UNFIT FOR SWINE
With much more raw power than I ever would
have expected, Petra’s lead singer presents an explosive second solo effort.
Musically somewhere between Audio Adrenaline, Petra and a more retro sounding
Nirvana, this album is full of the gritty vocals Schlitt is known for,
but not quite as high and screeching as some of the past Petra stuff.
Most of the disc is recorded live, for a comfortable, stripped down vibe.
As on his first solo record, there are a few songs that could just as
soon be Petra. These are "God is Too Big" and "There
Some of the material is sung in a lower
register than I’ve ever heard Schlitt sing before. Listen to "Can’t
Get Away," and you’ll notice how this new vocal technique corresponds
well with the fuzzy, feedback laden guitar. "I Killed a Man"
is another example of this.
I’d have never known who was singing "Don’t
Have to Take It" if it wasn’t on this album. It sounds nothing
like I have ever heard this man do. Very fast, very loud drums and guitar
assault my ears in a caffeine sort of way. Perhaps the best tune here
is "Take You On." It’s got everything I like about this
album: Schlitt’s trademark, but relaxed voice, killer guitar work, catchy
songwriting and al all-around groovy vibe. In fact, it almost sounds like
Guardian at times! As is another trademark of this man’s work, the lyrics
are full of Gospel: "Holy Spirit, now I see that by Your power
I’ve been set free." It seems that modern rock might be quite
a change for Schlitt, but this album seems to have taken him in a comfortable
- Little Frankie, HM Magazine,
July/Aug. 1996 issue
UNFIT FOR SWINE
If you think singing is
not an athletic event, especially the way veteran Petra frontman John
Schlitt sings, think again. Yet with Unfit for Swine, his second
solo outing, Schlitt proves he hasn’t lost a step and has even added a
few items to his bag of tricks.
Even in this setting, one
of the supposed musical spotlights shining on him alone, Schlitt proves
he’s a team player, weaving his trademark vocals in to a game plan built
with his dream team trio of seasoned producers: Mark Heimermann, Dann
Huff and David Huff, all of whom return from Schlitt’s 1994 solo debut,
The impressive thing is
that Schlitt has seemingly not lost any of this vocal power, and has even
gone so far as to fine-tune his control, letting loose with his familiar
vocal assault on the lead track "Save Me" then reining
it in noticeably for the next time, "God is Too Big,"
a fun tune that youth directors with a six-string and ambition will be
introducing to their groups over a campfire come fall.
Dann, the guitar-wielding
Huff brother, plays point guard for this team, dishing out some of the
tastiest guitar parts Schlitt has ever converted into a slam dunk. This
is not to disparage Schlitt’s work with Petra guitarist Bob Hartman… it’s
kinda like trading Magic Johnson for John Stockton; you’re in great shape
Sonically, the producers
put Schlitt and his voice in some situations we haven’t heard before,
but being the consummate player he is, Schlitt evades the pressure and
scores with ease and flair. Lyrically, the shots range from the easy-to-convert
layup of "God is Too Big" to the potentially risky, but
ultimately rewarding "I Killed a Man" and all manner
of scoring opportunities in between, such as "Need I Remind You,"
"Helping Hand," and "Don’t Have to Take It."
It’s been 10 years (!!!)
since John Schlitt joined this league of Christian music, and his presence
both as a voice and a leader has been a welcome one. Unfit for Swine only
serves to further the impressive career of a man singing for the one true
Sometimes, when an artist has been concentrating so intensely on his
band, he can develop the urge to break free, to do something unique and
all his own. In July, John Schlitt will have released his second solo
album, Unfit for Swine. And, according to Schlitt, this is an even
farther reach away from the sound of Petra.
Schlitt explains why the
lead singer of a successful band would want to do a solo record: "When
a band is as successful as Petra is, there's a reason for it. And that
is that we have pretty much all the parts we need. One of those parts
is a fantastic writer in Bob Hartman, not to mention the musicians in
the band are all writing. And it doesn't leave a whole lot of room for
the singer to get in there and contribute. And really, to a point, I didn't
want to, because I really think that Bob's writing is a very important
core to the band. But, I just needed room to find where I'm at. I've concentrated
so much on being the front man for Petra, and doing that as pro as I can,
that I've never really dealt that much with what I have to say, and how
I'd like to say it, and with what kind of music I'd like to hear. I started
doing solo dates, and I realized that I had something to say. Word asked
if I'd like to do a solo record, and I said, 'Yeah, I think I would. I
think I'm ready.' It all sort of perpetuated from that."
