John Schlitt interview
By: Josh Renaud
God is always so good to work things out for us. When I heard John Schlitt would be coming to St. Louis to do a solo concert (actually the concert venue was about an 90 minute drive from St. Louis), I couldn't shake this idea in my head to try and interview him.
It wasn't easy to set it up, or at least it didn't seem like it for the two weeks I tried. I contacted Bob Hartman, John's management agency, I was run around, and so I contacted D'Anne Garcia, and on and on and on. You know what it finally came down to? I went up to John in a Christian bookstore and asked him if he could do an interview. And he said "Sure! Let's do it here!"
"Now?" I asked, not quite believing my ears.
"Sure! Do you have a tape recorder?"
Being the intrepid reporter that I am, I had been carrying my tape recorder and notebook with me all day. So we sat down, John and I, at the front of the Baptist Book Store in North St. Louis county, and talked about a lot of things. Much of what you are about to read is news regarding the band and it's new album. I was surprised. I bet you will be too.
All in all, I was very pleased that God allowed me to do the interview, and John's concert that night was incredible. I hope you enjoy this...
Josh Renaud: I was reading in the paper just today about Foreigner and Journey. They're playing a concert today, and I thought about those long careers. I was wondering what you thought, looking back on your career. How has God blessed you?
John Schlitt: First of all, I've got a very healthy family who love me. They realize I'm a father. I can go home at night and look my family striaght in the eyes and say I've done my best. I really am very content being a Christian artist. When I was a secular artists, all I cared about was me and my comfort zone. As a Christian artist, being comfortable is nice, but being able to go home and tell my wife and kids I've done my best, it's not just for me, is a neat feeling.
Are you planning to do another solo album soon?
Yes, yes I am. I don't know when, but I'd like to do it as quickly as possible. It'll be after I feel this new Petra has gotten back on their feet. It's not that they aren't, they are an excellent band right now, but until the newer generation discovers us again or chooses to use again, I really can't afford to do solo records. Man, the last two had so many rumors out saying I quit the band, it was ridiculous. So, I've got to be very cautious on that.
Along those same lines, I read an interview you did with HM magazine, and it was a really interesting interview. You had been talking about the state of Petra before the new guys came in, about some disunity, the albums weren't selling quite that well, and an unsureness about where you guys were headed musically.
The band was, but I wasn't. The band unity had pretty much dissolved because we had some people who had their own agenda. To make sure that we weren't being phony, I saw the attitudes weren't going to change, so we had to change the people. With the new band they came in, and I let them know exactly where it was at, what we were heading for, what our goal was, and they were totally like 'Yes, I like that, let's do it.' And they have and they still are.
Now, you can be the first one I can officially tell this: We are changing personnel again. We have a new keyboard player that's taking the place of Kevin, our guitar/keyboard player. He is living in Australia, but he comes from California. Kevin's last show is tomorrow, and Trent Thomason, his first show will be July 28th.
Kevin was a whole different scenario. Kevin decided to quit. He was not fired, he was not let go, he just decided to quit because it has been a very tough three years. Again, because we've had to reprove that Petra exists, that it's viable, that it can relate to kids and adults. It's a whole new ballgame, and we're not king o f the mountain right now, and it's tough. The three new guys have been amazing, they've been great, but it's cost them alot. tey had high expectations and they are really paying their dues. Louie and I, on the other hand, we're old hats at this. Although on Louie's case, he's seen Petra on three or four different peaks where we were king of the castle and nobody was even close. He's put away pride, and gone on to say Petra is supposed to be Petra. This is what we do, there is no pride, let's go for it, and praise God for every opportunity we get. And he's done that well.
I am very, very proud of this band. I really am. I'll miss Kevin a lot, but God once again has been amazing and put a fantastic guy in our lap. I mean, Petra probably won't [miss] one beat, except the keyboards will sound a little fuller.
Where did you guys meet Trent?
Through D'Anne [Bonaparte Garcia].
Oh really? Oh, wow!
Yeah, he came to one of our shows. D'Anne met him and said 'You are anointed. You have the John Lawry anointing!' Just out of the blue! Actually, I'm not even sure if she knew he played keyboards. And he looked at her and said 'Wow, are you sure?' And she said 'Absolutely, you've got the anointing.' And he's like going 'Wow!' And at this time, Kevin had no intentions of quitting, and so she introduced us. She said 'This is Trent, he has the John Lawry anointing.' And I said, 'Really!' And I was like, 'okay...' For all you folks who don't know D'Anne, she's a character ,but she really is on fire for the Lord. And you don't question her when she says that. So I just sort of let it slide, and when Kevin announced he wanted to quit, we started looking for keyboard players. We tried out 6 or 7 different guys from across the country. She called me up and said 'Now don't forget Trent, he's the one who's supposed to be with you guys.' And I go 'Right, D'Anne, right.' So, we left him til last, because we'd have to ship him from Australia. All the other guys just would not work. They were all good, but they just didn't feel right. Trent sent a video in and we listened to it and watched it. He shared his heart and his wife shared her heart, and it was like 'That's the guy!' So we had him fly in. The poor guy tried three songs, that's all. He flew millions of miles and had to stay in a hotel, going through all this. We set up, played for fifteen minutes, said 'Okay,' and he says 'That's all?' And I said, 'Buddy, that's all we need!' So we sat down and talked to him, and it's a very exciting time.
