|MOURNING INTO DANCING by 4-4-1 (1985)|
Blue Collar Records - BCR00ZA
John & Dino Elefante
File Under: New Wave
Time Capsule-Worthy Track:
Mourning Into Dancing
They were a garage band with an odd name and a unique sound.
I use 'garage band' not as a term of derision, but because, well...they literally were a garage band. In the beginning, at least.
The group was formed in 1983 in Glenn Holland's parents' garage in Arcadia, California. The other group members - John McNamara, and Steve and John Giali - were from Arcadia as well.
|L-R: John Giali, Steve Giali, John McNamara, Glenn Holland|
In a book titled God's Not Dead (And Neither Are We) by Jerry Wilson, 4-4-1's John McNamara revealed that his parents were staunch Catholics. "My mom's maiden name was McNamee and my dad's mom was O'Brien. There was a very strong east coast traditional Irish Catholic commitment in my family. I went through all the steps of Confirmation and the sacraments. Then I met the Giali brothers who lived about three houses away from where I grew up. They had been brought up Catholic, but their dad had become a believer through a charismatic movement in the Catholic Church when they lived in Chicago. Eventually, they moved to southern California, so I had four Giali boys I could play with and I was over at their house every day. Their dad had a Bible study that he actually led through the Catholic catechism. I heard about Christ in Joe Giali's living room when I was about 14 years old. That's when I first truly understood the Gospel message, and I made a commitment to Christ in 1975."
The boys made a demo tape of four songs in Holland's garage and put it in the mail to area youth pastors. It just so happened that Randy Ziegler heard it and liked it. This was a good thing since Ziegler ran a popular concert series at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa at the time. A meeting was set up and 4-4-1 was soon on its way.
|4-4-1 playing at Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa|
The group soon entered into talks with record labels and started opening concerts for the likes of Benny Hester, Undercover and others. "The scene was on fire," Glenn Holland said in God's Not Dead. "Very special, very vibrant. We certainly weren't the first band doing this kind of stuff. Undercover, Altar Boys, Lifesavers...there was a lot of excitement, a lot of big gigs."
Their first recorded project was completed in 1984 at Doug Doyle's 3-D Studios; it was the first album for a label called Royal Commandment (later renamed Blue Collar Records). The band and the album were well-received, especially in Southern California. "The debut made an immediate impact," blogger David Lowman remembers. Lowman lived in Southern California and says he continually pestered the program director of the local Christian radio station to try new bands. He says, "I was often rebuffed because of the rocky and edgy music, but with 4-4-1 there was an instant appreciation." Lowman says 4-4-1's new wave/new romantic sound compared favorably to groups like Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, providing radio programmers with plenty of polished, accessible pop. "As a result, the band's singles charted heavily and their popularity grew," he wrote.
Which brings us to our featured album, 1985's Mourning Into Dancing. Produced by brothers Dino and John Elefante, Mourning Into Dancing received critical acclaim and more airplay exposure when the title track rose to #2 on national Christian rock radio charts. The guys hit the road, playing concerts at churches, schools, music clubs and festivals.
Mourning Into Dancing has been described as a big leap forward for the band - deeper lyrics, better music, stronger production. Lyrical themes tackled heavier issues and struggles that young people typically faced in the mid-80s. David Lowman wrote that dark themes such as doubt, impurity, and poor self-image were wonderfully masked in unforgettable pop music. HM's Doug Van Pelt said that on this album, 4-4-1 "crystalized that dreamy male vocalist new wave sound to perfection, adding heartfelt joy and an innocent worshipfulness that was magic."
I recently had a chance to catch up with three of the members of 4-4-1 to get their thoughts on this now-classic recording, which begins with the title track.
"I have a clear memory during the making of our first album," said lead guitarist John Giali. "We came to the studio with two unfinished songs along with the ones we had been playing for quite a while. Glenn asked me which of those two new ones should we do now? I suggested the one called Fish On The Car simply because it was further along in its arrangement. And so that’s what we did. That other song, temporarily sidelined that day, turned out to be Mourning Into Dancing. In retrospect, we made a wise decision because Glenn, the writer of Mourning Into Dancing, took advantage of the borrowed time to tweak and re-tweak the arrangement to perfection by the beginning of those sessions."
