38th Parallel Bibliography: (click on each album cover to view tracks and 38th Parallel lyrics)
38th Parallel Biography
Relaxing over a quiet breakfast, the members of Ames, Iowa-based 38th Parallel pause to consider the question, "what is the most exciting thing about being signed to a major label recording contract?" After a thoughtful consideration, drummer Aaron Nordyke says, "Well, we get to wear somewhat cooler clothes than when we worked at Dairy Queen." Peels of laughter threaten to disrupt diners at the small sandwich shop, as bassist Jeff Barton (also a DQ veteran) adds, "Don't get us wrongthose were great uniforms. And they were cleaned and pressed for us every day!"
"Small town boys make good" might well be the best way to sum up the breakout career of 38th Parallel. Turn the Tides, its Squint Entertainment debut produced by Tony McAnany (P.O.D., Madonna, Missy Elliot) is equal parts wistfulness and angst; melodic, riff-based rock and urban rhythms; gorgeous harmonies and gruff hip-hop rhymesas Barton describes it, "huge, 'rock star' choruses, with rhymes and lyrics that really make you stop and think." Gripping, thought-provoking lyrics are delivered by co-lead vocalists Mark Jennings and Nathan Rippke; the groove-oriented low end is supplied by Barton and Nordyke, while guitarist Shane Moe rips through the mix with slashing lead and rhythm guitar runs. "We've put our own twist on hard music," asserts Shane. "Yeah, we've got guitar, bass and drums; we've got some hip-hop rhyming and some singing. But I think we've got a fairly individual lyrical perspective."
The song "Horizon," a unanimous favorite of the band, might best sum up the unique sound on Turn the Tides. "It's got everything," explains Nathan. "A soft verse, then it busts it hard. Pretty singing, heavy singing, driving rap, clean guitars, dirty guitars, funky drums. I'm a big vibe person and that song has a tremendous vibe. It's very warm, very pleasant. It sounds like hope, if that makes any sense at all." "The goal of the CD," adds Aaron, "is to impact people, to challenge them to think about a new way of life with Christ's love at the center."
This thinking man's hard music, born on the windswept Midwestern prairie, is the product not of market calculations or music industry formulas, but of the friendships of five young men, many of whom have known each other since elementary school. "And we're all graduates of Gilbert High School, four miles north of Ames," explains Mark. So I guess that makes us uniquely qualified to form a rock and roll band." That and a hidden desire to sing show tunes ' yes, the secret is out! Each member of 38th Parallel did time in high school chorus, with Aaron, Jeff and Mark displaying a particular talent for participating in musicals. "I was the Mayor of the Munchkin City in 'The Wizard of Oz,'" admits Aaron, "so that probably explains a lot about me." "I loved show tunes." Mark confesses. "I was a big fan of 'Jesus Christ Superstar,' 'Phantom of the Opera' and those kinds of musicals. But I was also a big fan of the Deftones, Korn and heavy music. It was a strange transition to go from 'Phantom' to Korn. But essentially, it's just getting inside the song, feeling it, and communicating the emotion of it. Just a different technique."
Diversity is a large part of what makes 38th Parallel such a compelling band; not only in musical influences ' from hard music to Broadway to traditional jazz ' but the fact that the members all spring from different religious backgrounds and came together at different points in their individual relationships with the Lord. "We were a band before any of us buckled down, as far as our faith goes," explains Mark. "In my case, I really wasn't interested in living for God. Then I met these guys who were ballistic Jesus freaks, who wanted to go sit in the middle of Iowa State University and sing praise and worship songs. They had so much genuine love for God and desire to spread that love that without telling me I needed to sell out for God, it caused me to look at myself and know that's what I needed to do. God challenged me to use the best I had to serve Him and that's writing lyrics and making music."
While participating in a local inter-denominational bible study, the members of 38th Parallel soon found their friendships blossoming into something much more spiritually rooted. And as 38th Parallel honed its chops, it was embraced by the patrons of a Des Moines club called "Frank's House of Rock." The reception the band's live show received prompted it to make a serious demo recording. "We had become the house band at this venue, but we had only made a bunch of cheap, lo-fi demos," says Mark. "So we figured we had to step up and make something good enough to sell and that would interest record companies. We were starting to feel confident that God was preparing us for something and we hoped we could find a label that would catch that vision." "Having Frank's House of Rock as a home venue for us was another great stepping stone," adds Jeff. "A lot of nationally known Christian bands passed through there and we were able to open for many of them, including Five Iron Frenzy, Bleach, Relient K, Earthsuit and Stavesacre."
