You've got to admire an artist like Randy Stonehill. With eight releases behind him, each bearing the recognizable stamp of contemporary Christian music's resident seriocomic, the guy digs down deep and pulls out the most passionate performance of his life on his new album, The Wild Frontier.
Granted, those of us who love the man and his music, heard the spark that kindled this bonfire the first time he recorded. The low-budget wonder from the seventies called Born Twice was not a great album, to say the least, but it captured the essence of a rocker named Randy in all his garage band glory. And the spark implied the promise of a flame...
"Well, that was an innocent time which carried a power and purity of expression all its own," said Stonehill, looking out at the Pacific Ocean from a pier near his home in Seal Beach, California. "And this is the wonderful thing: since God is outside of time, we can recapture that initial spark and vision. A lot of people would say, ~ou've been doing this for 16 years. Those days are gone forever.' And I say, 'Bah humbug to you!'"What Got Randy Wild
Indeed, something has fired this boy up. And CCMs' readers want to know just what that something is, right? Well, I certainly do. But wantin' ain't always gettin', and gettin' to the bottom of this one took some doin'. Seems Uncle Rand had indulged in some bad Italian food the night before our interview and was having a difficult time bridging the brain-to-mouth gap. Nevertheless, he began this explanation of What Got Randy Wild.
"I think this is a real return to that first- love experience with rock and roll and the things that inspired me, which initially was more folk than rock. Real people expressing their humanity, their love, their faith, their pain. That really connected with me. And then I remember the first time I heard The kinks sliding on those barre chords from G to A on 'You Really Got Me.' I was just. . . transfixed."
But remembering and recapturing are two different animals. The fact is, The Wild Frontier sounds very little like the last several albums he's made. Something was different. "I've always tried to do something genuine when I'm recording, but you can get a little too self-conscious and want it to turn out flawless. But the irony here is that the little imperfections that sound like ragged edges or mistakes later on can turn out to be a real part of the charm of a record."
OK, we're getting closer. Certainly part of the credit must go to Dave Perkins who produced the album and who is already acquiring a reputation for bringing a healthy new shot of life from well-established artists like Servant and Rick Cua.
"Dave affected the outcome of this project mainly because we share a common vision about doing music from the heart. Our artistic chemistry was so natural, so comfortable that we ended up co-writing half the album. One of the nicest outcomes is how it's affected my spiritual growth. Dave and I would have prayer and Bible study on the way to the studio, on the way home, even in the middle of a session. Sometimes we'd stop and just sing praise songs to the Lord for 10 or 15 minutes and then go back to laying down this howling rock and roll!"Blood on the Tracks
What about some of those vocals, though? Is that really Randy, or is it some other Stonehillian Superman? "When I began the vocal tracks, I came up with a performance that had a bit of energy, one I thought was a keeper. Perkins pushed the talk-back button in the control room and said, 'Uh, Rand, it sounded a bit polite.' I said, 'What do you mean?' So he said, 'Well, buddy, let me put it to you this way: it sounds like The Beach Boys trying to do New British Music.' Well, that put the burr in my saddle, so I scorched down another take like a no-holds-barred live performance and said, What do you think of that?' Dave said, 'OK, Rand, we're in the ballpark. Now let's find our seat.'"
While Randy was trying to find his way out of the New British section of the ballpark, however, he stumbled upon a refugee from the Old British regime. Peter Noone, a.k.a. "Herman" of the Hermits, walked into The Music Grinder recording studio in Hollywood where Randy was working on his album to do a photo session for People magazine. The studio manager told them Noone was in the lobby, to which Randy jokingly responded, 'Well, if he's going to trash our session with lights and cameras, then the trade-off is he's got to sing on this record." Noone agreed to sing and, according to Stonehill, "came in and worked his buns off for about two hours on a song called 'What Do You Want from Life?'"
Funny thing about that song. It's the closest thing on the new album to the slightly demented numbers that have both frequented earlier Stonehill records and worked to diffuse them. It's somewhat of a tragedy when a powerful songwriter like Randy is remembered for songs like "American Fast Food" and "Bad Fruit" rather than some of his bittersweet best. The great thing about "What Do You Want . . ." is the way it connects to the rest of The Wild Frontier, sporting not only a quirky sense of humor but a solid hook, thus preventing it from being merely a "novelty."Out of Control
But back to Randy. Seems he's beginning to get a handle on his thoughts. Wait. He thinks he has a proper answer to my first question about what got him wild. The man is slow today, but he is thorough.
"I'll tell you what I think it is. It's really this new-found desire I have to not be in control. The more I release myself to God, the more that seeps into every facet of who I am and whatI do, the more I see art as the gift of God that it really is. It's His. Instead of trying to control my art, I would rather let the big wind of the Spirit blow through me and write from the heart. Just let whatever comes out come out. After that, the songs seem to take on a life of their own in that they mean different things to different people. And that reflects right back to the bigness and the wonder of the One who thought it up."
Somehow this doesn't sound like the modus operandi for the majority of artists in contemporary Christian music. But it does ring true that the artist creates in the image of the Master Creator, doesn't it?
"I think people are moved by the love of God, but they don't know how to grasp spirituality. When Christ says, 'I've come that you may have life, and that more abundantly,' it makes us more nervous than if He had just given us a rigid set of rules and said, 'Now you guys stay in this corner and if you're really good, you might just get to heaven.' The whole picture is too big and bright for us. It's like people don't really want abundant life. They just want to get through the storm. They don't realize you can do both."
Abundant art from abundant life, huh, Randy? "Yeah, that's it! Thaaat's the ticket!"