The Return of Five Iron Frenzy; Wait, What?

This will be old news to most of you. The discussions that can come from it are still necessary, however. As such, it bears repeating and then considering: Five Iron Frenzy is back.

The band has a Kickstarter page where you can donate towards the new album, which they are doing sans record label. The band set a goal of a mere 30,000 dollars and they gave themselves 60 days to accomplish this. Within the first hour, the band had met their goal. At the end of their campaign, they managed to raise just over 200,000 dollars.

While I never got into the band personally–forgive me, but ska wasn’t exactly my style of music–I was still relatively familiar with their sound. I could pick Reese Roper’s vocals out of a crowd (and had to with the various side bands he was in), and even got to see him open for Relient K once. The band was popular in many youth groups, but was also popular outside of the Christian community; I remember having friends at school who would swear up and down that there could be no such thing as God while the sound of Five Iron Frenzy was blasting through their headphones. This was a band that made waves, at least among those who liked the genre.

A friend, who happens to be a Five Iron fan, sent me a link to this article. Any article that claims that some event is the most important event to happen to Christian music in recent history is one that gives me good reason to pause; there have been some great events in the Christian music scene in the past few years. Since a lot of that has happened in the genre of hip-hop (things like Trip Lee, This’l, Flame, and Lecrae all charting very well on iTunes or Lecrae performing at the BET Cypher), I try to understand that not everyone who listens to Christian music is plugged in to that scene.

The post, however, speaks a lot of about the “Christian music” scene as such, pointing out that record labels are businesses, which means that bands have to find a way to cater to record sales in order to maintain their contracts. Bands may be cut down when they are “in their prime” artistically if they are not selling enough records or willing to perform at the right shows (youth group conferences, Christian music festivals, and that sort of thing).

While I do actually think that artists who sell tons of records tend to be talented, regardless of my personal preference for their music or genre, I found the article’s second point to be fascinating: there is no legacy in Christian music. The author points out that bands like Led Zeppelin or AC/DC have managed to become famous for a work they did nearly 30 years ago. These artists’ songs are engraved in our culture to the point where the songs have become iconic; many people who were not born when the songs were released still can sing along to them. The author suggests that Christian music sets up no such legacy.

I wonder if bands like the Newsboys and dc Talk could be taken as counter-examples. Most people who listen to Christian music at all recognize at least a few hits from them (“Shine,” or “Breakfast” from the Newboys, and “Jesus Freak” from dc Talk), and I think the names conjure up a similar legacy within the Christian music scene. Granted, the legacy is not as large, but that is because the audience is not as large to begin with. If we expand our considerations to include hip-hop, The Cross Movement likely stands as a group that everyone in the genre is at least familiar with by name, if not by experience.

I’m not, by any means, saying that Christian acts have a legacy comparable to that of secular artists. No Christian artist has the sort of ‘household name’ legacy that artists like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and others like them have. While I do sometimes wonder if the continued popularity of bands like that comes in part to games like Rock Band or Guitar Hero (particularly with youth), the point remains.

The solution, however, may or may not be in dissolving Christian record labels and moving the financial backing directly to the fans. While there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this, and it has proven to be a good model for many, there is a lot of difficulty for bands to start up this way. Five Iron has their success partially because they were already successful with a label in years past. I’d be interested to see if a band who hadn’t had that sort of success in the past with a label could manage to raise the money and reach the sort of popularity that Five Iron has. While I absolutely believe in Kickstarter as a way to fund a lot of interesting and unique projects, and I love supporting indie game developers and indie artists, I still wonder if they will ever have the ability to garner the sort of legacy that bands like the Newsboys have managed to attain. I’m just not sure if the current music ecosystem is set up in a way that it can do this, at least right now.

Regardless of my personal tastes, I’m glad Five Iron Frenzy is making a return. They provided friends of mine with countless hours of enjoyment, and any band that has the sort of fanbase that they do is probably worth giving another shot.


Image via Flickr.

Published by

J.F. Arnold

James received his MA in Philosophy of Religion at Talbot School of Theology in 2013. He holds a BA in Biblical Studies from Biola University, and is a graduate and perpetual member of the Torrey Honors Institute. James blogs on a number of subjects, including technology, theology, and hip-hop. He has written for Biola’s Center for Christianity, Culture, & the Arts, The Gospel Coalition, and he is an editor for Mere Orthodoxy. You can also keep up with him on Twitter (@jamesfarnold).