One-21 Interview
  + Luke Harlow - 11.17  
Fresh off the release of their most ambitious album to date, “Grenade,” One-21 hit the road in early October for a month-long national tour with The Kick. I caught the band’s show on Oct. 7 in Elgin, IL, and expecting the band to have success on the road, I was surprised to hear a few weeks later that their nearly new van had broken down out west. I was even more surprised when, in the last week of October, I received a call from vocalist Kenny Klein asking if the band could crash for a night in my apartment; One-21 had left their van in Salt Lake City and were en route to Philadelphia in a compact rental car. Around 1 a.m. CST, Kenny Klein, Tom Manns (bass, vocals), Vince Radcliffe (drums), and tour guitarist Fred Schaeffer (also of Red and Gold) rolled in, very tired, but also telling very good stories about their month on the road. One-21 has probably set a record—even for punk bands—for tour troubles, which date back to their first national tour in 1997. The following interview covers both the tour and the new record. Mostly, Kenny responded to my questions, but Vince, Fred, and Tom offered comment on occasion. One-21’s website is One-21.net, photos from their website.

Luke: Let’s talk about the new album, “Grenade.” You have a song, “We All Agree,” where you say that “the integrity of the scene has been compromised.” You’re talking about Christians there, Christians that expect you to say certain things from the stage. Yet, I find it somewhat ironic that nearly every song on your new record is so overtly Christian. Clearly, One-21 has a strong Christian emphasis, so will you talk a little bit about the tension between what you write lyrically and being expected to say certain things from stage?

Kenny: That song mainly came out of my frustrations. We would go to play a show and when we would get there, people would question our faith because we have bones in our logo. I understand why people want us to say things from stage, but that isn’t really always what we do. We’re not really opposed to doing that, but we did it for a long time and I started to feel like it was forced, fake. I didn’t want to do that anymore. I didn’t like being something that I wasn’t. Occasionally we’ll say something, but most of the time we don’t. It is frustrating when you are expected to do something like preach. Especially when there is this expectation that if you don’t you are categorized as not being a good band, or not a “Christian” band.

I don’t even like the term “Christian band.” It is just weird. Jed (Slaboda, of The Pumps, former fill-in vocalist for One-21) talks about this professor he had who made this a comparison using two paintings. One had Jesus off the cross, it is a very famous painting, it looks like he is floating in front of the cross. The other painting was just a portrait. The professor asked the class which painting was the Christian painting; most of the students said the one of Jesus. But the one of Jesus was done by Salvadore Dali, who was not a Christian. The painting was mocking Christ, he was off the cross, it was meant to question whether or not he died on the cross. The other was done by Rembrandt, a known Christian. So the question was: which one is the Christian painting? Most people say the one with Jesus, just because Jesus is there, but the ideas behind that painting were anything but Christian, were even anti-Christianity. Then there’s Rembrandt, who did his best job on the painting, the best that he could do, and he was a Christian.

The Bible says do all things as unto the Lord. I started thinking about that with work. I tried not to cut corners, I tried to be the best employee I could be. Not because I wanted to please by employer, but because it is what God would want me to do. The same thing can be said about artists, we should try to do our best job and not worry what it ends up looking like. I think Christians have a poor view of art. We don’t need to worry about what other people think, we need to worry about pleasing God.

Vince: The thing about being musicians and Christians is this: we just want in our own lives to honor Christ and be an example. We’re not perfect. We fail often. We want to live a life that is not hypocritical to who we are. And a lot of bands—spirit-filled hardcore bands—would get up and say the things these Christians kids wanted to hear. Then after the show they would be getting filled with a different spirit. Words are easy. We don’t want to just say something for the sake of others, we want to show it in what we do.

Luke: Some of the songs on this album are just straight-forward hardcore in a way that I don’t think One-21 has ever played before. Songs like “There Shall Come a Day” and “Struck Down” and some others are really aggressive tunes. It is not like they aren’t punk or that they sound like you are reaching too far, but it is different. Then, at the same time, you’ve got organs and acoustic guitars on some tracks. What were you going for with this record?

Kenny: We were just writing songs. We were trying to write songs that we liked, regardless of what they sounded like.

Vince: We’re a band that doesn’t want to be forced to do something, whether it is speaking from stage, whether it means having to play punk based on what someone defines it as.