I'll miss Kevin a lot because he was a good friend,a great singer, a good guitar player, and an okay keyboard player. But as he put, he feels God is calling him in a different direction, and I totally agree with that.
I have to say that's a surprise, I really loved to listen to him sing.
Oh, he's an *excellent* singer.
The last time -- cuz I saw you guys twice last year, I saw the kick-off for the God Fixation tour and I saw you guys in St. Louis -- you had been telling me before the concert in St. Louis that you guys had improved alot. And you were right. When I was listening to Kevin doing the background vocals, I was like 'Wow, he's really got it.'
Yeah, he's strong, and that's what I was looking for. I needed a keyboard player because this new record coming out in October is very orchestra-oriented. It's big sounds, a lot of panning, and we needed a keyboard player. It was exciting that God opened the door. I needed a very, very good singer becasue Kevin is an excellent singer. I needed a young guy who had a good attitude who would get along with the other guys. I needed a heavy-duty Christian, but it had to be a Christian who knew the road. And Trent fit it all. His vocals are very strong. His playing is very, very adequate, and he does sound a lot like John Lawry, which I don't think will disappoint any Petra fans, and it certainly won't disappoint anyone who checks us out. He's an excellent musician.
I wanted to ask you about the new album, because Kevin has put up some new songs on his website in just the last week. I was listening to those, the Coloring Song, Creed, and Praying Man. I was really intruiged by the new sound.
Well, first of all, how did he get the songs? And second of all, who gave him permission? Those songs aren't supposed to be out yet, but you enjoyed them?
Yeah, I enjoyed them. My favorite of those was Praying Man because, of all of them, I thought the new version worked the best. The others, especially with Creed, I was so used to the old ones, I think I'm going to have to listen to them a little bit more.
Tell you what, you need to hear it in headphones. You will love it. Creed is my favorite song, and what's funny is that Praying Man is my least favorite song. You like the harmonica?
I like it. I like the original version a lot, but I like the way this one works, too.
This record is not to compete. It's to reintroduce to a generation that never heard any of these songs and wouldn't really like the old versions. This new best-of, is really, honestly, for the new generation that has a different ear for music. Those songs are too good just to be left in the past. When you hear Petra, Petra has so much depth. For people to not know the full dimension of what Petra is is unfair, but you can't expect them to go back and like something that was done 15 years ago. So we felt, 'Let's grab some of the key songs. Let's them give them more... Well, it started out an acoustic record, and we got rid of that.
It's acoustic, but it's a pretty rocking acoustic. We're not even calling it acoustic anymore, because people's idea of acoustic record is probably not what they're going to hear.
That was what I was thinking, because everyone had said it was going to be acoustic.
After it developed and after the orchestra came in, it got to be so big and there were so many cool flavors, we just said 'You know what.. we don't feel right [about calling it acoustic].' Especially with Praying Man.
Now, is that a style that runs all through the album, the harmonicas?
No, the harmonica is on like two or three other songs. I think that was a fair representation. I think Kevin actually picked a good cross-section of the album. So you think that could work?
My personal opinion, and I haven't listened to them a whole lot, is I think I have the opposite view of you. Creed is my least favorite of the three. The reason was when I was listening to it, in my mind I was comparing it to the original one. I was just wanting that song like the original, which was rip-roaring, screaming 'This is my creed!' On that one, it wasn't moving fast enough for me.
Now remember, this is also catering to people that listen to radio. The whole reason that these songs were designed was also to get on CH radio.
That thought definitely crossed my mind.
So you realize that all these songs have never been played on any of the major stations. I mean they were hits, they were played on the rock stations...
Which is very few.
Exactly. They were played on the [CHR stations], but none of these songs have really been played on the real Christian stations. We did acoustic, not to tone it down, but to use a different type of influence. There's a reason for it. Yes, Creed does kick, but you know what? Kicking right now is not necessarily the 'in' thing.
Yeah, unfortunately, in my opinion.
Oh I agree. You and me both, give me five. Because to me, Christian rock is so powerful. But right now the kids, the adults, nobody is buying into it. They have been conditioned to say that's not cool, unless they see it live and realize how stinkin' dynamic it can be. They ignore it because they've been told it's uncool. So we have to visit those influences and those points-of-view and we have to fit where we feel we can, as we always have.
Is there a title for the album yet?
Yes, 'Double Take.'
Double Take? I like that.
So do I.
