Creative Christian Moments
“Reviews of up and coming Christians in the arts community.”
Blog Article 28: Email Interview with Ryan Hayes from Righteous Vendetta
I see the similarity of this story in bands like Righteous Vendetta who have chosen to descend into the darkness of heavy metal with the paramount light of the Gospel message. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, these men waltz through the fires of a culture known for its hatred of Christianity while letting the illumination of Christ guide, protect, and preach for them. Righteous Vendetta have a mission to use their lifestyles as beacons of Christ’s message to saturate, overpower, and consume the dark culture often associated with heavy metal music. By immersing themselves in metal culture, Righteous Vendetta emulates the walks of the early church Apostles who believed in genuinely getting to know the culture of their mission field while loving them through acts of service.
To digress for a moment of the original intent of the blog, I wanted to identify the attractiveness of heavy metal music. What is the difference between classical music and heavy metal when it comes to skill, complication, and sophistication of music composition: nothing! Let me emphasize this again: NOTHING! Like classical music, many are drawn to heavy metal (myself included) because of the amount of skill it takes to produce such a harmonious eclectic synergy of music. I personally could do without the guttural growls and screams but heavy metal music sung with harmonious vocals married with instrumental transcendence. To you readers out there still grasping to understand my analogy or may be just plain thinking “heavy metal is not my thing” understand that the skill involved would be like listening to an assimilation of the greatest songs by Johann Bach, Wolfgang Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and other greats of classical music.
The ranks of Righteous Vendetta comprise of vocals from Ryan Hayes, Justin Olmstead and Carl Heiman on guitar, Riley Haynie on bass, and Zack Goggins on drums. They have released a total of five albums: A Complexity of the Fallen EP (2009), The Dawning (2010), Lawless (2011), Righteous Vendetta Vol. 1 EP (2013), The Fire Inside (2013), and are working on their sixth album, Defiance, to be released in October of 2014.
Personally, I have been yearning to write a post about Christian metal but have spent the past few months mulling over if I wanted to write another interview or review some music. As divine providence would have it, I was able to connect with Ryan Hayes through LinkedIn and we were able to exchange emails about conducting an interview. Below is the result of these messages.
Barry Irwin Brophy: For those who may not know about you or your band, could you tell us a bit about yourself and the band?
Righteous Vendetta: Ryan and I started the band at Northwest Community College in Powell, WY in 2008 with some friends and our piano professor. We’ve always been more of a metal band, but we got our start by hopping on all of the local and regional punk shows. We quickly realized there wasn’t much out there for a band in Wyoming/Montana. So in the summer of 2009 we began touring full-time and have been doing it ever since.
Barry Irwin Brophy: How did you come to faith in Jesus Christ?
Ryan Hayes: I grew up around Christians with many great role models in my life, so there wasn’t really any definitive moment that played a role in me coming to my faith. But up until I started playing in this band, I had never truly given my life to Christ. It’s one of those things I think many young adults struggle with, settling into the idea of Christianity with their image and morals being the extent of their faith. I called myself a Christian my whole life, yet had no problems finding ways to justify my sins with the idea that my human nature is inevitably destined to make mistakes. It’s one of the biggest lies we are taught because it instills in us a false idea of what God’s grace really is. He is a loving God, but he is also a completely just God. Unfortunately, a majority of Christians interpret the truth of his justice as a type of conditional love, which is not the case at all. Anyone who claims to have given their life to Christ must embrace the Gospel as complete truth in all aspects, including those aspects that are unpopular. I say all this because I feel many people have put their faith in Jesus Christ, yet still have not fully given their lives to Him, and until they personally come to this realization, their lives will reflect this and they will be unable to have a faithful relationship with Him. So, learning all of this and taking this knowledge to heart was how I fully gave my life to Him.
Barry Irwin Brophy: Tell us a bit about your current music projects. Music videos, new songs, tours, etc.?
Ryan Hayes: We are currently preparing to release our second single and music video of our song “Defiance,” which will be sometime in September/October. We are currently on tour with Trapt and have tours coming up with Like a Storm and Nonpoint. We also have a couple new songs on the way that will be released before the end of the year.
Barry Irwin Brophy: How has God been using the band to spread His Gospel message? Any stories?
Ryan Hayes: Over the last year, we have been touring strictly secular markets with secular bands. It’s been so fulfilling being put in these situations because it forced us out of the comfort bubble many Christians resort to confining themselves to. The fact of the matter is nearly everyone in America has heard about Jesus and the Gospel, and most things we could preach at them are things they have been pounded with most of their lives. The problem is all of these are just empty words because nobody ever sees it lived out. God has put us in a unique position to where we can SHOW people what the Gospel actually looks like when it is applied to someone’s life. Ministry is not a chore, nor is any person that has opposing beliefs to us. A large majority of Christian bands, or any ministry for that matter, set out to meet a quota. They set out with intentions of personally “converting” people to their sets of beliefs, often not even truly confident in their own beliefs. So the foundation of our ministry is love. We don’t force Bible verses on people, we don’t go out of our way to force an image of what we think Christian society deems acceptable. We love others because God loves us. When we surrender our lives to God, our hearts should be so overflowing with the Spirit that it naturally radiates to everyone we come in contact with. Sometimes words are necessary, sometimes they aren’t. The bottom line is there is nothing we can do in our own power that will bring somebody to Christ. As long as we remain faithful to Him, He will use us as He wants to use us.
