Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Squad Five-O

  • 2000 1 Jan
Squad Five-O
Courtesy of %%HM Magazine%%

Remember the Credence Clearwater Revival hit song, "Travelin' Band?" Given their constant touring, twin brothers Jeff and John Fortson, along with drummer Jason Anderson and road manager Jimi Story seem to embody the essence of the tune. Sometime during the course of this year, when you're stuck in traffic, trying to get to school or work, remember that {{Squad Five-O}} is most likely in a motel or at someone's house, trying to get a little rest before playing a show and driving again.

But the band was afforded a short break from touring in May 1998, and Jeff took the opportunity to say, "I do" to Kelly, his long-time significant other. It's on a frozen Michigan day that we catch up with a road-weary Jeff, less than a week after he & the band were briefly detained in Canada... a towed car and some, shall we say, hesitant border patrol officers holding them up. He answers all questions despite a persistent cough, made worse by the region's icy climate.


So, what's the latest on this ska-influenced punk band...? ...or is that punk-influenced ska? ...or is it glam metal-influenced punk and ska? The answer? All of the above. And by the way, you read that last sentence correctly. There is a bit of glam metal showing its face, not only in the band's logos and merchandising, but also in a few songs on ==Fight The System==, the band's latest record, which was produced by {{Aaron Sprinkle}} ({{Poor Old Lu}}, {{Roseblossom Punch}}). Sprinkle lent his able fingers to songs like "The Anthem Of Jimmy Rocketship" as well as the album's hidden track, in which he played some killer metal guitar leads. "I know a lot of people are gonna be laughing," says Jeff, "but the new album, I think, is more mature, and has a lot better production. I think the drums on it are amazing. We're really stoked on it, because it's a lot closer to what we wanted the first time around. I think the songs, both lyrically and musically, are just more mature. Aaron did a great job and he was so much fun to work with."

Lest you assume {{Squad Five-O}} have gone completely glam, forsaking their ska and punk sound, never fear... The album is all that and more. Despite a metal song or two (complete with Sprinkle's authentic solos), a heavily glam-influenced live show, and the band's genuine love for such music, still, {{Squad Five-O}} should not be considered a glam metal band. "As far as the music, I don't think we'd ever go and be some metal band," affirms Jeff, "but I definitely think it comes through. If a lot of metal guys like it, then great, but if they don't, then great too. We write music that we like to hear, and we write music that we like to play. I don't think we'll ever be a real metal band, but we like to pretend we will...! When the whole scene changes, and arena rock is back, maybe we'll be on that train too, but I don't know."


The road to making ==Fight The System== was a tough one. The band had planned on recording in Seattle in February, after touring their way up to the area from California during the month of January. But the boys arrived in California only to find that most, if not all, shows they were to play were canceled, or never even finalized in the first place. As one might expect, the band wasn't thrilled. "By the end of January, we had very little money," says Jeff. "We were stuck out there throwing together weekend shows, living off merchandise money. At times, we were living off, like, five dollars for three or four days at a time. Our van was acting up and we couldn't get it worked on, so there was no way it was gonna make it to Seattle. Luckily, we had good people putting us up in their houses, feeding us when they could. But we just felt really abandoned, and we felt like we were gonna break up. We called the label and told 'em we wanted off. We got a little upset and told 'em that we were either going to break up or walk. And the label made up for everything. They paid us for all the shows we should've had, they flew us up to Seattle, and they gave us the amount of time that we wanted in the studio. So they made up for all that, and it worked out."


It was during this time that the band began to lose its focus. "We started getting greedy," admits Jeff. "We started thinking, 'We deserve this,' and 'We deserve that.' And we really lost focus of why we were doing what we were doing in the first place. Through all that, I think we just learned to come back to our first love, which is God. I don't love music, and I don't love touring. I could probably be doing a lot of things that are far more lucrative. But I love God, and this is what He's called me to. We don't need music videos, and we don't need billion dollar budgets to do albums. We just need to follow God like we did in the beginning. I think that's what we learned, to keep our priorities set, and our goals set on Christ. We may not be the most successful band in the world, but God's taken care of us, and this past year has been one of the greatest years of my life."

On the new record is a song called "A Star Is Born," which is one of two songs on the record that discuss the band's experience in California. "It's basically about losing sight of why you started something," reflects Jeff, "taking your eyes off God, and focusing on yourself, on the scene, on the music, and then regaining that focus on God. It's just kind of an autobiography of what happened to us in California." There are other songs that have significant meaning to Jeff. "Kids of the World Unite" is one that reminds us of the last album's major theme. "Unity is something that we as a band have always talked about," Jeff agrees. "But this song just talks about how people have to realize that, you know, they want all this unity, and all this peace, but there's never going to be true unity and peace without God, because every person is, by nature, selfish, and everyone tends to just lookout for themselves. Unless you're looking to God for direction and guidance, you're not going to overcome that selfishness.

