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Harvest Rock Syndicate

Fall 1988
Volume 3, Issue 3
1988 Harvest Rock Publications
Page 15



MAD AT THE WORLD: Keeping Up With The Smiths

by Johnny R. Cleric

Mad At The World is one of those bands that critics usually love to hate. Or hate to love. The band suffers the greatest disease known to pop, they are derivative.

MATW's eponymously titled debut addressed the nihilism of Depeche Mode, while borrowing liberally from that band's signature sequenced techno-dance-pop. The latest, Flowers In The Rain, broadens MATW's grasp, both philosophically and musically, but the reference points remain obvious: from ABC to the Smiths.

In an era when Christian artists seem sensitive to being labeled the "Christian Clash" or the "Christian Iron Maiden" and even the "Christian Talking Heads," Roger Rose, who writes, sings, plays, and produces most of what is MATW, seems quite comfortable with the idea that his music emulates the newest British pop sounds. In fact he more-or-less sees his work as an alternative view in the same vein as his secular counterparts. For Rose, little brother Randy Rose, and Mike Pendleton, Mad At The World exists to touch an audience that may be drawn to the bands they freely imitate, and they play and create music with as much humor and playfulness as they can and still get across the message that "Faith is a road that leads to heaven," and life isn't really what you read in all those fashion magazines.

As much as Roger Rose feels strongly about his music and what he has to say to young Christians and non-believers alike, he has to be the shiest person I know of in rock 'n roll. Minutes before Mad At The World was to make their live debut at the Cornerstone festival last summer, the sequencer which held all the computer programs with basic drum tracks, extraneous keyboard runs and sampled noises was erased. The forty-five minutes it took the Rose brothers to get back online, added to Roger Rose's admitted tentative feelings about live performance made for a less than stimulating introduction, in spite of the high level of anticipation that ran through the festival audience.

That event made its way into my own summation of 1987 under disappointments, and Rose seemed very aware of the fact as he entered Frontline's Santa Ana offices for our interview. Still a postman in the daytime and recording artist at night, he had taken the day off to come by and chat, and entered Brian Tong's office where Mike Mac Lane and I were hearing recently mastered cuts from Mark Farner's Christian debut on the label. Coffee cups in hand we moved to the seclusion of Mac Lane's office where we talked about MATW's ministry, music, records and touring, with only a view of Mike Knott's painting for the cover of L.S.U.'s Shaded Pain to distract us from the business at hand.

Mad At The World may be for now a guilty pleasure for those whose critical sensibilities seek complete originality, but can't resist the band's playful mimicry, danceable, tight construction, and highly resonant production. Clearly, however, the fans could care less what some of us think. Flowers In The Rain is already selling better than Mad At The World, and the band's fans seem to be growing in leaps and bounds, whether Roger Rose is ready or not.

Harvest Rock Syndicate:  Roger, you've made some adjustments in the band's sound since the first record.

Rose:  What I really wanted to do, and I think I was pretty successful, was open up every possible musical door and get into more of an experimental thing. I wanted to dis-establish, if there is such a word, any identification of Mad At The World with one particular music style. For this record the musical theme is variety. It's probably pretty safe to say that no one else in Christian music is doing what we're doing, which is bouncing off all of the British pop/rock influences and trying to do something morally, Biblically, and socially sane, which is the complete opposite of what that music is usually doing.

HRS:  Do some of the changes reflect a response to the difficulties of performing your music live?

Rose:  Definitely. We were signed to do the first record before we were really a band and had any experience playing this music live. Our first concert was a festival here in Southern California and we had a month after we finished the first record to pull together as a band and figure out how much to play live and how much to rely on the sequencers.

HRS:  Did it all work out?

Rose:  We found it was real uncomfortable playing live. We had pretty much modeled our live to sequencer ratio on what we had seen and read of Depeche Mode's live shows. They don't use a live drummer and it's just three keyboard players, but they dance well and still put on a great show. I, myself, am not much of a dancer and we found it very awkward to be onstage standing there while the sequencer was doing most of the playing.

HRS:  Certainly you had played it at one time. I mean you did program the responses.

Rose:  Yeah, but standing there hearing it play was quite uncomfortable. With the new record, I constantly had the live reproduction process in mind, so I downplayed a lot of the sequenced rapid fire sounds that could go on in a tune because I knew it was going to require extra computer programming live, or an extra guy just standing on stage thumping away on a keyboard. I tried to avoid sampled noises and rely more on traditional instruments, vocals, and guitar lines that make a song work. We had a real good time with it, and live we won't need the sequencers anymore. My brother Randy sang a bunch of the deeper vocals, and live he'll be playing a real kit instead of just triggering sampled sounds like last year. Mike Pendleton plays keys, I play guitar and sing and there will be a fourth person on live dates just playing the extra guitar and keyboard parts.

HRS:  When we chatted last year you mentioned that if it weren't for your brother you would still be playing and writing music in your basement. You seem to be pretty shy when it comes to live performance.

Rose:  Well, yeah. It really bothers me that I'm so shy around people. I have the desire to go out and play, it's just that I don't have the desire to go out and make a fool of myself. It is getting better though, we've only done a few shows since the release of Flowers In The Rain, but with the new live format -- no sequencers -- I'm a lot more comfortable, there's a night and day difference from the way it felt last year.

HRS:  Since you obviously are moving hesitantly toward live performance, what got you excited about making the music in the first place?

Rose:  My main strength is in songwriting, that's what I've always had a love for doing, and that's where I feel really confident. I can just take forever, do what I need to do and be creative, without an audience in front of me.

HRS:  There's a lot on the new record that fits with the issues of kids growing up in the church as they encounter the world around them, yet you seem to want to reach out beyond that small group of people.

Rose:  In both records I tried not to come across in a way that would be a turn-off to a non-Christian. With this one it was a lot more difficult because I dealt more directly with issues of Christian doctrine, teaching and values. Generally though the songs address issues that any kid, whether they're Christian or not, can relate to. The tune "Why" is about human compassion, which Christ talked a lot about when he told us to love one another. Those things are going to be accessible ideas.

HRS:  MATW tends to adapt a lot of its sound from various British bands currently on the scene, how do you approach that?

Rose:  The reason I adapt different styles for different songs, even though they may blatantly be coming from other bands, is that their musical influence is so strong on me. I am pretty impressionable in the music that I hear, and it's important to me to be compatible with what's out there and current. It kind of says that I know what the listener is into, and I have something to say that's in a form that fits in with what's happening musically.

HRS:  Okay then, let's talk about the songs. You took "Fearfully and Wonderfully" almost directly from Scripture, but there's a lot of analysis of the culture in there too.

Rose:  It's my answer back to society's or the world's inaccurate and even perverted definition of self-worth. Movies and fashion magazines are telling us who the special people are, who really should feel good about themselves, and that's so unfortunate because of the unreality of all that. The song points out that God said that real beauty comes from within.

HRS:  A lot of the songs on the new record appear to be directed toward the issues that inhibit us in our teen years, questions of identity, purpose, sexuality, peers.

Rose:  Right, just as "Fearfully and Wonderfully" addresses self-worth, "I Don't Wanna Go There" is a counter of the world's idea of when it's okay to have sex with someone. In the song it says that we hear movie stars saying it's okay to go to bed with someone because you feel love. In this song we sort of ripped off the Smiths to beat them on their own territory. I hoped that it would be cool and memorable, and that the idea would stay with kids. It's not often that there is an expression of something that's really moral that is also cool, and that's what I tried to do.