Barry Irwin Brophy: I hear a lot of negative talk about how Christian metal is not an effective means of sharing the Gospel. What do you think are the biggest obstacles within the Christian Church institution in America and how can we change to be more effective in preaching the Gospel?
Ryan Hayes: The biggest obstacle is that Christian metal has become a fad. It has become nothing more than a market and a brand. I have played with thousands of bands that have called themselves Christian bands, and I can honestly count on one hand how many of those bands contain members that all have a true relationship with Jesus. In most cases, it’s not an effective means of sharing the Gospel because it’s become a culture. Anyone can throw on some sad music and spout a monologue that they’ve heard time and time again, telling the audience what they want to hear. If you are in constant struggle with sin and questioning your own walk with Jesus, you are not in any place to try and tell somebody else about theirs. If you can’t back up the things you say with the Gospel and your own life, you need to assess what you are actually saying. There are amazing men of God running extremely affective ministries with their bands, Mattie Montgomery of For Today being one of them. Many bands look to him as an example but have no concept of why he does what he does, or the foundations on which he does these things. Mattie Montgomery does the things he does because he has remained the faithful to God and stands firm in the path that has been laid before him. Everything he says he lives by, and has a complete biblical foundation to back it all up. Ministry in this field can be very powerful, but it’s also so very easy to strip it of it’s foundations and turn it into a gimmick, which unfortunately most bands end up doing without even knowing it.
Barry Irwin Brophy: Christian metal can be such a sensitive subject with Christians across the spectrum (mostly traditionalists). Just recently, I’m sure you heard the news about the sentencing of a Christian metal singer from As I Lay Dying. He stated he had become an atheist and that there were many Christian metal bands just performing for the money, too, like he did. How do you walk in the convictions of your Christianity given the area of a your calling in heavy metal music and the possibility of knowing that other Christian metal bands you’re touring with may not be Christians at all?
Ryan Hayes: This is an argument I’ve seen over and over again, with so many useless indifferences. The bottom line is the music and culture has nothing to do with somebody’s faith. If somebody is going to fall away from their faith while playing heavy music, they are going to fall away from their faith regardless. Whether you cave from the temptation of money, sex, depression, or any other vice, you’re current situation is not going to change that. Not to get on a disappointing subject, but I’m honestly shocked when I see a band that I would actually consider a Christian band by heart rather than by label. So my answer is that this lifestyle has absolutely nothing with my convictions and my walk with Christ. I would live the exact same if I was working at a grocery store deli. The type of music somebody plays or the music scene someone is involved in should provide no crutch for a person’s faith. As far as the whole situation with Tim Lambesis, it just goes to prove so many Christians put more of their faith in individuals than in God. One man’s choices somehow spun the entire Christian music scene into a giant question mark. Ultimately, it’s all a matter of discernment. Anyone in any situation can turn away from God and give into their flesh.
Barry Irwin Brophy: How do you think your music will influence the coming revival?
Ryan Hayes: I don’t think our music will have an influence on a revival as much as our hearts behind it will have an impact. Music is music, and anyone can quote anything they want to for the sake of acceptance. We want everything behind the music to influence whatever is to come. We want to be an example of what it looks like to truly live as the Gospel calls us to live and show that lives are radically changed when they experience God’s love. There is no melody or set of words that can reveal this. The music is just the common ground that brings everyone together to set the stage for the real ministry.
Barry Irwin Brophy: What advice would you like to give to Christian musicians just getting started? Please provide any helpful tips or painful lessons of what not to do.
Ryan Hayes: My biggest advice is to assess your own personal life and make sure you are prepared and have the foundation necessary to effectively spread the Gospel. So many Christians get into it just because of the idea of it. You need to know exactly what you’re getting into, and you need to be equipped with the necessary tools. And if you do think you’re prepared, the next step is to set your standards through the roof. From the beginning, solidify your vision and under no circumstances back down from that. If any of your standards aren’t glorifying to God in some way, or if you aren’t 100% confident you can uphold those standards, then you are not ready to enter into this field of ministry.
Barry Irwin Brophy: What software, equipment, etc. would you recommend to someone on a tight music budget or just getting started?
Ryan Hayes: There are so many options and variables when going about that. I know the thing that I wish I would’ve done differently was spend more time investing into quality gear. Everyone on a budget is looking for the quick easy way to get gear, which is usually cheap and unreliable gear. Find mid-level bands of the same style as you and ask them about their gear. Find out what they’re using and slowly build up your collection in the best way that suits you. Be patient and make sure you make smart investments even if it takes a little longer because it’ll pay off for you more in the long run.
