and have toured in 48 states and five different countries. They've also had 6 singles from their first two albums reach the top 10 at Christian Rock Radio.
Now the band finds themselves on a brand new page in 2007. After parting ways with Ardent Records, who released their first two albums, they were picked up by Ares Records, an independent label out of Santa Cruz, California. Their latest release, The Heart of War
, takes on the theme of World War ll and it promises, by far, to be one their most passionate and thought-provoking projects to date.
Recently, Vince took some time to speak with Angel at NRT about the new album and how he wants to break though barriers and stereotypes to reach a generation of people in despair. He also shares his extraordinary journey from a life of drugs and violence to the loving arms of God.
Hi Vince and thanks for joining us here at New Release Tuesday. I understand you've taken the theme of World War II for your latest project. Can you tell us why you chose this particular theme and how you came up with the title for the album?
A few years ago, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg produced an HBO mini-series called Band of Brothers
, and it tells the story of the 101st Airborne Division during World War II. These men were some the first soldiers in the U.S. Army that volunteered to jump out of an airplane and parachute into enemy territory. While I was out on the road with the band, we watched the entire series together, and we learned many valuable lessons from what they experienced. It took a lot of courage for the soldiers to just jump out of the planes and to fight like they did. So we started correlating that to the courage it takes these days to live out your faith in the culture we live in. After watching the series, we were inspired to name our album The Heart of War
, because we want people to understand that this life is a spiritual war.
We definitely think that over the past decade the church has been swallowed in the worship movement—now I'm not knocking worship, we realize it's important. But when people start redoing songs that other artists have done four or five different times—and everything they put out sounds the same because they know it's going to sell—then it seems like the CCM industry has kind of taken a left turn. Of course, that's just my opinion. So this is our way of getting people to realize that we are in a war and it's over the souls of mankind.
There definitely is a spiritual war going on for souls. The mind can also be a battlefield. I think if a person can take control of their thoughts, they'll be able to achieve that much more in life!
Absolutely! We deal with that on a daily basis, but some people aren't aware of it though—that's the only difference.
You've changed labels and took a heavier direction on your latest project. Tell us about this change, and what influenced you to go in that direction?
It was actually God. We cut demos for our third album, and Ardent Records liked them but ultimately decided to pass on distribution. Two days after that happened, I found out that a lady who owned a day care in Lubbock, Texas gave us a new van. The van we were previously in was a death trap, so I started to think that maybe God doesn't want this thing to end. Then the day my daughter was born, I received a phone call from Caleb, my manager, and he said, "I just talked to a friend of mine. He owns an independent, mainstream record label out of California, and he wants to pick you up!" He was offering one of the most amazing record contracts. I ended up talking to the President of the Ares Records, and he hooked us up. We went into the studio and recorded The Heart of War
in two weeks. After that, Eddie Robinson, the head of music marketing at MTV, caught wind of the record and loved it, so he called me up for an interview.
All these doors are opening up for us: We're even going on a mainstream tour from October 26 to November 17, 2007. We'll be performing at various club and bar venues throughout the East Coast (U.S.), and you can go to www.myspace.com/jonah33
to check out our tour schedule. We're going to have a chance to be a light in the world. To me, that's what Christianity is supposed to be about. You're not supposed to surround yourself with this little sub-culture.
We took the heavier route just because we want to reach out to the people who listen to that kind of music. Some people are going through very difficult situations: teenagers are cutting themselves, girls are faced with unplanned pregnancies, they come from broken homes, they're strung out on drugs and suicidal. Those are the people we want to go after—because God has always chosen these people for His glory—and that's where we want to be. We also took a few years of anger and frustration from the situations we've experienced and put it to tape. This is another reason why the music took a heavier turn on The Heart of War
. Our lyrics remain just as intense but deliver a message of hope.
What is the song "Scream" about?
"Scream" is our first single and also one of the first songs we wrote for our new project. It's like a martyr's cry or an anthem encouraging people to say, "Yes, I will stand up for what I believe in and if need be, die for it!" If somebody is willing to die for something there's obviously a lot of passion behind it. And if this generation could get that passionate about Christ—that they'd be willing to die for the cause—we'd be dangerous!
