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This Beautiful Republic :: The Reality of Perception

29 Sep

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!

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Things That Make Me Go AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!

9 Jun

Growing up without any siblings, sometimes I fail to realize how annoying people you live with try to be…on purpose.  Such was the case with my best friend this evening when she decided to put on a “funny new show” called “Nashville Star“–a generic version of “American Idol” for country stars hosted by….Billy Ray Cyrus (who I used to like, but now I don’t since I decided he’s making a career for himself off of Miley’s fame.)  The “Top 12” singers were some of the worst vocalists in all the world, which is really surprising since it’s Nashville.  I mean, you can’t walk ten feet in that city without running into a singer (or so I’m told).  After a few minutes between the contests singing, my complaining, the bird screeching, and the dogs howling, she turned off the show off.  Then we played “Guitar Hero: Legends of Rock“…again.

(I got this pic off this blog.  Read this funny entry and sad entry about Wal-mart if you get the chance!)

Earlier that evening, we went to Wal-Mart.  We both feel bad for shopping at Wal-Mart after watching the documentary, The High Cost of Low Prices, so we talk about the documentary a lot while we’re walking around the store and how we’re big hypocrites for shopping there.

I always see these two brothers at Wal-Mart when I go.  They must be Wal-Mart groupies or something.  They’re in their late 20’s and both guys are mentally challenged.  They’re a couple of sweethearts.  In fact, my friend used to work with them in an organization called Best Buddies which pairs mentally and/or physically challenged people with a buddy (usually a high school or college student.)  Neat organization.  Anyway, both of these guys wear glasses, and really like people who wear glasses…especially girls who wear glasses.  So the older of the two walks up to me and says, “I like your glasses. I just got new glasses.”

I respond, “Wow, thanks!  Your glasses are really cool.”  Big smile from him.  But then his mother yelled at him for “bothering” me.  I tried to tell her that we were Wal-Mart buddies, but she sort of zoomed by in her electric scooter (she’s disabled).  I suppose they could be bothersome to some, but I think they’re great. Best part of the trip.

We got to the check out, and there were a total of 10 of out 26 check-outs open.  Now I learned on The High Cost of Low Prices, that Wal-Mart keeps the store understaffed so they can do forced overtime, especially with the part-timers as a way of getting around offering employee health insurance.  There were long lines, but I didn’t mind waiting.  I just thought the whole thing was ridiculous

As I’ve mentioned before, we have the world’s rudest neighbors living above us on the third floor (read about how they poured a bleach-like substance on our porch and our shih tzu got some of it in her eyes.)  Tonight they were running a herd of elephants back and forth and back and forth.  So annoying.  We tapped on the ceiling several times.  I thought about going up and politely asking them to keep it down a bit, but I figured I would get cussed out.  Frankly, I’m wasn’t in the mood.  Not that I’m ever in the mood to get cussed out.  It’s hard because I really do try to be kind without being walked all over.

So, those are just a few of the things that make me go AAAHHHHH!  Feel free to blow off some steam and share your own.

Oh, Miley…

28 Apr

…what are you doing? A couple of weeks ago, it was that provocative performance on “Idol Gives Back”, last week it was some leaked photos on the Internet, and now a Vanity Fair photo shoot. You don’t have to get skanky to make the headlines, dear. Your fans love you no matter what…although the parents of your younger fans may ban you from their houses.

Miley, here are some things you must keep in mind since you are a role model for girls and ‘tweens everywhere.

You are 15. You can’t legally drive in most states, drink, or vote. There’s a certain freedom in being 15–giggling about boys, shopping with friends, and learning about life. Don’t miss the beauty of being young by growing up too fast. It’s something not even your millions of dollars can buy back.

Enough with the trashy photos! Don’t allow yourself to be in compromising situations and if you are don’t let your friends take pictures. And photos where it appears like you and your dad are just a little too close (see below) are never a good idea…

Is this an innocent or gross photo? It makes me uncomfortable.  I’m not the only one who thinks it’s creepy either, so do Howard Stern and the ladies of “The View” (article).

Even if it’s supposedly stylish photography, holding a sheet over your cleavage is usually not tasteful art, especially when the subject is 15 (see below).

This just makes me cringe. Both pics are fodder for the minds of child sexual predators.