"All great civilizations fall, and if you look at it, someone got greedy and lazy. Sooner or later, someone's gonna be self-seeking. If you want something to really stand for, and something to stand together on, it's got to be the love of God through Jesus Christ, because everything else will just fade away. I like that song a lot, because it put a whole different stance on unity - not just to stand together, but to think about why you're standing together, and how you're gonna stand together.


"And then I wrote a song for my mom and dad," he continues, "called 'Parental Guidance,' and that song is very special to me. They're just so supportive, and they're not the wealthiest people in the world, and sometimes it's hard for them to make it month to month, but they've always been supportive in all we do. When we needed a drum kit to start this band, my dad bought it for us, and he didn't necessarily have the means to provide it for us, but he scraped it up and bought it for us. We're still using that drum kit today. They've always been giving and giving, even when there's nothing left to give. And my mom, even though she's a nervous wreck with us driving on the road in the snow and stuff, you know, but she's always been behind what we do. At first, they both really wanted us to stay in school, but when they saw that God was blessing what we were doing, and that we were really sincere about it, they just really got behind us, so I wrote a song for them."


He also tells of "You're The One," which he wrote for his new wife. "It just basically talks about the past five years that we've been together, and how the time has come for the three cords to be woven together, and how it's time for us to take on the world together."


Jeff had been reading a lot about spiritual warfare right before {{Squad Five-O}} went into the studio, and that seems to have influenced several songs. For instance, the title track, "Fight The System," is all about the subject. In fact, the album's intro track, "A Call To Arms" - which, Jeff reveals, has some dark keyboard sounds that are ripped off from an old metal album - includes an eerie spoken word portion from Ephesians 6:12. "I think that's one of those things that made me take my walk day by day," he reflects. "Each day, I've got to get up and realize that this is a battle, that this is a war against Satan and his dominion. And as Christians, we're walking on a physical level every day, but we're also walking on a spiritual level, just as Jesus did. He met people on the physical level, but He also met them on a spiritual level. We need to realize that we're spiritual beings, and we're in a battle every day against the evil in this world."

This realization even translates into the black marks Jeff wears under his eyes when on stage. While the dark smudges are also worn for other reasons, he laughs, "We just wear it, because more than anything, we find it funny, and we also call it our war paint, because we feel that when we go on stage, we're going into battle.

"We also wear it as kind of a tribute musically," he continues. "Like I said, we've always been big metal fans growing up, back from, like, the Theater of Pain days of Motley Crue. Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee used to do that, but also, Kevin Seconds, the lead singer of one of my favorite punk bands, 7 Seconds, used to put the black marks under his eyes. And they had a song called 'Clenched Fists and Black Eyes,' which was about their crew running the streets and stuff, and how they all stuck together no matter what. And so we kind of stole it from them and from Motley Crue too, because we thought it looked cool, and also as kind of a joke."


The 23-year-old newlywed fills us in on the spiritual challenges that come with being in a band that's constantly traveling. "Spiritually, it's a struggle on the road," he explains, "because even though sometimes you have days off, and you're in one place for a while, it always seems like you're moving, and your days fly by. And it's hard to take time out during the day to really spend that time with God that you need to. I guess physically and spiritually right now I'm a little worn out. We've pretty much been on the go since last Spring, and I feel real worn out right now on both ends of that spectrum. But God picks me up every day.

"I've found that it's got to be a day to day thing," he reiterates. "Each day I have to turn to God and say, 'I'm gonna live for You today,' because if I try to take it on a week at a time, or even a couple days at a time, it's too much because each day is different. We're usually in a different place and on a different time schedule. Some days you get to sleep till twelve, and some days you have to be up by eight, seven, or six in the morning. Some days you drive over night to the next show. So it's not like I'm on a set schedule, but I do have to find a schedule where I make time for God at not necessarily the same time every day."


Jeff's twin brother, John, provides quality bass playing for the band, but also, as Jeff puts it, "He's kind of the energy guy, the charismatic leader on stage. And spiritually, he has a lot of vigor, I think, for his walk with God. He has a lot of desire to follow Christ each day. And sometimes we'll pull into a motel at, like, four or five in the morning after an overnight drive, and he'll break out the Bible and read - where I'll be wanting to pass out! He'll make that time, even after he's been driving eight hours. He's quick to love, but he's also pretty hot tempered. He can also be the most caring guy and I love him. I've known him for 23 years, and he's one of my best friends."

