Music: Hope and Faith

Godly AltMetal band Flyleaf sings not only about the tunnel, but also the light at the end of it

Jun 25, 2007 at 2:06 pm
James Minchin III

Unlike some artists, the members of Flyleaf proudly admit their faith informs everything they do.

Flyleaf is one of those bands that put me in touch with my inner 15-year-old. The songs on their self-titled 2005 LP encompass the three Cs — crisp, concise and catchy — and Lacey Mosley's vocals are occasionally full of such sweet longing that, for the first time, I understand why all my female classmates in high school swooned over Michael Tramp.

Not that I'm comparing Flyleaf to 1980s Hair Metal, a subgenre that — preemptive counterstrikes by The Darkness notwithstanding — remains officially in disgrace. Mosley didn't have the greatest childhood in the world and her lyrics frequently speak of addiction, depression and emotional neglect, the unglamorous downside of sex, drugs and Rock & Roll. Yet, where many AltMetal bands wallow in their chosen negativity, Flyleaf — through Mosley's vocal swings and the basic Nirvana-esque phrases of guitarists Jared Hartmann and Sameer Bhattacharya — are known for raising themselves up, committed to seeing an optimistic future.

"We've all been abused in some way," says Bhattacharya. "Whether its physically, spiritually, sexually. But just because we've gone through those things, doesn't mean we have to become those things. Our fans have experienced them, too, and we're excited at how they've responded (to us), to know that we've helped some people get out of whatever's holding them back."

Bhattacharya is so unabashedly nice that he nearly erodes the usual professional distances (though you could argue it was a clever ploy to disarm the dirt-seeking journalist).

Ironically, Bhattacharya was never a fan of heavy music growing up. His tastes lingered more toward Better Than Ezra, U2, Radiohead and Björk.

"(Lacey's) lyrics demand that the music be intense," he says. "So we try hard to make the music reflect the lyrics. But even though I'm not a fan of Metal music, it links us all. It's about all of us."

Though Bhattacharya is initially tight-lipped about any demons he might be exorcising, he eventually alludes to a lonely Texas childhood.

"I had a lot of anger issues growing up," he says. "I was a really tiny guy, wasn't good at athletics, had a lot of insecurities. My parents were awesome. They taught me really well, (gave me) a good, Christian moral basis. And I treated them really badly. Even now I have dreams about how I made my mom cry."

This brings us to the other major talking point about the band, the common link that brought each of them out of the wilderness to the point where they could achieve spiritual and physical stability churning out positive Rock songs for the masses — their religious faith. For the band, it's a deeply personal issue.

In Bhattacharya's case, although he appreciated the social value of Christian ethics, for most of his teens he had an equal appreciation for scientific testability. This continued even when a senior in his school, who was also a church vocalist, took him under his wing; through those organizational connections he met his best friend and future co-guitarist Jared Hartmann. Then one night in his later teens while he was out with a group of really close friends, he had an epiphany. Beyond sensing an "overwhelming presence of love," Bhattacharya doesn't pretend to be able to relate the experience.

"Everyone wants to be loved, we're creatures of community," he says. "And the more I read the Bible, the more it made sense."

Hartmann and Bhattacharya had known Mosley through the local music scene, and after some bumps and shuffles (including a decision to dissolve one of the band incarnations without telling Mosley), they came to their current lineup. Then the band had an experience that would seem to support the idea of divine intervention. They were scheduled to travel to New York to audition for RCA Records and someone made an anonymous gift of $1,000 for their trip.

"Everything that could've gone wrong went wrong," Bhattacharya says. "I broke a string after the second song, (bassist) Pat (Seals) broke his guitar cord at the jack and then my strap broke."

What the band didn't know was that a representative of Octone Records was privately in attendance. During the van ride home, the band received a phone call telling them to stop wherever they were. Eventually, the Octone rep called to confirm his interest.

The band members frequently discuss the Bible with each other, bouncing thoughts around and taking pleasure in the diversity of their interpretations. Unfortunately, the band occasionally has to deal with the presumption of militancy. But their religious philosophy isn't aggressive; they're devoted to a god of love, not condemnation.

"There are people who hate the very idea of God and Christianity, but still come to our shows and hang out with us," he says. "It's nice not having to hide who we are."

FLYLEAF plays Bogart's on Tuesday with Skillet.