Reviews for Unfit For Swine
By Various Publications
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 is Someone."
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, Shake.
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
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 either way.
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’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 All-Star.
- Lucas W. Hendrickson, CCM Magazine, July 1996 issue
Alone Again, Naturally….
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 rewarding."
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 done."
- Brian McGovern, HM Magazine, July/Aug. 1996
John Schlitt and Music that’s Unfit for Swine
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 all
And love me still, You love me still.
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 group.
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 you talk
Every day you have to go against the flow
Criticism follows everywhere you go
Can you take it? Is it worth it anymore?
The wolves are knocking at the door
It's hard to stand for the creed
They'll start to wear you to the core
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 you?
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 day?
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 a change!"
"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 being live."
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 time
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 anymore..
I don't have to stand in fear
I know my Strength is always near
His voice is what I choose to hear
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
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 that?"
"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