In the early 1980s, Rick Elias was the angry young man of San Diego’s then-burgeoning original-music scene.
While most of the popular local bands were playing crude punk rock, the Rick Elias Band was playing passionate, melodic rock ‘n’ roll that was a lot more refined and eloquent.
Even so, Elias’ musical vision was perpetually clouded by tears of rage. His lyrics were bitter and nihilistic. On stage, he’d snarl and he’d scowl. He’d spit and he’d curse. And on more than one occasion, he walked offstage, midway through the show, after hurling a beer bottle into the crowd--his inner anger momentarily turned outward.
Today, Rick Elias is a changed man. He is signed to Alarma Records, one of the biggest Christian record companies in the country. Last March, the label released the debut album by Rick Elias and the Confessions, consisting of 10 songs brimming with hope and optimism.
Whenever he performs live--mostly around Los Angeles, where he now lives--Elias is the perfect gentleman. He no longer snarls, scowls, spits or curses. He just sings and--good God!--even breaks into a smile every now and then.
Elias, you see, has found the Lord, just like a handful of other once-angry young rock ‘n’ rollers before him, including Little Richard, Al Green and, briefly, Bob Dylan.
“I had gone to a Christian college, and part of the anger I felt, part of the angry young man persona I was trying to create in San Diego back in the old days, was a reaction to that,” Elias recalled. “I was kind of renouncing my faith.
“Because I came from such a highly dysfunctional family and was such a troubled kind of kid, I just couldn’t relate to the conservative, mainline expressions of Christianity I had been taught in school.
“I felt like I didn’t fit in, so as soon as I got out, I rebelled. And all that stuff I went through in San Diego was just me and my personal journey, trying to find out who I was and what I believed.”
By 1984, the once-promising original-music scene in San Diego had disintegrated, and Elias moved to Los Angeles. For the next three years, he plyed the L.A. club scene and continued to do some serious soul-searching.
“Gradually, through reading and talking with friends I had made up there, I began to realize I had been a bit rash with my decision to renounce my faith,” Elias said. “I saw another part of Christianity I maybe wanted to be part of, a whole other side than Jimmy Swaggart or the Catholic Church stuff--an entire body of Christians who are unbelievably smart, unbelievably artistic, who are at the forefront of every intellectual pursuit that’s going on, from government and science to the arts.”
The turning point came in 1987, on the verge of what could have been Elias’ big break.
“I was in a band with a lot of really hot players, and we were doing some demos with Niko Bolas, who went on to produce Neil Young’s ‘Freedom’ album,” Elias said. “Everything was going good, but somehow it just wasn’t where I wanted to be, neither musically nor spiritually.
“I was writing what I felt was the best music I had ever written, but then they started talking about bringing in outside writers, and I could sense this thing just becoming a giant, one-shot, money-making extravaganza with absolutely no integrity--a typical L.A. album deal.”
So he dropped out, “and basically started all over again,” writing songs from his new-found Christian perspective and performing solo in churches, coffeehouses and tiny, out-of-the-way nightclubs.
Within a year, Elias had put together a new band, featuring two former members of the original Rick Elias Band, drummer Bobby Sale and guitarist Marc Intravaia. And, within another year, Rick Elias and the Confessions had been signed by Alarma Records.
The deal “came out of nowhere,” Elias recalled.
“A friend of mine had taken one of our tapes to a big Christian music conference in Colorado, and he gave it to a guy from Alarma. The tape sat on a shelf in his office for several months, then another guy from the label gets it, flips out over it, calls me up and offers me a contract.
“In the meantime, we had started to get some interest from several major labels, including A&M; and Chrysalis, but I went ahead and signed with Alarma, regardless. They promised me I could do my album the way I wanted to, without any interference, and that was really important.”
No sooner had the album come out than it began getting heavy play on Christian radio stations all over the country. “Confession of Love,” the album’s first single, recently peaked at No. 4 on the national Christian Top 40 chart published in Contemporary Christian Music magazine.
Still, Elias said, his music isn’t really all that different from what it was back in the old days.
“I didn’t change one thing, one lick, one riff,” he said. “My perspective may have changed, but I never consciously sat down and said, ‘OK, I’m a Christian artist.’ Every artist writes from his or her point of view, and while I’m now writing from a Christian point of view, my music is the same as it’s always been.”
Accordingly, if there’s any anger left in Rick Elias, it’s directed toward the popular misconception of Christian rock as modern church music with limited secular appeal.
“When most people hear the term Christian rock , they tend to think of Amy Grant or more petrified forms of music,” Elias said. “Hopefully, that’s going to change, because there are some really good Christian rock bands out there that could reach a much wider audience, if it wasn’t for this typecasting.
“It’s frustrating to hit these barriers, but there’s really nothing I can do about it--except make the best music I can make and keep putting it out.”