Christian rock label Facedown Records turns 20
By Naughty Mickie

In May Christian rock label Facedown Records celebrated its 20th anniversary with Facedown Fest, a three-day event at the Glass House in Pomona, California. Christian rock may be considered a niche genre by many, but it is one that is evolving, growing and thriving. I spoke with Facedown Records founder Jason Dunn and artist Shane Ochsner of Everything in Slow Motion to learn more.

DB: Tell me about the success of Facedown Fest.

JD: I started Facedown in 1997. The first Facedown Fest was in the Spring of 2000 at the Showcase Theatre in Corona, California which was an incredible venue that we loved throwing shows at. I really think that the feel of the Showcase was a big part of the success of the Fest in the early days.  It was the perfect sized venue for this kind of show, the staff was great and people just had a good time there.  It allowed us to grow every year from 1 night to 2 nights and then in 2003 we did one night at the Showcase and took a shot with hosting one night at the Glasshouse in Pomona (where it is now).  Both nights sold out, including the much larger Glasshouse, so in 2004 we brought both nights there (and both sold out).  Facedown Fest has always been very unique and since 2000 we have been hosting it almost every year and we get all of the active bands on the label together to play it as well as reunion shows from our alumni bands.  Southern California has a big scene for this kind of music, so it's been a perfect location and also very crucial to the success over the years.  It's something that people look forward to and we always try to make the line-ups exciting for fans.  This year is by far the biggest yet as it's the only time we've ever done 3 nights in a row.  But we wanted to go big for the label's 20th Anniversary Celebration and I'm honored and humbled that so many of our past bands are reuniting for special sets this year.

DB How has the genre of Christian rock evolved over the past 20 years? What kinds of struggles and/or challenges has it faced?

JD: Like all music, we've faced challenges with the way enjoying music has changed over the years.  The CD to digital download and now digital download to streaming changes stretched the industry and we all had to adapt.  Thankfully we are a small company and we can adapt very quickly.  As far as specific changes to the Christian rock side of things, 20 years ago there was a healthy network of big festivals every summer that was pretty much the launching point for a lot of bands and labels back in the day, including ours.  Specifically Cornerstone Festival in Illinois.  Over the years, and due to the recession, attendance dropped significantly at those festivals and they were forced to throw in the towel.  Many of them felt very exploitative of people's faith in order to make a buck, so it wasn't a bad thing to see some of them go, but the scene was truly hit hard when Cornerstone Festival had to shut down.

DB: Why did Facedown Records sign Shane Ochsner and his Everything in Slow Motion project?

JD: Shane is one of my favorite people out there.  I met him years ago at a festival in Minnesota called Sonshine Festival.  We chatted for hours and he never even told me he was in an incredible band called Hands.  Eventually he did, and to this day, Hands is one of my personal favorite bands to ever work with us.  Hands put out 2 full lengths with us and then disbanded, but at about that time, Shane kept writing music under the name Everything In Slow Motion, so it was a natural progression for us to continue working with him on the new project.

DB: Shane please tell me about your childhood.

SO: I grew up in a musical family and was real attracted to drums and guitar and rock music in general, itís what the flavor was in our household. I was surrounded by it, influenced by it and itís always been a thing for me. The drums is what I started on. My dad used to play in a church band and I would fill in for them every once in a while. It was fun to bond with my dad in that way too. I mostly just played in my bedroom with my headphones on to otherís peoples music.

DB: What is your writing process?

SO: I started seriously writing music when I was 14 years old. Thatís when I started exploring that creatively and dabbling in original music, Oddly enough my partner in crime, Josh Silbernagel, he was a drummer in my band (Hands), weíve been playing together since we were 14. Itís evolved from what our influences are and itís funny, when we were younger we were influenced by really heavy music, heavy metal music or that kind of flavor and as the years go on and you explore more what youíre capable of and trying to break the mold a little bit, you start to get experimental and try other things and naturally I think over the last 15 years itís gotten more melodic and has expanded on whatever signature sound I can carry for myself. Itís definitely pushed from heavy to melodic as people do when they get older.

- Ochsner plays all the instruments on Everything In Slow Motion. The solo project grew out of Hands because at one point Silbernagel was unable to come into the studio to track the drums during a recording session. Silbernagel and Ochsner had written all the music, so Silbernagel suggested that Ochsner take over the drums. He did and discovered he really enjoyed being alone and doing all the work himself. He decided to go solo rather than detract from Hands. For live performances as Everything In Slow Motion, Ochsner calls on his friends to fill in on the instruments as needed. This has led to a ďband bondĒ and he is considering bringing them in on the writing too. -

DB: What is your biggest challenge as a Christian rock artist?

