Meet Easter Teeth: Two Brothers Who Fuse Indie Rock with James Brown Soul Music!
The indie rock band Easter Teeth might be California’s best kept secret, but it likely won’t stay that way for long. The UK-based publication Independent Music News recently named Easter Teeth one of the top 50 indie rock bands in the world. They were recently signed to Christian indie label Veritas Vinyl, and they’ve been creating a buzz where ever they play.
And their new album, Being Alone with Your Thoughts is for Inmates, is a rare gem. But I’ll get to that in a moment.
Easter Teeth (whose Facebook page you can find here) was formed by two brothers, as their bio says: “Josh (vocals and drums) and Tim (vocals, bass, keys, and gadgets) set out to convince the world that their two musical loves, Soul and Hardcore, indeed belong together. When joined by friends Scott Lillard on trumpet and Mikie Evans on trombone, that blessed union cannot be torn asunder.”
Imagine the fat, ribcage-rattling sound of a giant bass rig armed with distortion, a veteran rock/jazz drummer who once played with Dizzy Gillespie and who took lessons from the drummer of Tool, and two horn players playing air-tight brass motifs that sound like a James Brown record.
That’s Easter Teeth in a nutshell.
They blend vintage soul, funktastic grooves, and a very manly hardcore rock sound that causes small earthquakes in live settings — not unlike the Seattle Seahawks when Marshawn Lynch scores an 80-yard touchdown. In fact, their label Veritas Vinyl is the home of the legendary Christian hardcore band The Crucified. In other words, this is not wistful neo-folk indie music by guys who celebrate the entire catalog of Elliot Smith. It is Chuck Norris rock. Not the Chuck Norris in real life, but the supremely tough myth-like Chuck Norris in the jokes, like this one: “Chuck Norris doesn’t call the wrong number. You answer the wrong phone.” Or this one: “Death once had a near-Chuck Norris experience.”
Yet somehow they take this face-melting rock and mix it with soul in its finest vintage form. Lots of soul. It’s Chuck Norris on stage with James Brown. The Godfather of Funk and his horn players are dancing while Chuck Norris is breaking boards with his face.
And their new album actually gives you the chance to choose which style you want: straight-up rock or their rock-James Brown hybrid. The first nine tracks feature the songs in full Soul mode with the horn parts included in the mix. The next nine tracks feature the same songs but without the horns, in case you want the soul funk to leave the stage so Chuck Norris can break more inanimate objects without distraction. (Though, even without the horns, their music has a serious groove.)
Oh, and the guys are diehard Christians who lead worship at their church, write and teach Bible studies, and believe that Christianity is more than just casually hanging out with Buddy Jesus when it suits them. They believe in staying faithful to your local ministry — i.e. sticking it out at the same church for a lifetime if necessary instead of switching it up whenever you crave that new church smell. They view Christian fellowship and unity more as a covenant, perhaps not unlike marriage (i.e. in sickness and in health) instead of an optional weekend activity. You’re not going to see these indie rockers missing church very often, in other words — even if that means driving eight hours through the night after a show in Sacramento so that they’re ready to go for the Sunday service at 10am sharp.
Frankly, their old school stubborn loyalty to church, Jesus, the Bible, and a disciplined, mature Christian faith is refreshing. All of these things show in their lyrics and their musical attitudes.
For example, in the song “J Robbins Was Half Right” (which you can listen to here in full), there’s a spot where the drums, bass, and horns hit a seven-note riff pattern with such precision that it makes you want to stop, lean closer to your speaker, and listen intently; but then the funky thing just keeps moving and grooving forward until you want to tap your toes, stand up, and do a James Brown spin with his classic “Ow!” All the while the singer is methodically sketching lines of lyrics like these: “…The page wants to stay white, but my heart wants to sing so vesuviusly that no writer’s blockade could ever barricade me…Always be ready to give an answer.”
If you know your Bible, you will have caught the reference to 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (NIV).
In the thought-provoking song GPSCCTVNSAISP (as in GPS, CCTV, NSA, ISP — all references to the Surveillance State in America), chorus-washed vocals recite the acronyms from the title in a hypnotic drone while the horns and vocals punctuate the lyrics. My favorite part, however, is when the band breaks it down into a softer section with the bass nimbly punching notes across the fretboard while vocals quietly sing in harmony: “Misimplementation of your paranoia, Dad has better eyesight than Big Brother does.” The song, in my opinion, confronts Christians everywhere — especially the ones who are panicking with fear about the way our government is spying on its citizens — and challenges them with this question: if we are abiding in Christ, should we really allow fear to rule our lives? Doesn’t our Dad (i.e. our Father in Heaven) have “better eyesight than Big Brother?”
When I hear this song (which you can listen to here), I can’t help but think of the verse in 1 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
It’s brilliant. Why can’t profound, creative lyrics like that be on Christian mainstream radio? Frankly, I wish the Christian music industry would incorporate more inventive, profound lyrical styles like this — writing that’s literary and avoids Christianeze — than what we usually hear.
Obviously, these guys aren’t your typical Christian band. They don’t have that inescapable Nashville-polished nu-metal sound so often heard on mainstream Christian radio; but, frankly, after writing the article Should We Ditch the Christian Music Industry?, I think that’s a good thing. I think it’s good that there are Christians out there who are being so innovative with their blend of musical styles that — though they might not receive an invitation to the next GMA Dove Awards — they’re catching the attention of people on the secular music scene, which is a much more competitive market and stylistically diverse world than the Christian industry (as Abbie explained in Does Christian Music Really Suck?).
Bands like Easter Teeth are being a light in the darkness. From a creative standpoint, they’re gaining the respect of secular musicians and fans who might not willingly step into a church; but they will see Easter Teeth at a show and find themselves encountering Christ through the band’s music or through conversations with the guys afterwards.
It’s time for the Christian music industry to move past the Nashville Bible Belt country-pop-rock sound and diversify its musical styles into uncharted waters. We need to make room for bands who are doing unique, unprecedented things with their music and lyrics, even if it doesn’t fit nicely into our CCM comfort zone or even if it’s not a carefully sanitized imitation of the latest secular rock trend.
And, if you’re in the mood to discover something different, Easter Teeth’s new album Being Alone with Your Thoughts is for Inmates will introduce you to a style of rock (Soul Hardcore? Neo-soul Indie Rock? Funktastic Awesomeness?) that you’ve probably never heard before.
Amen to that!