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Mark Salomon spends most of his days and evenings mixing espressos, foaming lattes, waiting tables, taking people's orders and smiling cordially during the hours he works his two jobs—one at a coffeehouse in Huntington Beach, the other at a Sunset Beach restaurant. Humble, service-oriented gigs, to be sure. Makes you wonder why Salomon does them, since the rock band he sings in just sold 7,000 copies of its new CD in its first two weeks of release.
Salomon's band is Stavesacre, one of the biggest OC bands you've likely never heard of. That's because, like local ska rockers the Supertones, they move mostly in the circles of modern Christian music, a parallel universe where followings are built through word-of-mouth and constant touring (Stavesacre have played across the U.S. 10 times in the past three years), rather than the more secular routes of commercial alterna-rock radio and MTV.
Salomon is aching to change that. Stavesacre's big, booming, slightly hardcore anthems would be perfect KROQ hits, and last month's Speakeasy, the band's third disc, is full of them. But Salomon admits that because they've gone down the "Christian rock" path, mainstream success isn't going to come easy.
"It's our own fault," says Salomon over afternoon coffee, the demon liquid he can't seem to resist. "We're doing everything we can to fix that. When we first started playing, the Christian tours were there, so we took them, not realizing what we were getting into. But now we're trying to find a way to balance things."
It's only natural that a burgeoning band would want to get its music heard by as many people as possible, regardless of what god, if any, the audience worships. To win over new fans, Salomon says Stavesacre will cut back on the Christian-festival circuit in 2000 in favor of playing more traditional bars and clubs.
He's looking forward to the break, one the band is making partially out of frustration with the Christian music industry and the larger Christian community, which he says is often too separatist, commercial and judgmental at the expense of espousing true faith. Ask him for details, and he'll give you an earful.
"The Christian community is clueless to things that are going on [with their separatism]," he says. "To me, it seems like this default, an easy way out—'We get to hang around other Christians, we work at Christian-owned businesses, we only take our children to Christian schools and Christian movies, and we only let them listen to Christian music.' They're more concerned with whether Stavesacre says 'Jesus' on our records, or whether people cussed in the movie their kids saw, or if [their kids are] listening to Marilyn Manson. I understand their concern; I don't despise them for it. But at the same time, there's so much more that's important. I mean, here I am working in a coffeehouse, serving coffee to some dude whose brother just got locked up for life or some girl whose husband just overdosed. It sounds so overly dramatic, but that's a regular part of my life. These are real people with real needs."
To more conservative Christians—the kind whom most nonbelievers mistakenly tend to stereotype as standard Christians—Stavesacre just aren't Christian enough, Salomon points out. "I love the Lord. I'm in a rock & roll band. We sweat, we play in bars, we like to go out and have a good time—and we're Christians. Some have a hard time with that. Yes, some people in Stavesacre smoke; some of us drink alcohol. But we believe in the fruits of the Holy Spirit—one of those fruits being self-control. But right there, what I just said, 90 percent of the Christian community will read that and go, 'Oh, he wants to get drunk!' And there are people who say that since we don't preach at our shows, we're ashamed of the Gospel. Whatever. I don't care anymore. You can't win. We've experienced nothing but that in the Christian industry, and that's why we're getting away. Half the record is about getting away from that stuff."
Three of Speakeasy's more biting songs give you a clearer idea of where Salomon, the band's chief songwriter, is coming from. "You Know How It Is" is a vitriolic rant against people who make their living off Jesus imagery—modern-day moneychangers, if you wil l—but don't truly walk the walk. "Gold and Silver" finds Salomon wanting to console friends in despair but finding it hard to come up with the right words without sounding stupid—something Salomon attributes to a kind of bumper-sticker Christianity.
"I had several friends whose wives just left them," Salomon says, "and the need came up to comfort them, to tell them I'd pray for them. But by virtue of these slogans, things like "Prayer Is God's Direct Hot Line," which the Christian industry pumps out, it almost cheapens what it means to tell someone that I'll pray for them. You just have to rise above the trivial. So that's about the frustration I feel—where you can't comfort somebody because your words are so clichťd."