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Faith in the Future

Christian Rockers OC Supertones Look Forward to Broadening Their Appeal


If any Christian rock band is poised to connect with a mainstream audience, the OC Supertones could be it.

The county-bred group has sold 500,000 albums since releasing its 1996 debut ("The Adventures of the OC Supertones"), and while those numbers are not in the same class as Limp Bizkit, the three-album total is impressive in Contemporary Christian Music circles.

In addition, the sextet--singer-lyricist Matt Morginsky, bassist Tony Terusa, trumpeter Darren Mettler, trombonist Dan Spencer and new members drummer Adam Ferry (formerly of Plankeye) and guitarist Ethan Luck--has retooled its musical attack on its fourth album, "Loud and Clear" (Tooth & Nail).

Its signature pop-tinged ska is playing a less prominent role within a diverse mix of reggae and harder-edged elements of punk, hip-hop and rap-rock. Released Oct. 10, "Loud and Clear"--which entered the Billboard 200 at No. 168--sounds more like Dilated Peoples and the Deftones than the peppy Mighty Mighty Bosstones or Reel Big Fish.

This heavier, more aggressive sound is tailor-made for today's youth-oriented market. So what could hold the OC Supertones back? It's the "message" that complicates matters.

Band members acknowledge their unabashed Christianity limits expansion of the group's fan base. In a culture more interested in angels named Drew, Cameron and Lucy than the heavenly kind, themes of faith and redemption are shunned by MTV, radio programmers and concert promoters.

None of this is news to a band that has endured middle-finger salutes from fans at secular venues such as the Showcase Theater in Corona and Music City in Fountain Valley. Their spiritual lyrics, along with praying onstage, did not go over well. So when it was suggested that "Loud and Clear" has the potential to be a crossover hit, it was no surprise that prospect was met with caution.

"It sure would be nice because it's without a doubt our best release and the label is pushing it harder than ever," said Terusa, 26, by phone from his San Clemente residence. "But we're not holding our breath. We're definitely a Christian band. People know it, and we're not ashamed of it. We've always been really bold with our message, and just because we're selling more records now doesn't mean we're willing to pull back or water it down.

"We know it's five times as hard to get on MTV or KROQ simply because of our religious affiliation . . . because of the stigma that goes with it. That's very frustrating. But at the same time, we're encouraged when we see someone like P.O.D.--a rock band we admire that shares our spiritual beliefs--getting serious mainstream exposure and attention."

When reached in Nashville, where he and Spencer now live "in order to be where Christian music is based," Morginsky added, "The media will promote nasty, mean-spirited songs, but a Christian band is for some reason seen as being so threatening. Why is that? You're OK if you're a Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Rastafarian, Socialist . . . almost anything except a Christian."

Similar to like-minded Jennifer Knapp and Fernando Ortega, the OC Supertones--formed in Mission Viejo in 1995--have created a probing, complex body of work that balances the joys and trials of being a Christian. Older songs such as "Sure Shot" and "In Between" express everyday struggles between heavenly and human desires; "Health and Wealth" lashes out at the hypocrisy of materialistic Christians; and the hopeful "One Voice" pleads for unity among factions of the faithful.

Similar thematic terrain is covered in "Loud and Clear," with songs ranging from inspirational ("Lift Me Up," "Spend It With You") to angry indictments of nonbelievers and the church. In the 13-song collection's most explosive number, the rock-rap "Escape From Reason," Morginsky criticizes organized religion for its sloganeering mentality: "Bumper sticker doctrine and cute catch phrases / Does this amaze us that no one will take us seriously."

"I think the negative reputation of the church is earned in a lot of ways," said Morginsky, 24. "These TV evangelists get so much public and media attention, but they're not representing Jesus Christ in a true way. It's ludicrous. . . . They're duping people and taking away their money in his name."

"Plus, we [Christians] sometimes walk around in our little bubble without thinking too hard about how we're supposed to relate to rest of the world," he added. "People are searching, grappling with very real issues in their daily lives, and the vast majority of people in the church are not offering them anything [positive]. We are not strengthening our social fabric."

Faith, struggle and commitment are hardly the hot topics of today's flavor-of-the-month pop bands. Still, according to Terusa, the OC Supertones offer a distinct alternative.

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