Let me start with his monologue, because it’s easily the most memorable – and probably the most important – part of our conversation. I’m positive Collin Simula, the brainchild and literally everything behind the one-man band Maranatha, didn’t expect his rolling rant to go on so long, because he apologized for its length when he was done.
In reality, it was easy to stay silent and listen to him. Reading it back later, there is no way to editorialize it to make it sound better; he managed to explain his upcoming release, Spiritless, in the best way possible. All I had to do was ask him about the direction and meaning of it, and off he went.
Basically, I have covered two general themes with Spiritless. The first theme, which is what people latch onto first, is – I hesitate to say this word because it is overused – the prophetic voice as it pertains to the church, and how the church is handling itself.
I was very careful about that, because I know it is really easy, as a Christian hardcore kid, to write a record about how pissed off I am at the church in America, and about how much it is failing. It is really easy. You listen to half the Christian heavy rockers out there, and it is all ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing,’ that kind of stuff. That’s all well and good to get that energy out, but it is not constructive.
I was walking a very careful line of calling out (the church) – in a prophetic way – but also by being constructive and saying, ‘Look, I am like this, too.’ I always say (my) music is addressed from one hypocrite to all hypocrites because I know I am just the same in my own ways. A lot of the material was saying, ‘Look, guys, we’re not doing this very well.’ We aren’t doing a very good job of showing grace. We aren’t doing a good job of showing mercy and love. We aren’t doing a good job of giving people something to hope for and acting justly and loving mercy and walking humbly. We just aren’t doing this. I am not doing this.
The other theme, which is where this new EP comes from and it is where I have been is as a Christian … doubt, disbelief and unbelief are very normal parts of faith. They are not something to be hidden and not something to be ashamed about. There are a lot of bands that talk about what Christians are doing wrong. I think, right now, we are seeing this resurgence of bringing back this ‘spirit-filled hardcore’ kind of movement. There are a lot of Christians bands getting really big under this movement – and sometimes I get it – but sometimes it is a little unsettling to me. I describe it as ‘holy arrogance.’ The whole, ‘We will never falter! We are warriors for the king!’ thing. That is great – and I know kids really resonate with that. It gets them really pumped up to do kingdom work, or whatever that means.
I have been in that place, but I have also been in the exact opposite place. I just want kids to know: If someone reads the lyrics to Spiritless, it was intentionally written dark and sad. If you read them and listen to the music and look at the artwork, it is hopeless. It is dark. It is a bummer record, and that was on purpose.
A bit on my personal life, 2012 was a very dark year for me and my faith. My wife, she is my best friend, and so we go through things together. We had family members die. We had a close friend kill himself. There are some things in our financial situation, and in our personal lives … There was just a lot of crap in 2012 that was really hard for us and some of our close friends. It was a dark year for me, for my faith personally, and this record is a much more personal album because it channels an inner dialogue of how I was feeling.
The idea there, with the record being so hopeless, is that there is one glimmer of hope – and it is barely there. It’s the last couple of lines of the last song, and that is on purpose. When you are deep in a faith crisis, and you are deep in a dark night of the soul, it doesn’t feel like there is any hope. You can tell yourself there is hope – and there actually, literally, is hope – but it doesn’t feel like it. That was what I wanted to make this record feel like. People can know (hopelessness) is a normal thing to feel, an okay thing. I think my opinion on that is an integral part of my faith; I leave it up to God to deal with my disbelief.
Simula is a drummer by trade, and if you know any drummers, you know they’re all a little spastic. Their brains move in two-to-four directions at once, but their paths are usually converging somewhere in their head, making a symphony, and it’s not really up to us to always hear it. But sometimes, it all comes out together, whole, and we get it. You get a glimpse into the genius that seems to inhabit every great drummer.
That’s what that monologue was about. It was about a number of different puzzle pieces coming together in his head, forming the picture of his record Spiritless. For all I know, he may have never put it together so well before. But it certainly made his beliefs very clear, and it made me understand where he was coming from.
He’s right, too. If you listen to the record and read the book, it’s raw and unfiltered. In a fallen world, life doesn’t always go well, and every human alive has (or will) question why. Sometimes, it’s the very reason people don’t even give Christianity a shot. And when (or if) you become a believer, those questions don’t magically go away. For some reason, we have this inherent guilt about letting our minds go to that place, or some belief things will miraculously clear up. Like we can’t question God’s reasoning. Like we can’t be upset or show sorrow or be angry or tip our smiles.
It’s bizarre we feel this way, as the Bible is very clear jealousy and anger and sadness are natural, healthy emotions. In a direct sense, God felt had those emotions, and God created us in His image. The most popular example is Job, Satan’s play toy and God’s champion, who sustained more misery in a shorter period of time than most of us would experience in 10 lifetimes. And for Simula, when things were heading south, it’s Job’s experience he held on to.
