Relient K: Charity Work Was 'The Cherry On Top Of The Tour'

Matt Thiessen talks about his work with Habitat For Humanity and the band's latest Christmas album Let It Snow, BabyLet It Reindeer.

Relient K: Charity Work Was 'The Cherry On Top Of The Tour'
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With all of the aggression and angst within the rock genre, Relient K has never felt a need to apologize for showing its softer side. When the band began to replace its original punk sound with mellower, piano-driven melodies some years back, vocalist/guitarist Matt Thiessen didn't worry too much about a possible backlash from fans. It's obvious that he knows his fans well. Relient K has maintained a fairly consistent fan base for its 10 years, and Thiessen's positive approach to songwriting recently helped the charity Habitat For Humanity raise over $100,000. But if there was ever a year when Thiessen's good-natured attitude might be tested, 2007 was the one. After a tour bus fire (which almost destroyed a laptop filled with songs in the making) and the departure of drummer Dave Douglas, it marked one of the roughest patches in the band's history. You might expect someone to feel disdain toward such events, but Thiessen was friendlier than ever when he talked with Ultimate-Guitar. Rather than dwelling on what he lost, Thiessen instead chose to talk about his work with Habitat For Humanity and the band's latest Christmas album Let It Snow, BabyLet It Reindeer - two projects that re-emphasize Thiessen's cherubic and just plain likeable nature. UG: Is it a little bizarre to think you've been in the business about a decade now? Matt: Yeah! Isn't that crazy? December 30 will be the 10th anniversary of our 1st ever. Isn't that nuts? How has your approach to songwriting changed since you first formed the band? Oh, my gosh. There is a long way to go about talking about that, and there's a short way. I'll try to make it quick! When we started out, we were really into punk bands and stuff. We basically were 16 year-old kids that wanted to be like blink-182, which I think is cool. We liked bands like that, and that's just what we wanted to be. Over the years, you realize it's going to be a little bit different. My influences became more like The Beach Boys, Ben Folds, and Rufus Wainwright. There are some other bands like The Thrills, stuff that wasn't even close to the genre that we had been doing for the first 2 records. Every record has had different influences and different ideas, and you try and change it up a little bit. At the same time, you're not going too far into obscurity that you lose everybody that you had been bringing along with you. When you originally started going toward more of a Rufus Wainwright and Ben Folds sound, did fans immediately embrace it? Our second record had 2 piano, sort of chill songs, and that was 2001. So for the last 6 or 7 years, people have been kind of expecting us to kind of take that lighter side of things. Most of the fans that know us pretty well now expect that from us. As far as my vocals go, I'd much rather sing something kind of chilled than sound all aggressive. I don't really have that aggressive of a voice! I really am kind of drawn towards some of the more chilled stuff that we do. Although, I'm still a rock and roll kid. When you do a Christmas album like Let It Snow, BabyLet It Reindeer, do you approach it in the same way you do any other studio album? There are 2 new originals that are my favorites - Merry Christmas, Here's To Many More and then one of the later tracks called Boxing Day - both of those I wrote in July of this year. I was just kind of sitting out on the deck in Indianapolis in the 90-degree weather! It really is simple, though. All you have to do it close your eyes and think about last year or the year before, and then try and gather those feelings. Fortunately, I think I did an okay job just because now it is that time of year. So whenever somebody else is playing the music or something like that, I'm like, Yeah, that's a cool vibe for writing it in July!
"I really am kind of drawn towards some of the more chilled stuff that we do."