Barry Irwin Brophy: I’ve also encountered many struggling Christian musicians who have given up on pursuing their calling because of chaotic hardships in every form imaginable. These guys and girls are really in the fire right now and have been severely burned. If you were speaking with them one on one what would you say to them?
Ryan Hayes: If I were speaking to them, I would tell them to completely free themselves of their past hardships and take a great amount of time in prayer to really assess where they are in their walk with Christ. As much as everyone would like to blame something or someone else on the effect said hardships have had on their life, it all comes back to what their life reflects. If you have tendencies that drag you into hardships, those are your own personal struggles that through Christ you have power over. If something had that much of a negative impact on their life, either their hearts weren’t where they needed to be in it or God was calling them out of it. Everyone thinks that a relationship with Christ and their life in music go hand in hand when they absolutely don’t. The most important thing for any Christian musician is to recognize the difference and know that you are a servant of Christ first, musician second. It’s very dangerous ground when you can’t tell the difference.
Barry Irwin Brophy’s Closing Thoughts on the Interview: I am thoroughly impressed with the music coming out of Wyoming and Montana. Being in Seattle, I pray and yearn for the same revival renaissance of music to flow once again from our state of Washington.
I am encouraged to hear that Righteous Vendetta are touring with Nonpoint and Trapt as I used to listen to their music before I became a Christian. Hayes and his fellow band members will win men and women to Christ from the metal subculture through the authenticity of their personal lives as they interact with others. Righteous Vendetta have chosen to localize the missionary tactics of global missionaries by immersing themselves in heavy metal culture to share the Gospel. Their actions echo Paul’s own statement about immersing oneself within different subcultures to win individuals to Christ by their lifestyle.
“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the Gospel, that I might share in its blessing.” 1st Corinthians 9:19-23. And might I modernize this passage by adding such a statement as “I became a heavy metal fan to win the heavy metal fans.”
What I respect so much about the Christian metal culture with musicians like Hayes is the brutal, blunt honesty in individuals who truly walk out their faith. The metal community has always preached an authenticity of behavior and is often metaphorically black or white on many issues. Likewise, this tenacity of conviction is transferred to the metal fan when they come to know Christ as Lord and Savior. The Apostle Paul has been mentioned many times in this post and I would mention him again: Christian converts from the heavy metal culture often emulate the same passion as Paul.
I can speak for myself here when it comes to how to reach a heavy metal fan with the Gospel. It is remarkably simple: love. Genuine, unconditional, and behaviorally demonstrated love. Do not saturate and dumb down the Gospel message, just simply preach Christ’s message of the Gospel. My millennial generation craves this; preach the hard truths of Christ. Heavy metal fans see through the fluff and pomp and this is what has usually turned them off of Christianity. BE AUTHENTIC!!! I would be even willing to surmise that heavy metal fans may know more about Christianity than you in some instances but SEEING the Gospel life demonstrated is what they crave.
Hayes also identified one major problem in Christian music which is the tendency to idolize the musicians over Christ. In reflection of the Christian music industry from 2000 to now, I too can vouch that their has been a shift towards this behavior. The music of Christianity is being filtered out by the world and this is reflected often in the subtle lyrics about Christ or their absence completely. In the early 2000s it just seems as though Christian musicians were much bolder and I miss this the most. Music, even if called “Christian,” must be filtered through the authority of Scripture and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Ideas are powerful with music often playing a role in their distribution. History stands as testimony of how music was and is used to project ideas and teachings, regardless of subject matter, to the masses.
As always, lift these warriors of Christ up in prayer. They need it! Especially since they are going to the very proverbial gates of Hell to rescue people with the Gospel message. Pray, prophesy, and declare the good purposes of God over their unique calling to the lost. You can also support Righteous Vendetta by purchasing their music and merchandise, scheduling them for a concert event with your church or ministry, and reaching out to them through social media. Yes…they write back to fans on a regular basis! I wish them Godspeed in their endeavors and look forward to renaissance revival of music occurring in one of the most unlikely of places: heavy metal.
Righteous Vendetta’s Pages:
Official Website: http://righteousvendetta.com
Hayes, Ryan, email message to author, July 9, 2014.
Hayes, Ryan. Profile Picture. LinkedIn. https://media.licdn.com/media/p/8/005/071/272/2172905.jpg (accessed August 11, 2014)
Righteous Vendetta. Band Picture. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/righteousvendetta/photos/pb.83493183545.-2207520000.1407788286./10152241518978546/?type=3&theater (accessed August 11, 2014)
Righteous Vendetta – “Defiance”, YouTube, 3:51, posted by Righteous Vendetta, January 29, 2013, website (accessed August 11, 2014)
Righteous Vendetta – The Fire Inside (Official Music Video), YouTube, 3:16, posted by Righteous Vendetta, August 2, 2013, website (accessed August 11, 2014)