Genre: Hard Rock
Beanbag Bibliography: (click on each album cover to view tracks and Beanbag lyrics)
The first seconds of Beanbag's debut CD Free Signal sets you up with this bold declaration. Then it knocks you down with an explosive guitar onslaught, propelled by a melding of huge metal riffs and infectious hip-hop grooves.
Since 1996, Beanbag has gigged around the Brisbane, Australia youth scene, building a following on the strength of their intense live performances, and two independently released demo tapes and an EP. Beanbag's first introduction to the United States came in 1998 when a copy of one of their recordings leaked through to Radio U in Columbus, Ohio, where the track "Whiplash" shot to #1 on the request charts and stayed there for a month and a half. Beanbag crossed the big, blue Pacific Ocean to North America in 1999 as the flagship act for inpop, a new record label devoted to cultivating international talent founded by fellow Australian, the Newsboys' Peter Furler, manager Wes Campbell, and Sparrow Label Group. Five new songs were recorded and added to the existing material to complete the band's full-length American debut, Free Signal.
The four young men collectively known as Beanbag are Phil, 28, who plays drums; Hunz, 22, who is the voice of Beanbag; Hirvey, 22, who plays bass; and Michael, 23, who plays guitar. Individually, the band members have very disparate musical tastes. They listen to everything from classical and jazz to punk, shoe-gazer, alternative, female folk artists, funk, disco, new wave, techno and metal. But it's what they all put into the band that comes out in the music. "It's not like we go out to write a heavy rap song, or whatever," Hirvey said. "We all jam together and what we come up with is here. We're more into what suits the music and not about finding something that is considered really cool." That approach to making music made Beanbag unique in the Brisbane scene, who said they were surprised when they got into American music and discovered, "there's a heap of bands like us over here."
Indeed, musicians fusing funk and metal have been popular for a good long while in North America. The Red Hot Chili Peppers' success earlier this decade paved the way for other bands riding the "rap-core" wave today. Bands like Korn, Rage Against the Machine, Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock, POD and Project 86 have proven the genre's success in both the secular and Christian markets.
But, Beanbag doesn't want anyone to think they're just another "flavor-of-the-month" knock off. For one, their sound was well-developed before any of the band members had ever heard Korn or Rage Against the Machine, they claim. And their melodic sensibilities and willingness to take chances also set them apart.
"As a band, we can push the music anywhere and God makes it work for us," said Michael. "What you experience with our music is our individuality and how we express it. I think there will be basics, our music will always have this groove element to it, but we have freedom to move anywhere. That's what excites me the most, we're not trapped in a particular style."
And part of being themselves is finding their proper role as a band, striking the right balance between entertainment and ministry. "We feel called to do what we do," Michael added. "And we have a fairly comfortable melding between being musicians and using that as a tool to reach people. When we go out on stage, we do genuinely believe we are out there in a sense praising God with our talents and gifts, and we hope that He is using us as whatever vessel He wants to reach people in the crowd."
"In terms of what we are, I think one of the best things about this band is that we are very honest with our music and our lyrics and the way we portray ourselves," said Hunz. "And that's something that a lot of teenagers relate to, the honesty they see with what we present. In that sense, it's not a stage show at all. It's about four people being very real about what they do and doing it on stage. Although there are certain theatrics to what we do, there's nothing theatrical about what we're trying to get across."
"I'm a human," Hunz goes on. "I've got to deal with these problems and-with God's help-get over them. Since I write songs, I guess everyone will get to hear about them. But you know what? That is good. There's a lot of people dealing with the same thing. I'm just so fortunate that God has blessed me with this band and that I can have the opportunity to express that."
If initial audience response is any indication, fans are certainly attracted to Beanbag's personal, yet in-your-face approach. Case in point, as an introduction to American audiences, Beanbag played several U.S. festival dates last summer. Quick, sometimes unannounced shows geared to expose the band to audiences that might not otherwise hear them. Michael said in the course of these short sets, you could see the crowds go from a disinterested gathering of people, just waiting for the next band, to an excited mob.
"When we started playing," he said, "a lot of people were moving towards us. All the teenagers got really excited. It got to the point that after got off stage, we went up to get something to eat, and when we got back, there was a line-up for us to sign stuff. I was quite embarrassed because the thought never came to my mind that there would be people wanting do that."
The members of Beanbag treasure the opportunity to play their music for audience on both continents, and are excited and humbled by their audience's enthusiastic response. "We're not overly talented in any way," Michael said. "But we've got a hard-working attitude towards our music and believe it's a blessing from God. We know we're only human, and our gifts are from God. So we ask God to bless those gifts."