"Killer band, dude! That guitar player really shreds."
"Hey, wait a second. They're singing about God."
"Dude! Where's the bar?"
This sort of thing has followed the South Carolina band Sent By Ravens since its earliest days, six years ago. A longtime favorite at the Rock House on Tybee Island, Sent By Ravens - the moniker comes from a Biblical reference to "unclean birds" - is a tight and focused contemporary rock quintet making passionate, heavy rock ‘n' roll in the melodic style of Nickelback, Creed, Incubus and a few others we could proudly name-check.
But a close listen to the two Sent By Ravens albums, Our Graceful Words and last year's powerful Mean What You Say, reveals a direct and unmistakable lyrical line to all things Christian.
The band is signed to Tooth & Nail Records, a Seattle-based independent Christian label.
According to lead singer and chief lyricist Zach Riner - a native of Swainsboro, Ga., by the way - the association with Tooth & Nail has been both a blessing and a ... well, something slightly less than a blessing.
As the band visits the Rock House for what may be the last time (read the interview), they're in good company: Savannah's Cusses are in the opening slot, to be preceded onstage by Fur Elise and Color Codes.
It's an all-ages show, which is rare for Cusses and something the guys in Sent By Ravens - who strive to be all-inclusive - encouraged.
Is this a farewell tour? And if so, why?
Zach Riner: We call it an extended hiatus. It's gonna give us time to really spend more time with our families, and make some money. Because music these days, unless you get lucky or have some external help, it makes it hard when you're married and have kids. I think it's the best thing for all of us.
We're not planning on doing anything new, but it could possibly happen in the future. We're not breaking up, because that takes away the option of us doing another record in the future. But as of right now, we're going to completely focus on our families and some other projects. Everybody's cool with each other; it's not a weird split or anything.
Do you see yourselves as a rock band, a Contemporary Christian band or a "ministry band"?
Zach Riner: One of the reasons we're taking a break is because we're not really that thrilled to be in just the Christian market. Because a lot of times, bands'll just fall into that. We want to be around people regardless of what they believe or anything like that. We're not overly in-your-face about God or anything. But it affects the lyrics, and who we are as people. But it's something that people can take if they want to listen to it - hopefully it'll show love to people through our music. That's kind of our approach instead of ministry, or a church.
Do you think the Christian tag has hindered you over the years?
Zach Riner: I would say in the last couple of years it has. We got more into the Christian market because of our label, and because our opportunities got more limited as far as our booking agent and all that kind of thing. We'd go on mainly Christian tours. And the money was there - we'd worked up to the point where it was hard to go back down to $100 a night when you have families.
The first few years, for sure, that didn't really affect us that much. ‘Cause we were mostly just playing bars. We wouldn't play in the Christian environment that much. I mean, we would, but that's the way we see ourselves - we want to be able to play in both. Because it doesn't change for us, going in and out of either one.
Have you found that people who come to see you don't know beforehand what your lyrical mission is?
Zach Riner: Most people know. Some people don't. And some people that do, don't care. We have fans that don't believe the same things we believe, and I'm happy for that. Because what I believe, I don't want to force that on somebody. Everybody has to make their own decision, and it's not a "you have to do this" kind of thing. Our message is more of just love, and not so much religion.
So do you have a day job?
Zach Riner: Yeah, we'll all work and be at home, stuff like that. We'll have other bands that we'll be playing with. It just depends on the person. My wife's about to open up a bakery, so I'll help her with that, and then play with a punk rock band called Bad Talk.
Mean What You Say was directed inspired by hate-mongering folks at Westboro Baptist Church, wasn't it?
Zach Riner: I had heard about these people and I got really angry on the inside, you know? Immediately I was like, man, I need to stop and I need to check myself. Because I'm just as angry at these people as they are at other people and what they believe. I wrote the lyrics to Mean What You Say, and pretty much all the songs, it's like I'm speaking to myself. It's not directed at them, it's directed at me realizing the weight of my own words. But they were definitely the catalyst for that - of how, in my opinion, to not be.
You got into an online war of words with them, I heard?
Zach Riner: We never really got into a war with them. What they did was, they Google themselves to see who's talking about them, and immediately they put each of our individual names on their roster of the damned! (laughs) If that means that we're in direct opposition to what they do, then I'm OK with it. That's not what we're about.
You can't judge people. They target everybody from homosexuals to soldiers - and it's all wrong, man. They're just people going through life.
Sent By Ravens
With Fur Elise, Color Codes
Where: Rock House, 1518 Butler Ave., Tybee Island
When: At 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19
Admission (all ages show): $5 21+; $12 under 21, with free lemonade
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