How about.. Aren't there two new songs on the album?
Yes, one's called 'Breathe In' or 'Breathe on Me.' Pete wrote that and sings lead on it.
I was asking you about the new songs that were on the album, and you mentioned one of them Pete wrote and sang?
Yeah, there's two new singles. Pete wrote one of them and sang the lead, and I think it's called 'Breathe on Me,' and the other one I can't think of the title, but it was co-written by the lead singer of PFR... what's his name?
Uh.. Hanson... Joel?
Joel! Yeah, Joel Hanson, and he co-wrote with another guy. It's a very pleasant song, a very cool song. I can't think of the title, but it's a really great song. I think they're really big and I like them both. When you do a best-of, you've gotta have some new songs. Record companies hardly even do them anymore. It was okay with us, because we were looking for some new stuff anyway. It should be cool.
When you do Petra concerts now, from here on out.. I guess you're going to be going on a tour to promote this?
Not til next year.
Not til next year?
This is getting out around October 15, so I'm not going to tour on this new record until the spring of next year, of 2000. I might do the two new singles this fall maybe, but that would be it. I don't want to do any of the remakes, although I love 'em. I wanna let the record go do its thing. I think it's gonna do well. I'd like to ride on it for a little while, instead of us going out and beating our heads against the wall and doing songs noone's heard before and say "Oh, I like that" before they go buy the record.
I had heard that you guys were playing "Rose-Colored Stained Glass Windows." Man, I want to hear that so bad. I love that song.
It's a cool song. With the keyboard player, I think it will be even better.
Yeah, I bet it will. I'm really looking forward to seeing you guys with a keyboard player. I liked the double guitars...
But you start missing something, don't you?
Some of the songs, it would just be much better if you had a little fuller panning. I know, I agree. Trust me, I loved having Kevin, and I thought the band as it was was very cool and fresh and different for Petra. But I think we paid those dues and its time to take the next step and have the keyboard player back in, and not go full cycle, but use that keyboard for a fatter sound, now that we've really developed the core base. For this new band, I think we've developed a base and adding the keyboards would just be icing on it, as long as he can sing well.
Here's a kind of a random question for you. I know that there had been kind of a rumor that before this album that you guys were going to do a live album.
I'd love to do a live album, but I'd want to do it in front of at least 3,000 people a night. Until our crowds get bigger and until people are interested in the Christian music scene again -- and I mean all over the board because it's not just us. You know Petra's first live record was in front of 6,000 people a night. I don't want to do less than that. I don't want the next live record that I'm part of to be smaller than the first. I'm sorry, but I'd just rather not do a live record if we're going to play in front of a thousand people. It's just not an event. A live record has to be an event, it has to be an experience. A thousand people, that's just on the verge of an event, but it's still that intimate type of thing. If you're going to do that, you sit on stills and do it acoustically, basically. And we thought about that, actually. This record was a possibility of being more of an acoustic sit-on-the-stools live type of thing in the studio. But it still didn't satisfy. So anyway, there's always possibility. If there starts to be more of an interest again and we start seeing more seats filled, absolutely. That will be my sign, my signal that yes we are doing a live record.
I just wondered about that after seeing you guys twice last year. I was blown away and thought "Wow," both of those concerts were great.
If you saw us in front of more than 3,000 people.. If you think seeing us in front of 1,500 or whatever it was you saw us, you should see us in front of 3,000. It's ridiculous. It just puts us into high gear. It's not that we play any better, it's just that there's more energy that comes forward and goes out. A band does not do it on its own, a band does it conjunction with the crowd. And as the crowd feeds, the band feeds back, and it amplifies, and it becomes an event. No band, I don't care who you are, can do a great show, a GREAT show that everyone talks about forever, unless it has the crowd participating. If the crowd is just sitting there, I mean who's ever going to say that was a great show? Unless you're the Moody Blues, or somebody who puts you to sleep anyway. "Oh, good, they put me to sleep! Great concert!" So, I'd love to do a live record, but until I see attendance grow, and it will.. It just all depends.
Well, it was a real pleasure to get to talk with you. I tell you what, I didn't know if was going to work out or not, because I know you have a really busy schedule. I've not done a sit-down interview with a music person before. I interview Bob Hartman once through email. We wrote back and forth quite a few times.
Bob is a real email fan. I get email all the time. Every time I turn my computer on it says "You've got mail," and it's like [makes wide gesture with his hands]. I read it, but I don't ever answer it. Every once in a while I might write a one-line answer: "Thanks very much, yes, I agree." And the next thing I know, I'm getting a four-page email letter, and I just.. My time at home is my family time. Where Bob, he's got nothing else to do, and he sits at his computer most of the time and says "Oh, cool!" So, he's sort of our connection. The band's connection to what's going on out there.
[I'm going to leave out the thank-you's and goodbyes, since my tape ended in the middle of them, which means this is pretty much the end of the interview!]