Relient K draws fans in Christian, mainstream markets
NASHVILLE (Billboard) - After toiling away for seven years and building a rabid fan base in the Christian market, Relient K broke through to mainstream success with the 2004 release "Mmhmm." The band's career illustrates that sometimes the least calculated of efforts reap the most rewards.
"Our band's philosophy is we do what we do and whatever happens around us, happens around us," lead vocalist/songwriter Matt Thiessen says. "We write the songs we want to write and try to have fun with the band. It's not like we went into the record saying, 'This would be a great radio song."'
Relient K's fifth album, "Five Score and Seven Years Ago," arrives March 6 via Gotee Records/Capitol. Relient K will continue to be marketed to Christian retail via Gotee while Capitol, which came onboard with "Mmhmm," will handle the band's marketing in the mainstream market.
"Five Score" is the first full-length studio record with new members John Warne and Jonathan Schneck, who joined original members Thiessen, Matthew Hoopes and David Douglas when bassist Brian Pittman exited.
"It's not the same as what we've done, but I feel it's a continuation of where we've been heading," Thiessen says of the album's energetic pop sound. "I feel like people will get that."
The first mainstream single from the new album is "Must Have Done Something Right." Fans got an early taste when it debuted on MySpace last November.
Relient K will promote the new record with a series of in-store appearances during the week of the album's release, plus visits to "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" and "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." The band will headline a tour this spring featuring Mae and Sherwood.
Capitol Records senior director of marketing Tom Osborn describes Relient K as "the little engine that could. They have that perception of being a smaller band. I can't tell you how many people I talk to who are truly startled when I tell them what the band is able to do saleswise and tourwise."
Relient K's 2003 breakout, "Two Lefts Don't Make a Right ... But Three Do," has sold 518,000 units in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. "Mmhmm" -- which spawned the singles "Be My Escape" and "Who I Am Hates Who I've Been" -- is at 796,000.
Unlike some Christian bands that cross over to the mainstream and try to disassociate themselves from their roots, Relient K doesn't hide from its past. "Relient K knows who they are and I don't think it's ever been a problem," Osborn says. "They are a Christian band and they'll acknowledge it."
Thiessen says the band doesn't see differences in its audience. "We view Christian music and the general market all as the same thing. It's funny to have a genre just based on lyrics. If I was Jewish and I was writing songs about Judaism, you (wouldn't) sell me only in Jewish bookstores. I feel like Christian music gets segregated," he says, wryly noting, "Green Day isn't in the Democratic section at Wal-Mart."
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