by Chris Gatto

My first time discovering Whitecross was also my first time discovering christian metal. I was into christian rock and punk, and when my friends went to see Steve Taylor play on his I Predict 1990 tour, they told me about this new band Whitecross that was the opener. As soon as I heard their debut, the guitars, the urgency, and hard hitting lyrics spoke to me, and began a lifelong love of christian metal for me. It’s an honor to be able to introduce you to the band in this new chapter of their ministry. The band is actually the one to title this piece and I couldn’t agree more. Fresh lineup. Fresh new album dropping 3/22/24. Welcome to Whitecross 2.0!

While noting the 1987 rerecording of your debut in 2005, Fear No Evil will be the first Whitecross album of all new material post-millennium, and fan anticipation is through the roof. Why is now the time for new Whitecross, and how did we get here? Please discuss Rex’s reunion with the band, the Guardian and Whitecross experiment, and Dave getting hired as singer.

● Rex: There’s a lot to unpack here. In brief, you may know that I left the band in 1994 and I came back in 2000. We came back with a bang! At Cornerstone 2000, it was a wonderful night. They had us in a tent that was supposed to hold approximately 2,000 people, but they rolled up all the sides, and there was a horseshoe ring around three sides of the tent. My own estimation is that there were about 5-6,000 people that evening. People were excited to see the core of the band back together: myself, Scotty, Mike, and Benny. From the year 2000, we had finally achieved lineup stability. That show, in retrospect, might have been the high watermark of the 21st century for Whitecross. We talked about doing a new album and a lot of time had passed. We didn’t know if we were still capable of recording. On my end, I had a new studio I had never used to attempt a recording project that big. We didn’t know if Scotty could still sing at the level that fans had come to expect. So, we made what we thought was a reasonable calculation. Let’s try a re-recording of the first album to sort of get our feet wet and find out if we’re able to do it: if we’re able to function as a band, if Scotty is still able to sing at a high level, if my studio is still a viable option for recording. So, we went ahead with that recording. On the one hand, it was an opportunity to have a decent recording of the songs. We all know the technical quality of the debut recording was less than stellar, to be kind. To be more accurate, it was terrible. On the other hand, we got the answers to all of those questions. We called the album Nineteen Eighty-Seven as a homage to the original album, which was released in 1987. The idea was that the 1987 album would be a quick project to get our feet wet before proceeding to an album of all-new material, but like everything else that I do, I got very engrossed in all of the details, and it ended up not being a quick project, but a major piece of work. I’m very happy that we were able to do it. That album has actually done pretty well and has resonated with the fanbase. So, I know it was worthwhile to do that project.

What we didn’t know at the time was that would be the last time that Scotty and I could work together on a project. We have many differences of opinion regarding what kind of songs we want to write, how we write the songs, procedures, and many areas where we diverge on how we want to do things. We made attempts to do new things, but they didn’t go anywhere. Meanwhile, we continued to play live shows here and there, and as a band, we coasted for fifteen years. We didn’t really rehearse much. We could not get together and work on new things, which hindered us, also. We were alive as a band in the sense that we played shows, but we were not really together working on new songs. Not to say we didn’t try. It just didn’t work out.

In 2017, an opportunity came up for Mike and myself to join up with David Bach and Jamie Rowe from Guardian to create a new project. I thought it would be great, but I had a stipulation that I didn’t want to be the #1 cog in the wheel. For the most part, that worked out. David Bach was the driving force in that project. Things got a little weird when it came to recording. In order to save money, I volunteered to do the recording, but the results I was getting at my studio were not satisfactory for the rest of the guys. I urged David Bach to select a new studio and a different producer because we had both the time and the money to do so. But he insisted we had no money or time, and I had to just get it done. That was a little strange, but I finished the recording the best that I could. I think it was a great idea that came close to working, but it didn’t quite pan out at the end of the day.

