A giant amoeba of college students and young adults dials into the moody background music and the slowly building adrenaline. Chatter. Laughter. Excitement. Like hundreds of dancers in a sprawling urban warehouse on the brink of a secret weekend rave.
Then the band hits the stage. The quintet confidently launches into their impassioned opening number (as they do just about every weekend), blending dual jangly, overdriven guitars, ambient keyboards, and a tightly intertwined bass and drum attack until it becomes a rousing song. The charismatic lead vocalist paces back and forth across the stage, connecting with listeners in the far reaches of the cavernous space; the guitarist rocks his torso up and down like a hammer during a blistering solo; the drummer propels the band ever forward, his sweaty, long dark hair obscuring his tightly shut eyes. And the crowd is on its feet, singing along, jumping, shouting...relieved and ecstatic about the massive release the music brings.
But this isn't a secret weekend rave or underground gig"it's a Sunday night service at a fast-rising young church in San Diego called Flood. And their worship band is something of a wonder"a group of postmodern, culturally in-tune rockers determined to close the gap between passionate adoration of Christ and the passionate performance of exciting, moving, artful music.
The band is Something Like Silas. And they're offering a Divine Invitation on June 15 to anyone ready for worship music without boundaries.
"We want to change the way people look at worship bands," says Eric M. Owyoung, the band's leader, songwriter, and vocalist-guitarist. "We want to play sweet music that engages people on their journeys toward knowing the hope found in God, whether they know him personally or are just open to it. We want a new way of playing music and approaching God at the same time.
"It's rare to play worship songs in a mainstream venue and not get booed offstage, but we played in front of 800 people at a big club in town, and the soundman told us later that after mixing 400 or so bands there, we were in his Top 10. We were stoked, and he's since come to Flood a few times. It's in those instances where we see the impact that we could have."
Most of the time Something Like Silas is playing for the faithful who attend their home church, Flood"a body of believers on the campus of San Diego's College Avenue Baptist Church that's inextricably linked to Something Like Silas, and always will be. The band and church, in fact, began on the same Sunday night four years ago, with just a dozen people in attendance.
"Flood is our home," Eric notes. "All five of us are part of fellowship groups connected to Flood, and we play here at least two-thirds of the weekends during the year."
Indeed he, Malina Owyoung, guitarist Nick Maybury, bassist John Luzzi, and drummer Lenny Beh traveled as a band with Flood members to the African nation of Malawi in March as part of a two-week mission trip featuring competitive soccer matches and Something Like Silas concerts afterward.
"It wasn't a quick visit without any impact, either," Eric explains. "Flood's been involved with the Malawi people for as long as Flood's existed; they've come here, and we've gone there. It's an ongoing relationship."
But it doesn't end in Africa"Something Like Silas feels called to reach people in all nations with its music and message. (A calling that's tangibly reflected in the group's ethnic makeup"Lenny and Eric are first and third-generation Chinese-American respectively and Malina comes from a Thai background.
Over the course of Something Like Silas' four-year existence, the band has traveled more and more extensively, playing conferences, camps, colleges, and other churches while committing to weekends at Flood as often as possible. But as their appeal rapidly grew, fans began clamoring for more than the live experience"and the band since recorded three independent CDs. After their 2003 disc, Glimpses, Sparrow Records came calling, signed Something Like Silas, and hooked them up with heralded alt. rock studio vets"and founders of legendary band The Choir"producer Steve Hindalong and engineer Derri Daugherty.
"We've been self-producing for years, so we really needed someone not to 'tell' us what to do, but to collaborate on our ideas and let them fly," Eric notes. "Steve's a great listener with a super open mind.
"And Derri's got this totally sick sense in terms of getting tone. I've tried for years to capture a great guitar tone in the studio, but he got a bigger sound very easy. It comes naturally to him, I think, when he pushes and pulls the faders. I love the way that guy works."
After two months laboring at the Sound Kitchen in Nashville, Something Like Silas came away with an album that blends all their collective influences (U2, the violet burning, the Cardigans, Radiohead, and Icelandic modern rockers, Sigur Ros, among others) over a dozen tracks with a recorded sound that outpaces everything they've ever committed to tape.
"During a mixing session, we hit the climax of 'Divine Invitation,' and it all came together for me," Eric recalls. "The realization that all of these people"musicians, producers, mixers"worked as one to create something far beyond the sum of all the parts was incredibly moving and humbling.
But even with an album that is sure to open up many eyes, ears, and hearts while Something Like Silas spreads the love to more and more audiences, they have no plans to treat the road any differently.
"In Greek and Hebrew, the word worship refers to the act of bowing down and alludes to the idea of servanthood," Eric notes. "We're rooted at Flood because this is where we primarily worship and where we primarily serve. On Sundays we get here at 1 p.m. and don't leave 'til around midnight; we don't expect others to wait on us or do everything for us"we all have ownership in this community of ours."
But while Something Like Silas has the chance, they want to make the most of a larger audience, too.
"Ultimately we want to make great music"and not merely for a Christian subculture, but for the whole world," Eric exclaims. "Years from now we want to see people of all ages and backgrounds engage in our music and experience God."
That goal is, in fact, a big reason behind the band's moniker. On the way back from a gig in New Mexico, the band became inspired by a passage in Acts 16:23-34: Paul and Silas are in jail with their hands and feet shackled. But instead of getting discouraged, they pray and sing. After an earthquake their chains fall off, and the jailor is in complete shock"the perfect opportunity for Paul and Silas to tell the jailor who Jesus is. The jailor becomes a believer and shares the news with his family so that they might also become followers of Christ.
"Our band wants to follow in the footsteps of these men," Eric exclaims. "When the people of God come together and sing, even in the midst of pressing circumstances, the Holy Spirit often comes and metaphorically breaks the chains that bind us."