QUIZ TIME!

  1. Did you know that Mad at the World released their seventh album this year?
  2. How many articles on Mad at the World have you read?
  3. How many ads for Mad at the World albums have you seen?

 

no?
none?
none?

 

That wouldn't be much of a surprise if they were your answers.

Mad at the World hasn't been the focus of intensive marketing or promotion, which, combined with the lack of national touring, has led to a lack of awareness of this group.

While my conversation with Roger Rose won't paint a full picture of the band, it is hard to come up with resources about previous works of the group--even their record company couldn't come up with more than a one-page biography. But, I hope you enjoy a quick look into a band I have long admired for creating quality albums on a very low budget, and saying things that most Christian bands were talking about.

 

How long has Ben Jacobs been in the band?
He's two albums new to the band. Did you know that we just released an album called The Dreamland Café?
Yes, I've been listening to it.
Well, that's album number seven. He also played on The Ferris Wheel, which is album number six. Brent and Mike used to be in the band. Mike was with the band all the way up until our fifth record and then Brent didn't join the band until our third album. Our first two albums were like...
That was you and Randy.
Actually it was me, Randy, and Mike.
I have those two albums. I like them.
Yeah, I like them too. They're great records. I just switched styles just because we didn't perform our music well live. That was the main reason. Sometimes I look back and feel like it might have been a good thing to at least try to pursue that more, live-wise. Who knows? It's easy to look back on your musical career and wonder what would have happened if you had taken some different directions. But we kinda did the first two albums with very keyboard/techno type stuff. And then we did so bad performing it live that we switched over--sort of rejected all of that and just went to like a straight, four-piece, rock band type thing. And then we kinda tried to really get into that and some of the members of the band, I think more Randy and Brent, wanted to do more hard rock type sounding music. We did that for a few albums; that took us to about like our fifth album and then the last two albums have been more mellow and more melodic, maybe a little more retro or more sixties-ish sounding.
The Dreamland Café sounds kind of Beatlesque.
Yeah, it definitely did. It's funny because I don't claim to be the best anything--I'm very aware of my limitations, and right now what I'm referring to is in response to what you just said: I'm thinking about my arrangement and my producer abilities. I've done that actually on all of my different schizophrenic stages of my musical career, whether it be maybe sounding too much like Depeche Mode or Oingo Boingo in our first two albums and the Pet Shop Boys or whoever. And then we kinda sounded like a band called the Mission U.K. or even The Cult for a while and then now it may be a little too much like The Beatles or Jellyfish or something. I guess I'm apologizing for that but I'm also admitting to it, which hopefully makes it a little better. I do a lot of the stuff myself and it's hard to see stuff when it's that close to you; you know it sounds stupid but when something's right next to you, you don't see it as well. In fact, I guess I'm saying all that to say that for my next project, I'm looking forward to having somebody else produce it. [Laughter].
I was wondering if the next album would be a country album--just kidding. [Laughter]
[Laughter] That's funny 'cause I've actually cracked that same joke to different people when they say, "Well, what's next for you?" No, I don't know what we will do in the future, musically or style-wise. I try to always do different styles just to keep things from getting boring, I guess, for myself. A lot of people are very style conscious, maybe more so than I am. To me, I kind of just try to look at the song and see if it's a good song or not and not get too hung up on the drum sounds, the guitar sounds, how much distortion's on the guitar, or whatever. I mean, obviously correct production and little specifics do help or hurt something...
So Mike Link is not the same Mike that was in the band before?
No, that's right. He's a different Mike. Ben and Mike, where they came from was Mike Pendleton and Brent--they didn't really quit the band--they kinda quit the band and got fired all at the same time. [Laughter] It was after our fifth record and we didn't know what to do for sure. At that time Randy, my little brother, had been kinda working on a solo career, so to speak, with a band that he called Rose. He had had, like, his second album out at the time. And Ben and Mike Link are actually from his band and I was trying to decide what to do with myself--do I want to just try to pursue some kind of a solo career, just not do anything at all, or try to find new members for Mad at the World... And he [Randy] said, "Just use Mike and Ben, they love Mad at the World and they'd love to play in Mad at the World--they know the stuff." So we tried that and they did fine and I like them really well as people and they were just totally enthusiastic about being in the band, so that just sorta happened by circumstance. They worked out really well. I'm real happy with them.
Their names aren't on all the songs and only your name is on some...
There's about three songs on the new album that I pretty much do everything on and that is kind of the result of a small potatoes--low budget deal. [Laughter] It's a matter of scheduling and a deadline and not being able for everybody to necessarily take off work and stuff. And on some of the songs I just--this is actually the first album that I've ever played the drums on--usually my little brother does--I played drums on every song on this album except one and I'm not the drummer of the band. I'm the guitar player and the singer, basically. But Randy was busy working on some other demo projects for some other bands and working on some of his own stuff and then he kind of just didn't want to play drums on this album. It wasn't any bad feelings between me and him, he was just really busy and he said, "Hey, you know this stuff a lot better than I do. If you don't mind I'd love for you just to play drums on it." At first, I thought, "No way, you play better than I do." But then I thought if you don't know the material and you're not gonna spend the time to learn it then maybe I would be happier with a drummer maybe not as good but that at least knows the material than with someone who's better and just kind of faking their way through it.