By the year 2018, it was very clear to me that the writing was on the wall as far as Scotty and myself being able to work together as an effective ministry team. We are both wired very differently, and we were having a lot of difficulties communicating with each other. The things that I wanted were very different from the things he wanted and something had to give. We limped along through 2018, and the tipping point came when we were contacted about the possibility of performing historic concerts in India. Scotty basically said he didn’t want to go. He vetoed the trip, and he had his reasons: it was hard on his work schedule, and he didn’t think we were ready collectively for it. But the rest of us unanimously said it was a great opportunity. We wanted to be a part of it.

At that point, we enlisted Peter Stenlund, our friend from the Swedish group Laudamus, to come as a guest singer. The two concerts that we ended up performing in Shillong and Dimapur…I don’t know how to describe them. They were life-changing for me and mind-blowing in the sense that we had been carrying on as a band for 35 years, and I had no idea that there was an entire generation of people in India who were growing up listening to our music. Specifically, they let me know that “Simple Man” was a song they were teaching their kids in Sunday School as a template for Christian living. That experience showed us that we had a viable band, but either I needed to go, or Scotty needed to go. I offered the band that I would step away, and they could find another guitar player, and I would do something different, or we could go on as Whitecross and get someone else to sing. As a band, the three of us made a unanimous decision to stick together and find a new lead singer. This was something that I had known was coming for three or four years that I had been very reluctant to address out of respect for the iconic legacy of Scott.

At that time, once the decision had been made, David Roberts came into the picture, and we invited him as a guest vocalist to sing a couple of songs in the studio and perform a couple of shows with us. We really took our time with Dave because the number one commitment of Whitecross from day one has always been to share the gospel of Jesus Christ through music and to make known the name of God throughout the world. That core mission remains unchanged, and it was very important to us to ensure that Dave or anyone else who would come into the picture would be actively engaged in that mission. As I have said in many other interviews, I can’t say enough good things about Dave. He has proven to be a great fit for the band. We are musically compatico and he has embraced the core mission of Whitecross 100%.

From approximately 2021 until 2023, we have finally been able to work on new songs and a new album, and that brings us to 2024 with the release of the first all-new studio album from Whitecross in over twenty years: the Fear No Evil record which is releasing on March 22nd of this year. For me, personally, it’s an amazing record that covers all of my personal checkboxes. It sounds great! I’m grateful for the work of our good friend and mix engineer, Anthony Fox. He’s our secret weapon in the studio to help us get the tones we’re looking for. The songs have some really great messages that are highly applicable to the world we live in today. It’s some of my best guitar work, and the band sounds amazing. Dave is singing his brains out, Mike is drumming up a massive wall of sound, and Benny is thundering on the bass! That pretty much sums up the band from my perspective from then until now.

● Michael: It’s crazy when I think about the history of Whitecross since I’ve been in it and all that has happened: some great times, some not-so-great times. Right now is a great time, especially with this new album and new material for the first time in over 20 years. The whole band is super proud of how this project turned out and we are so excited for people to hear it! Dave Roberts did a spectacular job singing on this album. I couldn’t be more proud of him, and he’s given us renewed energy. The way this whole project came together was quite crazy, and I just have to say praise God for making a way for us to release new material to the fans.

● Su (WC Social Media Manager): Isn’t it always time for new Whitecross? These songs have been carbon-dated and some of them are popping numbers like Day 29,000. It’s time they get out and cut some glass.

Going back to the Guardian and Whitecross mashup. It seemed to work on paper. Why did it fizzle out?

● Rex: I agree 100%. It seems like an idea that should have worked. Logically, it would have/could have/should have worked. I think it got bogged down in the details of trying to create the album… To this day, I don’t really know what happened, but after we finished the recording, the guys went their separate ways. Nobody was in charge of steering the ship, so it just kind of fizzled out. We all remain friendly with each other, but as a band, I guess it didn’t work.

● Michael: I was definitely confused about why the Guardian Whitecross project did not pan out. We all thought it would be a no-brainer bringing both bands together and that the fans would love it. We wanted to release new material right out of the gate but were coerced into releasing old songs from each band. I think everybody lost some momentum at that point, and it just fizzled out.

Given that Whitecross is a very guitar-driven band, does every song start with a riff, or with a lyric? What role did everyone play in writing the new album?