Drummer Jason Anderson joined the band when the old drummer, Justin, joined the Navy. "We gave a couple of people a call," remembers Jeff, "and actually, Jason was third on the list, because we'd met him last. And all the other guys fell through, so we called up Jason and asked him. He sent us a tape, and it was just amazing. So we invited him down, and he came down a week before we left for the tour. He learned our songs in, like, 15 minutes, and then we practiced for four days. Then we left for the Summer tour, and he's been with us ever since. He walks with God daily, and he takes his faith very seriously, so he's been an encouragement in that. We're glad to have him on board."

Jason, 19, also has an indie record label, called Bloodshed Records, which will soon release a compilation with various punk, ska, and emo bands, which includes a {{Squad Five-O}} track (recorded live at last year's Cornerstone), as well as a song by Jason's other band, Muchacho Vivo. "And he's way more business-minded than we are," states Jeff. "Where we might tend to overlook the business aspects of things, he'll pick up on it, and if he thinks we're getting the wool pulled over our eyes in a certain area, or that we're getting taken advantage of, he'll let us know. And it's really good that he's like that, because it keeps us on alert. Above all, this is a ministry, but you've got to be careful, because it's a business too. And unfortunately, even in the Christian industry, there are people out there who would like to take advantage of you, and lie to you - and we went in kind of naive to that."

It's not often that a road manager is considered a band member, but Jimi Story has been welcomed as such. Jimi was actually one of the drummers to try out for the position when Justin left, but as it turned out, "Jason had a little better grip on our stuff," says Jeff. And it just so happened that the band was in need of a road manager, so 21-year-old Jimi stepped in. "He handles all the stuff that we don't deal with," Jeff continues. "He settles up with promoters, he makes sure that we get our guarantees, he makes sure that we all eat every day, he makes sure that we have enough money for gas for the van, and he makes sure that we pay our bills and stuff."

One would think that perhaps a musician that tried out for a band and didn't make the cut would be bitter, but, Jeff explains, it's just the opposite with Jimi. "The whole time, he was totally seeking for what God would have him do. So I guess God put that on his heart, and He opened the door for us too, because we needed someone. We'd never really thought about it before, but we realized we needed a road manager. And he'd never even been a road manager before, but he came in last June, and he's just done an amazing job. We really just consider him the fourth member, because we're so close to him. He does his job well, and he takes it seriously, and spiritually, I sometimes consider him to be the spiritual leader of all four of us. He holds us accountable to how we're doing in our walks, and in our quiet times, and in our personal lives... and we do the same for him. He's an awesome guy, and God's really blessed us with him."


Above all, Jeff wants fans and readers to know that {{Squad Five-O}} does what they do because they feel called of God to do it. "It's not because we make money, or because we know everything there is to know about the Gospel," assures Jeff. "It's just because we're four kids who have the desire to make known the truth of Christ, and how He set our lives free. We know that there are lots of kids in our generation that are looking for meaning and identity. A lot of kids find it in the punk scene, and a lot of kids find it in the ska scene. Some kids find it in their boyfriends and girlfriends, and in drugs and alcohol. And I want to go into this generation that we were born into, and offer them real hope, and offer them meaning more real than anything they've tried to find it in right now. The punk and ska scenes will come and go, their boyfriends and girlfriends, you know, they come and go. Drugs and alcohol eventually lead to the grave. So we're trying to offer them something that will lead them out of the grave - something that's real, that they can hold onto."

Jeff feels the need to issue a clarification for any misunderstandings that may have come about. "We really try to show the love of Christ to anybody and everybody that we come in contact with," he reaffirms, "but sometimes we might come off a little, you know, maybe a little rude, or a little stuck up or something... And I just want people to know that if we've ever come off that way, that we're sorry. We never mean to come off that way. We always try to reflect the love of Christ. But I just want people to understand that when you're on the road - especially for as long as we are - you know, you get sick and you get tired, and you don't always reflect Christ as clearly as you'd like to. Sometimes, one of us will be sick or tired, or maybe both, and you don't necessarily feel like talking to kids, and it's easy to come off as, maybe a little rude or something. We want to reflect Christ in all things, so if anybody out there has felt like we've done that at some point in time, we just want to apologize.

"And I guess the other thing would be that we're not trying to be some controversial band. We're not trying to be a band that pushes the envelope, or a band that lyrically challenges the status quo of fundamental Christianity. A lot of times, we get flack for some of the words we use to convey a point. And I just want to say that we're not trying to push envelopes, and we're not trying to offend people, or anything like that. But chances are, you're gonna offend someone somewhere, and I guess some people have been offended by songs like the one about our state flag on our last album. We want to say that we're sorry if we offended you in any way. We've never tried to do that. We're not trying to be some controversial band, and have controversial lyrics. We're just writing about things that are real to us, things that we won't stand for, and things that we will stand for. And above all and foremost, the one thing we will stand for is the Gospel of Christ.

If you don't have the opportunity to catch the rockin' road warriors of {{Squad Five-O}} at one of many summer festivals, chances are they'll be coming to a town near you sometime soon.