38th Parallel quickly became a favorite at local radio as well, landing its songs alongside artists such as P.O.D. and Lifehouse on several 'most requested' lists. Unbeknownst to the group, radio station personnel contacted Word Entertainment in the spring of 2001, during the label's nationwide search for new talent. "The label was flooded with demos from radio stations, managers, booking agents and just bands like us, trying to break in," explains Jeff. "The A&R department got two responses from radio stations in Des Moines and Seattle about us, so a representative emailed us and asked us for a demo. We were like 'Word Records ' Point of Grace, Sandi Patty ' okay, they're interested, send them a demo (laughs).' So we did and kind of forgot about it. One of the executives later told us that they had sifted through hundreds of demos and were down to the last couple and weren't even going to listen to them, because they had been so discouraged that they hadn't heard anything close to the quality they were looking for. But after reluctantly putting on our demo, they were excited enough that they asked to meet with us."
Even though the band was thrilled at the interest, Shane says that was tempered by the question of where they fit in the music industry. "At first we thought, 'no, we want our music to impact kids who don't already agree with our message and we want to draw them to God through what we do.' That was really the way we had been approaching our live shows ' we would open for any band, anywhere and after shows, we had kids who were avowed atheists and homosexuals talking to us about our music. We thought if we wound up in the Christian industry, we might lose touch with those kids. But then we thought, 'that's really boxing God in and determining the way He can he work. Then we learned that they were interested in us for their more mainstream-minded label Squint Entertainment. We were so impressed with the quality of artists on Squint and the label's vision for reaching listeners in the general market that we knew it was a true move of God bringing us to this company."
Jeff explains how that determination to be a culturally relevant voice extends to the band's name. We've had the name since learning about the 38th parallel ' the border between North and South Korea ' in a history class. But Shane really crystallized the meaning for what we now do. Just as those countries were at war, we're in the middle of conflicting beliefs and ideologies every day; over what's real, what's meaningful, what's true. As Christians living in the world, we're literally caught in the middle. We want to demonstrate what the Truth is and how it's relevant to our lives today."
For the past several years, 38th Parallel has gone about fulfilling the Great Commission in its uniquely rock and roll fashion, splitting dates opening for Christian artists with shows where it was quite obvious that the bulk of the audience had little interest in hearing anything about God. "Sometimes when you're onstage, you wonder if anything you say is really having any effect," Mark admits. "So talking to people before and after shows really is the payoff. Everything you say you're out there to do, you're doing. You can talk theoretically about wanting to have a spiritual impact on kids, but that's when it really happens. It's been said many times, but it's so true ' music is the universal language. It may be the only language that some kids can relate to or understand, and it can often reach them in a way that preaching never will. It's just such a privilege to have kids coming up to us after to shows wanting to talk to us and hang out with us when you can tell that they've never been exposed to anything having to do with Christianity."
"We've said a lot about the outreach vision of the band," Shane adds, "but we want to have in reach as well, to those who are already believers. We realize that being a band signed to a Christian label, we're going to be reaching primarily those kids. We want them to do what we're trying to do, which is impact the culture and bring truth in a powerful and loving way into the world."
Although the music on Turn The Tides is often stylistically diverse and disparate, Mark emphasizes that there is a common thread to what 38th Parallel is trying to say. "The songs are very different and they all sound very different. In some cases they are abstract, but I don't think we've made them "artistic" to the point that you don't know what I'm talking about. Words are awesome ' they have textures, tones, colors ' sometimes I'd swear they have smells and tastes. If you get the right combination, you can tell a story of reality that's awesome. It's difficult, but we're very excited about the results we achieved. The glory and honor to God for this album; it's for His kingdom. I think there's some serious lyrical power in what we have to say. With anything we write it's really just a matter of trying to express what we feel God is trying to say to us or through us. It's our world view as Christians, with an attempt to be tactful and artful and intriguing."