Kenny: I would agree with that. I think with “There Shall Come a Day” and “Giants in the Land” the subject matter fits the aggression of the song. That may sound corny, but that’s what I think.

Luke: Both those songs are really moving. The sort of language that is used is pretty powerful. You talk about “women not being raped anymore,” children not “being sent off to war.” Those are heavy things to think about, where did those songs come from? Did it have anything to do with contemporary political events?

Kenny: It sort of started a while ago for me. I think I got the line “There shall come a day when man shall learn war no more” when I was in Isaiah class in Bible college. I never really had much to say about it; I liked the idea and I wrote it down in my notebook. I think with the whole thing with Iraq, it kind of brought those words into a different light. Now we’re at war. I have different views about war. I’m not a pacifist, but only because I don’t think it is possible. I don’t know if I agree or disagree with the Iraq war or war in general, but the fact that there will come a day that there will be war no more offers hope. There will come a day when the lion will lay with the lamb, there is hope of a better day. So that song was somewhat sparked by recent event, but the idea is old. The song probably wouldn’t have been written if there wasn’t a conflict, but that’s what the songs about.

“Giants in the Land” comes from another idea I got in Bible college. It is about different giants in our lives, things like jealousy, depression, things like that. It is about different giants that we tackle as humans. It tries to offer the idea that even though these giants come after you, you can’t let them defeat you. It is another song of hope.

Luke: What is “Communion” all about?

Kenny: That is an older song, Tom wrote that.

Luke: It has the feel of an older One-21 song.

Tom: It’s been a long time since I wrote that [laughter]. I think it was kind of inspired by relationships with people at school. I was trying to figure out how to be a Christian in the secular world; I was trying to figure out how to share the faith without being absurd. I didn’t want to totally isolate myself. I’m not a very outgoing person, I’m not one of those people who just goes up to someone and starts evangelizing. That’s not how I tend to deal with people. It’s always a struggle. You want people to understand who you are, you want them to be saved or changed or whatever and when they aren’t you start to wonder about yourself.

Luke: What role did Adam Garbinski play in writing “Individuals?”

Kenny: He wrote the bridge. I guess we were writing that song when he was still in the band. We were writing the song, he came up with a part, and we used it. Actually, this brings up another point of frustration with our band. There was a review done of our last album (the self-titled album) that said how obvious Adam’s influence was. It’s funny, because he didn’t write anything but the lead he played on “Good Guys.” It isn’t a big deal, we had it all written before he was in the band. It was just very frustrating because we had finally done something that we were proud of and it was attributed to Adam Garbinski. [laughter] I mean, Adam’s a good friend of ours and he was also upset with that review, but I think we should set the record straight.

Luke: You had another major breakdown, another major vehicle problem on this tour. It is sort of ironic that you have a song on your new record about the unpredictability of tour life, and here you are driving home in a rental car, in the same position you have been in before. You were on the road in a brand new van; this had to be unexpected.

Kenny: It’s funny, my mom called me and said, “I was listening to your song ‘Tour’ and I was thinking about you.” She hadn’t heard about the van breaking down. I told her and she got pretty upset, she was almost crying.

Luke: So other than breaking down, how did the tour go?

Kenny: It was going great. We had a couple shows that were not as good as others, but for the most part it was good. I was kind of nervous because I had never booked a tour before. We were in a couple of interesting situations.

Luke: So a couple shows were tough…

Kenny: A couple shows were tough. We played the kegger in Iowa… [band laughter]

Luke: A kegger [laughter]?! Really?!

Kenny: Yeah [laughter]. People ask us, “Do you play those kinds of shows often?” The whole situation is just funny, because when I was booking the show, the kid I set it up with told me, “Yeah, you’ll be playing in my living room and you’ll get the full (amount we take at the) door, unless we have a keg, then you’ll get three out of every five dollars” or whatever the deal was. At this point, I didn’t really care. As long as there were people there, I didn’t care if it was a kegger or whatever.

