Friday, June 25, 2010

Poor Old Lu (1993)

(As published in CCM magazine ... )

Astute readers of C.S. Lewis may notice something familiar in the name of Seattle's latest quartet of alternative-Christian rockers, Poor Old Lu.

"It comes from a quote in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," explains Aaron Sprinkle, the band's nineteen-year-old guitarist, keyboardist, and spokesman. "I think it's in Chapter Three. Lucy has just come back from Narnia for the first time, and no one believes she was there. So they say, 'Poor old Lu. Been gone so long, and no one noticed."

The story of the band is also similar in another way to the magical adventures of Lucy and her friends: With seemingly no more effort than it would take to walk into a wardrobe, Poor Old Lu has gone from a group of woodshedding Christian kids on Washington's Vashon Island to a nationally signed band whose new Frontline album, Mindsize, exceeds the alreday-high expectations of their growing, underground following.

"God really laid this deal in our laps," says a bemused Sprinkle. "We weren't even pursuing Frontline. They'd heard of us from our first demo, but they were one of the last labels we'd considered because we were more into the Blonde Vinyl kind of thing."

Enter Sprinkle's father, an associate pastor at Seattle's Calvary Fellowship and, as it happens, a friend of Randy Stonehill.

"About a year ago, my dad gave Randy our demo, but we never heard from him. Then finally he gave my dad a call and apologized. He'd never listened to it, but his wife had and made him listen to it. And he really liked it. The next time he came up, he said, 'I'm having lunch with Terry Taylor tomorrow, and I'm going to make him listen to it."

Equally impressed with the foursome, Taylor and then-Frontline head of radio promotion for alternative music and metal Brandon Ebel pitched the band to the label. One live showcase later, Poor Old Lu found itself with a contract.

Shortly thereafter, they found themselves with Taylor in the studio. Having grown up in awe of Daniel Amos, Sprinkle, his younger brother Jesse (drums), Nick arber (bass), and Scott Hunter (lyrics and lead vocals) couldn't have asked for a better hand at their controls. It comes as no surprise then that Mindsize boasts a sonic clarity and depth that belies the quartet's rookie status. Each of the twelve tracks works a haunting variation on indie rock's obsession with minor chords, abruptly shifting tempos, and oblique lyrics sung in cool, detached tones.

"Terry taught us a lot," admits the elder Sprinkle. "He would help us take out parts of songs that were redundant and that made the songs boring. But the memories I have of recording with him aren't of doing a guitar track or working on music. They're of hanging out and having fun. We got to see sides of him we didn't know about. We got to hang out with him as a friend and a brother in Christ."

According to Sprinkle, Poor Old Lu is only one of Seattle's several first-rate alternative Christian bands, meaning that, like the secular scene spearheaded by Nirvana, a similar Christian scene has sprung up in the Northwest.

"When Frontline was up here the first time, I was shopping all these bands that were my friends to them. And they looked at me and said, 'What are you doing? We've never seen a band--especially one that we're coming to sign--shop other bands!' But I thought, 'Why wouldn't I want them to have the chance to reach more people?

"There's a band called Soulfood, a rap band called 3NP, a hardcore band called Blenderhead, and a funk band called Don't Know. We have parties where we play and pack the house with hundreds of people. And tons of unsaved people come. There's almost a revival thing happening."

Poor Old Lu, says Sprinkle, plans to tour next spring with Adam Again and Mortal, at which time other regions of the country will have the chance to experience Sealttle's almost-revival-thing for themselves.

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