The O.C. Supertones (Contemporary Musicians)
The O. C. Supertones, also known as the Orange County Supertones, are a Christian rock group that uses music to share their religious beliefs. They began playing together in the early 1990s with a ska-based sound similar to that of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Their first album, O.C. Supertones, was nominated for the Gospel Music Association's Dove Award, and their second album, Supertones Strike Back, debuted at number two on the Christian music charts.
Although they emphasize Christianity in their songs, band members admit that their original motives in playing music were not so lofty. Singer Matt Morginsky began playing music at age 12 hoping it would help him meet girls; when that didn't work, he joined a band, not knowing it was a church band. In between the music he listened to the prayers and sermons and eventually became a Christian. Drummer Jason Carson and bass player Tony Terusa, who attended Mission Viejo High School, both played in a heavy metal band that emphasized songs about sex and destruction. Carson went to church one day and experienced a spiritual awakening that led him to quit that band and begin playing Christian rock; Terusa, intrigued by Carson's conversion, eventually did the same.
By 1991 the three were playing together in a Christian band called Saved, trying many different styles of music, including grunge, funk, disco, and metal. Eventually they added church friends David Chevalier on saxophone, Darren Mettler on trumpet, and Brian Johnson on guitar, and made their sound ska-core; this was the birth of the Orange County Supertones, later known as the O.C. Supertones. After they released their first album, Dan Spencer, originally a fan from Dallas, Texas, called the band to ask if they needed a trombonist, and when they asked him to audition, was added to the band.
Carson, the spiritual leader of the band, took his passion for teaching and uplifting young people into his music, incorporating biblical messages into lyrics and spending some time during every concert preaching. The band's message is not simply positive, it is explicitly Christian, and their lyrics testify to their personal experience as followers of Jesus. According to the TKO Artist Agency website, who managed the band at that time, Carson said, "We want to be used by God in every song we write, every concert we play, every record we produce, and in everything we do. As soon as this band forgets this mission, we will stop being a band." Of the seven members of the band, six were involved in youth ministry at their churches, and Carson was the college group leader at his church.
Their first album, Adventures of the O.C. Supertones, released in 1996, took Christian listeners by surprise with its energy and freshness; by 1997 it had sold 100,000 copies. According to Mike Boehm in the Los Angeles Times, radio host Tazy Phillipz said, "It's pretty amazing for a band that has had very little radio or video airplay to have been able to sell that amount of CDs. I would have to say the whole Christian values thing works in their favor, big time." Evidently it did, because that first album was nominated for the Gospel Music Association's Dove Award, and when the band released its second album, Supertones Strike Back, in 1997, it debuted at number two on the Christian music charts. Boehm commented that Supertones Strike Back "is one of the best Christian rock albums ever to come out of Orange County, which has a strong tradition of Christian alternative music."
According to Terry DeBoer in the Grand Rapids Press, Mettler said that their 1999 album Chase the Sun was "heavily producede used auto-tune and had extra musicians come in for keyboards and scratching." By 2000 Carson's interest in reaching young people had grown to the point where touring with the band was no longer satisfying to him. He wanted to have a full-time job working ministering to teens, and when a California church invited him to become a youth pastor, he accepted the position and left the group. His departure left a hole in the band; trumpeter and vocalist Darren Mettler told the DeBoer, "It was hard at first because of how much of a spokesperson he was, so outgoing, and the one who led the band behind the scenes." "But," Mettler added, "we've all stepped up in different ways." Morginsky told a reporter for Release magazine that Carson's parting from the band was amicable, and that the other members knew this was the right move for him. Morginsky said that Carson's "heart had always been in discipling kids. They must have assembled him in the youth pastor factory. He's an amazing youth pastor."