● Rex: That’s a great question; depending on the artist, you’ll get a different answer. In my case, I love great guitar riffs, and I love great vocal melodies, and I love great lyrics. From a songwriter’s perspective, you have to match the melody to the music, and the lyric has to be rhythmically compatible with the melody. So, nine times out of ten, I will start with a guitar riff/musical idea and then create lyrics to go with that particular piece of music. Sometimes, as with David Roberts or Michael Feighan, they will write abstract lyrics, and I will sit on those lyrics, sometimes for a long time. Then, one day, a guitar riff pops up, and I will have a thought: “Hey, this lyric matches the rhythm of this guitar idea.” So, in that sense, you can have lyrics before the music, but for me, usually, it’s the other way around. Every artist is different. I know I have read some interviews with Elton John where he says that Bernie Taupin would hand him lyrics, and then he would compose music to fit the lyrics. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to the question. It’s just different for every artist.

Sometimes, a specific lyric will capture my imagination. For example, Dave wrote a lyric that says, “I am bone, I am skin, I am so much more within. I am fire, I am stone.” When I read that lyric, almost immediately I could hear music happening with that lyric with The Voice of Dave coming down like a ten-ton weight crashing through the floor! It was very easy to fill out the rest of that song, which became a meditation on the 23rd Psalm and ended up becoming the album’s title track, “Fear No Evil.” I have composed most of the songs with help from Dave and some help from Mike.

I have discovered invaluable things about rehearsal. Sometimes, Benny will improvise a bass riff off the top of his head that sounds brilliant. Whenever that happens, we will stop immediately and ask him to commit that to a recording, write it down, or document it in some way so that it becomes part of the song. In a similar manner, Mike will do the same thing with his drumming, where he will try different ideas. When he plays something that is truly spectacular, we will stop at that moment and document whatever he played, and that also becomes part of the song. So, in this way, we build arrangements that allow the guys to be themselves, and in a larger sense, I think that in a band, you have to make room for the personalities of each band member to shine through rather than forcing people to just follow a chart. Dave has his influences from Robert Plant and David Coverdale. Mike has his influences from Latin percussion. Benny has his influences from R&B and urban gospel. I, of course, have my influences from virtually every guitar hero from the 1960s until now. So, if you throw all those things into a blender, you should be able to come up with a sound that is a unique combination of those four individuals.

With social media, streaming singles, and even the role of record companies now – how different was making this album for you? How important is having a social media manager these days?

● Rex: It’s a brave new world for me. I am of a peculiar generation that began life in the analog world and has been forcibly transitioned into the digital era that we now live in. There were many things that I did not like in the analog world, such as the ability of the major record labels to make or break your career. On the other hand, there were things that I enjoyed in the analog era, such as the ridiculous, crazy, insane dollar amounts that were budgeted for the creation of records, videos, interviews, etc. I remember back around 1989 when a Japanese magazine paid for me to fly from Chicago to LA, hang out for two days on the Sunset Strip, all for the purpose of doing a three-hour interview with their top journalist who flew from Japan to Hollywood for the sole purpose of interviewing me. That’s crazy, right? Nowadays, that same interview would be handled by an email where they would forward a list of questions where you type out the answers and send it back. No muss, no fuss, no capital expenditure. So, in a sense, we can say that the digital world is more efficient, but the analog world was often a lot more fun!

I miss the days when we knew that 20,000 records were pre-sold on day one of release, but, on the other hand, I don’t miss the constant underreporting and falsification of royalty statements from the record labels either. That’s not just me complaining, but it seems to be a universally shared experience from just about every artist I have ever spoken with from the analog days. Working on the Fear No Evil album was extremely challenging and at one point was in danger of bogging down to a complete stop. Fortunately for the band and myself, our executive producer and social media manager, Su, stepped in to reorganize the production and provide the help needed to bring the record to completion.