So in a way it's almost like your solo album.
A little bit. But if I was really doing my solo album I would've experimented more, musically. Since it was a Mad at the World album I tried to keep in mind maybe a band being able to perform these songs. But if I do a solo record, I'll want to do a lot of different things with it. We all have full-time jobs that have nothing to do with music which takes up 40+ hours a week and then we all have our wives and lives on top of that and then just trying to squeeze in a little bit of time for rest and then whatever little bit that's left over, we give that to Mad at the World and it's just not enough time. So we just kind of fake our way through it a little bit, more so than it should be, that's for sure. But ideally I would love to have a producer and have it done in a real recording studio. I do all the Mad at the World stuff from my home studio which definitely has its limitations. But it has its benefits too because I can work on it for a while and if things aren't going well I don't have to stress out because I'm in the studio at $50 an hour or whatever and am wasting those tracks. So that definitely gives me a good working environment. But ideally I'd rather have it in a better studio with a producer and different players, maybe--orchestration and different things. That may happen. By the way, this Dreamland Café was my final album with Frontline so now I'm an unsigned artist and I'm currently pursuing some other options for my future. I've been talking to some different people but I'm not sure what I'm gonna do exactly.
Start your own label! [Laughter]
Nah, I don't want to do that...Too many headaches with the business end of it. I mean, if I didn't have another job--I'd already kinda considered doing that but then I have such little time for the band right now. If I started my own label, that time would just literally evaporate into nothing. And I don't like the business end of it, I like the creative end of it. I deal with the business end of it when I have to, but I don't like it.
What's your day job?
I'm a mailman for the U.S. Postal Service. It's nothing overly glamorous but it's a really good job for me because it gives me time. I write most of my lyrics when I'm walking down the street delivering mail. It's great [that] I can do that. Literally when I'm in the process of songwriting, I'll have the song in my head and I'll literally work it out, maybe have verse one at my house and then some of the chorus and then I'll just sing these songs in my head over and over again as I'm going up and down the street. Then when I get to my Jeep, I'll get out my little scrap piece of paper and write down these lyrics. So it's cool I don't have to just waste time sitting in the studio. I can actually get some fresh air and exercise while I'm doing it. And you get like four and a half weeks paid vacation a year so I can kinda get a chance to do a few flyout dates and stuff, but we really can't tour. I just got a call a couple days ago and somebody wants us to come out to Germany and surrounding European countries for like two weeks this summer so we're looking into being able to do that. Unfortunately right after I got off the phone with the guy I found out that the day he wants us to come play is like the same day that Randy's first-born baby is due. So he's not gonna go, so I'm gonna have to get a replacement drummer to do it and there's no other time that they can really reschedule it because it's going around a festival. So I was really disappointed about that but if we don't go, there might not be a next time and maybe it'll open the door to go back.
What's your wife's name?
Julia.
How long have you guys been married?
Three years.
No children yet?
No.
How about the other guys?
Randy, my brother, is married to Leesa and the other two guys are single.
Ages?
Randy is 23, I believe. Mike is 29, I think, and Ben is 32, and I'm 35.
How many brothers and sisters do you have?
I have one other older brother, Ray. He plays on some Mad at the World.
Who's Danny Rose?
That's my cousin. He helps Randy out with his stuff a lot. He'll come down and hang with Randy and record and write and stuff.
So you're primary pen for the group?
Yeah.
What is the concept behind The Dreamland Café?
I just left the interpretation to be fairly loose, but I guess it could be interpreted as a metaphor for the Church, or it could be a metaphor for Christianity or Christ. There's a song called "The Dreamland Café" and it just kinda talks about and refers to this fictitious little place, The Dreamland Café, and it's a place where people are optimistic but they don't mind people who have problems and aren't sad because there's enough love to go around in this place. It's as simple as that, it's a little metaphor for Christianity, the optimistic, hopeful side of Christianity.
And that's a good thing?
Sure!
Do you think, though, that sometimes Christian music has over-glorified the optimistic side of Christianity and has disillusioned some people in the process?
Oh yeah, I agree. I mean I am like the last person in the world to try to create a plastic fantastic, sugar-coated, "everything's perfect" version of Christianity. In fact, if a person was to look at the majority of the whole Mad at the World musical career in all seven albums, it's probably more optimism through sort of the darker-side-of-life issues. So this album--if it's a little more optimistic and hopeful--this is creating a balance for some of the other lyrics. I felt in this album it was time to try to be a little more hopeful. But even in that song, "The Dreamland Café," the second verse talks about,
There's people who smile and there's people who can't
We don't mind it
But if they stay around there is love to be found
And they'll find it
Sadness is a gift if sadness brings you back again
Jesus loves the brokenhearted castaways
Who've gone astray.