Does this mean time off
from Petra? On the contrary. "I'm more involved with Petra now than I've
ever been, and I'm also involved with this solo project. I guess as a
Christian artist, I'm one of the most blessed people in the business,
because I have an avenue to go out and do my thing in two different directions."
The record label's marketing
department describes the musical style of the new project as "modem rock/alternative."
Schlitt explains that while he doesn't consider Unfit for Swine "alternative,"
it is closer to that than it is to Petra.
"We decided," Schlitt says,
speaking of the producers with whom he worked, "that the best thing for
us, as far as the most current music we could do, in the most efficient
way we could do it, was basically just to go in with some real good studio
cats, and do about 60-70% of the record live. And that, to me, made a
whole lot of sense, because that seemed to be the direction the music
is taking. I didn't want this to be a Petra record—although it turned
out to be a little closer to Petra than I probably wanted it to be." And
what about the alternative allegations? "I wouldn't say it's an alternative
record by any means, but it probably leans more in that direction than
anything else I've ever done. I think it's as much as I would feel comfortable
in going in more of the direction of what the ‘90s are. That's thanks
to the producers. They really guided me in a very cool direction."
These producers were none
other than Mark Heimermann, Joe Baldridge (both of whom have worked for
such artists as dc Talk), and Dann and David Huff, who are known for their
work with Giant. These men also contributed instrumentally, alongside
such players as bassist Jackie Street and guitarist George Cochinni.
There was even a guest performance
by the newest member of Petra, guitarist David Lichens, marking the first
time anyone has heard him on a recording (since all the guitars on No
Doubt were played by Bob Hartman). Schlitt says audiences have responded
well to Lichens. "I think he's found his spot where he needs to be, and
has absolutely really honed in. Every once in a while, we hear somebody
saying, 'Well, I sure miss Bob,' and hey, after 23 years, they'd better
be saying that kind of stuff. But I think Dave has really added a freshness
and a new texture to the band. It's been a real blessing. Not only is
he a good player, but he's a good showman, and the combination is pretty
When asked which songs on
Unfit for Swine really stand out to him, Schlitt laughs, "That's
not fair, man! I think there are stand-outs on just about every style
of music that this record represents. There's some of the 'ninety-ized'
‘70s rocker sound with 'Save Me.' That's got sort of a cool Zeppelin
feel. I really loved singing it. 'Can't Get Away From Your Love'
has a very cool vibe, because my vocal sound is so different than what
I'm used to. This record was so easy to sing, because it depended more
on vibe than just range. It's a very cool, vibey record. I think that
'We Don't Have to Take It' is way out in left field for
me, but I'm liking it, because it's so weird, you know. There's
extremes in just about every direction you can go. 'There is Someone'
is from the heart. That was just me being able to sing a song that I'd
wanted to sing for two records. "I just really like the record," concludes
Schlitt. "I don't know if anyone else will, but man, I really like it.
I'm very proud of it."
So, as Ranger Bill would
say, "All this in exchange for the pride and satisfaction of a job well
John Schlitt and Music that’s Unfit for
In the closets of my mind
I have thoughts unfit for swine
Secrets that I dare not tell
You know them well.
'Neath a veil of innocence
I disguise my decadence
But somehow You see through it
And love me still, You love me
Even in my darkest hour
You display Your mercy's power
Since I met You I've discovered
I can't get away, can't get away
From Your love
This could have been a very short
article. Three words long, in fact: "Buy this album."
I could have skipped saying that with Unfit
for Swine John Schlitt has taken a step into the modern rock arena
with an album that includes edgy, alternative selections. I could have
omitted mentioning that the project was essentially recorded live, with
some of Nashville's best players, in just five days. I might not have
verified that yes, Schlitt's been lead singer of the Quintessential Christian
rock group Petra for the last decade, and that no, he's not leaving the
But since you're getting the long version,
the song quoted above is "Can't Get Away," written by Mark Heimermann
and Toby McKeehan, the team that brought us "Jesus Freak."