At the same time this band drove five hours trying to get on the show with us. I don’t think they realized what kind of a place it was going to be, so they drove all the way from Minneapolis, MN, to try to play the show. They wanted to come see the show, but they also brought their gear and were trying to get on. Fortunately they could play, so they went on and people were into it. Then The Kick went on and… well, I guess the drinking had become more heavy at that point. By the time we went on, they were already into their second keg. So, the five kids that drove down from Minneapolis were excited to see us, but pretty much everyone else was bored or doing their own thing outside.

So then we tried to get paid and the person who was taking the money from the door, I guess they stole it. I don’t really know what happened. They said they hid it in the bathroom so nobody would get it. So me and Lou (from The Kick) start ripping out ceiling tiles, looking all over the place to make sure we get the money from the door. Then someone came in and told us that the guy only hid four dollars in there. At that point, we decided there wasn’t any point in ripping a bathroom apart for four dollars. Then, the kid who hid the money saw someone he didn’t like and said he hated him and that he was going to kill him. He comes charging into the bathroom. At which point, me and Lou were like, “Let’s get the heck out of here.”

Someone took a small collection for us and we got like 17 dollars, I think. That is our raging kegger story.

Vince: The rest of us were outside getting packed up and Kenny and Lou come running down, yelling, “Go! We gotta go now, we gotta go now!” So we’re all freaking out, we jump in the van, then Kenny starts talking to someone and we’re there for another 45 minutes just hanging out. [laughter]

Kenny: Well, me and Lou thought we needed to get out of there. We didn’t want to be there if the cops were coming. Whatever was going to happen, we didn’t want to be there. That guy didn’t look happy, he said he was going to kill some guy.

There was a redneck bar at this place, too. I guess one of the guys from The Kick wanted to get something to drink. He walked up to the bar and everything stopped. Everyone just looked at him. So he looks around, and the guy next to him says, “You don’t belong here.” [laughter] He just stood there and walked out. [laughter] Then another guy told Jordan (from The Kick) to watch his back. The guy wanted Jordan’s hat and Jordan wouldn’t sell it to him. So the guy told him to watch his back. It was…

Fred: And some girl peed her pants in the room where all our gear was.

Luke: What?! Was she drunk?

Kenny: I guess. She was just walking around like nothing was going on. It was really odd. I mean, we hung out at Steak and Shake with a bunch of the kids from the show and everyone was cool. It was just an odd experience for us as a band. We never played anything like that before.

We played three house shows on the tour; the second one was in Nebraska and it was cool. It was packed out, we had a lot of fun, we did well in merch, it was a good night. Then we played in Chico, CA, at another house party.

Fred: That was a doobie fest. Everyone was smoking doobies.

Kenny: [laughter] We ended up getting to play one-and-a-half songs. Then the cops came and shut us down.

Fred: But apparently they didn’t shut us down because we were too loud. They shut us down because the hippies were throwing water balloons at cars.

Luke: Hippies?

Fred: The doobie smokers.

Vince: Kenny, tell Luke how much we got paid.

Kenny: $3.85. That’s what we got paid. [laughter] And that was the day after our van broke down. We played in Salt Lake City the night before and our van broke down that day. So we rented a van and drove 10 hours to get to the show in Chico. I guess we had different ideas about what it might be like. We felt like we kind of rushed to get there, but we got there. We had to unload our gear on the lawn because there was no room in the house. All of our stuff was just out front on the lawn.

Vince: We sold one CD to a guy who really like us based on that one-and-a-half songs.

Kenny: It was a bust, that show [laughter]. But it was cool, because The Kick guys thought it was cool that we even made it. Our van needed a whole new engine; we were pretty bummed out, but we wanted to do as much of the tour as we could. So we rented a van and did California and Arizona.

Luke: So aside from this mayhem, do you guys ever break even on tour?

Kenny: Actually, last summer, we actually made money, so that was great. We still might break even on this tour, even with all the van trouble.

Luke: And the van is under warranty?

Kenny: Lord willing it will be covered. It should be, but if it isn’t… The warranty company has to send an inspector and depending on what he finds, that will determine if they cover it or not. We’re not totally in the clear. That will determine if we break even or not. We still owe people and stuff, but we should break even. Tom is really good with keeping our money. We try not to spend more than we ever can. We do $5 per diem. Each guy is not getting a lot of money. Then when we get home, we’re hoping to have a little bit of money to help us cover our bills at home, but with all of this, we’re probably not going to. The band members are probably not going to make money.



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