Staring down the horizon of formulaic, corporate-rock musicians is a new kind of modern rock 'n' roll band.
This band is real. This band's been around the block a few times. This band scrapes and bleeds and sweats for its vision-a vision that's been forged and tempered in the gritty fire of real-life trials. This band screams what it believes and believes what it screams. This band from Arkansas couldn't care less about Madison Avenue image-makers and the power they wield with the cash they throw around. And while this band oozes at the chops to fashion the occasional inspiring (even gentle) ballad, it most often rocks with the blistering, razor-sharp intensity of a hungry gang of buzz saws hunting for a fresh forest.
This band is Jonah 33. (And it's headed for your neck of the woods.)
Vince Lichlyter, singer and leader of Jonah 33, has four passions in life-his music, his wife, his son and his desperate hunger to share the gospel of Jesus with others. He especially hungers to reach people who are running blind in the dark world he once inhabited a decade ago-on the very brink of suicide and murder.
"I grew up right in the midst of the whole grunge explosion," the 28-year-old says, remembering his fast-living days as a teenager on the inside track of Seattle's legendary music scene in the late '80s and early '90s. "I heard a demo of Nirvana's Nevermind before it came out, and I saw Pearl Jam play a free outdoor show near the Space Needle-and nobody was even paying attention, even though they were playing all the tunes that would later become hits!"
While his love of music was taking off, everything else in Lichlyter's life was falling apart. "My parents and I went our separate ways when I was 17," he notes with regret, adding that his legal emancipation was fueled by his own bad behavior. ("I treated my dad so horribly when I was growing up.") But even though he was "into drugs, violence and sex" and leading "a trash of a life," like the Prodigal Son of the Gospels, Lichlyter has his very own coming-home story.
"Toward the end, I was living with a crank dealer, and after a bad deal went down, we got a call saying everybody in the house was gonna get killed," he recalls. "So the dealer split…but for some reason I stayed in the house for two weeks. By this point I already ran off all my friends and my parents, and now I was sitting in this house, completely wasted and freaked out, and contemplating suicide. Finally I called my dad, and we talked about it. He paid for a round-trip plane ticket and let me come home to live with them."
But there's a little twist in this tale: Home for Lichlyter's parents was now the thriving metropolis of Wickes, Arkansas (pop. 500). "The culture shock was hard enough without the first few days I spent detoxing," he notes chuckling, acknowledging the move probably saved his life. "But the plane ticket my dad got had an open-ended return, so I could go back to Seattle whenever I wanted."
That would never come to pass.
Once a local youth pastor took Lichlyter to lunch and told him about Jesus, the future rock singer wasn't going anywhere.
"One night I was over at his house, and we had this huge philosophical debate 'til 3 a.m.," he remembers. "It was then that I decided to give my life to Christ. I see now how He protected me to arrive to this point."
So Lichlyter worked on growing in his faith as well as his rock 'n' roll heart, playing guitar and singing for a long succession of Arkansas rock bands that didn't go very far-and even spending a few years as a youth pastor. Finally, with his wife Andrea almost seven months pregnant, Lichlyter got a strong sense that he needed to pursue music as hard as he could, no matter what the cost-so he went from youth ministry to heavy construction.
And then miracles started happening.
The first miracle was a friend, Mark Rouse, who believed in Lichlyter's talent, vision and calling. Rouse believed so intensely that he put a blank check where his mouth was-and soon Lichlyter was recording a CD at Ardent Recording Studios. "I was blown away," the singer remarks still at his friend's unreserved generosity. The second miracle was Dana Key (yup, that Dana Key…DeGarmo's buddy).
Key took a careful listen to this upstart, blistering CD, and promptly asked the project's engineer, Skidd Mills (Audio Adrenaline, Jennifer Knapp, Skillet, Sanctus Real, All Together Separate), to get Lichlyter on the phone.
Once Key got an earful of the supersonic baritone-tenor snarl, he knew he found the core of what would become the next big modern rock 'n' roll band on Ardent Records-indeed the next big rock 'n' roll band, period.
The third miracle was Skillet's John & Korey Cooper, who came in and added three of their own tunes: "Watching You Die", "Death And The Life", and "God Of My Life" to what would become Jonah 33's debut album.
The heady atmosphere clearly inspired Lichlyter and the new band he was slowly building-the catchy, careening, just-a-hair-away-from-riotous tracks were coming fast and furious. Dynamic, melody-rich barnburners such as "All for You," "Shine," "The Difference," and "All That Matters," are heart-pumping infectious-and all the proof you'd need.
But it's Lichlyter's lyrics and grand vision for Jonah 33 (the band's moniker is short for the Bible verse, Jonah 3:3, which reads in part: "Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh.") that steers this part band-part sonic battalion.
"Our main objective is to advance the kingdom," Lichlyter says of Jonah 33, now filled out by drummer Joshua Dougan (22), and bassist Pete Eekhoff (22). "We want to see as many people come to know Christ as possible. We also want to set an example for other bands in the industry to do the same. I feel like God has challenged us to challenge others to-like the Jonah verse says-go back to Nineveh."
See, Lichlyter's lyrics aren't purposely poetic or contrived-they're straightforward, in-your-face sermons about the power of God. "We're not promised our next breath! And to not proclaim the gospel with every breath we have is absolutely absurd. People are dying out there, and if I don't do everything I can to tell them about Jesus, I don't know if I'd want to stand in front of God on Judgment Day."
That's why much of Lichlyter's lyrics focus on the death of self. And that sentiment is all over the tune that means the most to him-"Faith Like That," a hard-rocking power ballad that pays tribute to Christians who lived before this generation and lived sold-out lives for God.
I want a faith like that
To see the dead rise or to see You pass by, oh, I
I want a faith like that
Whatever the cost, I'll suffer the loss, oh, I
I want a faith like that…
"I hear stories about missionaries in third-world countries who see the power of God in supernatural ways, and I get really frustrated because nothing seems to happen here," Lichlyter asserts. "And I cry when I read about Old and New Testament people-just like you and me-who had a faith that most of today's church doesn't seem to have."
That will be Jonah 33's clarion call when it heads into the heart of America this summer-and Lichlyter is busting at the seams to rock 'n' roll 'em with what God has placed on his heart.
"I just want to see people's lives changed-just like mine was changed. I want to encourage people that God is the same yesterday, today and forever-and that God is big and in control. So we shouldn't be afraid to step out of our comfort zones and reach out. God changes lives, and He wants to use us in that process."
Source: Ardent Records