Dime Store Prophets
5 Minute Walk Records
Friday, September 13, 1996
Toto's
Schaumburg, Illinois
Sponsored by: St. Xavier's radio station WXRV & Wasteland Productions
Lineup: Random 88, Dime Store, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
Toto's began life as a discotheque, a place to see and be seen. It's been re-decorated for the post-industrial world in black and maroon, chain-link fence panels, steel girders and siding. There are three bars, a decent stage, and good sight lines. There are plenty of ashtrays, waitresses, security guards and garbage cans for the empties, plus no chicken-wire in front of the stage. Not a bad place for a $22/ticket lineup.
Shari Lloyd and I were here to listen to and interview Dime Store Prophets of 5 Minute Walk Records. They had second billing to Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. The leather-clad crowd was really here to see Joan, but they gave the opening acts a fair hearing.
 
DSP is a Christian band that knows what to do in a club: play tight with a strong, rolling beat, keep the introductions brief, and let the songs speak for themselves. Toss in a few choruses of "YMCA," "Jungle Boogie," and "Stayin' Alive" to get the audience moving. Play well. Coordinate those jumps. Clown. Emote. Come through with another great show, breakdown fast, and get out of the headliner's way! Words like "savior" and "righteous" just happen to be in the material. 
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts began their set and, without apology, the Prophets grabbed ring-side seats and listened to their colleagues. DSP are not touring with Joan and appreciated the opportunity to see a legend as much as anyone. She put on a good show.
Later, we were able to sit down with Masaki Liu (producer, guitarist, back-up vocalist), Sam Hernandez (bass player and back-up vocals), Justin Stevens (lead singer and guitarist), and drummer Joel Metzler to find out what Dime Store Prophets is all about.
The band was on West Coast time, fresh off a plane and a successful gig, and enjoying good treatment at the hands of the promoters. They didn't seem to mind the lateness of the hour, so the discussion went on far into the night. Justine Stevens, the band's frontman, was the last to join the group. I asked him if he minded us speaking to everyone at length, "All the members of this band have brains; they can speak for themselves." (See sidebar for his enlightening song introductions)

Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Dime Store Prophets are gifted to be a commercial, entertaining club band. They regularly open for big-name alternative acts like Mudhoney, Better Than Ezra, and Chris Isaak because of their reputation among local promoters as reliable entertainers. This is something not every Christian band can pull off. The standards are much higher there, the audiences more critical, the bookings more competitive, the core message less likely to be favorably received. 

I asked them how the typical club-goer is going to differentiate between a godless and godly band in the same setting. Masaki thinks the difference is "hope." It would be a disservice in these settings to be preachy, to push a religious-right cultural agenda. Their songs have a contemporary message, built on a consistent, coherent foundation that exposes the listener to the gospel in a culturally relevant way. When it works, the listener should go away thinking, "There's something different about these guys. I wonder what?"

Playing in a weekend traveling band means continual sacrifice. Joel Metzler has side-tracked education plans and moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco to pursue the dream of a full-time musical career. For now, he paints houses during the week to pay the bills. Even with the aggravation of traveling every weekend, counting on losing a piece of luggage or equipment whenever they fly, he doesn't question their calling to be a Christian band in the secular club scene. Joel has been playing with the group since October, 1995, just after their debut album Love is Against the Grain was cut. The original drummer, Phil Meads, left to pursue ministry full-time. Joel is looking forward to the band's next album, slated for production in January, and playing songs that he had a part in developing. 

Like most young bands, DSP is continually evolving. Sam Hernandez is currently learning how to "act" on stage. He's an introvert who thought it was fine to just be himself and play. But he's learning how to get a little more of himself out where people can see it.

Masaki is the primary producer for 5 Minute Walk Records. In addition to producing Dime Store Prophets and his other band, Rivulets and Violets, he recently completed debut projects for ska band Five Iron Frenzy and San Diego-based Dryve in his studio.

5 Minute Walk is a unique record company. 5 Minute Walk tours are meant to be more than just a good time; each one has a ministerial purpose as well. They are preparing now for the 20,000 Jackets tour this October and November with Black Eyed Sceva and Dryve. None of the band members see the other bands on the label as competition. They work together as a team, supporting their fellow community members. DSP just returned from 5 Minute Walk Record's semi-annual retreat. Forty-five people associated with the label--all the bands, their wives, and the front-office staff--converged for a week of fellowship, reflection, and worship.

When is 5 Minute Walk moving to Nashville? Never. Nice place to visit, but why leave the best climate and restaurant scene in the world?

DSP is a nice group of guys--the kind of buddies you might see at your local evangelical church. They have a lot of interests, pay their bills, are polite, good listeners, focused, and dedicated to representing Christ wherever He leads them, not what you expect to run into after midnight in an aging discotheque with a shooting or two in its past. If this is the future of Christian rock 'n roll, I'm looking forward to it. 

 
Justine Stevens writes all of the lyrics for Dime Store Prophets. Reluctant to give lengthy explanations, he lets his writing speak for him, as best it can, "I always think what I write is pretty darn vague. I hope they get at least some of it." The band's introductions during the show gave a few more hints: 
  • Hitler's Girlfriend "This was inspired by a couple of TV documentaries: one on Eva Braun, and an interview with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. where he said, "I'm not who I am supposed to be until you are who you're supposed to be.'" 
  • Feels Like Rain "This is a song about Berkeley, California."
  • Baby's Got a New Dress "It's just about girls and true love."
Copyright© 1996 The Phantom Tollbooth