There are many delightful contrasts running through rising pop punk/rock act Philmont. The Charlotte, North Carolina-based band named itself after a small town in New York because “we just thought it sounded cool,” and the title of its earnest debut EP, Oh Snap, is only there to give these guys an excuse to speak that silly phrase on a regular basis. But such lighthearted randomness is balanced by Philmont’s buzzworthy creative strengths, spiritual focus, and a do-it-yourself workethic that snaps everything perfectly into place.
Philmont began in 2005 when singer Scott Taube and guitarist Josiah Prince connected after the breakup of their former local outfits. From the start, this new union was marked by equal parts fun and serious commitment to the task at hand. There were long drives home from college every weekend to rehearse, self-booked summer tours to support an ambitious independent release, and then, soon after bassist Justin Sams joined in 2007, a hard-earned gig at alternative Christian music’s ultimate event, the Cornerstone Festival.
Taube recalls, “The challenge at Cornerstone is to stand out—bands are everywhere—so we plastered all the Port-O-Johns with 11 x 17 Philmont flyers and got up early every day to make sure they hadn’t been covered up. Then we walked around with a CD player and earphone splitters, giving free bracelets to kids if they’d listen to one of our songs and inviting them to the show.”
That same concert caught the attention of EMI/ForeFront Records (tobyMac), who eagerly signed a deal with Philmont a few months later. With one more tweak to the permanent lineup—drummer Todd Davis joined this past December—it was time to track Oh Snap.
Produced by Rob Hawkins (Fireflight, Jackson Waters), the EP set sounds absolutely huge. It’s an intentional move inspired by the members’ expansive mix of influences from Relient K and classical music to bubblegum melodies and ‘90s rock anthems. “I Can’t Stand to Fall,” the excitable opener and first single, is finely polished chunka-chunka punk accentuated by a bold introduction, layered vocals, and a soft acoustic bridge. The lyrical hook of tear down these walls that separate us now well represents Philmont’s overriding goal to always stay on the same page as God in every facet of life.
“It’s really a song to God, asking Him to remove the barriers we put up in this world that distract us from understanding His ways,” Taube says. “We’re proud that the record label picked this as the first song for radio since we completely wrote it ourselves, and it speaks to the core of who we are as a band.”
Philmont’s songwriting angles are often remarkable, even poetic, as on Oh Snap’s clever “My Hippocratic Oath” and “Photosynthetic.” The former parallels a doctor’s promise to always work in the patient’s best interest to God’s offer of salvation. Accompanied by a rapidly pulsating rhythm and escalating melody, the medical motif never lets up, driving the point home: I can save your heart even though it’s destined to fail . . . I guarantee you’ll never make it out alive without me.
“The song begins with someone who is very sick, but the good news is they can be easily and completely healed,” explains Taube. “Who wouldn’t say yes to that option? That’s how it is with Jesus. He offers to save us. We just have to enter into that relationship.”
Equally compelling and easy to rock out with is the fist-pumping jam of “Photosynthetic,” a timely and cautionary courtroom tale for Philmont’s student audience wherein a personal MySpace page becomes evidence of what is really inside someone’s heart: Just point and shoot. That’s all you do to help yourself feel free; murder by photography.
“You’re always judged for what you put online,” Taube says. “A Christian can kill his credibility with compromising pictures, swear words used in a blog, and so on. It’s hard to make that stuff go away.”
For all of Philmont’s wordsmithing, guitarist Josiah Prince makes sure the music complements its message and is just as creative with unexpected chord changes, tinkling pianos on “I Can’t Stand to Fall,” a faux horn section on “My Hippocratic Oath,” and intentionally heavy-handed synthesizers on “Photosynthetic.”
“We like to do something unique on every song,” he says. “We have a lot of fun, but we always want the music to be smart and have depths that a listener can uncover over time.”
Oh Snap is rounded out by the worshipful “Another Name” (co-written by Justin York and new artist Chris Taylor) and pop-perfect “The Difference” (a co-write with Ben Glover). The latter began with an idea from bassist Justin Sams and takes shape thanks to danceable drumming from Todd Davis. Its theme of anti-complacent Christianity recaps what Philmont feels most passionate about: There’s gotta be a difference. It’s gotta be significant. If You’re really inside changing my life, You would shine. You would be evident if there’s a difference.
“We have a desire to motivate kids in the same way we needed motivating when we were teenagers,” concludes Taube. “People tend to go through the motions instead of going deeper. We want to connect and take them in that direction through an ongoing dialog. That’s what our music and our live shows are all about: audience participation.”
Philmont is now snapping people out of their spiritual complacency on tour across the United States. Just look for the bumper sticker-laden van with a North Carolina tag that says in no uncertain terms “RAWK.” Following the summer 2008 release of its EP, the band will issue a full-length album in early 2009.