Sometime around the turn of the century, ska died. But before its timely demise, Five Iron Frenzy blessed the youth with some of silliest, danciest ska imaginable. The lead singer of said band, Reese Roper, still holds a special place in the hearts of those who went through high school singing “Suckerpunch” to themselves in the hallway. After about four years of dormancy, the squealy voice of Roper has returned for the final installment of the Brave Saint Saturn trilogy. ANTI-MERIDIAN is the hardest rocking album of the three, and brings back happy memories of the great Reese Roper while creating new melodies for all who have comfortably grown out of their ska phase. Reese offered to take a few moments to talk with RELEVANT about transcending time and space in the past, present and future:
Without giving everything away, could you tell the story of Brave Saint Saturn?
Well, the story was crafted to be somewhat like a three-act play, a metaphor for life, and specifically for the life of a Christian. It starts with the three original members, Dennis, Keith, and I launching into space aboard the USS Gloria, a spacecraft on an exploratory mission to the planet Saturn, and its moon, Titan. Somewhere about 4 years into the mission, there is a horrific accident that accidentally propels the spacecraft into what is known as a “geosynchronous orbit” (a stationary position on one side of a planet) on the dark side of that moon. The world fears them to be dead, but they emerge two years later, to signal that they have survived. A daring plan is conceived to destroy the Gloria which will jettison an escape pod containing the crew. But the escape pod is flying blind and needs direction from the Russian craft, INVICTUS. Blah, blah, blah, insert some crazy plot twists and a cathartic ending (that you’ll have to listen to the album for … wink), and the astronauts all return home. It’s kind of crazy, but I guess it works.
Musically and lyrically, Brave Saint Saturn is a little more serious than Five Iron. But do you ever feel the need to cut loose and get silly again?
I do. Lately I’ve been thinking about making a rap album about math, just for the heck of it. I think that if I had more time, I would just sit in my little basement studio and make fake demos to send to people I know at record labels—for bands that don’t exist. They usually throw those all away, but it would be worth it if I could totally fake just one of them out. “Um … yes, we were trying to get in touch with … Quasi-Mofo?”
It’s been five years since Five Iron split up. What has been going on in all this time?
A lot. I tried to start a “Christian supergroup” (lame!) with Sonnie, from Five Iron, Ethan Luck from the Supertones, and John and Josh from Ace Troubleshooter. It kind of fell apart (completely my fault), and then I made the Roper album. We toured with that, and it fell apart over about two years. So I got a real job, working as a cytogeneticist in a clinical lab at the University of Colorado, became a part time young adult pastor at a friend’s church, and then went back to school to be a heterosexual male nurse. I’m about halfway through that. Also, I made this album, and have been creeping closer to being done with the FIF DVD that we promised to have made 5 or 6 years ago. And I got married. Don’t tell my wife I thought of that last, or she will give me the “People’s Elbow” in the face.
Are you going to tour in support of Anti-Meridian? How might the live show compare to the recorded material?
That is a tricky question. We have only played 11 shows with Brave Saint Saturn, and only a few of them have been remotely close to anything we could call decent. Brave Saint, up to this point, was always second to Five Iron. So when we played shows, we would staple a festival date onto a Five Iron festival date, and then practice for two hours in some hotel room. They have mostly been disastrous. But we are tentatively trying to book 10 or so dates for the summer festivals in 2009. As far as how the sound compares; I think that it has the potential to be better, if we can afford to have a few extra musicians with us, and can find a way to play to tracks without it looking corny.
For the release of this album, you started up a brand new record label. What are your hopes for Department of Biophysics? Are there other bands on the label yet?
Oh my gosh, thank you for asking about this. Yes. It is something that we are praying about a lot lately. This is actually my third attempt at starting a label. I’m not sure if it will go anywhere, and this is probably one of the worst times in the last 100 years to start a record label, but there is so much of me that wants to protect bands from all the junk that I have had to endure as a musician. Right now, our only projects are ANTI-MERIDIAN and a joint release of the Five Iron DVD with Asian Man Records. I would like to see what happens if we can get it to the point where it supports itself, then we will start signing other bands. Some sort of distribution beyond the internet would also help.
Now that the Brave Saint Saturn trilogy is complete, what’s your next plan?
I still have a few tricks up my sleeve musically, and a few ideas for future projects, including one with some of the guys from Showbread. But if ANTI-MERIDIAN does well, which none of the Brave Saint albums really have, we are kicking around the idea of doing another trilogy. Not a continuance of the same story, but somehow intertwined, and with the same basic three-act play as a framework.
How has life changed since you’ve been free of the burden of skanking around the country?
“Burden” might be a better choice of words than you know. We started a punk-ska band in 1995 because we liked the music, and amazingly it became popular soon thereafter. The problem was that it got old for us, long before it did for the crowds, and we could never quite break away from being anything but a ska band. It made for some good memories, and many great and miraculous things happened that we had no business being any part of, but it is a good thing that it is done. For me, I love the fact that I can just be home whenever I want to. My wife and I were joking last year because we could actually watch a TV show with regularity. “We have a show!” we told all our friends, who gave us strange looks. It’s weird. I sometimes miss playing the shows, and I really miss all the people, but it was hard; and what I realized with Roper was that touring like that is only for a very specific group of twenty-something year olds who enjoy malnutrition and physical pain.
How does it feel to be someone who will be remembered years after your band broke up?
Are you sure about that? I try not to think about these things at all because it makes me feel weird. Like shoplifting from God. Honestly, I’m like anyone else who seeks approval from others all the time, but I am acutely aware of it, and I hate that about myself. I know at the bottom of it all, I want to be a part of what God is doing, no matter how insignificant a part that is. I want to know that the love of Jesus Christ, that somehow was quickened inside of me so long ago, is living on in other people because of what I have done. And one day when I am loosed of this mortal coil (sorry for waxing poetic), I want to know that God is somehow proud of what I did.
You were always rather unapologetic about your Christianity and music working together toward the same end.
I guess it stems from this general embarrassment I have for the behavior of the Church. I know that what saved me was the realization that Jesus Christ did in fact love me. I don’t want any of my own spin, any trickery, or any proverbial dangling carrots on sticks, to get in the way of that for other people. The best thing I have ever learned as a Christian is to just be honest—as raw as you have to be. Then, somehow, God is strong in your weaknesses, and you walk away from it shaking your head because you forgot how amazing He really is. It happens every time.
Do you have an opinion on the Christian market today?
Yeah, it would be to say that it is just as insular and backstabbing as it ever was, but somehow more appealing. There are a few bands out there that do a great job at spreading the love of Christ to the world (Switchfoot, you guys know I love you!), a few more who equip and encourage the church, and a great mass of musical hatchet-jobs that could never survive anywhere else but for the appeal of the forgiving and under-schooled ears of the Western Church. They only exist to add padding to our already comfortable church pews. Sadly, I have been each of these things, so if I am pointing fingers at anyone, it is myself. I know that “whether for good motives or bad, what matters is that Christ is preached”, and most of us have amazingly good motives; we just suffer from horrible nearsightedness and can never quite get past the safety of the Church. I wish it were different from 10 years ago, but it’s the same, only bigger and with more money to waste.