 

So it's just saying Christianity is a place of refuge for people who are broken and down. It's definitely not just a phony, perfect version of Christianity as in, "It will answer all your problems, make everything wonderful and perfect." I would hope it's realistic but just a little more hopeful than sometimes I've been in the past.

Do you feel like you guys got a lot of flack for some of the stuff you did in the past, being a little dark or pessimistic?


No, I don't think so. Like I mentioned, it's being hopeful through some of those darker issues. I think in most of my songs when I talk about things I'm always careful to point out the hope, or the answer, or the possibilities through some of these issues. I know that for a fact based on the mail I get, people understand and they're appreciative of my lyrics. I have one song on the album The Ferris Wheel called "Inside of Heaven's Gates," and to me it's like the perfect song to be played at somebody's funeral. In that song it's saying this person's eyes are closed but it doesn't mean he cannot see--he's just seeing something new. It talks about that you'll be able to meet this person in heaven again. That's just an example of what I'm talking about--where it's a dark, heavy topic but yet there's definitely an explanation or an answer within the topic. I've had plenty of people write me and say that my lyrics minister to them in a way that no other band has--but it's definitely God speaking to them through my lyrics. And that's wonderful to me because that's what I would hope would happen and it does. I'm just amazed that I can actually have an impact on somebody's life because I don't even feel like I'm much of a poet or a songwriter but I've been lucky and God gives me some inspiration. That makes it worthwhile because I don't really make any money at it. [Laughter] I mean I make just a little bit of money but I probably spend more than I make, you know? So just knowing that I'm making a difference..
What kind of reaction did you get from people about the song "Isn't Sex A Wonderful Thing?" [which was recorded on the album Boomerang in 1991]
That song, it's like I said earlier, it's kind of easier to see stuff when it's farther away from you. Looking back at that song right now, I wish I could have that song over again to just write the lyrics slightly different. I think that the lyrics were slightly a little bit too vague and left a little bit of room for confusion or misinterpretation. My folks live about two hours from here. They're in a small desert community, and this mom and pop's Christian bookstore there--they don't carry Mad at the World because of that song. My mom tried to tell this lady that this song is trying to warn kids that this wonderful thing, potentially wonderful thing, can also be potentially bad. And she just saw the title and thought it was sort of like this Christian band promoting sex saying it's a wonderful thing and didn't get it. If that's how she felt then I blew it 'cause I should have made it more clear. But I originally wrote the song out of frustration. Some girl that I knew, I found out that she had been sexually molested when she was younger, and I was very angry about the fact that humanity takes this potentially wonderful thing of sex as God would want it to be and then messes with it and breaks God's rules or laws, and then it can be so hurtful to people. So maybe with an attitude of whatever cynicism or sarcasm, that's how the lyrics came out in the song. The way I used to describe that song is that I would say that, "The name of that song is not a name, it's a question." I think on the album it even says: "Isn't Sex A Wonderful Thing?" with a question mark so that right there was a hint that it was begging the question to the listener. Is this a wonderful thing or isn't it? And then depending on whether you obey God's rules, it will be or won't be.
What is your perspective on the name of the band now?
I'm as mad at the world as I've ever been, I guess. [Laughter] The name of the band Mad at the World is still very much appropriate now. The way I describe the name of the band is just the fact that as a Christian my heart, and even my mind, should be focused on eternal heavenly things--things that will last, and always be there. And if I'm not thinking of those things that's probably because there's some kind of a worldly distraction that's causing me to look elsewhere. Like the verse I use to sort of describe the band, I think it's 1 John 2:16; it says to "love not the world, neither the things of the world" and then it lists different things--the pride of life, the lust of the eyes and the flesh. And there's another scripture, I think, a few verses later where it says, "If anyone's a friend of the world, he's an enemy of God." So basically, as a Christian, worldly things and worldly values can be your actual biggest enemy or biggest distraction from the things you probably should be thinking about or putting a priority on. So, in that sense, I would hope that I'm still mad at the world.
What are some of your biggest struggles?
As a musician, probably I would say trusting God and staying hopeful and optimistic during the times when you feel like maybe you're walking through a valley. And maybe you hear the voice of doubt saying that God doesn't love you because you're not as worthy of His love as maybe you should be and then not listening to that voice. I think it's an ongoing struggle that every human being has to deal with and that's kind of the essence of the Christian faith because there's so many different good reasons to believe that God doesn't love you if you want to listen to those reasons. There's so many questions and then the world, our society, just seems like in the last five years, Christianity in the media or Hollywood has turned into such a laughing matter or falls under the same category as the David Koresh people. It causes you as a Christian to sometimes feel like you're just walking through this desert by yourself and the only thing you can hang onto is your faith that God is real. I certainly believe He is, I mean I know He is. But it's tough sometimes in this society--you feel like the whole world is sort of writing off Christianity as this thing that was fine and dandy for the '50s when people were more simple, but now God doesn't fit into this more "enlightened" society, or whatever. And I certainly don't believe that, but I think that would be my own personal struggle--just to hang on to my faith as the Bible talks about, like a child. A child doesn't have to know and understand, it just believes because it believes, you know? And that's how I became a Christian and that's how I want to stay.

