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ApologetiX speak to religion, pop culture

| Thursday, Dec. 21, 2006

The lifespan of a rock band is akin, relatively, to that of the average insect. A year is good; anything beyond that, a bonus.

The ApologetiX, a Christian band that parodies pop music, have long outpaced those odds. Now in its 14th year, they've also experienced a remarkable phenomenon. They are more popular -- touring more, selling more albums and playing more shows -- than ever.

"Maybe we're working harder," lead singer J. Jackson says.

Or perhaps, their formula of combining biblically inspired lyrics with rock, rap and country music is a formula that doesn't grow wearisome. On "Wordplay," the band's 13th release, Jackson and bandmates Karl Messner, Keith Haynie, Jimmy Tanner and Bill Hubauer turn the Killers' "Somebody Told Me" into "Somebody Sold Me" via quotations from the book of Genesis. Kanye West's "Gold Digger" is transformed into "Bone Digger" using sections of Romans and Job. "Jericho" is a parody of U2's "Vertigo" by way of Luke.

"There are two reasons people dig ApologetiX," says Messner, who plays guitar and sings. "There's the gimmick factor; we're playing music that they like. ... But the idea of riding on the coattails of someone else's music is only part of it. A big part of it is this is Christian music, and in the early days of Christian music in the '60s, one of the big roles was to teach the faith, teach the Bible. And if you listen to guys like Keith Green and Michael Card and Larry Norman, you'll get to hear some great Bible stories."

Whatever the formula, it's working. The ApologetiX have played 136 dates this year -- with requests for appearances numbering 600. They've performed in all 50 states, having finally appeared in Alaska earlier this year. They have, by Messner's estimation, heard from fans in 80 countries, with Australia and England being ApologetiX hotbeds.

Jackson admits the band has especially benefited from being active during the dawn of the cyberspace era. Not only does the Internet allow the ApologetiX to disseminate their music more easily, they've also been able to keep abreast of musical trends.

"You can hear 30 seconds of a song and decide if it's something you can use," Jackson says. "Not that we're going to be doing Fergie's 'London Bridges.'"

Instead, their creations are a blend of the popular, the traditional and the hip. On "Wordplay," the ApologetiX use songs by the Beatles and Joe Walsh, Hoobastank and Bowling for Soup, and Trace Adkins and Big & Rich. And while some might disdain the use of popular music for religious purposes, Messner says he doesn't believe in "that old Roman idea that life has to be stoic, plain and boring."

"We play in churches where they are not allowed to have instruments as part of worship," he says. "When we play there, they say 'Church is over now, go in peace, but we're going to have a concert afterward.'"

What's most heartening to the band, however, is the sense they are making a difference. Jackson recounts story after story of people who embrace the ApologetiX as one of the few groups that speak to them, in terms of pop culture and religion. And there have been times when the band has interceded when troubled youths approach them after shows.

"We've had to get the parents involved," Jackson says. "But the things is, at shows there are parents and kids there together. The kids take their parents and they become fans, and parents take their kids and they become fans. It's kind of freaky."

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