Now, Miley, really? Weren’t you a little suspicious when you were asked to bear this much skin? Have you ever see a copy of Vanity Fair? I doubt you are as innocent as you say, but I think you are innocent enough. I can understand the naughty photos, but the sexual dancing and the Vanity Fair photos? It seems like everyone is willing to make a buck off of you, yet who is willing to protect you?

Miley Cyrus Rescues Dog & Goes Viral on YouTube

29 Feb


E!Online photo and my dog, Cassie on the right

Billy Ray and Miley Ray Cyrus found a lost dog near their home, and like the good folks they are, they stay with the small canine until help arrived. Isn’t that a precious photo op…I mean, story? The dog resembles my peekapoo, Cassie, who was just groomed, much like the dog in this photo. Remember this, if your dog is going to get lost and found by celebrities, make sure he or she is well-groomed. Otherwise, the photo opportunity would just be ruined.

In other MRC (that is “Miley Ray Cyrus”) news, Miley made her debut on YouTube on Feb. 26 (Read about both stories on E!Online) with “The Miley and Mandy Show”. It’s pretty much a pointless video of teenage life in which Miley and her friend, Mandy, say “Hi” a lot, dance around, read magazines, and record themselves doing it. Unlike most teens, this is Miley Cyrus, so everything she does include saying “Hi” a lot is fascinating to many ‘tweens. It’s certainly not Disney’s “Hannah Montana”, that’s for sure.

In another video, Miley and Mandy lip synch to Aly & AJ’s “Potential Break Up Song”. I personally like the dancing part during the chorus of this video where you can see Miley’s dog–a Yorkshire terrier wearing a t-shirt who isn’t sure what’s going on.

All in all, it’s cute teen fun. You may just be too old to “get it”.

There’s a Teenage Girl in There Somewhere

7 Feb

Tigerbeat Magazine

Due to overwhelming demands from Hannah Montana fans, Hannah Montana and the Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert movie has been extended another week. Now teary-eyed girls who couldn’t get tix have another chance, at least for this week. Columnist Stephen Beck finds the whole thing a bit suspicious writing, “By threatening to only play the movie a week, Disney played on one of the most basic human emotions – a parent’s desire to provide their kids with happiness. How many parents, consciously or not, said to themselves, ‘I already let my child down once by not getting them concert tickets, so I had better get those movie tickets this week before they sell out'” (full column).

Not only is Miley’s real name not Hannah Montana; it’s not even Miley! In fact, Miley’s birth name is “Destiny Hope Cyrus”. According to the Chicago Tribune, her daddy gave her the nickname because she was a rather “smiley” little girl. Now she’s not even Miley Cyrus anymore–Miley has recently changed her name to Miley Ray Cyrus to honor her papa, Billy Ray Cyrus (story). No word yet on whether or not Miley plans to grow a commemorative mullet, too.

Miley’s name change, some believe, is a way for Miley to break away from her role as “Hannah Montana” and forge her own identity as a musician. Not only that, Forbes.com columnist Steve McGookin writes an eerily interesting forecast of what may lie in store for the “Hannah Montana” franchise (read “Miley’s Musical Millions”, thanks to YPulse for the original link to the column).

Only 15, Miley’s life seems as golden as Hannah’s and yet I wonder–when does Destiny Hope AKA Miley AKA Hannah Montana AKA Miley Ray get a chance to settle down and just be a kid? Underneath the big blond wig, under the make-up, and the sparkly clothes, away from the bright lights of a T.V. set or a concert hall, she’s a fifteen year-old girl, who probably stares critically at her face in the mirror (even though thousands of people will say that she is beautiful), wonders if she will ever get married, and hopes to get her driver’s license (even though she has “people” to drive her around). On-screen and off, I’m wondering if Miley Ray Cyrus really has the worst, not the best, of both worlds.

Men Dress in Drag to Win Hannah Montana Tix

25 Jan

Ugliest group of women you’ll ever see. Photo courtesy of The Daily Herald.

