by Mark Allen
Staff Writer —
Back to the Rock: An Interview With John Schlitt
If you grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s as a Christian rock fan, then the name John Schlitt is a familiar one. Following a drug-abusing stint with secular rock group Head East, Schlitt became a born again Christian and then became the lead singer for Grammy Award-winning Petra, easily the biggest band in the C-rock circle back in the day. Thanks to his distinctive rasp, he was recently named the greatest rock singer in Christian music by GospelMusicChannel.com and he proves why on his latest solo album, The Greater Cause, which finds the vocalist returning to the rock roots for which he is best known.
John recently took the time to chat with Hardrock Haven about funding an album through Kickstarter, why he didn’t join the Petra reunion, and whether he’ll ever do metal-core.
HRH: John, thanks for talking to me. Your fans lamented that your last few projects were pretty mellow compared to your output of old, but this new album, The Greater Cause, is definitely more of a rock album. Was that in response to fan demands or just a natural outcome of who you are as an artist these days?
SCHLITT: First of all, I hope the fans weren’t too disappointed in the [other] projects because I am very proud of them. At the time, they were what I felt I needed to do. Now, this CD is exactly what I should be doing at this time. I will admit that it is very natural for me, the style is very comfortable…it is me! The mellow stuff was a stretch for me but I wanted to stretch. Motivation? It was just time.
HRH: You funded this new album through Kickstarter, which some people call akin to begging while other folks call it the funding format of the future. What was that experience like?
SCHLITT: Initially I wrestled with those very thoughts. It took my team to help me see that there were people who would be excited to be part of a project of this sort. For every dollar that was pledged I tried my best to give them back worthwhile returns. And, as we went through the process, I discovered “yes,” this is the new way of doing things. The bonding between the artist and the pledge partners is very rewarding for both.
HRH: And the result is an album that any John Schlitt fan will find rewarding. Petra was often accused of chasing trends—even you yourself released an alternative rock CD (Unfit For Swine) during the peak of grunge—and typically defended it in the name of ministry. The Greater Cause, however, is really retro-rock and seems more an attempt to curry fan favor than reach out to a broad audience. Do you still feel that call to ministry and if so, how does that impact your musical choices?
SCHLITT: A true musician understands the structure of music and instead of fighting it, uses it. It stretches him. It brings new ideas and new ways of doing things. Additionally, it is wise to find out where the “listening ear” is at the time and use it. Petra’s and my roots are still rock but the term “rock” is broader than some would like to think. I believe the common denominator is energy and excitement. In respect to The Greater Cause, I think you are right—it is retro-rock and it exactly what I was hoping for! Music is cyclic. I believe there will be more interest in this style of music in the near future. The whole purpose of my music is to create an entertaining way of sharing a life-changing message. It always has been and always will be.
HRH: Sounds like your cause remains unchanged. Speaking of that, where did the title of the new album (The Greater Cause) come from and what does it mean?
SCHLITT: The title is very important and it needs to communicate the vision and spirit of the project in few words. The phrase, “The Greater Cause,” came to my wife and me during our quiet time and we realized that it was the heart of the direction this project would take us. The word “cause” means “a reason or motive.” Everyone has reasons/motives for what they care about and believe and act out of what they believe is true. We do it when it concerns our family, our work, our faith, and even our politics. This CD is meant to encourage the listener to consider and evaluate what the greater reason or motive is for their life.
HRH: A little self-evaluation is never bad advice. You have always been a rock singer; any interest in experimenting with another genre? Will we ever see a press release announcing John Schlitt has joined a metal-core band? Is there a great thrash-metal album lurking somewhere in your soul? Bet you would raise some eyebrows…
SCHLITT: As you pointed out earlier, I’ve already experimented with many different styles of rock. With the directions you mention, the answer is “no” and “no.” I don’t think so BUT!!
HRH: And here I was all ready to pitch you your next album title: Schlitt-Core! Toward the tail end of Petra’s run (before they recently resurfaced) the band’s popularity declined, sales plummeted, and fans seemed to be abandoning the Petra bandwagon like rats fleeing a sinking ship. How does it feel as a performer to be at the pinnacle one moment and then labeled a forgotten relic the next?
SCHLITT: Wow! You cut right to the tender heart of it, didn’t you? Seriously, our fans are still our fans. Petra was blessed with three generations of fans and that is almost unheard of. How can I complain about that? Times change, music tastes change, and the music business changes. As a result, our popularity has an ebb and flow like everything in life. Do I like the low times? No, but we don’t know what tomorrow may bring.
HRH: Hopefully what tomorrow brings is news that your CD has gone platinum. You recently performed a song with your original band Head East for the band’s induction into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, following which you were accused in some religious circles as having back-slidden in your faith. Having survived the witch hunt (how’s that for an oldschool Petra reference?) of the ‘80s Christian rock controversy and now this, why do you think some Christians feel the need to rush to judgment and lash out at their brethren?
SCHLITT: Everybody has an opinion whether it is right or wrong. I’m not accountable to them. I’m accountable to God.
HRH: Well said. Your former band, Petra, have reunited under the moniker of Classic Petra and have brought your predecessor, Greg X. Volz, back into the fold for lead vocal duties. Is there a reason you are not involved in this new/old reincarnation of the band?
SCHLITT: This band is called “Classic” Petra. They represent the time of Petra I was not part of.
HRH: I think there are plenty of fans who would argue that your era of Petra is just as classic as the early days, but point taken. If Bob Hartman (Petra’s guitarist and founder) called today and wanted to reunite the Schlitt-era Petra lineup, what would you say to him?
SCHLITT: First of all, he has not called. Secondly, I am very focused on the direction God appears to be leading me, in this solo direction, which I am very excited about. But, who knows what the future holds?
HRH: Here’s hoping your future holds nothing but great blessings. John, thanks a bunch for speaking with me. We here at Hardrock Haven wish you the best of luck with this new album.
For more information on John Schlitt, please visit www.johnschlitt.net.