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