If you wanna get Hannah Montana tickets, you gotta do like a lady…or a really ugly woman. In some truly disturbing and bizarre contests around the country, grown men have been dressing up like little girls, more specifically 14 year-old singing sensation, Hannah Montana. They’re dads, uncles, grandpas (and undercover Hannah fans?) doing the truly humiliating to score a couple of tix for that special ‘tween gal in their lives (story here).
In Chicago, 15 men transformed themselves into Hannah Montana, donning her blond wig, sparkly clothes, signing autographs, and even breaking out in (bad renditions) of her hit songs. However, this alarming trend is happening in cities across the United States–150 men in drag raced in high heels for tickets in St. Louis, Grand Rapids’ men in drag did some sort of an egg race, in Milwaukee dads in drag performed Hannah songs on a stage in the mall, while in Florida a man held onto a Hannah Montana statue for six days straight to get a pair of the golden tickets.

According to The Daily Herald article, this is the only way that many girls will ever have a chance to see their favorite pop idol. The article states, “Parents across the country have demonstrated they’ll do almost anything for Hannah Montana tickets, which routinely sell out in minutes and can go for hundreds and even thousands of dollars.”

I wouldn’t pay thousands of dollars for my fave kid to go see Hannah Montana (maybe Miley Cyrus, but definitely not Hannah Montana), but I would make a fool out of myself…for Hannah Montana tickets. I mean, why not? You only live once. Unfortunately, I have a leg up being a blond girl who can carry a tune. But sadly, they seem to only want men in drag (there are so many things wrong with that statement).

Below is a video of one of these cursed events…

If Hannah Montana was in my youth group…

6 Dec

Just think of all the possibilities for your youth group if pop singer Hannah Montana a.k.a. Miley Cyrus was in your youth group…

1. The youth worship band would be rockin’ with Miley and/or Hannah as the lead singer. The drawback: All the ‘tween girls would try to sneak into youth group.

2. You could scalp tickets to Hannah Montana concerts to raise money for your youth budget. The drawback: It’s a bit unethical. (Read blog post here.)

3. That church yard sale could make big bucks when the Cyrus family gets rid of old clothes and autographed CDs. The drawback: You’d make more money selling it on Ebay.

4. Attendance would go up 1000%. The drawback: Everyone’s only there to see Miley.

5. Cheap missions trips to Disney World with Hannah; no waiting in long lines to get into Space Mountain.

6. You’d always have a great father/daughter team to emcee and perform at your church’s annual Father/Daughter dinner. The Drawback: Billy Ray would insist on singing “Achey Breaky Heart” every year and his mullet jokes get old

7. You could give Hannah Montana toys to needy kids for Christmas for a discounted fee. The Drawback: Little boys probably don’t want Hannah Montana toys.

8. Rent-A-Teen youth benefits would sky rocket as church families would seek to “rent” Miley for their kids’ birthday parties.

9. The poor girl would have an identity crisis–is she Hannah or Miley? She would definitely need some individual counseling.

10. Hannah Montana could probably get you into some pretty sweet concerts for free. The Drawback: The concerts are all artists that are played on RadioDisney like those High School Musical kids, the Jonas Brothers, and Bucky Kentucky.

Scalping Hannah Montana

27 Nov

These days it’s tough enough to be a pre-teen girl–now they can’t even afford to go to a Hannah Montana concert.  Why, you ask?  Because unscrupulous ticket scalpers are buying up the tickets to Hannah aka Miley Cyrus‘ concerts in bulk and bilking the tickets for all they’re worth.  And they’re worth a lot–upwards of $2000 per ticket.  What deranged parent would pay that much for a concert ticket?  I’ve no clue.  However, it’s a supply and demand market, and big business is turning concert going into a side investment all its own.

Finally, someone has decided to do something about it.  Florida lawmaker Dan Gelber, the father of two girls, ages 7 and 9 is introducing a bill today that will target ticket scalpers/brokers who use automated software to snatch up hundreds of tickets in minutes (Read full article here).  Gelber was unable to get tickets to tonight’s Hannah Montana concert in Miami Beach,  so maybe he’s a little testy.  Or maybe Gelber’s just trying to even things out so ‘tween girls everywhere can have the best of both worlds–Hannah Montana on the Disney Channel and Hannah Montana live.

Of course, I can’t mention Miley Cyrus without mentioning Mr.  Achey Breaky Heart himself, Billy Ray.  Below is a touching father/daughter moment between the two.

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