"Can't Get Away" is the only song on this album that doesn't
include Schlitt's name in the writing credits. And concerning Schlitt's
writing, let's just say that if you're looking for ambiguity, shop elsewhere.
His lyrics are so to-the-point that I couldn't resist teasing him by asking,
"Yeah, John, but what do you really believe?"
Schlitt laughed, but then spoke fervently:
"The music that kids are used to hearing is in-their-face, almost tearing
them apart. And I want to be that relevant, I want to be that up-front
and committed and aggressive so that they go 'Whoa! This man's serious!'
They don't want to relate to wishy-washyness, they want to relate to something
that they can think is cool. I want to come across as somebody who's not
afraid to say what he believes."
John continued. "The stuff that Satan's spewing
out through his forces is so dark and so destructive and so blatant that
it disgusts me. They're stretching the envelope every day, and what's
sickening is that our liberal society right now is allowing it, including
Christians.... [But] even the liberals are getting sick of how society
is turning, and it doesn't take much to realize that music is a very important
part of it."
It's from this desire to be musically and
lyrically relevant that Schlitt's songs come. "Need I Remind You"
is one that deals squarely with the challenges of the Christian life:
Taking on the burden of a Godly walk
You face a challenge every time
Every day you have to go against
Criticism follows everywhere
Can you take it? Is it worth
The wolves are knocking at the
It's hard to stand for the creed
They'll start to wear you to
They'll make you doubt your belief
But don't you ever let it go!
Need I remind you
Of the life that He taught
through the words that He gave
Need I remind you
Of the pain and the shame
and the He broke through?
Need I remind you
Of the love of the One
Who did all that He had to?
Need I remind you
That He's comin' back again some
A standout on the album, "I Killed a Man"
is a musically- edgy confirmation of what our salvation cost: "I
killed a man/As the price of my transgressions/Put the nails in His hands/For
the cost of my redemption/Yes, I killed a man."
This alternative bite is a new direction for
John, with songs like 'Can't Get Away' and 'I Killed a Man.’
I said to him, "This isn't the style I'm used to hearing from you! What
"Well, it has to be," he replied. "We want
to relate to kids, we want to reach them. I also wanted to try to do something
that was a little different from what Petra might do. I had the luxury
of using some really fine musicians [Dann Huff, David Huff, Jackie Street,
Mark Heimermann, George Cocchini], and we did about 60 percent of all
ten songs in five days with five excellent musicians that just
went in and had fun, did their thing, and it all came together. So it's
almost a live band; it's almost as much as you can have a studio band
The vocals on Unfit for Swine are delivered
with energy and conviction in that distinctive voice we've come to associate
with Petra. In one sense, Petra isn't completely out of the picture on
the album, in that three members of the group contributed songs for the
project. David Lichens and Jim Cooper wrote the music to "Don't Have
to Take It," and Ronny Cates takes musical credit for "God Is Too
Big" and "Take You On."
This last song, with lyrics by Schlitt, is
especially interesting in its autobiographical aspect. For seven years
Schlitt was a member of the secular band Head East. During this time he
became ensnared by alcohol, cocaine, and the glow of fame and fortune.
Through a series of events his career deteriorated, and John's discouragement
and depression reached the point where he considered taking his life.
Meanwhile, his wife found a library copy of Billy Graham's book "How
to Be Born Again"; six months after she gave her life to Christ,
John did, too. Such is the background for John's lyric, written as to
Satan, in "Take You On:"
So many years I lived a lie
What I wanted I could buy
Everything but peace of mind
And I kept on running
You stood there smiling wide
Your plan for me was right on
My destination: suicide
But God was there waiting
I was once defenseless
But today we're standing strong
I don't have to take you on alone
I don't have to stand in fear
I know my Strength is always
His voice is what I choose to
I'm not yours any longer
I asked about "There Is Someone." "That
song is for someone who's hurting," John said, "someone who has done things
that they don't think anyone, including God, will ever forgive them, someone
who maybe feels real lonely. It's just saying, Hey, don't forget there's
some- body out there that loves you just the way you are right now. "There
is someone who loves you just the way you are / There is someone who holds
you deep within His heart/ With a Father's love He's waiting, so rush
into His open arms." Realize that the Father is ready
to welcome you in, to have Jesus come into your heart, and that love will
surround you and warm you…."
