Growing up around Christian music in the 1990's was absolutely incredible. It followed the era of Jesus music (Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Keith Green) and 80's rockers such as DeGarmo and Key, Petra and Stryper.
Christian music exploded in the 1990's with grunge/alternative/hip hop acts like dc Talk, Audio Adrenaline, Newsboys, Jars of Clay, and Grits taking over the airwaves.
Something predictable happened, though, as the decade turned into a new century. Those 70's and 80's kids grew up and took over the industry, and mellowed out a bit as well. Rock turned into a worship craze, as bands like Third Day and Sonic Flood and Newsboys and even The O.C. Supertones started churning out worship records.
In addition to the pop/worship style that has overtaken the airwaves and labels, the industry as a whole shifted to digital and streaming in the last ten years. This means that there is more music available to consumers, and an independent and somewhat underground market for alternative music (hip hop, rock and roll) has exploded.
If you listen to the radio, you'll find (generally) that rock and roll and hip hop are "dead" to the labels and powers that be, but I'm here to tell you that rock and roll (and hip hop - they're basically cousins) are, in fact, very much alive.
In 2018, the rock industry appears to be ready to make an impact to mainstream with acts like Lacey Sturm, Fireflight, Ledger, and The Protest leading the way (Disciple, Skillet and RED of course as staple headliners).
Back in December, I had the privilege to chat about the state of the industry, and rock and roll, with radio personality John Staffeiri, the host of Some Sort of Rock Show on Lancaster, PA-based WJTL, FM 90.3, and with The Letter Black guitarist Mark Anthony.
As someone involved in the rock and roll industry, can you share what about rock and roll is so interesting to you, and why you believe the rock genre is not dead?
Mark Anthony: I just love heavy music! Always have. That’s why I believe Rock will never die, but it will constantly change.
John Staffieri: We all know that music has an ability to connect and communicate in deep and spiritual ways. Christian rock is especially interesting right now because it feels like Contemporary Christian music is less broad than it used to be. It’s very cool to give airtime to artists that don’t fit the profile because of their sound or because their music isn’t direct enough.
The second part of that question is a little trickier, in part because the rock genre is difficult to define, especially when it comes to Christian music. Music genres are always evolving. I think there will always be room for bands who take their musicianship seriously, are clear on their vision, and can connect with potential fans. There will always be rock and roll. The challenge may be in defining the sound.
**The next questions were asked of John Staffieri ***
John, what brings you back every week to put out Some Sort of Rock Show, and why are you so passionate about bringing this genre to radio each week?
I don’t hide that fact that I love putting the show together every week. I usually begin working on next weekends handcrafted playlist (as I like to call it) before the weekend is over. The flow of the show is very important to me and I spend hours mixing and matching the 30 songs that I play. I recognize that there is a myriad of ways to listen to music these days. That pushes me to keep the show fresh and worthy of appointment listening.
I am passionate about Some Sort of Rock Show because at crucial moments, God has used music to speak hope and encouragement into my life. I am honored to share music with my listeners that has that kind of potential.
John, what's your favorite story to tell about interactions with artists in the rock and roll industry?
I would like to say defeating Anthony Armstrong of RED the last whole the last time we played golf together. I would LIKE to say that, but I would be reinventing history because he actually beat me on the last whole. I’m a tad competitive, so that definitely can’t be my favorite.
My interactions with artists have been so positive. I once misidentified XXI as their label mates, Hearts Like Lions. Then later in the same day was relaying the story to Hearts Like Lions and got momentarily confused and referred to them as XXI. The real XXI got back at me by referring to me as John Cena.
I love that moment in an interview when you tap into the artist’s passion. A few that come to mind:
What do you think it would take for the rock genre to become more mainstream again and co-exist with pop/worship?
As an independent station, WJTL enjoys the liberty of selecting what gets played over our airwaves. One of the challenges that the industry faces is that there is a shrinking number of people making those decisions. Artists have to make their music appealing to that group of people.
I love playing some rock and roll throwback tracks from the 90’s. Many of those songs were played right along side the popular christian music of that day. Frankly, I don’t know how turn back the clock to those days. If that’s our goal we may always be disappointed. Instead, I am determined to be an advocate for artists that I think can make a difference with their music. Today artists have more avenues than ever to get their music in front of people, so perhaps there are ways besides looking to mainstream Christian music to make it work.
***The next questions were asked of Mark Anthony ***
Mark, would you rather play a show to a sold out arena or an intimate club or small audience, and why?
Definitely a sold out arena. I believe the music we make best fits the arena rock format. Plus who doesn’t want to perform in front of 15k people!!
What is your favorite thing about Pennsylvania?
Definitely the Pittsburgh Penguins! I’m a diehard hockey fan! I have been since I was a child.
If you could pick one song to shar ethat you want to make sure everyone hears from your most recent record, which one would it be...and why?
I would say Last Day That I Cared. It really sums up the sound and direction as a whole on our newest release Pain.