As far as musically, I would say... I don't know musically what to say.

Who are some of the people that you turn to for advice, support, accountability?
Me and my wife go to a small church here, about five minutes from my house, in Seal Beach. We have a very kind, loving, young pastor. We're really thankful for this church that we go to. Our pastor loves music and he really believes in what we do. It's just great, we had a concert weeks ago and he put our flyer in the morning bulletin and announced to the church that they should all come see us, and about half of them did come. [Laughter] It was really great to feel that he believed in what we do and is supportive. He's kinda hip, in a way, he reminds me a little bit, if you can believe, of Ace Ventura a little bit. [Laughs] If you can imagine Ace Ventura mixed in with James Dobson a little bit... But this is like the one church that I've never found myself daydreaming or being bored or tired during church--which, unfortunately, sometimes at some other churches--I have felt that way.

Accountability? To my wife. That definitely is something that God uses to keep me on track when maybe I might not want to be. I'm reminded of that I'm not just here for myself, I'm also here for her now too. And, of course, my family. I've been born and raised in a family of all Christians so we help support each other and pray for each other. We can always talk to each other. And the band, as well. We're kind of like a family, when one person is down we will check up on him, pitch in and help in some way.

As a band that can't really tour, you probably don't have too much interaction with the fans--or do you get a lot of letters? How does that affect you?
We get letters and we do some dates. We've played Cornerstone. The band's been around for seven years, and we've played Cornerstone three of those seven years. Jokingly, sometimes I refer to our band as the "best kept secret in Christian music." I don't think we're the best band in Christian music by any means, but it's weird that after eight or nine years there's so many people that have never even heard of us. That can be a little bit disappointing at times. Hopefully something can be done about that now--maybe I can get on a label that may be able to help us more.
Frontline isn't well known for their publicity and marketing.
It's been a little bit frustrating, but on the other hand, I don't think any of us are prepared to quit our jobs and go live out on the road. So I will share a bit of responsibility for that. I've described (and this is not cynical, I think it's just more realistic) the Christian and the non-Christian music industry kind of like if you can imagine an aquarium the size of a big baseball stadium--that being the secular music industry. Then off to the side, a couple feet from this gigantic aquarium, a six-inch little fish bowl, that doesn't intersect--that's the Christian music industry. So sometimes I feel like, "Why do I want to kill myself to try to be the biggest fish in that six-inch fishbowl?" Like even here in California, we're supposedly where there's opportunities--in my city there's probably ten record stores and then in the whole county, within a half hour, there's like two Christian record stores, and one of them carries my album and one of them doesn't. My first three albums aren't even available any more, they're already out of print. There's only a limited amount of space, even in the stores that do carry it, and there's so many new bands coming out that, "where are they gonna put all that product?" To me, it's almost understandable why it's so limited. I think radio is very biased against Christian [music], I mean if there's anything blatantly Christian about the lyrics, it scares program directors and music directors, and they don't want to offend their audience. It's kind of frustrating to see what seemingly is pretty much these pre-defined boundaries. I am not too hung up with hoping to be very successful.

