Ohio quartet rock extraordinaire Sanctus Real is taking the CCM rock scene by storm (whether
they'll admit it or not) with their debut release Say It Loud!
While they tear up the stage as the opening act for the Spring 2003 "See Spot Rock Tour,"
the JfH ventured out to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to catch a taste of the excitement as Sanctus shares the spotlight
with the likes of the Supertones, John Reuben, Relient K, and Pillar. We caught up with lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Matt
Hammitt and bassist Steve Goodrum as they unwound after their set in the hospitality room at the LMHS
Fine Arts Center...
This interview took place on: 2/15/03.
Jesus freak Hideout: Why the name "Sanctus Real?"
*laughs* Our drummer's responsible for that. We pin it on him everytime. He was actually looking up
another word in the dictionary and came across "sanctus" and he really liked the fact that it just meant
"holy" - it's like a hymn of praise. He's like "Man, that's a cool idea." But we didn't realize the way
it was pronounced, which is "säng(k)-tüs." So we're like, "ah, let's just say 'sang-tus'" And then
we tacked "real" onto that. It's something that our guitar player who we had for the first few months
wanted to do and it means just being real - just relating to kids. And being up front and not trying to put
on a face or an image and just being who we are.
JFH: How did the band get started?
Actually, Steve here is the only non-totally original member, but he's been with us for about three and a half
years. The other three of us started with another bass player in high school in November, 1996. We
actually started out playing at our high school chapel services because we went to a Christian school.
We began practicing on weekends and started playing out - played our first show in December '96 and ever since
then just loved playing, played every weekend. We just kept on growing and growing and here we are six and a half
JFH: How old are you guys?
I'm 23, Chris is 22... Mark's 25
Mark's 25 and I'm almost 24
JFH: When did you guys graduate from high school?
Me and Chris '98, and Mark in '96.
JFH: So how did you guys get signed to Sparrow?
Well Mark and Chris took our independent record that you guys had,
our Nothing To Lose record and they just filled up their backpacks and just went to GMA, passing it out
to anyone who looked important. And the funny thing is they never officially handed it to anybody at Sparrow,
they just got it through the grape vine somehow. And about two weeks maybe after they got back, we got a call
and just started a relationship there and over a period of about eight months just courting a relationship and
getting to know them and praying on our side, we just felt like that is where we were supposed to be. Felt
like it was so we signed the deal. We actually signed the day we started recording.
Like officially signed. We had kind of like a verbal committment. JfH: So you were in negotiations
for like a year before the album actually came out? Almost. The negotiations took roughly 6 to 8 months.
JFH: What artists have influenced your sound?
Matt: A lot of different rock acts, y'know. As a singer, I have some different pop influences.
When I grew up I used to really enjoy a lot of the pop music of the 80's and I think that kind of planted those
melodies in me for life. But as I grew up I started kinda finding my own music. I got into some early Christian
bands like johnny Q. public, Violet Burning, Sixpence when they first came out. A lot of different bands -- I really
dug what Steve Taylor was doing and just rock, y'know? That just really started influencing me. Our guitar player
Chris, who isn't here, he was really into classic rock. His dad was always into classic rock so he listened to anything
from starting with the Beatles up until like Hendrix, Clapton, Cream, Petty and all these different artists.
He was really into that so it kinda made a cool fusion of the pop side of things and the riff side of things.
Steve: I personally am a big Switchfoot fan, love the Foo Fighters.
Matt: Weezer. (Steve agrees: "Weeze is a given.") Weezer is like the big inspiration band for us musically.
Steve: U2. Mark our drummer wasn't saved until he was sixteen so he liked Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath...
(Matt chimes in with a deep voice: "White Snake") Yeah. *Matt laughs* He got into the 80's "hair bands." (Matt: "Big time! ...Cinderella...")
It shows up a little bit in his drummer, but it's pretty cool.
JFH: On Say It Loud, you guys got to work with Pete Stewart. How did that come about and
what was it like?
Sparrow had Pete in mind from the very beginning. But we didn't really know Pete. We knew him from Grammatrain
and knew who he was and really dug their creativity in that band, but we didn't really know what he had done
as a producer. So we were a little leery at first until we started finding out some of the bigger projects he
had been working on. I started listening to them -- like the TobyMac record, the guitars on that record and he
had produced a lot of the rock songs. Tait's record. The [second to] last Bleach record. Some of the stuff we had
really liked and we were like "Wow," we didn't know he had done that stuff. So we started looking into it and
we were totally for it once they kinda showed us what he'd been doing. Pete was really into the songs, loved the songs,
loved the independent record. So it was a great match cause everybody was excited about using him and he was excited
about doing it. Working with him was really cool. He's one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet.