There's a verse in that song where you say: "Don't look now, but some of our worst enemies have found their way inside of these walls we've made." Can you paint a better picture of what that verse means to you?
"Inside these walls we've made" is symbolic of this little Christian sub-culture we've developed: We have our own schools, our own music, our own clothing line and even our own movies. Then inside that little sub-culture, you have people who are borderline Pharisees who you read about in scripture. They know all the right scriptures, they pray all the right prayers, and they sing all the right songs, but when it comes right down to loving somebody or extending the same grace that God gave them, they're just not going to do it. So this verse refers to fact that we're in a spiritual battle with "the enemy" and to those people within this [sub-culture] who are trying to hold fast to religious traditions.
How did you come up with the name for your band?
When we first started out we were throwing around names, and my firstborn son is named Jonah. The guys in the band mentioned that it would be a cool name. I told them, "I don't want to be one of those lead singers that's like, 'Oh yeah, we named the band after my kid,'"—you know, kind of egotistical or whatever. But they said, "No, no that's really cool!" After that, we looked into it, but a band from Portland had already trademarked the name.
Now it says in the book of Jonah, chapter 3, verse 3: "Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to
Nineveh. . . ." So, we decided to add 33 since this represents the defining moment in Jonah's life where Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord. And it's not just a mission statement for us, but it's also an encouragement for other people to get outside of those four walls and go and do what God has told you to do because that's the only way you're going to find freedom!
I know you're excited about the new release, but I wanted to ask you if you wouldn't mind talking a bit about your past. Can you tell us about the world you grew up in and how God has changed your life?
Sure! I was born and raised in the Seattle-Tacoma, Washington area, but for various reasons, my family had to give me up for adoption when I was only 3. So I ended up being adopted by an amazing Catholic couple who sent me to a private Catholic school. From third-grade to seventh-grade I did the whole Catholic thing, but I never really got anything out of that experience. It was just school to me.
When I was 13, we ended up moving, and I attended public school for the first time. I was only in junior high, but I ended up getting involved with the wrong crowd. I started hanging out with a group of skaters who influenced me to smoke pot, and I fell in love with it! At age 12, I also got involved with music, and I joined my first band when I was 13.
One day my dad, a retired Air Force master sergeant, walked in on a little band practice that I was having with some friends of mine. He busted me for smoking pot and warned me that he didn't want any drugs in his house. He said, "It's my way or the highway. So I bailed—I ran away when I was 13-years-old and started living out on the streets. Eventually, I'd come home and my parents would put me in a group home, but I'd run away from those. One time, I even remember hitchhiking the whole way from Tacoma to Portland, but when I got there things didn't work out like I thought they would. So, I turned myself in and ended up at juvenile hall, [where I was placed in a group home]. Now, the last group home I went into I ran away—and I ran away for good!
During that time, I didn't see my parents for about three years, and in those three years I really got messed up on hallucinogenic drugs. I started taking a lot of psychedelic mushrooms and acid. I also got into cocaine a little bit and ended up strung out on crystal meth (a k a crank). To support my drug habit, I even broke into my parents' house when I was 15 or 16. I cleaned out their jewelry box and sold what was inside so I could buy drugs. Then I went to court with my mother and father and was legally emancipated at 17, which pretty much means I divorced them.
By the time I was 19-years-old, I found myself living in Tacoma, Washington with a crystal meth dealer named Bobby. I was dealing and using crystal methamphetamine, and that's not a very good combination! We had a pretty successful drug dealing business for a while. Then one night his dealer called from California. She said she was going to send somebody up to his house to kill him and everybody else that was living with him—and that meant me! Fifteen grand was missing, and she claimed it was Bobby's fault, but it wasn't! He asked me if I was willing to stick around and see what happens since he had to leave. I decided to stay because I didn't have anywhere else to go. I'd burned all my bridges with my parents and destroyed all the relationships with my friends because of my drug habit. I was such a jerk back then!
