Word of mouth is always better than hype. Who wouldn’t give more credence to their friend’s recommendation over an ad or promotion that was carefully crafted to produce results (and take your money)?
The first time I’d heard of Righteous Vendetta, it was one of those friend connections. Daniel Garcia was one of those interns I trusted. He was in a band, and I knew his taste in music to be finicky and discriminating, yet more than willing to stop and rejoice when he found something he liked.
“We should do an article on these guys,” he said. They have both the melodic sensibilities and astute musicianship to build a broad audience that wants to both sing along and mosh. There’s nothing like a pair of guitars climbing above the mix and driving the song to a steady drum beat. “Ready for radio” and “seasoned road veterans” are not common tags for young bands, but Righteous Vendetta have both of these going on. This is already the band’s fifth release in as many years, and as they approach their 1,000th live show, the band just released a full-length album called The Fire Inside.
“If we haven’t yet hit that 1,000th show yet, we are extremely close,” calculates guitarist Justin Olmstead. “It feels amazing knowing we were blessed with the opportunity to stay on the road as much as we have. We play between 250-300 shows a year, and it is only through prayer and God’s blessings that we can continue to cover the expenses to do so. Not only is this our career, this is our full-time ministry, and we want to be on the road meeting and loving on people, building relationships as much as we possibly can.”
It feels amazing knowing we were blessed with the opportunity to stay on the road as much as we have. We play between 250-300 shows a year, and it is only through prayer and God’s blessings that we can continue to cover the expenses to do so.
When they cite phrases like “only through prayer” when describing their survival, it’s not just a polite or a trite few words to drop during an acceptance speech. It comes from the experience of battling the road like it’s an unseen-yet-relentless enemy. “The biggest challenges are definitely financial issues,” Olmstead confesses. “Repairs on our vehicle and our gear add up fast, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed when stuff seems to all go wrong at once. Thankfully we haven’t had any situation so bad that it sent us home.
“The other challenge is the emotional toll being away from friends and family for such long periods of time. Some of us have girlfriends, we are all very close to our families and there are times that you definitely just want some family time. But it’s one of those things that come along with the choice of being touring musicians.”
We spent so much time trying to figure out what the right words were to lead people to the Lord. The gospel looks like love, the gospel is love. You can rehearse any Christian-ese statements you want, but how can you share the gospel without living out the gospel?
These truisms roll out of Olmstead’s mouth like war stories from a long-haul trucker at one of many refueling stops along the nation’s highways. What’s most shocking is the age range of those telling the trying tales: 17 to 23 years old. “We actually still feel really young!” laughs Olmstead. “Mainly because most of the bands we tour with are in their 30s and 40s. Ryan (Hayes, lead vocalist) and I started touring when we were 18, so it’s crazy that we are 23 now and have been on the road for five years when many musicians are just starting to think about touring at our age. Living on the road forced us to grow up really fast. We still love to have fun and we are definitely young at heart, but we have learned so much about relationships, faith, decision-making and so many other things that time usually teaches you at a much slower rate.
“The biggest thing that we have learned is what it looks like to live out the gospel,” he continues. “We spent so much time trying to figure out what the right words were to lead people to the Lord. The gospel looks like love, the gospel is love. You can rehearse any Christian-ese statements you want, but how can you share the gospel without living out the gospel? If we are to live in this world but not of it, shouldn’t people be able to know that there is something different about us with no words at all? We are called to serve out of love, not to lecture out of obligation.”
It certainly doesn’t hurt to figure out your identity, calling and method of delivery at such a young age, not to mention the advantage it will give a professional musician. “Touring at a young age was the best thing we could’ve ever done,” he admits. “Like I said, it forces us to grow up fast and we learn so many life lessons in such a short amount of time.
“Not only that, touring gets harder to do with the more obligations you have at home and the tougher it gets to prioritize. With us starting at such a young age, we didn’t have to balance wives and kids, payments and careers. We were able to just hit it hard and build a strong foundation, allowing us to move forward onto bigger opportunities down the road.”
Living in the tight quarters that touring forces, one’s true character cannot stay hidden for long. Olmstead reveals the true nature of his bandmates at very little prompting:
“Ryan, our vocalist, is a very gifted business man. The music industry demands a focused mentality, being very smart with decisions and finances, and he is the brains behind the strong business foundation we’ve been able to uphold. That being said, he is also usually behind every rowdy and/or dangerous thing that we get talked into doing in this band.
“Carl (Heiman) is our other guitar player, and he comes off as quiet and reserved, when in reality he is quite the firecracker. He has also beaten nearly every video game on the face of the planet.
“Zack (Goggins) joined as a bass player for a tour, and now he is our drummer. He is only 17 years old. His gift is looking really good, and he has every single girl at every show finding him to take a picture with him. He will also do pretty much anything we tell him to, which is always a plus.
