By Amy Sondova Imagine five guys in their 20’s, a bit punchy from being in a van too long, standing at a scenic overlook at the Grand Canyon. In the past few days, they’ve traveled from Ohio to Arizona and now were headed back east again. A fledging rock band, This Beautiful Republic’s lead singer Ben Olin, guitarist Adam Smith and his brother, drummer Andrew, bassist Brandon Paxton, and guitarist Jeremy Kunkle did what any of us would do. They began lobbing big rocks over the side of the overlook and timing to see how long it would for the rocks to hit the bottom of the canyon. About 15-22 seconds according to Olin.
Then Olin says things took a very silly turn, “We got a Dr. Pepper bottle and shook it up real good so it would explode when it hit the bottom. Andy takes it and tries to throw it. He throws it directly up in the air. It comes down three or four feet away from me and explodes all over everybody.” Olin erupts into laughter when he adds, “The scary thing is that I’m holding the video camera and taping the whole thing only three feet away from the edge of the Grand Canyon. So when that thing exploded, I jumped back and Andy thought, ‘Omigosh, he’s going to fall into the Grand Canyon and we’re going to be minus a lead singer for the rest of our lives.’” Fortunately, Olin did not fall into the Grand Canyon and his life remains intact, at least until the band’s next trip westward.
Hitting the music scene with notable impact, This Beautiful Republic (TBR) released their debut album, Even Heroes Need A Parachute in April 2007. Being compared to a plethora of industry heavy-hitters such as Switchfoot, Foo Fighters, and Taking Back Sunday, Olin explains the band’s sound like this, “Take Silverchair and put in some Jimmy Eat World and you get sweaty, honest rock that has great melody, driving guitars, and other cool guitar stuff.” But the band’s technical proficiency, clear vocals, and cut-to-heart lyrics make TBR stand out amongst the Christian music crowd.
“I think the best thing about us, the thing that really makes us stand out, is that our music is creative and original. It’s fresh. People who appreciate music or play music can respect what we do, but it’s catchy enough for the 13 or 14 year-old kids to bounce their heads to and jump around,” explains Olin. And it’s the youth group kids that TBR is targeting. Growing up in youth group, the guys in TBR know the unique struggles Christian teens face and want to encourage them in their faith. The fact the teenagers are the biggest demographic purchasing and listening to music doesn’t impress Olin who says, “From a business aspect, that fact helps but our genuine goal is to reach teens, not get them to buy the CD.”
The business aspect of TBR is not lost on 28 year-old Olin, who after graduating from the University of Toledo with a B.A. in business supervised a Hummer sales team. Olin gave up a steady job and a six figure salary to pursue the rock star life. However, the rock star life can be anything but stellar. “One of the biggest things I wanted to do when I started in this band was to keep the perception real. Performing on the stage, the merch table, the autographs—people get this perception that we’re the Rolling Stones. But when we go home we’ve got to work jobs to put food on the table,” says Olin, and with characteristic wit quickly adds, “So don’t steal music.”
TBR is serious about their song-writing process seeking to craft songs that evoke deep emotion through a purification process that involves ripping apart a song and reworking it over and over again. Unlike many bands, TBR writes their songs as a group in which every member has equal say over the song’s musical and lyrical content. “There’s not one main songwriter in which one person comes in with the melody, the chord progression, and the basic structure of the song already done. Someone brings in a singular idea and bounces it off four other guys. The four other guys give input on what they want the song to do or what would be cool. We go with the very best idea for the song,” shares Olin, who then takes the music home and writes up basic lyrics. The process goes on an on until a song worthy of TBR’s high standards is completed.
“Black Box” is an intriguing song about death and making life count. “Everybody’s going to have a black box,” says Olin. “Will the black box say you lived your life to the fullest for God or that you went to the bar after work, spent 50 bucks, and went to bed? The song’s encouraging people to realize their lives are going to end at some point.” Then Olin shares about his 22 year-old friend who recently had brain surgery to remove a malignant brain tumor, “He was talking about how he needed to be reminded that life is a fragile thing and it can be taken in an instant. He’s treating every day as if it’s the last day and planning for tomorrow.” Only three weeks after the successful operation, Olin’s friend, who is a phenomenal drummer in another band, was back onstage performing.
The reality of life here on planet earth can be far removed from the kingdom of faith and love that the band’s name signifies. It’s this reality—the beauty and the brokenness—that TBR deals with on their album. In the song “Going Under”, Olin the chief lyricist for the band, writes about how God delivered him from a bad situation that restored his belief in God. “I struggle a lot with just being stubborn. God tells me what I need to do with my life, and it’s hard to take that first step. I come to the full realization that God is in control and completely understands what’s going on. He has a plan and just needs me to go along with His plan and forget my own. That’s hard for me,” Olin reveals.
Olin’s ability to share his life, his faith, and his convictions make him an asset to the world of Christian music and to the world of youth ministry. Showing a deep understanding of teens, Olin offers advice and encouragement to youth workers, “Most kids want the ability to speak and be heard. They want a voice. It’s when they get stifled that they get into trouble. My biggest observation through talking to teens is that they love to take and know that you’re listening. Youth workers are huge—these are people who are completely shaping the rest of their lives. They don’t go without recognition and their work is worth it.”
Then again, Olin’s a youth worker at heart with a youth group in the thousands. Think of it as youth ministry in a different venue. Because this band puts a ton of creative and physical energy into their live show, going to a TBR concert could make for a popular youth group outing, one enjoyed by both teens and youth workers. “We’re very high energy. We’ll get in people’s faces, give them high fives, and interact with them. We do thrashing and guitar throw. Our other goal is to play the songs correctly, so that what you hear on the CD is what you hear live, but the way you see these songs is like nothing else.” Olin and the rest of the band love spending time with fans at concerts at their concerts, especially teenagers. “We want teens to be able to hang out with us afterward, get pictures, and get stuff autographed,” Olin says.
Like any good band that panders to youth, TBR is also full of antics. According to Olin, there’s also an unplanned pre-show “show”. “If you just pay attention while you’re waiting for the show to start, you’re bound to see us doing something stupid. We always end up getting in trouble,” laughs Olin. Whether at the Grand Canyon or on a stage, This Beautiful Republic, is endearing, humorous, and yet serious about their faith and their music. Just make sure you step back if you see any of the guys shaking a bottle of Dr. Pepper.