Singer and guitarist John McNamara also gives Holland the lion's share of the credit for the album's opening track. "It is our best and most commercially successful song ever," McNamara said, "and Glenn came up with the chord progression, the melodies, and the verse from Psalm 30 that had the phrase 'mourning into dancing.' I was blessed to be a partner with him as a songwriter for all our albums and especially for the song Mourning Into Dancing. I wrote the words and a guitar part, but it was a small contribution compared to the original idea from Glenn that ended up catapulting us to a national stage for years to come. He deserves to get a spotlight and gratitude from the rest of us in 4-4-1 for the Mourning Into Dancing song and album."
For his part, bassist and keyboardist Glenn Holland was in a charitable mood.
"Well, John's words are very kind," said Glenn, "but he had a lyrical and melodic skill that I didn't have, and I felt that we worked well together on writing and arranging."
|4-4-1 with Darrell Mansfield|
In the Night is a sobering, cautionary tale that gives guest guitarist John Gaudesi a chance to make his presence known with some really nice solo work.
The drum sounds on this record are dated in a wonderful way, and keyboards are fairly prominent throughout the album. "By the end of our debut album, I had delved into synthesizers rather heavily," Glenn Holland told me. "As a band, we bought our first synth just a few months before we started recording our debut album, 441. Being a gadget guy, I really dug the tools that were coming out then. You can hear the influence on songs like Fish On The Car, In His Presence and Show Me on 441. So when we started writing and arranging what would become Mourning Into Dancing, the keyboard had moved into a more prominent position in the sound. You can hear that influence (and of bands like Simple Minds, Depeche Mode and Duran Duran) in the title track, In The Night, Is it Enough, New Land and On The Run. Only the last two songs, Jordan and Say It Right lacked a distinct or thematic keyboard part."
"Imagine my joy," Glenn continued, "as we walked into Pakaderm studios to see John Elefante's keyboard kit. Kid, meet candy store. John Elefante ended up putting together some cool synth parts for the material, including the opening melody lines of In The Night and On The Run, with his talent and array of technical tools."
Glenn said that perhaps his most difficult part of the recording process was the song Is It Enough, a superb ballad written by John McNamara. "It was me, our producers John and Dino, and our engineer, Mike Mierau in the studio to record keyboards one day," Holland remembers. "John and Dino were great producers and musicians and ultimately made the record sound fantastic. Yet, on Is It Enough, we could not agree on how the piano part should be arranged. We came from different musical perspectives and their sensibilities led them to a much more produced and, dare I say flowery rendition. I felt like I had to stand up on behalf of my absent bandmates to stay true to our new wave, punk and progressive rock roots. So my part (which John Elefante played because he's a real piano player) isn't meant to be impressive or stand out. He did a fine job with it in the end, but he certainly wasn't happy with the outcome."
Is It Enough also contained a tasteful sax solo, turned in by Scott Martin.
In His Presence shines a spotlight on bass and percussion (played by Kurt Rasmussen), and wraps up side one of Mourning Into Dancing.
The album was recorded at Pakaderm Studios and mastered at Capitol Records by Wally Trautgott. Backing vocals were provided by Bob Loux, Greg Velasco, John Stothers, Laura Hale, and Sylvia Bronson.
