Modern Rock Album of the Year winners Sanctus Real could barely muster the will to write and record, let alone deliver the new album its label anticipated. Discover how the four band members found the courage to fight back.
LAST YEAR, MEMBERS OF THE DOVE AWARD-WINNING SANCTUS REAL discovered their greatest joy—making and playing music together as the best of friends. Today, with the April 4 release of their third national record, The Face of Love, Sanctus Real comes of age, pressing forward to carry a compelling image of hope to an eager world. With this album, the four-member, Toledo, Ohio-based rock band is poised for 2006 to be its breakout year.
The Face of Love contains hard-hitting songs portraying universal themes of love, brokenness and the sometimes elusive sense of God’s presence. Inspired by real-life heartache and rediscovered joy, the emotions behind each track are vulnerable and undisguised, making this album the band’s most accessible project. Further, Sanctus Real members Matt Hammitt (lead vocals), Mark Graalman (drums), Chris Rohman (guitars) welcome newest addition Dan Gartley (bass), a protégé of producer Mark Townsend. Gartley replaces former bassist Steve Goodrum.
Popularly known for its trio of chart-topping hits—“Everything About You,” “The Fight Song” and its cover of U2’s “Beautiful Day”—Sanctus Real’s The Face of Love comes on the heels of two seasons on opposing emotional poles, one of success and one of trial.
After the critically-touted Fight the Tide released almost two years ago, Sanctus Real fired cleanly on all cylinders through the end of 2004. A relentlessly touring outfit, the band gained its first headlining slot, and fans responded enthusiastically, especially through popular online outlets like MySpace.com. Sanctus nabbed Radio & Records’ most played Christian rock band of the year title, and in early 2005 it added four more Dove Award nominations to its success tally. Further, with Graalman’s first son about to be born and guitarist Rohman preparing to be married, all indications pointed toward another banner year for Sanctus Real.
Then, turning on a dime, life dropped absolute heartbreak into the mix.
‘It was devastating’
The “Fight the Tide” tour was drawing to a close and Graalman, a stalwart family man like the others, elected to rejoin his wife before their son was to be born. A couple days later, Benjamin was born at a local Toledo hospital. But shockingly, two hours later and one floor below the happy celebration, Graalman’s father was diagnosed with cancer. Tests proved there was nothing doctors could do. Mark says, “I remember thinking, ‘God, what are you allowing to happen here?’”
The news overwhelmed family and band alike. With limited time to share with his father, Graalman came off the road indefinitely, and the band was forced to continue with a replacement drummer to meet its professional obligations.
Also at this time, the grandmother of vocalist Hammitt became gravely ill. She eventually ended up in a local hospice care facility in a room next door to Graalman’s dying father. The final straw came when the band’s bass player at the time, Goodrum, decided leave to pursue other interests. Kicked in the gut and breathless, the guys came face-to-face with just how fragile and capricious relationships could be. And despite being tapped later that spring for the band’s first Dove Award—2005’s Modern Rock Album of the Year—Sanctus Real could barely muster the will to write and record, let alone deliver the new album its label anticipated.
“It was devastating dealing with these things and truckin’ through it,” Graalman acknowledges. “We were backstage at the Doves, for example, doing press interviews. Everyone was congratulating us, which I was grateful for. But my dad had just died; my heart was very far away from all the hype. And in the midst of all that was happening we were supposed to be making a record and writing songs. But we had nothing.”
‘Confessions of Brokenness’
Enter producer Chris Stevens (tobyMac, Shawn McDonald), who helped the band channel its complex emotions into songwriting, their grief-stricken passion into powerful, emotive studio performances. Taking a page from the Psalmist’s playbook, the band found strength in confessing to God its fears and frustrations. Peace began to replace the guys’ emptiness, and in their brokenness they found they could again sense God’s love. Combined, The Face of Love is the band’s most mature and personal record yet.
“All the lyrics we’d written shifted to the stuff we were going through at this point,” Hammitt says. Band members credit producer Stevens for walking with them through their dark night of the soul experience and coaching them to their strongest record yet. Rohman says, “Chris was willing to put it all out there. He believed in the songs and believed in this band.”
The album’s opening confessional and first radio single from the album, “I’m Not Alright,” locates the singer in desperate human brokenness, requiring him to move closer to God for strength. “It’s been an unbelievably hard year for the band,” drummer Graalman reveals. “But we’ve learned to rely on God’s grace, and we’ve learned to be honest and transparent. Being honest and transparent means not faking it. It has to be OK to say, ‘No, I’m not alright’.”
Inspired by Brennan Manning’s The Signature of Jesus, the album’s title track, “The Face of Love,” became an unabashed anthem of unconditional love.
“All the stuff we went through sparked an excitement for life and the journey,” Hammitt reveals. “We don’t know what Jesus really looked like, but we can know who Jesus is. We can then discover who we are in Christ and hope beyond hope to become the face of love to all those around us.”
The final track, “Benjamin,” adds an effective coda to The Face of Love. A bittersweet tribute to Graalman’s family, written by Hammitt, the song recognizes that life is lived from dependence to dependence, cradle to grave.
With The Face of Love, Sanctus Real recognizes change throughout life is hard, even gut-wrenching. Yet it can finally usher empowering expectations. More to the point, death does not get the final word. Love does, and it happens every day, in a child’s birth, in deciding to press on searching for another chance—even in making music with your best friends. This is the hope to start again, and in them are images of love.
Author: Gregory Rumburg
Date: 02 February 2006