He's great. He's one of those guys who you just hang out with for a short amount of time and it's kind
of like you're already friends. Real easy to get along with. That was cool for us having somebody who was so compatible,
easy to hang out with and have a good time
Steve: It was fun to work with a guy who was real "rock"-minded. It was cool also having that mentality
and being so laid back at the same time. Because I think even vocally for Matt and each area that we play,
he really drew out our best performances. We actually did the record in two halves. He really challenged me
on the first half of the record and I learned a lot. When I came back to do the second half, I could tell there
was an improvement, he could tell, and it was really cool to be able to walk away and feel like not only have I
played on the record, but it's a great record in my opinion. I feel like I actually improved musically.
It was really neat, he was just really awesome to work with. He was really super... super laid back. *laughs*
One time - y'know, being a rock guy who wouldn't start till like noon everyday. We'd get there -- and he's a
super Starbuck's fanatic -- and we'd work like forty five minutes and he'd be like "Alright, time for a break."
We're like "What?! We haven't even done anything!" He's like "I gotta get some coffee." *laughs* He's a really
JFH: Who's the kid on the cover of Say It Loud and what's with the alumninum foil?
Matt: *laughs* Absolutely no clue. It's something that our designer at Sparrow found on the
internet and he loved it and licensed the picture for our CD cover. And when he brought the different CD covers to us as options,
everybody picked that one. *laughs* We just thought it was hilarious. There's really not much meaning to that,
it's just funny. Everybody was like, "Ah, that's hilarious! We love that one!"
Steve: The picture was probably taken before any of us were born.
Matt: We don't know, it looks so old!
JFH: What is the story behind "Captain's Chair?"
Matt: "Captain's Chair" is a song that Chris kinda brought to the table about a friend
who went through a really rough time in his life and it was strange for all of us. We were his best friend
and through kind of a relationship gone sour he put on a face to us and really ended up hurting us a lot.
There were some things involved that were really shady and we didn't understand why we were treated the way
we were. We had our thing going, he had his thing going. And you know how you just know somebody so well, but then
you [realize you] just don't know them, y'know? And that's what the song's about, "Where did you go / How
have you been?... but we'll be right here," so whenever you need us... That was the whole point of the song.
And we don't want people to think it's a crock for any of our songs, but we really try to relate everything
to the Lord and our relationship with God. So when we wrote that part, "you will take the driver's seat
and I will take the captain's chair," the initial, earthly meaning of that was... it's weird.
(Steve: "It's kind of a long story") It's a long story. Chris loved to drive the van. Our old friend used to love
to come out on the road and drive the van, too. And he would always joke around about who was going to drive.
Y'know, "Here, you'll take the driver's seat and I'll take the captain's chair." It was just kinda like an endearing
thing. But it was also cool cause we were like "Man, that's what we gotta Spiritually too in these situations.
We gotta give it over to God. We can't take this." That's kinda like the main idea of the song. You just
gotta give it over, you gotta let it go. You just gotta let God do what He's gonna do. And everything is
gonna have to work out from there. (Steve: "'Cause that's hard to answer!") *laughs* Yeah, it's hard, it's a
JFH: What inspired "I Love You?"
Matt: I really struggle as an artist, and I think a lot of artists do, with criticism.
We like to criticize music and we really like to analyze everything and we think we're so smart all the time
and we're just not, y'know? It's so relative to what's good and what's not good and it's so just an opinion,
but we all think we're right. One day God just tugged at me and He said, "You know what? You don't know
anything." You know what I mean? Cause it's all about the heart. That's all that matters is the heart. Can we
look past all those cliches that we see in every song and think that it's not artistic or creative enough
and just be inspired to go write another song. It's kinda just like me trying to humble myself and I'm just
gonna write a song that says something that's simple and it's unartistic as "I love you." Cause you've heard
it a million times. That's the whole point, it's nothing new. Can we still see the beauty in such a simple
term instead of trying to be so poetic all of the time. Because all that matters is it's coming from our
heart. JfH's John: Yeah, cause I can totally relate with having to review CD's all of the time.