Some things are common in both eras. Namely, you can’t really be a one-man production. To produce a high-quality album requires a team effort and you still need good people around you to do things like social media, record distribution, PR, booking, etc. I am blessed to have a great team around me, starting with the band, and I’m happy to say we’re all together on the same page as a band. Our social media is expertly handled by Su, and we have our record label at Dark Star and our behind-the-scene teams with ChipsterPR, Tim Binder at radio, Dorn at Darthplumber Management, and Wendell Wright on graphic design. Just as an observation, in the old days, i.e., the analog era, the phrase “word of mouth” literally meant word of mouth. You liked an album. You told your friends about it. You went to a concert. You dragged your friends along with you. They would become fans. This is how you would grow your audience. In the modern era, ie, the digital world, it seems to me that social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have become the marketplace for “word of mouth.” Somebody likes a band or a song. They make a post about it. Then, your friends read the post. They check it out. They also become fans. The phrase “word of mouth” these days seems to mean people posting on social media rather than literally telling your friends about it such as in the old days.

● Michael: In the direction music has taken these days, it’s pretty crazy. You definitely have to be pretty savvy as far as social media goes, and that’s not a gift anybody in this band has, (laughs). Thank God for people like Su to help us and guide us. Hopefully, we will get a better handle on it sooner rather than later.

● Benny: I think it’s extremely important, especially in this day and age. We are not the type of guys that are 100% savvy with latest technology. So having somebody that is in charge of social media for us is pretty essential. And currently I think we have a good team working alongside the band helping us in many departments. I call it the Whitecross family.

● Su: Social media is daunting. These guys did not grow up with a selfie stick: it is not their nature to take a photo or video for social media. It is great having Rich Varno from Song Angel and Dorn Reppert from Darthplumber Artist Management helping create hype. Rex has enlisted the help of Guy Danhoff of ZAGTalk. Dark Star Records has a team working behind the scenes from Chipster PR, New Ocean Media, and Ten13 Entertainment. I’ve been blessed to meet you, Chris, and a few other media types in the flesh or over video calls. However, and I know I’m preaching to the choir here, I have been disappointed with some of the rude things people say online, especially those who claim to be fans. If you don’t want to listen to Whitecross because of a lineup change, just don’t listen. There’s no reason to get in a verbal fistfight with a ride-or-die fan. The Bible says, “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.” Proverbs 10:19 KJV

Whitecross was often compared to Ratt sonically, but I often think of Rex and Michael of Whitecross like the Van Halens, Eddie and Alex, because of the guitars and drums being larger than life. Do you mind when writers compare you to other musicians or just take it in stride? Who are/were some of the artists that inspire each of you and shape your own style?

● Rex: Regarding the Eddie and Alex comparison, that’s really cool! I’ve never thought of it that way before, but in a way, there’s a great deal of truth to that. Michael and I have played music together for thirty years now, and we have gotten to know each other’s tendencies, so I think your assessment is largely true that we do play together like brothers who each know what the other is going to do and anticipate/respond accordingly. Thanks for pointing that out. I never considered it that way before, but there’s a lot of truth to it. As far as the Ratt comparison, absolutely yes, especially in our first couple of albums, there was that similarity which, I would like to point out, was 100% coincidental. It was crazy when I heard Scotty sing for the first time, and I thought, “Wow! He has an uncanny resemblance to Stephen Pearcy!” If you ask Scotty, even he will tell you that his influences at the time were mostly from Christian artists such as Glenn Kaiser of Rez Band or perhaps Stryper. Nowadays, of course, it’s a new era and people tell me all the time that Dave Roberts reminds them of Dio, Coverdale, Sammy Hagar, Queensryche, etc., etc. I just think it’s really cool that he fits into a conversation on equal footing with all of these vocal superstars and legends. As I mentioned previously, my influences go all the way back to the mid-60s, starting with Cream, Eric Clapton, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Jimi Hendrix, and Johnny Winter. Led Zeppelin, Climax Blues Band, Foghat, Humble Pie, Peter Frampton, Robin Trower, Frank Marino, and the list goes on and on and on. Bad Company, UFO, Scorpions, and then all of the hair bands from the ‘80s, starting from Van Halen. Back up, before that, probably my biggest influence from the 1970’s is Deep Purple. Ritchie Blackmore was a template for me of “this is what a guitar player is supposed to look like and sound like, and this is what rock songs are supposed to sound like.”

