COLUMBIA — When you think of church music, bells and chimes might come to mind.
But inside a reverberant former sanctuary at Evangelical Free Church, electric guitar riffs bounce off the walls, creating a rock ’n’ roll sound.
That's Evidence, a Christian rock band whose members champion hope and perseverance through music.
The band came together about two years ago in Columbia. It has played in St. Louis, Springfield and Jefferson City and has opened for national touring bands Remedy Drive, Abandon and Wavorly in Columbia.
The band’s lead vocalists, Jason Mathews,, 19, and Ayron Plummer, 20, discovered three years ago that they were both writing songs and soon began combining their styles. After writing about 20 songs and incorporating a drummer, guitarists, violinist and bass player, Evidence had formed.
The band has seven members in all, ranging in age from 13 to 20. The youngest, Kerri Mathews, Jason's sister, is a violinist and the band's only female member. With the exception of two members, they each attend a different school and have had a different pathway to the band. But their mission is collective: to share the gospel through their music. The band's name, Evidence, is derived from the message that music is a sign of God's presence.
Their rock sound is a combination of the music genres that influence them. Mathews said he is influenced by hard rock and jazz music. Plummer is influenced by gospel music. They decided to put the sounds together, using a metal foundation and layering it with a wide range of instruments and gospel-inspired lyrics.
The band’s music and lyrics echo the battles of life and the desire for a way out when one feels trapped.
Plummer, who is from Columbia, said their music can be interpreted as “anthems for the lost,” giving light to those who feel down in their lives.
The chorus of the band’s song "Creed of Hope" embodies such a message: "Hold on to the hope that’s inside you/let it shine and fully guide you/just see it through to more brighter days/cling on to what you know/you still have so far to go/just hold on and keep the faith."
Sources of inspiration
For both Plummer and Mathews, this theme resonates with struggles they endured in their younger years; they described their earlier selves as “dorks.”
“In elementary school no one would talk to us; we were both kicked around,” said Mathews, who grew up in Columbia. “There’s lots of different situations in our lives when things are down, and we ended up coming out on top. I mean, we’re part of a successful Christian rock band making it somewhere.”
He said the start of the band was something worthwhile for them all. And, somewhere in between the weekly practices and concerts, the bands’ members have found they’ve grown closer to God as well.
Brian Mathews, Evidence's drummer and Jason Mathews’ brother, said making Christian music is another way of evangelizing, and he is now less afraid to do so.
“It’s really shown me who I am as a Christian.," said Brian Mathews, 16. "I’ve definitely grown in my faith.”
Although band members often find inspiration from their own experiences to write songs, Plummer said that in some cases the lyrics come from the struggles of friends. Sometimes, the inspiration isn't a specific person. "Creed of Hope" speaks of a girl who is outcast because she is different.
“I go by what I’ve seen and what I’ve gone through myself," Plummer said. "I’ve been the friend who sits there with the person and says, ‘We gotta get help.’”
Like those of "Creed of Hope," many of their lyrics are subtle enough to appeal to secular audiences as well as religious ones. Jason Mathews said that this is intentional and that they don’t aim to close anyone off from their music.
“Just because we’re different doesn’t mean you have to be harsh toward one another,” Mathews said. “We’re all people; we’re all here for one purpose.”
The struggle and support
Despite the band’s attempt to embrace secular language, Mathews said he thinks being a Christian band has cost them gigs.
“I think we’ve realized it’s not just going to happen overnight,” Mathews said.
He said he thinks the hardest part of starting a band is getting your name out there. But then Mathews paused and altered his view slightly, saying, "You know, I think we've been blessed more than a lot of other bands have been."
Mathews said Evidence has a fan base of almost 1,000 people, based on who "likes" them through social media such as Facebook and MySpace. One of those is Mae Godwin, 16, a friend of the members who has watched them since the beginning. Godwin has dreams of being in a band but didn't think it was possible until she saw Evidence’s success.
“They live in a small town, and they’re actually progressing as a CoMo band and as a Christian one,” Godwin said. “They had a goal, and they’re getting it. And, of course, they can’t do it without God’s help, and it’s making me want to rely on God more.”
Godwin said she thinks Evidence “shows a good message without being a cheesy worship band” and can reach out to non-Christians who are skeptical.
“I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like these guys," she said. "They’re hilarious, and they’re not afraid to make fun of themselves.”
Rob Allen is a fan of the band and the father of its previous bass player, Carly Allen. Although his daughter is no longer in the band, Allen still supports them. The band’s spirit gives him hope for today’s youth, he said.
“You know, you see many teens get into trouble or make poor decisions,” Allen said. “Why not throw your support to a team that’s trying to support a positive message and win people over for God?”
Another Evidence fan, Meagan Woodruff, 18, said it’s difficult to listen to the band without feeling happy and energized afterward. She said she was feeling down recently because one of her friends who is a soldier had just gone overseas to Uganda. She was driving home through a storm one day feeling sad about her friend when Evidence’s song "Rescue Me" came on her iPod. In that moment, she said, the lyrics helped her.
“God was telling me he was here,” she said.
Writing a song
On a recent Sunday at Evangelical Free Church, 600 Silvey St., beneath the curved wooden ceiling of the former sanctuary, the band members brainstormed lyrics for a new song for which they already had the melody.
Danny Brugmann, 18, the band’s bass player who joined Evidence a little over a month ago, brought up something he said he’d been thinking about lately.
“Our hearts are kind of scabbed over,” he said as he sat on a step with the bass in his lap. “We just get cold, and we have to let God break through and rip off the scabs, if you will. And we can’t do it ourselves, we have to let God do it.”
The other band members nodded, listening for an idea that could strike a chord in their new song. As they talked for a few more minutes, Plummer typed out the first verse on a laptop.
When Plummer told the others the theme of the new song could be "unlock my heart," it was obvious the idea struck them. They erupted in smiles and took on a new energy. Plummer even jumped up and down.
“You know it’s a good song when I’m sweating,” said Jason Mathews, who had been pacing around.
Soon the whole group was playing, electric guitar riffs bouncing off the walls again.