Your version of Auld Lang Syne sounds eerily like the Beach Boys. How much of an influence were they on you? We ripped it off! We tried our hardest to! We wanted to pay to use that arrangement, but we couldn't find it anywhere. We kind of tried to do a similar arrangement as the Beach Boys' version. Of course, ours is different. We changed it up a little bit in certain ways, but you can tell. I mean, the Beach Boys had the spoken word thing at the end of their version, and we did the exact same spoken word. We actually tried to do the spoken word on the Beach Boys' album verbatim the first time we did Auld Lang Syne. The Beach Boys are one of my favorite bands of all time. How did the departure of Dave (Douglas, drums) back in October affect the band? It actually started about a year before we told anybody. Dave just kind of came to us and said, Listen, guys. I've been with you for some years. I love it and I love being with you guys - but he loves writing music. That's what he did before he was in our band. I don't know if he necessarily wanted to write Relient K things, so that was kind of the crossroads that he was at. He was like, I'm going to turn 29 next year, and I think me and my wife would like to go and do some other band. I don't know if I would have the time. So we had like 9 or 10 months to kind of talk to him about it. He's been awesome and he's such a good buddy. He's been really pro about just making sure that he'd stick around for as long as we needed him to. He's just an awesome guy. At the same time, a rock and roll band is kind of a silly thing when you look at it. We're stoked that we get to do it, but at the same time, respecting somebody's choice to do something that they really want to do with their life and purse their goals is way more important. It sounds like there's quite a lot of camaraderie within the band. Yeah. It's been great over the years. It's just a good situation. We kind of give everybody space and we have a lot of respect for each other. It's cool. Back in June you also had to deal with a fire in your tour bus. Is it true that it destroyed a laptop that contained several songs on it? At the time when we did the press release, the laptop was completely broken, and it still is. But I was able to take it somebody who extracted the hard drive, so all is right! I wasn't even worried about it. People were asking, What is the one thing that you can't replace that you lost? I was like, Well, I had some song ideas. There were a lot of them, but at the same time they were probably all just kind of scraps sitting around. So I wasn't that bummed. I can make more scraps! I am stoked to have that stuff back, though, because I probably will end up using a lot of it. Do you always store your song ideas on a laptop? The computer is just so easy. Yesterday I was writing a song like at 2 in the morning. All I had was the first chorus, but I wanted to go to bed and didn't want to finish it. So I turned on my computer, and 5 minutes later I had everything done and it sounded cool. I hit save and went to bed. It's pretty easy. Are most of the songs originally written on the piano or the guitar? It depends. A lot of times it's so much easy to have a jam on the piano because for the most part it is going to be in tune. When a guitar gets out of tune, it really bugs me and it's not inspiring. Tuning the whole time while you're trying to write gets frustrating. A lot of times I'll do it on piano, but I love writing little riffs and stuff on the guitar. Sometimes that is how a song will start, with just a little guitar riff or something.
"A rock and roll band is kind of a silly thing when you look at it."
At this point in your career, do you consider yourself more of a vocalist, pianist, or guitarist? I love it all. I think it's just 3 equal parts. That's what my role is in the band, and I love it. Our guitarist is an amazing guitar player and he loves tones and he loves working with pedals. He builds his own pedals and loves amps and stuff. So he takes care of it when we want to do some cool guitar stuff. With the addition of Jon, you now have 3 guitarists in the band. Has that opened up a lot more options in the studio and playing live? Yeah, especially live. We can play stuff that has 2 guitars and a piano on it, and we're not having to skip anything that was on the record. What equipment have you been using lately? I actually have an old upright piano that is hollowed out, and I just put my keyboards in there. So it's a little deceptive onstage. A lot of people think I'm playing a real piano, but there is no way I would want to have to tune that everyday. I use Roland keyboards, and for the guitars I just got a new FatCat amp. I love it! It's the best thing I've ever played. I used to play Mesa Boogie dual rectifiers all the time, but the FatCat makes it even easier to just get a great sound out of it. It was recommended to me by a lot of producers and stuff. They said, You will never want another amp again. I love it. You've been doing some great work with Habitat For Humanity. First you wrote Rebuild with Switchfoot (all proceeds from the single went to the cause) and your last tour donated a percentage of the tickets to the charity as well. Yeah. A dollar from every ticket went to it, and we ended up raising a little bit over $100,000 for Habitat. For us, it was like the cherry on top of the tour because it was something that was so much more consequential than just playing shows and selling T-shirts. It was something that made us feel really good every night. Then we would go up and sing that Rebuild song that we wrote. Honestly we just did the song to drive kids to the Habitat site and get them interested. How long have you been working with Habitat For Humanity? We played a benefit show for them this summer. It was actually a part of that movie Evan Almighty. They did a premiere event in L.A., and Switchfoot, our band, and a couple others went out there and played a benefit for Habitat. That's right when we were talking about the tour. It just kind of made sense to work with them on the tour, and it was something that both bands really wanted to do. We ended up being able to go to a couple sites during the tour, wake up at the butt-crack of dawn, and go put some siding on a house. It was awesome. We had a really good time. During the decade you've been a band, there have been discussions about where you fit in among the Christian music scene. Have you noticed that the pressure to be a certain way has eased up over the years? There was never any pressure because we don't really listen to anybody expect ourselves! We do what we do because it's what we love to do. When we write songs about what we believe in or something of spiritual consequence, that's because that is what I'm going through as a person. I'm not trying to force my beliefs on anybody. I'm just writing from my perspective in my life. If you're in the audience or if you're me onstage, if you're singing about something that is really important to you, then it will hopefully come across. That has always been our angle with the whole thing. Yeah, we're a bunch of goofballs and we cover The Office theme song live and we do Tears For Fears' covers! We play a bunch of cheesy songs, but at the same time we also get up there and sing some stuff that we feel is really important. The balance is a really weird, but that's who we are. We're just being who we are. Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2008

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    Vykk Draygo
    Great interview. I love Relient K, they are a great band, whose music has always felt relevant to me.
    papersun87
    Thiessen is a good guy. I'm glad Relient K is evolving and becoming more than the bubblegummiest pop in the world like they used to be.
    whocares09
    he sounds like a cool guy, i have one of their first records. theyve definately improved haha
    hobo467
    Matt Thiessen = pwnage to the extreme. Relient K is still and probably always will be the catchiest band that ever played their own instruments.
    zachH
    Relient K will always be good. They still have a sweet style of music.