● Michael: That is one of the best compliments for me and Rex to be compared to the Van Halen Brothers!! I’ve been pretty spoiled to have been able to play with a guitarist like Rex for over 30 years, and after that long, you start to build chemistry with each other and get used to their ideas, and they get used to yours, and that’s when it’s really satisfying.

Fans have had a taste of what’s coming with the three songs on the pre-release CD and videos on YouTube, but what kind of direction will the new album take us? One of the new songs is played unplugged, with Rex playing mandolin. The Whitecross catalog starts out firmly in metal territory and then drifts more into hard rock with each album. Does this one continue where you left off, or start anew?

● Rex: Well, the three-song disc, at the time we released it, was mainly so that people could get an idea of the new sound with our new singer. Those three songs are part of the new release. However, the entire band performs on the new record. There are no drum computers or anything like that. I respect that the fans want to hear a familiar sound from Whitecross, so songs like “Lion of Judah,” “The Way We Rock,” and “Vendetta” stay in that familiar Whitecross hard rocking melodic guitar riff territory that is familiar to our fans. At the same time, our audience is growing up and so are we. With a nod toward the future, we are continually experimenting with new things, such as the mandolin song “Blind Man” and the beautiful orchestration of “Wishing Well.” I like the idea that we deliver a solid album that our hard rock fans can always rely on while, at the same time, we always deliver a couple of songs that explore new territories.

● Michael: I am so proud of this new album, and I really think Rex knocked it out of the park. His songwriting on this is stellar! I really feel this album is very enjoyable to listen to and diverse. You have your rock songs that tipped their hat to the old Whitecross songs as well as newer rock songs, like “Fear No Evil” and “Lion of Judah,” and then a Zeppelinish acoustic number as well as a power ballad called “Wishing Well” that turned out beautiful.

● Benny: I feel it’s some of both. There is still the classic Whitecross sound but there are some new elements as well that you’ll hear. In football, when you add a new quarterback it changes some of the dynamic. With having a new singer brings a different feel. And we like the way it feels.  

● Su: I personally feel the overall album harkens back to the debut (which I still adore), but there has been so much musical and lyrical growth that it makes the debut sound a little childish in comparison. It’s like those songs that start out nostalgic, like a beloved scratched-up 45RPM, and then punch through with a modern sound quality that reminds me that my wristwatch could rip the face off my first computer.

Dave, how hard has it been to step into Scott Wenzel’s shoes vocally? I’ve had the pleasure of seeing you sing with Whitecross 3 times in the last couple years, so there’s no doubt in my mind that you’re going to pull it off – new material and old, but there are always haters out there, sometimes even well-intentioned fans. How do you overcome that friction? Bands change members all the time – Van Halen had 3 singers – how do you win over those old fans?

● Rex: We basically reached a point where we can either go on as a band with Dave or call it a day. This is an old band with a new sound, and all of us carry nostalgia for the original sound, but this is 2024, and that was 1987: more than thirty years ago. We are so excited about what God is doing with the band and where He is taking our ministry, that we don’t have time to worry about people who just want to relive the year 1987 over and over. They’re welcome to do that. I fully appreciate that is the soundtrack of people’s lives, and we love that, respect that, and appreciate it. Now, in 2024, we want to reach new fans and be part of the soundtrack of your life in 2024.

● Dave: Scott is not easy to cover, and I certainly respect his catalog with Whitecross. I knew it was going to be a challenge. I also was prepared for some ‘haters,’ as with any band’s fans that change singers. I just focused on my job, to bring the best I have to the new material, and to find a way to make the Scotty songs my own while keeping with the intent. My hope is the fans will welcome the new material, which of course, means they welcome me. I must say, the fans have been very kind to me.

Is there a theme running through Fear No Evil?

● Rex: My personal theme is this: Jesus Christ for me. Jesus Christ for you. Jesus Christ for our country. Jesus Christ for the world.

● Dave: Not sure how to answer this. Theme? I mean, with God, I fear no evil, and anyone can have this gift. It’s free, too! I am so less stressed with God in my life. I literally fear no evil. Evil is rampant in this world. It’s really nice to have that peace I get from God to navigate through hard or evil times.

