“When we were a band starting out in Ohio, I don’t think any of us thought that we’d go past high school,” Relient K guitarist Matt Hoopes admitted to me over the phone. “Then we got a record deal right before we went to college … so we made our first record, and then we made a second record and then a third. And it kept going.”
Six albums and almost a decade later, Relient K is still going strong and as busy as ever. The band, which features Hoopes, frontman Matt Thiessen, bassist John Warne and guitarist John Schneck, has seen their popularity steadily increase in recent years, resulting in three Gold selling albums. 2004’s Mmhmm, led by the hit single “Be My Escape,” sold over 800,000 copies, and their follow-up, Five Score and Seven Years Ago, debuted at #6 on the Billboard 200 back in March.
The band also released a Christmas album last month, Let It Snow, Baby … Let It Reindeer, which features their take on 10 holiday classics as well as a handful of original material. Ten of the tracks originally saw a limited release in 2003, and both groups of songs reflect the band’s no rules attitude toward the process.
“On the first batch of songs, we mostly tried to keep it … really fast, loud and a little bit off for Christmas songs,” Hoopes said.
Yet for the newer ones, they chose to incorporate a wider array of influences. Hoopes described their interpretation of “Sleigh Ride” as having a “jazzy, ‘50s, dancy kind of feel to it,” while other songs “are rock but kind of crazy.”
Currently the band is promoting the album while nearing the end of a co-headlining tour with good friends Switchfoot. The two bands chose to donate $1 from every ticket sold to Habitat For Humanity, an organization devoted to building simple, decent and affordable housing.
“I had never had a lot [of] contact with the organization … but the more we helped out, the more we respected it and thought it was something we wanted to get behind and promote,” Hoopes said.
Despite their recent success, Relient K has not been without their share of hardships this year. During the summer their tour bus caught on fire, and many of their personal belongings were lost. Hoopes, who among other things lost his wallet, admits the events were “slightly frustrating,” yet credits the band’s positive outlook on life for carrying them through it.
“When you think about it in the grand scheme of things — no one was hurt, and there was nothing lost that was irreplaceable — it was just an inconvenience at worst,” Hoopes said.
Then last month drummer Dave Douglas announced he would be leaving the band at the conclusion of the tour. However, this didn’t come as a complete surprise.
Hoopes, who along with Thiessen is the only remaining original member, said Douglas had been talking about doing his own project for a while, which he will pursue with his wife Rachel.
“We’ve just been able to talk him out of it until now,” Hoopes joked.
For the moment, their goal is simply to try and enjoy their remaining time with Douglas, who joined the band in 2000. There are no hard feelings between any of the members.
“We all wish him the best, and hope that he does well,” Hoopes said.
Once the tour is finished, the band will begin the task of finding a replacement. Hoopes said they will be trying out a few friends first, and hopes one of them will work out.
“It’d be cool to bring someone on who we already know their character really well,” Hoopes said. While they got their start in the Christian music scene, Relient K remains hesitant to be placed in any sort of a box this might imply.
“Christian music, as you define it, is a little bit odd in the fact that it’s the only kind of music that’s defined by lyrical content rather than musical content,” Hoopes said. “When you say you’re a Christian band, it automatically puts connotations in people’s heads … and we try to avoid that connotation.”
While the band doesn’t shy away from their Christian roots, they would rather let the music itself do the talking.
“We write songs about our lives, and the things we experience, and as Christians that’s definitely a part of our life experience,” Hoopes explained. “We’re not angry if someone calls us a Christian band, but we probably wouldn’t introduce ourselves as a Christian band.”
With the New Year quickly approaching, Relient K doesn’t have a set plan for the immediate future, which will likely include either additional touring or starting work on a new record. This reflects the band’s philosophy of taking things as they come and living life as it presents itself, which they’ve followed since day one.
“We’re honestly just thankful for the opportunities that we’ve had, and don’t expect there to be any more necessarily,” Hoopes said. “People seem to like [our music] for the most part, so we’re going to keep doing it as long as people keep coming to the shows.”
Originally appeared in The Chimes