    RachelRC
    Thiessen is a really cool guy, this band has worked really hard to get to where they are today. People always critisize them for not being "Christian enough" but they sing about what they want to and they do it well so more power to them
    stradivari310
    This is one of the first bands I've ever gotten into.. great stuff. They went from pop-punk at its best to a unique brand of Christian rock with lots of piano.
    Hambonicus
    I've followed Relient K for years and years, and they've been my favorite band since I first heard them. I have to say, I agree wholeheartedly with you guys who've said they've improved... haha and I think Matt Thiessen doing an interview with UG just made my day :]
    Andy Reierson
    Gigglebooster wrote: I can't stand relient K, their shit is soooo cheesy and gay. Like honestly mood rings, college kids, sadie hawkins dance... these are probably some of the worst songs ever made. But I guess a lot of stupid christians listen to this shit and think it's sooo cool cuz they sing about god.
    Yeah you're an idiot, especially since all those songs are on albums made 5-7 years ago. They are alot different now. Listen to the song "Deathbed" and then tell me its one of the "worst songs ever made".
    dmaccy06
    Gigglebooster...you seem to like attention. Your quote stirred it up. But you are and Idiot if you think Relient K is horrible. They are extremely talented and you couldn't handle writing or playing songs of that level...ever.
    j bird
    yeah... RK are boring but i respect their charity work. thats cool.
    fastfingerfloyd
    [quote]SL!!! wrote: Stangblu68 wrote: I can't stand relient K, their shit is soooo cheesy and gay. Like honestly mood rings, college kids, sadie hawkins dance... these are probably some of the worst songs ever made. But I guess a lot of stupid christians listen to this shit and think it's sooo cool cuz they sing about god ur a complete idiot who has no idea wat ur talkin about. relient k is an awesome band and those songs u listed r great. listen to some music b4 u criticize. just b/c its christian music doesnt make it bad right off. get a religion and then well talk You both need to go take an English class, and lay off the gay as an insult thing. i agree wit sl even though i dont know him that word may not offend me but there is a correct term for it and u r not useing it right. i as much against gays as u probably r but that deosnt mean u should persicute them for their ignorance and arogance.
    fastfingerfloyd
    relient k has had a good christian influence on me and my band and i hope and pray that they will stay with the influence of Jesus Christ being the center of what they do.
    Stangblu68
    aright gigglebug or w/e ur name is if u dont like RK then dont read these blogs some ppl including me like RK. so lay off. just cuz ur genre of music sucks dont mean u got to criticize mine
    fastfingerfloyd
    i dont like being called a stupid christian, but when JESUS comes back to take us to heaven, i hope ur there to see me and relient k walk next to him through the gates b/c as far as ur goin, ur goin to burn in hell 4 the rest of eternity. get real man. when he comes back u might actually want to go through but since u didnt believe, ur stuck in hell where the burning never stops and the smell of skin will never cease to ring your thoughts bout how u thought u would get in for free. JESUS died b/c he loved us and u just want to spit in his face. yeah, that make a whole lot of scense to bite the hand that fed u.
    dookie_dude_
    metalxsymphony wrote: They were not punk rock, and they were better back before Mmhmm. They've lost a lot of their former charm and cleverness in this new album. Sure it sounds more mature cause its got keyboards, but doesn't mean its good music. People always assume maturity means better music. Not the case.
    +1 for sure to the first sentence
    hnfan4eva
    CrabShrapnel wrote: Ah finally doing some charity work to make up for The Anatomy of Tongue in Cheek. That album made me want to die. Nice guys, crap band.
    get a life, that was like the year after their first real release. and they were still cool, but their equipment sounded terrible. but theyre still awesome.
    TheOrangePeril
    Stangblu68 wrote: Sl!!! u need to stop dissin dude and dont criticize my english.
    He's got a point. I can't stand Relient K, I don't think Theissen's a particularly great writer. The metaphor means nothing and it's all rather vapid and obvious. Just my 2 cents.
    TheOrangePeril
    TheOrangePeril wrote: Stangblu68 wrote: Sl!!! u need to stop dissin dude and dont criticize my english. He's got a point. I can't stand Relient K, I don't think Theissen's a particularly great writer. The metaphor means nothing and it's all rather vapid and obvious. Just my 2 cents.
    Just to clarify, I meant that Sl's got a point. Even if you're being polemical, it helps in any debate to come across as at least vaguely literate...