SO: Thereís always this internal struggle of if Iím going to make music I want it to be important and I want it to leave some sort of trail or lesson or message, I donít want it to dissolve in a year or go away. I donít want to put out music just to put out music, I want it to tell a story. As my life changes from 10 years ago, being a heavy Christian, really feeling like Iím called to do this, all the stuff you generally hear, and growing and moving into this "I donít know where Iím at," I donít know how I see God or my faith, itís always a story I want to tell and as the story gets deeper and has more variables and gets more complicated, I think the challenging part is delivering that in a way thatís not discouraging to people, but hopeful. If Iím in a struggle, if Iím trying to figure out where my headís at, where life is going and where I stand in my faith, communicating that message through music in a way that can relate to people in that same boat and not deliver the message of discouragement.

I think thatís what weíre wired to do. Thatís how Iíve grown into who I am, through those experiences. Rather than just having my faith be an emotional thing all the time itís more of Iím constantly challenging it, Iím constantly looking it in the eye and saying why should I believe this? A lot of that has produced a very good foundation as a human being so when I have discussions like this I can be honest with people and feel comfortable in saying I donít know, I donít have the answer and Iím constantly searching. Portraying that in the music, obviously, thereís a very fine line there. It can discourage people rather than five them any sort of hope. Thatís the hard part, communicating that message in a way that is encouraging to people.

DB: To what do you attribute your success?

SO: Itís the right combination of elements. When we writing when we were younger and even through out Facedown Records time and up to now the motivation has never been to gain success, itís never been about popularity or combing our egos. Itís always been about doing something honest and doing something real and if it ever becomes anything but that we would hang it up because whatís the point? I think by taking that approach we have stood out to people in our sound and in our message with who we are as people. And taking what some might call musical risks, we never wanted to make the same record twice, if one record had good success, then typically the next one should play off that, we never did that, we did what was on our minds. That has brought us success and obviously being in the right place and the right time and developing relationships.

If you want to add spirituality into it, given the type of people that we are and the struggles weíve had with being in this scene thatís overly heavy - that musical scene was so turn or burn Christian mentality - thatís what shaped us into being jaded, skeptical Christians for a long time. I think, deep in my heart, that God has used us as some kind of vessel for those to get this message to those people who are in the same boat as we are. However complicated or deep that is I have no idea.

DB: How has Christian rock grown over the past 20 years?

SO: I feel slightly disconnected, only because my role and what Iím doing has drifted from being in the thick of the touring music scene. Five years ago, six years ago, we were in the van with everybody else traveling 11 months out of the year. If I look out it now I see more of a trend of those band turning away, I think the militant Christian thing is going away in the metal scene, where there was a solid five years there that were way too intense. That whole thing has ended now and I feel like I see this trend of bands trying to flip into that gray area of "weíre not a Christian band, but we have a slight Christian message and weíre all Christians," like everyone is trying to remove themselves a little bit from that oldness.

DB: Why is Facdown Records and Facedown Fest important to you?

SO: Itís legacy. Growing up between ages 13 to 18 or 19 - it was right around then we signed to Facedown, I was like 21 or 22 - but all those years that was all we listened to, we just listened to Facedown Records bands and Solid State Records bands. That Christian hard-core metal thing, there were a few labels that were the top of the chain for that and Facedown Records has always been one of them, so as people growing up just loving that label and buying everything it has to put out and then later joining that and getting more involved and being a part of it, people just havenít let it go. It hasnít died out. Some people know it as this current thing, some people look at it as nostalgia, but theyíve always had this consistent group of followers that are devoted to Facedown and me being one of them, I thin itís one of the best labels out there from a listening standpoint and as a deal.

Shows are important, but when youíre reuniting like this itís so much more than the show, the experiences are way beyond the show, just getting together and practicing and digging in again and reigniting that fire is such a wonderful experience. Then to play it and see the people reacting makes you remember, ĎAw man, this why we did this.í Itís exciting.

Facedown Records is the best. I love that in a music industry that is so crowded with bullcrap, everything seems so shallow, they consistently are a label that is filled with amazing people who genuinely love putting out music and genuinely love giving people, whether it be bands or the fans, the opportunity to have an experience. To be in the industry for 20 years with those guys, especially with now weíre in the digital age with streaming, for them to survive this long and be able to put on a three-day festival in Pomona itís truly incredible and thatís what Iím most excited for and most proud of- thatís the headline.

Hands reunited to play Facedown Fest. The band recently released a new 7-inch album, but do not have plans for further recording or touring.

Everything in Slow Motion is working on a new record to be released this summer or fall and will be playing a few one-off shows in the meantime.

To discover more artists on Facedown Records go to facedownrecords.com

To find out when Everything in Slow Motion is coming to your town go to everythinginslowmotion.com

To learn about Hands go to https://www.facebook.com/hands/

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