Before Bobby left, he went into his room, grabbed a shotgun, then he came back out and threw it into my hands. He said, "Fire first or suffer the consequences if the door gets kicked in." He told me he had to go and take care of some business, but he never came back. He also left me a big pile of dope on the coffee table that kept me awake for two weeks straight. In those two weeks, I obviously used all of the dope. Since I wasn't able to get any sleep, I ended up hallucinating a lot. When you stay up for two weeks your mind can start playing tricks on you. At this point, I felt completely alone and became suicidal. I didn't think anybody wanted to be around me anymore. So, I turned the gun on my own head three different times to try to kill myself, but I didn't have the guts to pull the trigger!
Somehow, I ended up calling my dad instead. They had retired and moved to Arkansas because that's where my dad grew up. After explaining the situation I was in, I asked him if I could come home. My dad said he'd have to think about it because of everything I'd put them through. I made up my mind that if he called back and said no, I was going to pull the trigger. This was the only hope I had left! But he did call back and said he wanted to bring me home for Christmas of '93. After all this time, I was finally coming home!
What happened once you moved back? Did you still have a desire to get high?
I moved from Seattle to a town of 500 people in Arkansas, which was quite a "culture shock" for me! When my dad picked me up from the airport in Texarkana, Texas, I weighed only 120 pounds soaking wet—I looked like a skeleton! Once I came home, I said "Hi" to my mom. We spent some time together since I hadn't seen her in years. Then I went to sleep in the guest bedroom and woke up two days later. And during that time, something miraculous happened. You see, for most people the detox process can be very painful to endure. Many people experience nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps, while others have to soak in a bathtub of ice due to muscle cramps. But God allowed me to detoxify in my sleep, and I didn't have to go through any of that! The whole time I was asleep God was getting all that poison out of my system. When I awoke, I noticed the sheets on the bed were stained yellow because, during my sleep, I was sweating out all the toxins that were in my body.
Shortly thereafter, I met a youth pastor who took me out to lunch. He started telling me about Jesus, but I didn't want anything to do with Christianity. I told him, "I don't want this; it never worked for me! I'm glad religion works for you, but I don't need it." Now he didn't bible thump me. He just told me what he believed, and he left it at that. Afterwards, I couldn't stop thinking about what he said, and since my mind was focused on our conversation, I wasn't even thinking about trying to get high! Eventually, I ended up at his house, and in his living room, at 3:00 a.m., I gave my life to Christ. From that point on, I never had one single notion to go back to the world of acid, or the world of crank—or anything like that!
From that point on, you didn't have the desire to get high anymore?
Nothing! I was completely delivered. I mean, I still smoked cigarettes, and pot on an occasion, but the Holy Spirit eventually weaned me off of that.
Vince, that is such a powerful testimony of how God delivered you from drug-addiction and suicide! I know the story you just shared with us will help the readers of NRT to see that it doesn't matter what they've done, God is willing to meet each one of us right where we're at and bring us out of that place, if we allow Him. Since then, you've become a husband, a father of two, and you've even had 6 singles from two albums reach the top ten on Christian Rock Radio. Is there anything you would like to say to the people out there who are caught up in a spiritual battle with drugs and alcohol?
I can only speak from personal experience: I went through the war zones, I went through two very intense drug rehabilitation clinics and I was even in foster care. If I could have the money my parents spent on me trying to fix me—if I could get all that back—I could easily flip this band for another two or three years. Ultimately, the only thing that ever worked was coming to the profound realization that Christianity wasn't what I thought it was. The truth is it doesn't matter who you are, it doesn't matter where you're at in life, you have to get it through your head that the God that created this universe loves you! Once I realized just how much God loved me, that was the ultimate thing that sent me over the edge.
The bottom line is Jesus Christ is the only true deliverer!
What are your aspirations for the band?
When the prophets in the Old Testament stood up and spoke, they didn't give a crap who was standing in front of them—whether they were believers or non-believers—they stood up and spoke what God laid on their hearts to speak. God's truth is so universal that it can make sense to anybody who is listening, and He's big enough to be able to do that. You know, I want this band to be just like that! I don't want our band to necessarily chase the Christian music industry or chase the general market industry. I just want our band to be fully aware of why we're alive, why we're in existence and let God do what He wants to with us.