It's expensive to fly out the band. It'd be different if we were on tour and just passing through. We could play so many other places, which really we should do--it's a shame not to. We kind of made our own little mini national tour back about two albums ago. It was like the only time we actually did. We flew into Minneapolis and then drove all the way down to Florida and back up, back to Texas and then up to Oklahoma, and came home from Oklahoma. We were gone for about a month and we played every place in between. It was great, but we all burned up our whole vacation for that year. It was a little bit tough because we did it on a lower than low budget. But it wasn't discouraging because there was a lot of people everywhere we played. It was just so weird--you go to a town you've never been to before and there's people who know every lyric of every song. [Laughter] It definitely made it seem more real, to where when I came home and was writing my next song, you can almost visualize all across the country people are literally gonna hang on every little word that was coming out of my hands. It made it more real and exciting--gave me more responsibility.

Is a mainstream record deal something you would consider or seek?
Well, I have mixed emotions about that. I used to think that I wouldn't want to do that and I'm not sure how I feel about it now. I think I probably would if the opportunity presented itself. Basically, I wouldn't say no to it. I used to think, "Oh, I wouldn't want to do that because that's selling out." It's kinda weird to say that. I mean, I go to work everyday and deliver letters to people. I deliver Playboy magazines and everything else, and who am I working for there? Am I working for myself, for the post office, for God, or for the devil? What am I doing? I'm just doing a job and I'm not expected to be necessarily a walking/talking preaching mailman evangelist. I'm just expected to do my job. And that somehow is okay.

But if I've been in a Christian band before then it would somehow be so terrible to do a mainstream album. I would be more than happy to do a blatantly Christian album on a mainstream label if the world would accept it but they don't--they wouldn't--because of their own bias. I definitely wouldn't do anything that was against my morals, or Christian values, lyrically. But if I could just write about maybe things that were wholesome Christian value type things and messages--whether it be love, friendship, honesty, family, fun, or what not--and especially if I could have a label that was gonna be supportive of me, and appreciated my songwriting, my craft, and they had the budget to make my album sound incredible and were gonna market it, I would consider that. But I wouldn't even necessarily want it or hope it but I would pursue it. In fact, today I did send express mail three copies of my new album to a producer who produces this secular band The Grays and Jellyfish. They're like the style of what Mad at the World has done, and I wrote the guy a letter and said, "I've just completed my contract with a small, Christian label. I really appreciate your work, would you be interested in possibly working with me on producing the next album?"

So, I told my wife, "I'm gonna do this one thing and see what happens and we'll play this by ear." So if this fellow calls me up and says, "Oh, yeah, I would love to work with you and I have some contacts with Capital Records, I have a meeting set up with this guy, I want to do your record," I would definitely consider it but I don't even expect that necessarily to happen. But if it does, you heard it first here. [Laughter]

As far as Christian labels, it's weird, 'cause like I've mentioned I'm thirty-five years old, and I almost feel like I don't know who my audience is necessarily. I don't know if kids want to hear the kind of music I write and if they don't that's fine too. I can write to whatever the audience does want to hear. But I don't even know if there's an audience for me. It's weird.

Still, it's great. I wouldn't trade it for anything. If I never make another album, to be able to have seven albums recorded and distributed world-wide, as little in numbers that they sold, but they still are out there and as long as it's helped some people, and I know it's helped some people, and people have enjoyed it and been encouraged by it, then it definitely gives me a lot of satisfaction. Just for that alone.

--J. Warner Soditus

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