Yeah, totally man. Like even though we may cringe at the sound of something, God can still take it and use it.
JFH: What about the song "After Today?"
Matt: Oh man. That's a song that I wrote right around the time I was graduating high school.
Actually, I always think it's after I graduated high school, but I think it's during my Senior year that I wrote
that song. It's just one of the things where I was kinda confused coming out of high school as to whether or
not I was gonna go to college. And y'know, everybody tells you're supposed to go to college after you graduate.
But I knew that I wasn't at the point with the band where I could go full time or I couldn't foresee us being
mature enough in our songwriting and musicianship to make a career out of it yet. But I could just see a
vision for it. And I just knew that God was calling me to do this and I was just going to be able to do it one
of these days. I wrote that song in such confusion, not understand what I should or shouldn't do in life.
And I didn't understand the circumstances that surrounded me. OK, here I am, I feel kinda alone, I feel like
I can't really see the road ahead of me, but I can praise God cause He's got a plan even though I don't understand it.
And you just have to trust that. That's what faith is, y'know? You can't see it, but you believe in it and you
believe that God has it. I always try to challenge students that no matter how you feel, whether it's
at the top of a mountain or the lowest part of the valley, that God has a very very unique play for
everyone's life. And you can't afford to miss it. People miss out on it and they end up ruining
their lives, because they don't believe God has a plan. So I hate to see kids do that. That song will hopefully
inspire students to say, "Man, y'know what? I don't understand but I'm gonna keep pressing through and I'm gonna
go for what I know is right."
Steve: Playing in the band, also, there's times when you're aggravated beyond belief with situations
that are going on -- whether it's personal, whether it's band-related, whether it's vehicle-related, y'know. But
no matter what it is and you get on the stage and you're kind of copping an attitude whether it's two people
or you're just being stupid. And there's been times when I'm playing and you know the routine and you know the
song you're playing and all of a sudden that part comes up, God's got a plan, understanding isn't my place,
and I'll be singing it all of a sudden I stop and I'm just thinking "Oh man, I just gotta shut up cause I don't
understand why I'm going through this but God does!" If there's even one thing I've learned that that song reminds me
that God one hundred percent of the time is always faithful and His plan is always perfect if we allow Him to
fulfill it through His will and His timing and we don't force an issue. He (Matt) wrote it to kids, but coming into
the band later it seems like every time I play that song it kinda slaps me in the face in a good way of kinda waking
me up saying "Alright man, live what you preach!" *laughs* You have to.
JFH: What's the story behind the hidden track on the CD?
Matt: *laughs* That's Mark and I's ode to Stryper, pretty much. *laughs* I was really
into Michael Sweet when he came out with his solo projects. Mark was a couple years ahead of me, so he
was so into Stryper but I just kind of picked up at the Michael Sweet end of it, y'know? And I
was also into bands like Guardian and Bride when they came out. John: *laughs* We were totally into them too,
around like the mid-nineties! Yup! Totally, man. (Steve: "Like Holy Soldier...") Oh yeah!
Yeah, it's just a chorus I came up with, this dumb chorus, and we went over it and Mark was like "Aww that's
rad! Let's go over it!" And he help me tweak a couple words here and there. Before you know it, Pete heard it
just as a joke. He's like "We gotta record this man!!" (Steve: "Yeah, it was no option. He said it will
be on the record.") Pete was diehard. Pete was like "This is amazing, this is gonna be full-on rock, and it's
gonna sound authentic and we're gonna make this happen." That's the story behind it.
Steve: The sad thing is we really did play that. (Matt: "Yeah, it's all us.")
We couldn't play it now but we did play it in the studio. *Matt laughs*
JFH: Festival Con Dios last Fall was your first big tour. How was your
experience with that? Any highlights?
Matt: It was amazing. We had some really bad weather. Half the tour was terrible weather-wise
and it was all outdoors so with the rain and winds... it was awful. But on an internal side thing, you could have forgotten
all the shows and all the bad weather, but the unity that we had amongst all the band members in the bands was amazing.
