|A Locker Room Chat with
February 22, 1997
Last February, Shari and I had the opportunity to interview a couple of the bands appearing in a monster ska extravaganza at Judson College. Both of us had colds, but there was no way we would pass up the opportunity. 2,000 people showed up for the gig, which took place in the gymnasium/fitness center. It was the most successful event to date for the promoter, Edan Production. The complete line-up was: Insyderz, Ghoti Hook, Five Iron Frenzy, and the Supertones.
I've never been in a scene like this. About a third of the crowd took it all in from the 20-foot high bleachers lining either side of the gym. The main floor was packed with a swirling mass of "skankers" energetically lifting their knees and elbows to the beat. It was a good-natured crowd; when a wallet flew out of someone's pocket, everyone stopped to look for it, to return it to its owner. Whenever an elbow found someone's eye, apologies were profuse. The movement rarely stopped, and the humidity level soared throughout the facility as the show pounded on. But if anyone doubted the spiritual nature of the performers, the frequent breaks in the action for ministry and prayer clearly marked this as a Christian event, albeit a sweaty one.
Wish you were there,
The Phantom Tollbooth took two breaks in the action to interview lesser-known acts that were appearing, Ghoti Hook and the Insyderz. Both stories begin with their appearances as unsigned bands at Cornerstone.
In an adjoining locker room, we met with Ghoti Hook members Joel Bell, Christian Ergueta, and Adam Neubauer.
Christian - We've done it (Cornerstone Festival) the last two years. We played the first time kind of by accident. We weren't signed yet, so we just brought all our stuff hoping to get the Impromptu Stage or something. We wanted to do the New Band Showcase, but they didn't like our stuff.
Joel - We didn't even know there was a "scene," with Tooth & Nail and all these other record labels. We didn't know any of that existed. By early afternoon, we had put our van in between the two Encore tents. We were trying to sell our stuff off the van, and playing our tape in our boombox. So this girl comes up to us, who recognized us. She was the publicist for Via Records.
Tollbooth - Lori Parry?
Joel - Lori Parry. She's sweet. She says, "I've heard about you guys, we're seeing your name all over the Internet, yahdah yahdah yahdah. A spot has opened up on the 7Ball stage. Do you want to play?
Christian - We were hoping for the Impromptu, but we got the 7Ball!
Joel - We got thirty minutes to play, plus we got a table for the next three days to sell tapes.
Tollbooth - How did you end up signing with Tooth and Nail?
Joel - It was kind of funny. When we played on the 7ball Stage, Brandon Ebel, the president (of Tooth & Nail), was taking pictures of Everdown, who played right before us. Then we started playing. I think he listened through like one song, wasn't impressed, and walked away. But we talked to Flying Tart; Via; Blind Records, a small label in New York; and Frontline. We were excited after we left Cornerstone. Then we had a show with Blenderhead in Pennsylvania, about three hours away from where we're from. Bill Collar from Blenderhead really liked our performance that night, called Brandon, and that got the wheel turning. We negotiated six long months before we actually signed.
Christian - Looking from the outside in, it was really frustrating when it came time to talk to these different labels. You'd figure that the Christian music industry would have good, Christian values in their business practices. I guess I was naive, but it wasn't exactly like that. A lot of people said, "Here, sign this!" and we would say, "Well, our lawyer is going to look at it first."
We weren't that big on signing with anyone. We were happy being independent. The only reason that we considered signing was to get more distribution. Our target audience is everywhere, not just the Christian market. None of the other labels could really offer a way into secular stores, into the clubs, into the colleges, whereas Tooth and Nail actually shared that same goal of trying to get more into the mainstream.
Tollbooth - Do you classify yourselves as a punk band?
Joel - Pop punk. We try to be really energetic. We're always jumping up and down and trying to get the crowd into it, trying to be very energetic. The album is our personality.
Tollbooth - Tell us about your CD. Why did you call it Sumo Surprise?
Joel - Our initial idea for the album was that we wanted an oriental theme for it. I wanted to do a fortune cookie, and Christian wanted to do a wise man We got rid of those ideas because we thought, well, a fortune cookie with a fortune coming out of it, somebody might misinterpret that.
Adam - We're promoting witchcraft!
Joel - Or with the wise man, somebody might think we're Buddhists. Christian's dad suggested just putting sumo wrestlers on the cover.
Christian - That's our personality--big, obnoxious, dumb looking.
Joel - We knew it would be something somebody could look at and say, "Wow, that's dumb."
Christian - There are two reactions to the cover. The kids that listen to our music think this is really cool. The parents may not like it.