“Every time I am having a terrible time I read that book,” he said to me. I brought it up for the same reasons I mentioned in the previous paragraph, but also because it’s probably the most popular Christian example of storm-weathering. “I understand (the book of Job), but sometimes it makes me even more mad. A lot of people say, ‘Oh, you know, Job went through that, too,’ and it is still really frustrating. That’s what I am trying to convey. As Christians, even our tried and true ways of moving forward …” He trails off. It’s clear sometimes we don’t move forward – or certainly we don’t feel like moving forward. He redirects his thoughts. “Sometimes it gets to the point where it is too much, and you feel like you are done with it all. That is a very real feeling. I am not saying it’s fun. I am not saying it’s always good. I am saying it is a real thing to be in touch with it and not to bury it.”
If you’re talking to Simula and he’s passionate about the subject, you can feel the heat in his voice, like a flamethrower. He speaks clearly, with the occasional ‘you know’ or ‘like,’ but it comes across more like he has talking points written out on a notepad and only needs to glance at them to make sure he’s still on track.
You can also tell that if he has nothing more to say about something, he’s not going to say anything. It’s a “Yes.” with a period. He’s not being rude; it’s just fact to him. It happened a few times when I talked to him, but man, when he gets rolling — I wish every interviewee would answer questions like he does. For black-and-white people, he’s the best kind of friend. You’ll always know where you stand. His responses convey raw emotion, and you can tell he hasn’t always been the figurehead. As a drummer, he’s usually not the guy the magazine calls for interviews. The lead singer has learned how to be political, how to make everyone feel like they’re the only one in the room. But Simula? He’s in front, now, and it doesn’t seem like he has any desire to be anyone other than himself – even if the response isn’t going to end up as the headline of a piece.
He may be a drummer at heart, but he’s everything to his project, Maranatha: guitars, drums, bass, vocals, lyricist – the only thing he didn’t do was record the record himself, but even then, it was just him and one other guy. When he wrote Spiritless, it actually didn’t start out with music, but rather with some lyrics he couldn’t get out of his head. It was almost born from the necessity to empty brain. If you don’t, it can eat you alive. Think of all the belabored – but historically heralded –geniuses, like Kurt Cobain, Allen Ginsberg, Janis Joplin, Elvis Presley – all who either killed themselves off, had severe alcohol or drug disorders, or some kind of depression they left unchecked. It stewed within them, becoming them, eventually becoming too much to bear.
Every person goes through these times, but the healthy find ways of converting that energy into art or redirecting it. But for some, it never leaves. After all, if Job held grudges, he may have given up on God long before he would have received redemption and be showered with God’s gifts. For Simula, music was in his blood, and as his blood began to run with the thoughts he was feeling, he knew his bloodletting was going to have to be what would become Spiritless.
“I started to deal with issues that I hadn’t dealt with,” Simula said. “I actually started to uncover the crap I swept under the rug. I remember one day my wife asked if I was OK, and I was like, yeah, I’m OK I was just writing some lyrics and now I’m super depressed. … The last line of the record is, ‘You are always just out of reach,’ and I would say more often than not, I still feel that way. It is this idea of maintaining this sliver of hope, but at the same time saying, ‘Seriously? I don’t feel any of this right now. I am over it.’ I wasn’t angry at God because he wasn’t showing up, but more because I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t know if I had the energy to try anymore.”
So more frustration than anger?
“Yeah. I mean, I have my angry moments, but I try to look at it in a more mature way. Frustration, to me, is being a little more intellectually honest with myself.”
In our industry, there’s a term: “record cycle.” It’s a time frame, like referring to The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper years. Artists create records, they go on tour to support them, and they put everything into milking the music they’ve created. For Simula, this meant he’d have to relive all of those moments every time he played his music. How do you do that every night and not become cannibalistic? James Gandolfini was known for beating himself up on the set of The Sopranos to prepare for a tough scene, and it spilled over into his actual life and eventually caused a divorce. Daniel Day Lewis famously never leaves character on set, acting, speaking and living the life of his host, whether it’s a twisted oil tycoon or the most famous president of all-time and he was notoriously hard to work with. Simula claims this isn’t an issue; to him, factually, it’s not a possibility.
“There is an element to me letting it be what it is and speaking for itself,” he said. “I know that’s kind of grim, because I know it means (the record) is going to sit without necessarily being super hopeful. Here’s an example. The last time I played a show a few months ago, I was playing the song ‘Morning Light,’ which is off the split. It’s the first song I wrote that really dealt with doubt, and I was still in the middle of that doubt. On stage, I said, ‘This song is about stuff going on in your life, and wondering where God is.’ I just left it there. Speaking with a couple of people after the show, that honesty really resonated with people. The kind of honestly to be like, look, I can’t preach anything right now. I can’t preach anything other than being in a dark place. But you know what? I am still pressing on. Would I use it as a selling point? I was in this dark place and if there is hope, maybe. Tomorrow? If there is hope. And if I am playing that night and I don’t feel like there is hope? I might be honest and say, ‘This how I feel right now, and that is OK.’”
Maranatha was posted on July 15, 2013 for HM Magazine and authored by David Stagg.