Mettler also told DeBoer that after Carson left, "It was a big question if we were gonna fall apart internally, just from organization, motivation and things like that. But now we've gone to new levels in trusting God, realizing it's his ministry and just trying to be obedient." He said that although none of the band members had Carson's gift for public speaking, the group's new configuration "comes across as a good reflection of the band. We're just a bunch of normal guys trying to share how good God is."
The band members took turns preaching during concerts, and they found a new drummer: Adam Ferry, who had previously played with a group called Plankeye. He fit well into the band; Terusa told the Release reporter that Ferry was "a little tighter playing live [than Carson]."
In addition to the loss of Carson, the band also faced another turning point. Having ridden the wave of ska's popularity through the 1990s, their success paralleling that of mainstream bands No Doubt and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, the band had to reassess its style when the ska craze began to wane. If the band wanted to survive, it had to find a new sound. By the time they recorded Loud and Clear in 2000, they were growing tired of ska. Terusa told the Release reporter, "Ska had its day. But we wanted to rock a little bit more." On Loud and Clear, the band returned to a live, raw feel. One song from Loud and Clear, "Escape from Reason," became a successful rock single with a video that played on MTV.
Changing their style, though, risked alienating fans who were used to the ska sound, so the band kept a ska underbeat, but experimented with more electric guitar, as well as a hip-hop reggae sound on the song "What It Comes To." Terusa told the Release reporter, "We're kinda stuck in this zone," noting that many Christian listeners preferred the Nashville sound, and that the band's sound was viewed as "too hard" for Christian radio. On the other hand, their religious message made it difficult for them to get airplay on mainstream stations. Terusa added, "Excuse me for sounding prideful, but bands that haven't sold as much as us, or not even half, are getting way more airplay. It's a tough situation, but we are just, Take everything with joy, try and smile and say, 'It's good, the Lord's good, and we'll see what happens.'"
Another difficulty facing the band was that they were getting older, but their fan base remained high school aged. Loud and Cleat's cover was modeled after a high-school yearbook, with humorous photos of the band members posing as members of the chess club, sports teams, or the student council. There was no doubt, however, that they were actually in their mid- to late twenties. Terusa told the Release reporter that they were not worried because their fan base was not aging along with them, commenting, "Our hearts' desire is to be role models."
In 2001 the band booked a 60-city tour, playing in high school gymnasiums, encouraging fans to dress up and come ready to dance. They chose gymnasiums over churches on purpose, reasoning that more young people would be willing to go to an event at a school than one in a church, and that high schools were more affordable venues than auditoriums, which kept ticket prices low. Touring with the band were Reliant K, whose audience was very young, and Switchfoot, with college-aged fans, so the band played to a multigenerational crowd.
As that tour was ending, the O.C. Supertones signed with a new agency, Alabaster Arts. On the Crosswalk.com website, Terusa said that the band was grateful for the help their former manager, Dave Bahsen, had given them as they got started. But, he said, "We're excited to see what the Lord has for us as we step into some new areas of ministry." They released their fifth album of original material, the rock-based Hi-Fi Revival, in late 2002.
Adventures of the Orange County Supertones, Tooth and Nail, 1996.
Orange County Supertones Strike Back, BEC Recordings, 1997.
Chase the Sun, BEC Recordings, 1999.
Loud and Clear, BEC Recordings, 2000.
Supertones Live! Vol. One, BEC Recordings, 2002.
Hi-Fi Revival, BEC Recordings, 2002.
Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, Ml), April 27, 2001; April 30, 2001.
Life, July 1, 1999.
Los Angeles Times, August 20, 1997; December 29, 1997.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), June 21, 1997.
"Jumpin' Ska High," Christianity Today, http://www.christianitytoday.com (September 16, 2002).
"O.C. Supertones Have New Management," Crosswalk.com,http://www.crosswalk.com/540010.html (September 17, 2002).
"The O.C. Supertones: It's Party Time," Release Magazine, http://www.releasemagazine.com (September 16, 2002).
The O.C. Supertones Official Website, http://www.supertones.com (September 16, 2002).