    IdiotMittens
    Floyd, what are you doing? Jesus never said crap like that to people who didn't claim to follow Him so why are you shoving that down other peoples' throats when that's exactly the opposite of what Jesus would do? I'll back it up with Scripture if you'd like me to. When Jesus rebuked someone, it was always to a Pharisee, or to someone who was in a similar position. ie. someone who was claiming the name of God and being hypocritical . If you would like to continue this conversation, I will gladly give you my e-mail address. To Stangblu68 and everyone else that was offended, or have only met Christians that haven't respected them and hated on them for no real reason, on behalf of Christianity, I genuinely and sincerely apologize.
    IdiotMittens
    Hey, it's all good. I'm sorry if I came off harsh, but I just get super defensive when people say stuff like that.
    fastfingerfloyd
    there u go matt, i defended ur case and u dont even have to worry any more. it makes me feel good to defend a brother in Christ, its an honor to do it for u. even if u dont see this i hope u will be glad to fans that got your back, even if its agains the wall. to the death or to the light ill defend u. God bless.
    dmaccy06
    I went to one of their concerts and they were awsome. They seem to take the same Christian approach as U2, another amazing band. I'm just glad they do what they want rather than following mainstream stuff.
    IcePh0enix
    Nice band, I used to like them a lot more but I still like them every now and then. The Anatomy of Tongue and Cheek ftw!
    fleetingillness
    CrabShrapnel wrote: Ah finally doing some charity work to make up for The Anatomy of Tongue in Cheek. That album made me want to die. Nice guys, crap band.
    My thoughts exactly. They've improved, but they were certainly not pop punk at it's best. Sadie Hawkins Dance is the most annoying and terrible song ever written.
    GuitaPlaya
    Probably the WORST band I have ever heard, even topping Simple Plan. Their music just makes me want to drill a hole through my skull. But hey, that's just my opinion. It's good that they use their popularity for a good cause and they don't seem to go around bragging about it (like that guy in U2).
    CrabShrapnel
    Ah finally doing some charity work to make up for The Anatomy of Tongue in Cheek. That album made me want to die. Nice guys, crap band.
    metalxsymphony
    They were not punk rock, and they were better back before Mmhmm. They've lost a lot of their former charm and cleverness in this new album. Sure it sounds more mature cause its got keyboards, but doesn't mean its good music. People always assume maturity means better music. Not the case.
    chickrawker
    i saw them literally hours before their bus burned up..they were amazing. theyre calmer than theyre earlier, but theyre still just as good. theres vids on youtube of them playing the office theme
    Dallen_007
    Great band, and some awesome guys on top of that. I prefer their newer stuff to the older, though I'm more of a serious type music listener.
    Matt_1213
    Good on them. Too many bands get way too serious about what they do. Relient just take it as it comes, and none of it ever goes to their head. How many bands would go round to poor people's houses at the crack of dawn and fix it up for them for nothing?
    Gigglebooster
    I can't stand relient K, their shit is soooo cheesy and gay. Like honestly mood rings, college kids, sadie hawkins dance... these are probably some of the worst songs ever made. But I guess a lot of stupid christians listen to this shit and think it's sooo cool cuz they sing about god.
    Stangblu68
    I can't stand relient K, their shit is soooo cheesy and gay. Like honestly mood rings, college kids, sadie hawkins dance... these are probably some of the worst songs ever made. But I guess a lot of stupid christians listen to this shit and think it's sooo cool cuz they sing about god ur a complete idiot who has no idea wat ur talkin about. relient k is an awesome band and those songs u listed r great. listen to some music b4 u criticize. just b/c its christian music doesnt make it bad right off. get a religion and then well talk
    SL!!!
    Stangblu68 wrote: I can't stand relient K, their shit is soooo cheesy and gay. Like honestly mood rings, college kids, sadie hawkins dance... these are probably some of the worst songs ever made. But I guess a lot of stupid christians listen to this shit and think it's sooo cool cuz they sing about god ur a complete idiot who has no idea wat ur talkin about. relient k is an awesome band and those songs u listed r great. listen to some music b4 u criticize. just b/c its christian music doesnt make it bad right off. get a religion and then well talk
    You both need to go take an English class, and lay off the gay as an insult thing.
    SL!!!
    Ben Folds' cover of Bitches ain't Shit is probably the best thing ever. I just thought of that because he mentions Ben Folds. That is all.
    crwlftofthmrdr
    RachelRC wrote: Thiessen is a really cool guy, this band has worked really hard to get to where they are today. People always critisize them for not being "Christian enough" but they sing about what they want to and they do it well so more power to them
    I wouldn't want Relient K to be overly Christian. I like how them and Switchfoot are kind of moderate about it. Everyone can listen to them. I got to meet Matt last November on their tour with Switchfoot. He's such a neat guy.
    jxmxaxn
    I think they are talented and they are great live, but ive just never been a fan of his lyrics and way of singing.