I asked John McNamara about the cover art and found out there's quite a story behind it. "Yeah, that was actually done by a friend we hired who in turn ended up hiring a USC Film School student to do the black and white photos that ended up being the cover," McNamara recalled. "The location for the photo shoot was in downtown Los Angeles because we were there for a concert. We got a gig playing there in the summer of 1985 at a huge event called the 'LA Street Scene' that was an annual event where the city shut down several blocks in the center of LA. We were on an outdoor stage at the corner of Temple and Los Angeles Street. The city booked popular musical acts, including Stevie Wonder who was on a separate stage but playing at the same time as us, so we technically had a gig with him! There were also many punk and heavy metal bands there that ended up causing riots, so the mounted police were out in force. I remember walking through about 50 horse-mounted riot police to get from our stage to our cars after we ended our gig."
|"LA Street Scene" - 1985|
"We drove a few blocks to the album shoot scene area and we were really tired, hungry and a little edgy due to the riot scene," McNamara continued. "The student photographer had set up in a remote area of LA in an alley near a very bad part of the town that was mostly abandoned at that time. Today it's gentrified into apartments for 20-somethings. But back then it was an area where you did not feel safe, so that added to the stress level. Also, he had set up a very loud generator that made it difficult to hear or think. I got a huge headache and I think we looked a bit beleaguered in the photos due to the stress. After the shoot was done we walked back to our cars and one car had the window smashed out and valuables were stolen. Neither the film shoot nor the actual artwork turned out the way we had hoped."
McNamara just shook his head and added, "It was not an award-winning cover, to say the least. It was one of those life lessons that you never forget and I certainly will remember all the details of that day for a long time."
Side two features more of the same -- bright, edgy, energetic new wave with John McNamara's lead vocal, which was right in tune with what was happening in the underground music scene in the mid-80s. Blogger David Lowman said,"McNamara had a cool swing and swagger that worked with the sound."
Mourning Into Dancing ends with a ballad called Say It Right. I asked John McNamara to give me some background on that particular track. "Say It Right is a love song and I wrote it about a girl I was dating at the time," McNamara revealed. "I wanted to put the words 'I Love You' or something like that in the chorus, but hesitated for several reasons. One reason was that the Christian music scene at that time didn’t have any songs with that type of theme, and I, frankly, was afraid to be the first one on a commercially successful Christian album to do it. There were songs about love written for weddings or from a husband to a wife (or vice versa) in the CCM scene, but there were no songs like Say It Right. So I wrote the title as Say It Right which was a wishy-washy approach that, in my opinion, makes the song not as good. I may re-write it and re-release it on Sound Cloud soon in order to make it right."
John Giali remembers pushing Say It Right across the finish line just in time. "Typically we spent a lot of time honing our songs before heading into the studio," Giali said, "so we knew what we wanted to do once the recording process began. But, similar to Fish On The Car being half-ready before starting the first album, the last song on side two of Mourning Into Dancing, Say It Right, a beautiful song of John McNamara’s was written mostly on the spot in the reception office of the studio. I’m still captivated by the background vocal harmonies on that song that came later, and the e-bow parts Dino I worked out during the overdubs. It was a very creative time for us as John and Glenn’s writing was maturing handsomely."
When asked how the guys felt about the finished product, Glenn Holland said, "We were very excited how the album came together. We had really good success locally with our debut, which for all it represented, was still a rookie effort and sometimes sounds that way. But Mourning Into Dancing sounded like we had some very solid songs and the means to make them come alive in the studio. There's always things you'd do differently, but thirty-plus years later it still stands up pretty well."
4-4-1 would get caught up in the second Great Restructuring on the part of Calvary Chapel's involvement with contemporary Christian music. The first one took place in the late Seventies when rock-oriented acts like Sweet Comfort Band and Daniel Amos were cut loose in favor of praise albums and children's records. This time, Calvary Chapel decided to stop promoting the underground/punk/new wave scene. The guys in 4-4-1 say that once Calvary Chapel started pulling back, and their Ministry Resource Center went away, it became very difficult for bands like theirs to be successful. Airplay suffered, tour dates were more difficult to come by, and the guys in 4-4-1 developed a decidedly negative view of the record industry--yes, even the "Christian" record industry.
Especially the "Christian" record industry.