● Su: The album wasn’t written to be cohesive, but it does tell a story. I don’t think any song was chosen because it fit a theme. They were chosen because they were ready to be chosen, and then they were put into their places with much care and discussion. I actually argued against the order, but it’s grown on me.

Each member – favorite WC song or album?

● Rex: The next one. They’re all my favorite.

● Dave: Favorite album is “Fear No Evil.”

● Benny: “Fear No Evil” and “Man in the Mirror ” are my favorites.

● Su: I know a lot of people aren’t fond of “You’re Mine,” but the first time I heard it, I melted down. Over the years, I have needed that song many times. I have also created many Whitecross fans with “Nagasake,” including my own children. However, after being immersed in this project, I’m not sure the debut is my favorite album anymore. Week to week, my favorite song on Fear No Evil changes, but I think at this moment, “Vendetta” is my favorite.

When the Christian metal movement began, the music was used as a vehicle for evangelism. Over the years, that has changed. Many bands avoid the term Christian; other Christian bands avoid talking about God at all. Has that mission changed, or are they just a lot of unfaithful missionaries today? How accountable should musicians be for the message their music delivers?

● Rex: Rather than talking about other artists, I just want to focus on the mission of Whitecross, which is to lift up the name of Jesus Christ throughout the whole world, to make known the glory of God, and to play music to the absolute best of our abilities. Full stop.

● Dave: I can’t speak for the other bands. I believe we each have our own path and conviction to deliver God’s word. For me, it’s an honor and a God-given gift that I can sing Rock ‘n Roll and speak of the Bible. It just doesn’t get any better than that: for a Christian who loves Rock music and a Band of Brothers in Christ who have the same mission. I don’t think the mission has changed for Whitecross.

● Michael: As far as the Christian metal movement and where it is today, all I can say is that I personally and the band want to always glorify God through our music. It’s pretty amazing that God has even given us each a platform, and we want to use it wisely. Not all bands may be called to be labeled Christian, but they can still be used by God.

● Su: I don’t really care if a band is labeled “Christian.” The term has no real-world value without the power of the message. In these troubled days when people can’t figure out their own identity, labels mean even less. The Book of Esther doesn’t seem to mention God, but He’s coded in the message. You have to pay attention and study. There were bands back in the day that pulled me in with their first album, but by the second or third, I was disheartened that they had veered from the truth. I can enjoy secular music if it’s not spewing lies, but if someone claims to be a candle and has no wick, they will be accountable when someone falls in the dark trying to follow them.

How do each of you keep well-versed on your respective instruments? Do you have other musical ventures?

● Rex: Regarding “how do you keep well-versed,” in a word: practice! Regarding your second question, it’s in the nature of artists to always explore different things. Also, it is often an economic necessity to have your finger in different projects. We all try to stay busy and bring our absolute best and purest intent to Whitecross.

● Dave: I rehearse a lot!! I also sing in a Zeppelin Tribute Band in Dallas in between Whitecross shows.

Moving forward, what can we expect from Whitecross? More shows? New music? How can your fans support you and pray for WC?

● Rex: Moving forward, I think that we can hopefully expect more music, more shows, and more Whitecross. Please pray for us and our families. We have the same issues that you do, i.e., family, income, health, relationships, and staying true to our calling. The best way you can support us is by sharing. If you have enjoyed our music, please share it with your friends and consider purchasing a copy of our music. This helps us out directly. Every royalty counts. Or, please consider coming to see us live.

● Michael: The band has new energy for sure, and we want to play out as much as possible. And God willing, we will have another chance to make another album. It’s my hope that the band as a whole can write together, although I know we will have to step it up because Rex doesn’t play around (laughs).

● Su: This band is ready to go. They need serious venues. It’s great to hear fans say, “Come to my hometown!” because that’s encouragement, but it would be better to hear, “My church is ready to work out the details!” Pray that details are constantly being worked out.

‘Nuff said. Pick up the new album Fear No Evil available now and check out Whitecross at a venue near you. Blessings, guys. Pleasure talking to you.

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