"What's going on spiritually in your life
right now?" I asked.
"I'm going through a lot of testing," John
replied. "There are a lot of things going on in my life.... And I've
been super-busy: Helping to rebuild Petra, finishing the solo album in
record-braking time, getting the spring tour going. It's been one
thing after another after another. And I haven't been in the Word as much
as I need to, and I could feel it. I can feel it even now. I think it's
some reality that, once again, if you're going to be a Christian artist
you'd better stay in the Word, because sooner or later you dry up. And
then you try to go on your own, and you can blow it real easy."
"Do you think that your solo stuff will infringe
on or threaten Petra?" I asked.
"I don't think so," he responded. "I mean,
I don't plan on it threatening Petra. Petra’s still my number-one priority,
although I will say that I’ve taken a deeper look at my solo career. I
thought that the first record (Shake) would pretty much go on its own,
‘cause I really loved it – and it didn’t. You need to go out and support
it. And I tried to, but, for whatever reason, I wasn’t able to tour as
a solo artist as much as I wanted. So I changed a few things: booking
agents, priority as far as having a live band…"
"You’ll be doing your solo tour with
a live band?"
"Yes, at least, in September. I mean, I’m
gonna try it. I don’t want to do too much because I don't want
to get in the way of Petra. I don't want to take the'
voice of Petra, put it with another band
and - you know. That's not fair either."
I remembered a question I'd forgotten to ask
earlier: "You made a comment on the album at the end of the last
song…" I began, and John started to laugh.
"Incidentally, I’m not over the hill,"
he quoted himself.
"Yeah," I said. "What prompted
"Well," he began, "with Petra
being as old as it is, and me being as old as I am, I think a lot of times
there are people that want us out of the way. Let’s put it this way: In
the music business, especially in what we do, ‘old’ is not good. And we
are old, and I’m old, for what I do. And David (Huff), my producer, was
saying ‘You know, I was talking with so-and-so and telling him I was doing
your solo record, and he said, "What are you doing with him? He’s
over the hill!" I said, ‘Oh, he did, huh?’ So later when I started
singing ‘Don’t Have to Take It,’ which is absolutely about as ‘in’
as you can get - this song was really kickin’ – at the ending I’m just
messing around and I said, ‘And incidentally, I’m not over the hill.’
David thought that was the coolest thing, so he left it on."
I commented that despite Petra’s age, the
group was still valid.
"Listen , it’s not the credibility of
Petra, it’s the usability," John said. "As long as the kids
will accept us as bona fide and as happenin,’ we’ll be doing it. We’re
very honored that the youth pastors trust us and that’s very important,
but the kids tell the youth leaders who they’re gonna go see, and if they
choose to see Petra it means that we’re doing our job. And what I do is
what I do naturally, and age doesn’t have a whole do with it… But it’s
a reality I have to face. I think it’s sort of fun, ‘cause man, I still
love what I do and I still kick on pretty well." (Sitting across from
the man, I'd already decided that he'd dropped five years from his age
just in getting the new haircut.)
"Is there anything else you'd like to talk
about?" I offered.
"I just praise God that He's allowed me to
do what I do," John said. "I hope that I'm able to do it for many years
to come. I hope that I'm in His will when I want this, and if so, I hope
that I'm able to kick on with more energy than anyone would ever expect
- you know, just give Him 110 percent. ...It'd be very cool."
A couple of weeks later I watched Schlitt
perform with Petra. Being up close, I could see the expressions and interactions
of the guys on stage - they seemed to be having a great time. Schlitt
himself, more diverse in his movements than in previous years' concerts,
demonstrated an experienced charisma in dealing with the audience. The
man who'd said he'd like to be able to give 110 percent seemed to be burning
every bit of that.
En route home I shoved Unfit for Swine
into the stereo and its message rocked out in John's familiar voice:
"How can we ever think of compromise, when we're reminded of the
One above and the price of His life? He lived to be a sacrifice!"
Over the hill? No way.
- Nancy VanArendonk, The Christian
Advocate, July 1996