That Christian parody band, ApologetiX, has hit a touring milestone of sorts: the band will play in more states in 2005 than in any single previous year. Their upcoming show in Rhode Island will make 32 states in 2005 and 48 states overall in their 13-year career. (They’re hoping to make it all 50 states when they book shows in Delaware and North Dakota).
ApologetiX has been turning popular rock and pop tunes into musical bible lessons since the early 90s, when band co-founders Karl Messner (guitars) and J. Jackson (vocals; the group also consists of Keith Haynie on bass, and Bill Rieger on drums) were leading worship at a church in Pittsburgh, PA. One evening, J. played a cover tune of the Tommy James and the Shondells’ hit “Mony Mony”, substituting the words “Jonah, Jonah” and telling the Bible story in song using the familiar melody.
People loved it (think Weird Al meets Spinal Tap meets Billy Graham), and before long, the group was receiving so many requests to perform at events that they developed a regular tour schedule and gave themselves a name: ApologetiX, a take off on the Christian word “apologetics”, a defense of the Christian faith.
“In the beginning, we pestered some record labels with, ‘Hey, would you like to sign our band?’” Messner says with a smile. “They all said get lost.” Instead, the band formed their own label, Parodudes Inc. and went on to become one of the biggest independent bands in the Christian music.
The appeal lies in their ability to parody popular mainstream songs with a truth about the Bible. The goal isn’t just to entertain listeners with clean alternatives to current hits; they want listeners to grow deeper in their faith. Their website boasts pages of information about Christianity and world religions. Their single, “Downer of a Sister,” was recently used in an Interlinc Bible study.
And they like to get personal with their fans. A few years ago, Messner encouraged a fan to read the Bible every day and then send him an email with the chapter and verses she read – every day. One by one, fans heard about the informal Bible reading plan and joined in. There are now almost 400 ApologetiX fans reading the Bible and sending Messner a daily email.
Certainly the band has raised some eyebrows with their unusual approach to Christian music. CCM Magazine once called them “cheesy” and the L.A. Times referred to them as a “novelty act.”
But fans don’t care.
ApologetiX was voted Favorite Indie Artist in the 2005 CCM Magazine Readers’ Choice Awards, and in 2004 earned awards for Alternative Artist of the Year and Alternative Song of the Year (“Lifestyles of the Rich & Nameless”) at the fan-driven American Christian Music Awards.
They have 50,000 email subscribers and that number grows daily. (Those are people who ask to join the mailing list, their publicist explains. No spam allowed.) They’ve had several booking requests from Romania, and a tour of Australia and New Zealand is being finalized for next August.
The band offers no apologies for their mix of offbeat sense of humor and solid spiritual grounding. They are serious musicians who don’t take themselves too seriously – Christian musicians who once captured the attention of shock-jock Howard Stern.
??“He played us on the air,” says Messner of the infamous radio show host. “And then he made fun of us.” But that’s ok with Messner, who knows God’s Word will not return void.
Even when it’s set to the music of Led Zeppelin.
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