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ORANGE COUNTY CALENDAR: ARTS, ENTERTAINMENT, LEISURE

This Band Finds Itself at Cross Purposes

* Fullerton-based quartet Skypark plays Christian rock, and is looking for respect.

August 02, 2000|JOHN ROOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Skypark is having one heck of a time getting initiated into the rock 'n' roll fraternity. It's a shame, too, because the Fullerton-based quartet's new release, "Over Blue City," is filled with the kind of hummable melodies and punchy guitar riffs that have helped lift Lit, Matchbox Twenty and Third Eye Blind.

So why is the band being shunned?

These twentysomething rockers happen to be Christians. Of the many categories in pop music--including alternative rock, emo (emotionally charged pop-punk), hard-core, classic rock and rap-rock--none seems to alienate more people than "Christian rock."

And using that term to describe Skypark, which performs Friday night at Tom Festival 2000 in Anaheim, can really ignite a heated conversation with the band--singer Tyrone Wells, guitarist Joey Aszterbaum, bassist Tony Deerfield and drummer Keith Grove.

"I went to a Borders to buy a copy of our first CD [1998's "Am I Pretty?"], and I asked the clerk if she had a copy of the Skypark CD," recalled Deerfield during a group interview at a downtown Fullerton cafe. "After checking in her computer, she said, 'That's in the Christian section'--with a body language and tone that said, 'It must be awful.' "

"There are times when I regret having any association with the Christian music scene," Aszterbaum said. "We have very little in common with that safe, soft, preachy stuff that traditionally passes for Christian music. I think we have more in common with U2, Midnight Oil and Johnny Cash, musicians who also happen to embrace the spiritual life.

"I think our duty is to make music with diligence and heart and soul. We're in a rock band, and one thing we all have in common is a shared belief. But when our faith is trivialized and marketed, it almost becomes disgusting to us. That's not what spirituality is about."

Wells, the group's primary lyricist, concurs.

"Our intention for playing music is not to convert people to Christianity--we just want to write the best songs, no matter what they're about. I personally think God would rather hear a good song about a girl than a bad one about sin and salvation."

Creating some kind of harmonic convergence of the sacred and profane is the band's ultimate goal.

"The best-case scenario is to take down some of the walls that exist between Christian and non-Christian music," Grove said. "Maybe we could be a part of dismantling some of the stereotypes and stretch the boundaries."

Skypark is signed to Word Records, the Epic-affiliated label widely known for its Christian-based acts.

Throughout "Over Blue City," Skypark offers songs about both spiritual and secular concerns. Spirituals like "Under Your Mercy" and "Please Don't Go Away" sound divine alongside pop tunes about rocking on the moon ("Viva Satellite") and romantic disillusionment ("The Girl in Your Picture").

"Over Blue City" marks one giant leap forward for Skypark, which admittedly knew little about song craft before working on the project.

In contrast to their work on their first CD, which Aszterbaum describes as "inaccessible, almost claustrophobic," band members say their commitment and constructive feedback from others made all the difference in their second release.

"After working for a few months, we thought we were ready to record," Deerfield said. "Then a couple of people close to us said we had only one good song. Plus, our label's vice president said we needed to work more on the arrangements. Suddenly, we were feeling quite vulnerable--and humiliated."

Enter record producer Ed Stasium and Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford. Stasium, who has produced albums by the Talking Heads, Living Color and the Ramones, helped create a '60s-meets-the-present vibe by recording songs on Hammond organs, Mellotrons and a Neve console. Ford, a former drummer, proved to be an inspirational leader who spent time working on the arrangements as well as individually with Grove.

"It was humbling, a huge reality check," Wells said. "But there's no shame in listening to people who have years and years of experience."

Now more confident than ever, the band members are happy to be living their dream. But what about rock 'n' roll's reputation for hedonism?

"We're kind of wholesome, especially for the average rocker," Aszterbaum said. "It's about the music--it's not something we're using to score some weed or get more sex. I mean, look at Neil Young. It's all about his art, wife and kid. It's so respectable."

Tom Festival 2000 Friday, Saturday

* Skypark plays Friday, 8:50 p.m. at the Tom Festival 2000. Stadium Vineyard, 1532 S. Sinclair St., Anaheim. (714) 573-0245. Doors open Friday, 2 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. $20-$23, covers admission for both days. The Tom Festival is an alternative Christian music festival featuring rock, pop, metal, punk, funk, industrial, thrash, hard-core and hip-hop. Among the 35 acts scheduled to appear on two stages are Fold Zandura, Violet Burning, Stavesacre, Dogwood, Cush and Value Pac. See http://www.tomfest.com for bands and show times.

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