And the support that we got from all those bands, stuff being on the road, spiritually, and just friendship-wise, really
encouraged us. I think it was the best tour we could have been on. And we made so many friends and we realized this is a family
and it's a ministry and everybody was just stepping up to the plate and taking good care of each other. And even
Toby [McKeehan] said at the end of the tour, "I have been so impressed, with being in this so long, I have been
so impressed with this tour. This just proves to me that are still a lot of good people in Christian music." And that really
meant a lot to us that he would say that to everybody. We felt the same way. It was a great tour. And it was good, too,
exposure-wise for us. That was the best part.
JFH: What was your most embarrassing on-stage moment?
Steve: *looks at Matt* I know yours. It was before I was in the band. (Matt: "What is it?")
Your little "head stunt."
Matt: Oh yeah! I played this show in Michigan where it was all dark and there was smoke in the
room and there was a concrete ceiling. And I jump on the drum riser - and the ceiling dipped down right above
the drum riser and I didn't even know it (Steve: "It was painted black"). It was painted black, I couldn't see anything -
so I decided I would do this huge rock n' roll jump, right? I squat down at the end of the song and I jump
and at about a foot and a half I just stop and I fall to the ground. As I'm falling I can just see everybody
covering their mouths going (in an imitative voice) "Ohhhh!" I kinda land and after about 4 of 5 seconds I reach
up and feel my head and there's blood all over my hand. I had cracked open my head on this concrete wall. And it wasn't
bad but it was just shocking, y'know what I mean? I was able to finish the show but I was just dizzy.
I probably had some sort of mild concussion. I probably shouldn't have finished but I did. *laughs* And I was fine
but yeah, that was embarrassing cause what do you do after that? "Hey everybody! Uh... haha... Well forget
about that, let's keep going!"
Steve: We played a show in Colorado - we had never played in Colorado before. I grew up there
so I was somewhat used to the altitude. Well, we had never played there before altogether. *laughs* We were playing
at my Dad's church, actually while on Con Dios it was just a really quick spot date cause we had some time off.
So we're up there and we're rocking out. Well they live in the mountains so we're like 10,000 feet, 11,000 feet
and we're rockin' hard. Well y'know, the air's thin, we're dying. And Matt gets up there and he's dizzy, out of
breath and he's like, "I have never been this high before in my entire life." *unanimous laughter* Everybody's like
*impersonates the wide-eyed spectators* staring with big eyes. [Matt's] like, "That didn't sound good did it?"
But it was awesome!
Matt: I was just like, "I'm so sorry. I mean altitude high!" *laughter* Those kind of things
you try to cover up and you just dig yourself deeper. It was bad!
Steve: Probably one of mine was I used to get a little too into the music and not pay attention
to what I was doing on the bass or around the stage or whatever. And one night, we're playing at this small little
youth group and I was just going crazy. And I didn't realize it but my cord was wrapped around my leg and I went to do
this big rock n' roll kick and my pedals just launched across the room. I had unplugged everything in the middle
of the song and I had to walk across the stage and pick all my stuff up and Chris and just everybody was dying.
That was pretty embarrassing. You're trying to be cool and you end up looking like a loser.
JFH: Favorite things to do on the road when you're not performing?
Matt: I like to sight-see whenever I can and I know Steve does too. We like to go see things as much
as possible. Anything that's adventurous like riding motorcycles or uh... *laughs* uh... (Steve: "I'm sure we'll experience more...")
Yeah, exactly! Going and finding new places. Going surfing. Steve and I love to try to go surfing.
(Steve: "We're kinda the outdoor bugs in the band.") Whatever we can find. It's so hard when you're on the road
because you don't have stationary things to indulge yourself with like hobbies. You kinda have to just find what's there.
Steve: I've been reading off and on some different books and stuff. That kinda kills the time. Lately
I've been realizing the toll that touring takes on your body so I bought some weights. I figured I am just sitting here
so I might as well lift weights. (Matt: "It's about once a month Steve does some curls." *laughter*) I just
got them so I'm starting to get into my routine.
JFH: How does it feel getting all of this new-found attention with the release of Say It Loud
after being independent for so long? And is it easy to let it go to your head? If so, what do you do to keep your
feet and mind grounded?