“Riley (Haynie) is our newest member, and he is just excited to be out on the road for the first time. He’s actually an awesome guitar player, so we are blessed to have his multi-talented butt in our lineup.
“Last is myself, and I am what you could call the dad of the band. I am usually the voice of reason standing between my members being alive or dead.”
With us starting at such a young age, we didn’t have to balance wives and kids, payments and careers. We were able to just hit it hard and build a strong foundation, allowing us to move forward onto bigger opportunities down the road.
When it came time to release new material, the band decided to do it on their own, having done a short stint with the small independent label Red Cord Records. “It’s been an amazing experience having control over every aspect of the recording process,” explains Olmstead with no small amount of unbridled enthusiasm. “From the music to the release … not to mention the freedom we have to do what we want with it now. Sales actually mean sales to us now, and fans can actually support our band directly. When a record is funded from another source, the middle-men just keep adding up and you just keep seeing your budget being spent in unnecessary places.”
While the band has remained true to its sound, they made a concentrated effort to develop nuances that were decidedly different for them. “The writing for this record was much different from our previous releases, because we were transitioning into a sound we were fairly unfamiliar with at the time. We wanted to create a sound that could truly appeal to everybody, while still not slacking on our musicianship and falling into trends. This immediately drew us to the alternative metal scene, and we gradually created a hybrid sound that combined everything from our metal roots we loved, with the songwriting and massive hooks of modern rock.
“We recorded with our producer, Joel Wanasek (who handled the Lawless album) at JTW Studios in Milwaukee, WI. He is basically the sixth member of this band. We took all the songs to him, and he helped us pick the songs that would make the final record. He found the perfect way to push us to our limits without overwhelming us during the recording process, which is the true sign of a pro. We are completely happy with how the record turned out, which is a first for me, personally.”
Also unique for The Fire Inside is how it reads almost like a bride’s ceremonial fashion formula for “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” It features the songs from its unreleased Vol. 1 EP, brand new songs and even material from Lawless sessions.
“We hadn’t originally planned to even release Vol. 1,” he explains. “It was just going to be our tool for shopping around while we were trying to decide what path we were going to take as a newly-independent band. We ended up releasing it so we could start touring on it and start getting some radio play, and it ended up doing much better than we had imagined it would. Once we started getting a handle on our future plans, we decided that we wanted to gather up everything we’d done after our Lawless record and push it out as one full product, considering we had a single, an EP and some new songs that were originally going to go on a second EP.
“We also threw our favorite tracks from Lawless and a variation of the artwork, because although it was released, it was a very small release, and we didn’t want everything before this new transition to be just a lost back catalog that wasn’t relevant to the present brand of the band.
The Fire Inside takes things one step heavier for the band, which was another calculated move on its part. “We looked at the songs we had on the EP, and we wanted to round off the record with some songs that sounded different than the others. We kept it pretty heavy on the EP, but we wanted to take it even one step farther, so we made sure to get even heavier on those tracks. ‘Far Away’ and ‘Back to Life’ were the tracks we wanted to throw a lot more feel into.
“We are all very melodic-minded musicians and we wanted to exemplify that a little more with these tracks, while still keeping the energy of the rest of the record. These songs are also a better example of what the future of RV will sound like.
“It is the track that sums up the heart attitude of the whole record,” describes Olmstead. (The band has a video for its new single and title track, “The Fire Inside,” which can be seen and heard on their website.) “The song is claiming victory over all sin through the power of the Holy Spirit. So many of us get dragged down into thinking our sins and struggles are much deeper than others, and we use that as a crutch to fall away from our faith. If we believe Jesus died for our sins on the cross, then how can we believe we can become victim to any sin?
He continues on: “Be ready for the fire; be ready for the fight. These walls cannot contain the fire inside me. With or without you, I’ll keep on fighting.”
“The ‘you’ refers to those evils — whether they are people, sins or struggles — we think have any sort of power over us.”
The band’s previous single, “This Pain,” spent 15 weeks in the Top 20 on Billboard’s Christian Rock chart despite its dark nature. “It is about suicide. It’s such a devastating subject in our culture right now, and more and more often, people are losing hope to the point that they don’t want to live anymore,” Olmstead says. “It’s affected every member of this band, and I believe nearly everybody in the world has been affected by it in some way. The song is telling people there is hope. We find our hope in God, others find it elsewhere. This song is encouraging everyone to find that hope, because it is out there. We are all meant to live. Most people just don’t know how to find what to live for. The only thing suicide does is completely gets rid of the opportunity to find that reason to live.”
Righteous Vendetta plans to stay out on the road, “with as many bigger bands as we can,” concludes Olmstead. “As long as we can stay on the road and continue loving on fans and other bands, we are completely content.”
And isn’t that the kind of heart God is looking for?
Righteous Vendetta was posted on December 7, 2013 for HM Magazine and authored by Doug Van Pelt.