If the members of Sanctus Real were boxers, Fight The Tide would be the match that turns them into heavyweight contenders. As the title of the Toledo, Ohio, foursome's album indicates, this is a band that's ready to go the distance.
Fight The Tide comes from a line in a song from the band's second album for Sparrow Records, but it contains broader implications about life's ceaseless struggles – against negative, soul-deadening messages from disposable pop culture, perhaps, or against spiritual complacency. "Fight The Tide is about maintaining spiritual and musical integrity," says lead vocalist Matt Hammitt. "There are a lot of people imposing their ideas on musicians about what they think is the best way to communicate or to make music. Many years from now we want to look back, having survived the trends, and know we made honest music with a clear message.”
Sanctus Real came out swinging with 2002's Say It Loud, which produced the best first-week sales of any debut rock record Sparrow had ever released. CCM readers voted the band 2003's Best New Artist, ChristianityToday.com made Sanctus Real "a top pick" for '03, and the Gospel Music Association handed the band two Dove Award nominations. A cover of U2's "Beautiful Day" from the In The Name Of Love: Artists United For Africa benefit album gave the group its first No. 1 hit.
Say It Loud, like its name suggests, was about making a noise, establishing a presence. If it had been a boxer, it would have been a bare-knuckled brawler, coming out behind a barrage of punches, hoping to land an early K.O. But Sanctus Real displays a newfound savvy on Fight The Tide. It doesn't lack for power, but its blows are more strategically placed, chosen with precision for maximum impact.
"Everything on this album was so intentional – the lyrics, the melodies, all of the parts," says Matt. "It wasn't just us jamming on four chords and making it sound cool."
Sanctus Real wrote the bulk of Fight The Tide in a month's time and recorded it over a six-week period with producer Tedd T. (Rebecca St. James, Delirious?). That gave the band just enough time to get the songs right but not so much that they lost their edge.
"It was a job this time," Matt admits, "but it wasn't something dreadful. We looked forward to the challenge."
"It's so much more diverse than Say It Loud," says guitarist Chris Rohman. "We explored every option that we had in the studio. We wanted to find just the right thing to say and the right way to word it.
"We're fighting to take what's been instilled in our hearts and share the truth and joy that we've found without trying to hammer anything over anybody's heads."
But if it's a hammer you want, you might well find it in the pugilistic rhythm section of bassist Steve Goodrum and drummer Mark Graalman. And the songs are the strongest of an eight-year career that included three independent releases before Say It Loud.
"Things Like You," with its surprisingly loud acoustic presence, is one of the most challenging songs the band has written. The touching "Say Goodbye" was written as a final farewell from Chris to his great-grandmother, a spiritual leader in his family. "Change Me" came in the wake of the first serious argument Matt and his wife had. "The Fight Song," written by Steve and Matt, has a similar message, one that applies not only to personal relationships but to petty disputes between believers as well. Songs like the first single "Everything About You," "Alone," and "Closer," with their incisive lyrics and meaty guitar hooks, sport a perfectly matched balance of brains 'n' brawn.
Some songs, like "Message" and "Deeds," make direct biblical and religious references. Others aren't quite so obvious, and the band members disciplined themselves to avoid turning familiar spiritual metaphors into cliches. Instead, they came up with original ways of expressing their ideas.
"The music is just rock 'n' roll, but there's a message behind it," says Matt. "We're portraying what we believe and things that we're passionate about."
That's an attitude that makes Sanctus Real more than contenders.