By Amy Sondova If it wasn’t for their audience, This Beautiful Republic would cease to exist. Of course, that could be said of all bands since it is the listeners who purchase the albums, attend concerts, and load up on fan gear. However, connecting with their audience isn’t just business for the guys in This Beautiful Republic; it is necessary, especially for the band’s gregarious lead singer, Ben Olin.
Instead of spending his days sipping wheat grass juice or perfecting his hair style, Ben catches up with This Beautiful Republic’s fans through social networking: “I take the time to get to know people and actually care what they write on my MySpace or Facebook. It’s part of what God has called us to do as a band. People deserve it. They support our music and support us and come to shows and tell others about us. They keep us alive. They deserve a comment back or a response to a message.” So when This Beautiful Republic hit the studio to record their sophomore album, Perceptions (Forefront), encouraging their audience was a priority.
The band started recording just after completing a tour promoting Heart Support, an online community for young people wrestling with a variety of mental health and life issues. Consumed by the stories students shared with them on the road, Ben says, “Being exposed to these kids struggling with self-worth, cutting, depression, and horrible situations was just overwhelming to me. I was so fired up about Heart Support, and realized that there are all these kids that needed some sort of encouragement, so we wrote four or five songs just about that.”
One of the songs born out of this experience was “Surrender Saved My Life” a song that raises the white flag to God in the midst of troubling circumstances. “We wrote the song about giving up, but giving up in a good way—ceasing to try to find your own solutions to the problem and just letting God come in and cleanse all that stuff out of you to make you the person He wants you to be,” explains Ben. The song contains a particularly poignant line that says, “I’ve had enough buying ashes with my love,” which speaks to investing in things that don’t matter or satisfy the human heart.
Yet Perceptions is a definite departure from the band’s first album, Even Heroes Need a Parachute, though the songs are still built on melody and driven with tight lyrics. “I think the songs are bigger, badder, and prettier all at the same time,” laughs Ben, who then adds, “Perceptions pushes the envelope more than Heroes.”
Because Ben first joined TBR while they had already started working on Heroes, he only had a chance to write on a couple songs, including the fan favorite “Going Under.” Perceptions included a noted change in Ben’s vocals which vary from melodic to gruff to sometimes wailing. “All five of us wrote the entire record, so it’s much more representative of us as a band,” shares Ben. “I feel much more attached to the songs. I know what they’re about. I know what they’re supposed to communicate. I know the goals of the songs. When we got into the studio, I just wanted to make my part communicate what the songs communicate.”
Using “No Turning Back” as an example, Ben explains the bridge of the song is about frustration so naturally he screamed in frustration. “The second verse in ‘No Turning Back’ is work that I’m really proud of,” says Ben. “I wrote it at a time when I was just frustrated with society in general.” The song also contains American Revolutionist Patrick Henry’s famous line, “Give me liberty or give me death!” “I’ve been trying to put that line into a song for a long time; it’s the perfect quote for the Christian community and being freed from sin and things that hold us down,” shares Ben.
Generally, Ben, who is the band’s chief lyricist crafts lyrics about his observations about others and avoids getting personal. However, when writing “Say Goodnight,” he couldn’t help but think of the deaths of his grandparents and “Learning to Fall” was written at a time when everyone in the band was in “some sort of active rebellion with God.” Ben further elaborates, “We just end up stumbling and our relationship with God suffers. We get so far away from what we know to be true, we get shocked when we realize where we are. This song reminds us that no matter where we are or how far we’ve gone, God is always willing to take us back.”
He pauses for a moment and thoughtfully adds, “I’m learning to fall, but I’m learning to fall in a way that lets my world crumble, that everything I’ve built would become nothing and God would become everything.”
Then there’s “A Point Between Extremes,” which dramatically addresses that slippery slope of the faith community. Growing up in church, Ben acknowledges that he learned to become very legalistic: “I went to church and said and did the right things because they said that’s what you were supposed to do, but I didn’t fully understand why you were supposed to do them. In college, I learned about the role of the Holy Spirit and why we study the Bible. I learned a lot of why’s from the folks I was hanging out with. During those years, I also learned that grace, love, and forgiveness are cornerstones of our faith.”
However, Ben warns that some go too far in the opposite direction. “There aren’t many black and white issues, and it really comes down to the heart of the individual and how God is working in his or her life,” says Ben. “There are certain biblical truths that are absolutely true and that’s beautiful. We know that Jesus has come and died and risen again and we can be forgiven and saved. But in the practice and exercise and working out of our faith, there are things that aren’t black and white, but people want them to be black and white.”
Discovering the true meaning of grace was freeing for Ben, who shares, “My mentality was that I if I didn’t do or say the right things then God wasn’t going to love me or forgive me. If I wasn’t making the effort, then I wasn’t worthy. Really, we’re not worthy of it period. We can’t get to the point where we deserve it or earn it. Grace truly is just grace and God just offers it.”
It’s this message of God’s grace that Ben and the rest of This Beautiful Republic strive to communicate through Perceptions. Still, it’s only when talking about issues close to his heart that Ben is this serious. In addition to being a savvy social networker, Ben is also admired for his wit. Exchanging banter at the close of the interview, Ben jokes about the the band’s next album, “I was thinking there should be more classical scores and things like that, where there’s really no vocals at all.” Laughing about guest vocalist, he asks, “How funny would it be if we wrote a super hardcore record and had Billy Ray Cyrus sing on one song?” Let’s leave that one for the fans to decide.
For more information on This Beautiful Republic, visit them online at www.thisbeautifulrepublic.com. Be sure to befriend them on MySpace (myspace.com/thisbeautifulrepublic) and Facebook while you’re at it!