Matt: Have we been getting attention? (Steve: "Yeah?!") *hearty laugh* It's really funny because
people always ask us that, like "Man, how does it feel to be getting so much attention so fast?" And we don't feel
like we've gotten any attention. *laughs* John: Really?! Yeah! It's because
when you're on the inside of it and you're so busy you just lose contact with what's going on. It's just really
hard to know what's going on. And even if you hear it, it's hard to believe it. It is cool though to come to a concert
on a national level and see kids singing our songs. It just freaks us out. So I think we're more humbled at this point
than we are getting big heads over it. It really is humbling to know that people appreciate what we're doing. I think
if we can keep that perspective we'll be alright. John: Does it feel weird cause you guys
were around for awhile before? Yeah it is. We've been doing it for so long that it's hard to let it go to your head.
Cause we still face trials, y'know? We're still paying our dues. We're at that point now where it's like we're
still struggling to get to where we need to be -- even financially, and to pay our bills still. It's hard. In the midst
of all that, it's hard also to think or feel as though things are really going for you. But we're thankful for every opportunity
JFH: What do you see for the future of Sanctus? Are you guys already planning another
Matt: Yeah, it's been mentioned to maybe work on another record in the Fall or early next Winter. We're
not sure yet if that's going to happen. We're still trying to figure out what's going on in terms of touring
in the Fall as well. Long term goals? Man, I just think maximum exposure. We just want more and more people
to hear what we have to say. Not necessarily what we have to say because we're great, but hear what we have to say
because God's done some cool things in our lives. For us not to be able to share that would be a shame.
So who knows where that'll take us. We have goals but we don't have expectations. We've kinda been surprised
thus far by some of the success we've had. And I think we'll keep on just being surprised because we don't
really expect big things but we hope them.
JFH: What's your favorite movie?
Matt: Man that's rough! (Steve: "Gee whiz...") I just hate these ones. Cause you might say a movie
that there might be like one part in it that may be questionable and then somebody might be like "Aw, he watches
that movie!" Y'know? Like my favorite movie has got to be -- that has come out in the last several years --
Zoolander. (Steve: "I know what my favorite movies is...") It's one of those things where
you watch it the first time and you chuckle and the more you watch it, you're just rolling. The more you watch it,
the better it is. It really has some dry humor in it and it's so creative that you pick up on something new
every time. It's just hilarious.
Steve: I'm, hands down, for right now and quite awhile - Lord of the Rings.
(Matt: "Aw dude, that's great.") I saw the first one, I bought it, watched it a million times, saw the second
one and I think it's better. (Matt: "Not nearly as funny as Zoolander but definitely better!")
A little more intense! (Matt: "Yeah, that's gotta be one of the best movies of all time.") Chris' is
Back to the Future probably.
JFH: What's your favorite food while you're on the road?
Matt: It's gotta be In N Out Burger for me, man. We say it every interview, but it is. It's
the best. In California - In N Out Burger. It's the best burger and fries you'll ever have. It's all made
Steve: It's really cool cause it's Christian-owned. That's the really neat deal
but they're not a big chain because they won't freeze their meat. So they'll only take it as far as it will
go without spoiling so they can cook it fresh. And they make their fries from peanut oil. (Matt: "It's a lot healthier.")
Their shakes are really good.
Matt: And it's a small menu, it's literally like burgers, fries, and shakes. Or if you're local
you can order grilled cheese if you want. It's really cool cause they have local menu items too.
Steve: Yeah, they do, like the "4 x 4" which has four patties. (Matt: "You can order as many
patties on your burger as you want.") Mark ate two "4 x 4's" in one sitting. That's like eight patties.
It wasn't fun to watch. John: Did he survive it? (Matt: "Yeah, he actually felt
like he could go for another one. *laughs*) We wouldn't let him! Off the road -- breakfast cereal. Breakfast
cereal and Doritios. John: Which cereal? Oh, it doesn't matter. If I have to pick?
This is going to sound really boring, but I've acquired a taste for just plain "Wheaties." *Matt groans exaggeratedly*
*laughter* (Matt: "Cinnamon Toast Crunch! Number one!") "Lucky Charms," "Apple Jacks," "Fruity Pebbles." "Waffle Crisp,"
that's good stuff. Not a "Raisin Bran" fan. No "Raisin Bran." (Matt: "I like 'Raisin Bran'!")
JFH: Do you have a favorite Christian band?
Steve: Switchfoot, hands down, awesome. Then Delirious.
Matt: Violet Burning. Michael Pritzl.
JFH: Any last comments?
Matt: Keep it real! *laughs* Keep God first in your life and everything will work out. That's
all I gotta say!