Sam Black Church is probably the best metalcore band ever. The sound of SBC is unmatched by anyone, there’s no doubt about it. When somebody pops one of their CDs into the player, you don’t ask who it is, you just know. How do they get this sound? From each of their various musical talents and backgrounds. Ben Crandall provides the “rip-the-skin-off-your-forehead, evil sound” on guitar. Ben’s brother, Jesse, better known as Jet, is a “classically trained musician” who is known to be able to pick up any instrument you hand him and play it pretty damn well, even though he’s the vocalist for the band. He played guitar in their early jam sessions, studied classical piano in college, used to play hand drums in a professional marching drum corps, and at one point he even taught in the student music program, grades K – 12, in Keene, New Hampshire. Richard, bassist, is a Bootsy Collins fan who adds his “washy-wide funk” sound to the band. And JR is, to put it simply in his own words, “just a heavy metal drummer, man.”
Jet, Ben and JR grew up together in, the band’s namesake, a small town in West Virginia named after the incredibly popular traveling preacher Sam Black Church. Jet and JR even ran junior high track together. All three ended up in college in Boston, where Ben met Richard Lewis. The two formed Alex the Driver, a crazy frat-party cover and originals band. Once Ben, Jet, JR and Richard started playing together and became Sam Black Church, they started trying to work their way into the Boston scene, by booking themselves on metal shows. Finally, manager Sean McNally picked them up and hooked them up with shows at Bunratty’s and The Channel playing with bands like Slapshot, Wrecking Crew, Only Living Witness and Stompbox. Slapshot’s Mark McKaye came to one show with a thousand-dollar check, handed it to them and told them that they needed to make a demo. Their first record deal (with then-Boston-based Taang! Records) proved to hold much controversy for the growing band. It gave them a national audience, which was mainly what they were looking for at the time, however their eventual split with the label was messy. At this point, with the new record on Ken Cmar’s Wonderdrug label, the band would rather forget about the Taang! saga than keep rehashing a dead story.
One of the most amazing things about this band, and a major factor in their strength, is the fact that the same four members have stayed together for the past ten years. In a town where very few bands last longer than 2 years, let alone 2 years with the same lineup, ten years is extremely impressive. JR credits this longevity to the fact that the four of them are and always have been good friends. “Just because you don’t want to [change] the material someone’s brought to the group doesn’t mean you think they’re an asshole. There a very high level of honesty; no bullshit.” He also mentioned that there are no drinking or drug problems in the band, which is a common strain in bands.
This past year has held the first and only line-up change in SBC history. Ben Crandall, the guitarist and founder of the band, has left to focus on his family. Zack Andrian is replacing him, however, Zack is not new to the band. He has been a good friend of the whole band for years, as he was in Maelstrom and most recently, Big Wig. He has been filling in for Ben on many occasions for the past two years; the band just saw no reason to make a big deal of it. Finally, the band loves touring and plan to continue touring until they stop loving it. They’ll figure out what comes next when they get there.
Lyrically, SBC’s music speaks to the idea of “personal freedom.” While they are not huge fans of organized religion, they are very much in support of spirituality. They’re not about rage and anger, they’re just saying, don’t sit and complain about what you think is wrong, go out and change it, or at least “voice your opinion.” For example, in their ‘97 release, That Which Does Not Kill Us…, the lyrics “We would rather die on our feet/Than live on our knees,” appear in the song “We Are The Bastards.” And another segment of defining lyrics are those of “The Ballad Of Iron O’Rourke,” — “No one’s ever made your sacrifice/Standing in the mirror, playing Christ/with your self-pity there for all to see/Scribbled on your face for all to read.” JR described it as, “You know, our music is not about, ‘we want to kill your ass…’ it’s more desirous of change, open your brains for two seconds and think about what’s going on.”
At the moment, “all is good.” Sam Black Church is touring this spring, so go check em out. Their live show is the most energetic and just plain amazing show you’ll see ‘round these parts.
Chelsea Condos likes Sam Black Church a whole lot.