What's in a Name?

[Image: Chagall Guevara: What's in a Name? - CCM Magazine, March 1991 Page 3 Thumbnail]
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[Image: Chagall Guevara: What's in a Name? - CCM Magazine, March 1991 Page 30 Thumbnail]
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CCM Magazine
March 1991
© 1991 by CCM Publications, Inc.
Pages 3, 30

Chagall Guevara - What's in a name? These guys won't necessarily tell ya, but suffice it to say that you've heard music from these guys before--through never quite like this.

by Brian Mansfield

The buzz on this band for the last couple of years in Christian music circles has ranged from simple mispronunciations of its name to speculation on the spiritual well-being of its members. Such queries are to be expected any time artists of this stature drop seemingly off the map for any length of time, but let's put one rumor to rest right up front: the members of Chagall Guevara haven't turned their backs on their Christian audience to pursue a larger rock audience; they are trying to set new artistic limits for themselves.

Everyone in the band has Christian music credits to his name. Dave Perkins was a journeyman guitarist with a formidable list of credits in secular music, whose work with Randy Stonehill resulted in the artist's best efforts in a decade. His 1987 album for the ill fated What? label, The Innocence, received Christian rock airplay, but garnered little sales. Rhythm guitarist Lynn Nichols' background reaches back to the original Phil Keaggy Band, and the Emerging album, to a vice presidency at Myrrh Records, where he reunited with Keaggy for two fine albums. Drummer Mike Mead did session jobs for the aforementioned Keaggy, Stonehill and others. Bassist Wade Jaynes was an engineer. Dave, Lynn, and Wade worked on the seminal Russ Taff album. But the group's best known member is Steve Taylor.

During a career that spanned a half-dozen albums, Steve was contemporary Christian music's wild card, an unpredictable gadfly who targeted the world's moral deadness and spiritual atrophy in the Christian community with equal enthusiasm. One of the most innovative Christian artists of the 1980s, his satirical and sarcastic ways didn't always sit well with those who approached their literature literally.

Taylor's attitude gained him respect beyond his market. When he felt that forces within that market were trying to squeeze him, he left the Christian music field for rock's more open spaces.

"I was spending too much time defending myself and defending the idea of satire," says Steve. "It wasn't the joy that it had been. Up until that point I had been able to do with I wanted to do, and do it with integrity, and not feel like I had to squash anything. I felt to go on wouldn't be possible."

Dave and Lynn reached similar decisions at about the same time. The three moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where Dave's wife had family and everyone had connections, to begin Chagall Guevara. The group played local clubs, made demos, and eventually signed with MCA for a two-album deal.

What have they found wtih MCA that they couldn't get from a Christian label? "The most obviously thing is a wider audience," says Dave. "Secondly, it was just a natural evolution in allowing talent and inspiration to follow its course. I think we were looking for a higher ceiling artistically.

"I was involved with the Christian music business from the middle of '85 through '87. I think that that was really good for me. But this is what I had always known. This is where I felt comfortable. Even on a spiritual plane, this is the place I felt I should be. That may not always be, but for right now it definitely is."

"I think the windows were open for Christian music to be broader," says Lynn. "That's the point where a lot of us came in. That's why I came in. It was almost like there wasn't a ceiling. I think what happened is, for whatever reason, those windows shut. Things changed. When that happened, it was like our jobs were phased out. If we believed in that we wanted to do, we had to go some-place else and do it."

"It's flip-flopped a little," adds Steve, "because at the same time things started shutting down in Christian music, the idea of doing music that was socially and spiritually conscious on a pop label became acceptable. That really wasn't the case in 1982."

Chagall Guevara could have become a Christian supergroup. Rick Cua played bass on early demos and on "Tale o' the Twister," the group's contribution to the soundtrack of last summer's film Pump Up the Volume. But Cua remained with his own ministry, and Wade became the permanent bassist. Chagall Guevara allows the members of the band to deal with broader topics. When making his solo records, Taylor often scrutinized the Christian community. The messages in "I Want to Be a Clone" or "I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good" would be lost on a mass audience. Before, he needed something that tied him to religion. Now, it's open season on everything.

For all that, Chagall Guevara's debut is very much a Christian album. Not evangelical, but definitely Christian. There's no specifically stated spiritual intent, and the members of the band are wary of being favored or feared because of their beliefs. But the group's strong spiritual life remains apparent in the music.

In "If It All Comes True," when Perkins contemplates a holocaust, he doesn't bemoan his helplessness or curse the government. In the face of cataclysm, his last act is an act of love. The deceptively soothing "Candy Guru" warns of false prophets. Songs like "The Rub of Love" and "Violent Blue," the first single, castigate people who have broken vows or turned their backs on good ideals.

Says Taylor of the guy in "Violent Blue": "He's a personal friend that you used to know, but you lost of track of him. Later, you get together with him and he's different."

"You find out after all these years that he's become an attorney," jokes Nichols.

Though the music rocks harder than anything any of the group's members ever did on their own, it's a logical progression from I Predict 1990 and The Innocence.

"It's just a continuation of writing stuff as a reflection of what we believe in," says Steve. "From that standpoint, there's not much that has changed."

BRIAN MANSFIELD is entertainment editor of the Nashville Scene.