John McNamara has some pretty strong opinions on the topic. "When we started to meet these people and talk to them about what they offered for record deals and that kind of thing, reading the contracts, we realized it's not a very fun industry," McNamara said in the book God's Not Dead. "It is very cut-throat, with a lot of jealousy and not many reassurances for the artists about what they'll be doing and when. On balance, I would say it's messed up. In some cases, extremely messed up with unscrupulous people who were screwing people and who should be put in jail. Whether they were Christian or not, what they did was horrible. They hurt people, but that was an acceptable type of behavior in the industry and more normal than not. How can an industry survive that way? It's unbelievable."
|My Friend Stephanie. |
Drue Bachmann: center, front
Well, some would say that it didn't survive. My brother Drue Bachmann, whose largest contributions to the Christian rock music industry came through his own band My Friend Stephanie and his involvement with other bands such as The Throes and Age of Faith, makes a very good case that the once vibrant Christian rock music scene is no more. "When I was growing up in the 80s, our church youth group would go to great concerts all throughout the year," Bachmann said. "They'd often be in the biggest auditoriums in the towns. Various styles, from R&B to hard rock/alternative and everything in-between. In the 90s, when I was a part of the industry, you had even more choices. Those were the years where every city had a Christian coffee house or club-type venue where you could see all your favorite bands playing live every weekend. All of that is dead and gone now. All kids have these days is 'Winter Jam' once a year, where the bands all have to play in a single evening, festival-type setting. Atlanta alone used to support two great Christian rock music festivals, AtlantaFest and I.S. Fest, and now there's nothing. The size and magnitude of the Dove Awards, that used to be staged on a level close to the Grammys, is nothing like it used to be."
Bachmann continued: "Back in the 80s & 90s, you could get into a Christian music scene. If you were into hip hop/rap, metal, alt/rock, stadium rock, etc., you could subscribe to fanzines, nationally published magazines and newsletters that supported those scenes. CCM, 7Ball, HM Magazine, Notebored, Harvest Rock Syndicate, Visions of Gray, Cornerstone, True Tunes News & others. None of these publications are in print anymore. The industry is dead."
Others point to the growth of commercial worship music (there's an oxymoron for you), and say that the Christian music industry is alive and well.
We report, you decide.
But I digress. Back to 4-4-1...
"Completing the Mourning Into Dancing album was also the start of strains that would ultimately cause us to stop playing," Glenn Holland revealed to me. "I had made the decision prior to the record that I wanted to build a career in music," he said,"but my three bandmates all had other careers they were pursuing and the band was effectively part-time for them. I could sense my direction was not totally shared with the rest. So, when Light/Lexicon failed to pay our label owner, and Blue Collar Records folded, it seemed the signs were there that 4-4-1's days were numbered."
"But those days were an amazing time," added John McNamara. "And I am still great friends with John, Steve and Glenn, who I regard as true brothers in Christ."
Without John and Steve Giali, Holland and McNamara continued on with 4-4-1 just a while longer. By 1988 they had an acoustic sound that reminded some critics of groups like Crowded House and Simple Minds. They teamed up with "Ojo" Taylor and Gene Eugene's Broken Records to release an album called Sacrifice.
|SACRIFICE by 4-4-1 (1988)|
Then life changed for all involved and music took a back seat. "We all started having kids, at which point in time your world shrinks," Glenn Holland said in God's Not Dead. "Careers get more demanding; that sort of thing. It's harder to get together in a band sort of way. But we kept in touch." John McNamara added, "When Glenn comes out (Holland now lives in Texas) and we can play together, it's fun. It's like what we did when were in junior high or high school. We like to get in the garage, turn the amps on, and play."
4-4-1 played together again in 2005 at the Broken Records Reunion Concert in Southern California with Undercover, The Choir, The Altar Boys and Crumbächer (pictured above and below).
"4-4-1 was a band for their time," wrote blogger David Lowman. "Caught squarely in the 1980’s new wave sound, they were authentic for the time. They were not behind or ahead of the times, they were squarely rooted in the day. And within that framework, they created some wonderful music and one very fine record."
"We had an uncommon experience," Glenn Holland said. "And Mourning Into Dancing allowed us to play in front of a lot of people and go to some new places. I look back upon those times with great fondness for the gift we were given and the camaraderie of my brothers."