Joel - Christian got in this long discussion with one woman who said, "I don't see how that is a Christian cover." Well, what's a Christian cover? If Michael W. Smith is on the cover with a suit, what's Christian about that? There's nothing Christian about that. Then she asked, "What about the whole naked thing?" Well, they're not naked, so what's the problem? Christian handled the situation, but the woman didn't want to bend. They just weren't seeing each other's side of the story. We had that incident, and there have been a couple other places we've heard about how they won't carry it on the shelves.
Christian - That's the funny thing, too. People try to look deep into some of our songs, or they try to look into the cover of our record, or the name of it. This one guy said . . .
Adam - '"Super Sumo" is about how you can do anything as long as you put your power . . .' This was an interview over the phone, and I'm sitting there saying, "Yeah, that's what it about," pretty sarcastically.
Christian - The CD has very serious moments, it's got songs that are totally stupid and retarded but with a serious message behind them, and then it's got your songs that are just totally dumb. We have a song called "Dry Run," and it talks about throwing food around, and nothing else.
Joel - See, the thing with us is we're not a ministry-oriented band. We are all Christians, and we believe in Christ. When I write our songs, I write stories; I write from my life which is all I can see to write about, and I write about experiences I've had from a Christian perspective. When it comes to our live shows, all we want to do is get up there and have fun. Some people forget that. They think it has to be all serious, or whatever.
Adam - We want the audience to have as much fun as we have.
Tollbooth - Do you think that's why you guys and ska are so popular? It's happy music, versus some of the other darker stuff?
Joel - Yeah, people can dance to it.
Christian - You can go home with a smile.
Tollbooth - It reminds me of One Bad Pig.
Adam - They were our teachers.
Tollbooth - What has being a pop punk band done for your faith?
Adam - Actually, it's improved it. I've learned so much. The fact that we're still together is a huge miracle.
Christian - We've lasted longer than most marriages.
Joel - It's just like a marriage, on tour anyway, because you're constantly together.
Adam - We all have dominating personalities.
Joel - All five of us. We even went through a period of time where Adam and I were just off in another world, doing whatever we could, being total idiots, and somehow the band survived through that. Once things started coming back together, that's when everything started happening for us. That's when we found our niche, the type of music we were good at and liked to do, and started playing shows. Once we really put our focus back on God, he really started opening up doors for us. So I think it's definitely improved our faith.
For me, personally, it's a little bit nerve-wracking sometimes just because you know that these people look up to you. There are a lot of people that put you up here (gestures over his head) and that's such a heavy weight. I feel I've got to be such an example, which we should be in the first place, but in the position that we are, being known as a Christian band, it's even more so.
Tollbooth - What do all of you do when you're not playing?
Adam - I'm a janitor, at a church.
Joel - We all just work, and Conrad takes a class. Jamie's in school full time, finishing up his last year in college. Adam and I are the slackers, mission-less, with the exception of Ghoti Hook.
Adam - Hopefully, something will come of it.
Joel - We're putting all our eggs in one basket, like we were told we're not supposed to do.
Tollbooth - Does the band read any books? Perhaps someone's reading a book, and someone else says, "Oh, wow, what's that? Can I have it when you're done?" Something to talk about while traveling?
Tollbooth - Do you have any interests, or hobbies as a group?
Joel - No.
Tollbooth - What did you do when you were in that van today for fourteen hours?
Adam - We slept. We tried to.
Christian - I was just enjoying the fact that it was a new van. We just bought it yesterday, a 1996 Dodge, and a five-year payment book to go with it.
Adam - I like to read. When I was a little kid I was a total TV junkie, and I'm trying to get out of that. I do a lot of artwork when I'm home. I do a lot of cartoon work, that's what I did in school. I enjoy painting, I like doing collages. I don't want to limit myself to anything.
Christian - I like music a lot, I like different types. I like to go out and just find new bands. I pick demos from different bands that I like, and I'll try to help them along with things that we've learned, try to make sure that they don't make some of the same mistakes. I'm really involved in the Pennsylvania area.
Joel - I got into photography this fall, so I do that, but I don't even do that very much. I just try to sleep. (Laughs) I think that's one of my most favorite things, just to sleep.
Christian - Rest is not realistic. You can't. You do this on the weekend and work during the week. You may have a couple of hours a night, but there's all this other stuff you have to get done.
Joel - We've all grown up together, these last six years. They've been big growing-up years. We used to be a lot closer, but now we're actually not as close as we used to be. It's just because we're older now, some of our interests are different, some of our thinking, the way we do things.
Christian - The big common bond for us is our music, and also knowing that God has put us together, kept us together, and has something for us. That's what keeps us united. But apart from that, we're all so different in what we do. For instance, you won't see me hanging out with these guys. I'll be stuck with them for another fourteen hours! I want to talk to the kids, I want to get a break.
Adam - We still get along, oh definitely; it's just that we've grown apart a bit.
Joel -Yeah, Ghoti Hook is going great.