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Rock ’n’ roll, but not in church

05 July 2024

A near-tragedy steered the indie rockers Luxury on to very traditional path, the band tells Vicky Walker

Luxury playing live in the 1990s

Luxury playing live in the 1990s

THE American rock band Luxury has defied neat categorisation since it was formed in the early 1990s at a Christian liberal-arts college. It then comprised four devout young men, and was initially known as the Shroud. They wrote and recorded music influenced by acts as diverse as the Smiths, KISS, and the hardcore punk band Fugazi, and performed with similar energy.

But Luxury, despite appearances, was “not a party band”, the bass player, Chris Foley, says. And the band’s singer and lyricist, Lee Bozeman, recalls: “We were living very Christian lives, as far as marriage and morality and church.”

Catching up with them in 2024 reveals a surprising trajectory. Besides making new music, three of the five current members are now Eastern Orthodox priests.

A serious traffic collision while touring in 1995 changed the band’s priorities and their lives. Injuries inflicted during the crash included three broken necks — including the band’s drummer, Glenn Black, and Luxury’s manager Reid Davis — and what they describe as “other life-threatening internal injuries, suffered especially by Lee Bozeman, who was thrown halfway out of the toppling van as it came to rest on his midsection.”

“We were on a trajectory towards ‘We want to make it,’” says Foley, now one of the three Orthodox priests and known as Fr Chris. The crash “certainly changed the direction where just ‘making it’ — whatever that even means — didn’t seem like quite the priority it once was. Certainly the desire to still write and record and play was still there, but not for necessarily the exact same reasons.”

Still from Parallel LoveFr James, Fr David (Lee), and Fr Christopher are now Orthodox priests

Before the crash, success had beckoned after Luxury was signed to a record label and toured to enthusiastic crowds, but the band’s musical style often sat awkwardly in Christian music venues and festivals. Alongside the members’ sometimes anarchic stage presence, their ambiguous lyrics alluded to the body, sexuality, and sensuality.

“I was writing lyrically from a Christian perspective, but not necessarily about Christian topics. We weren’t using that language,” Bozeman says. Along with his brother Jamey, the band’s guitarist, he is now an Orthodox priest known as Fr David.

The band was known for its distinctive performances. “When we would play those shows, we would tend to be a little more pushing back against it, maybe more provocative,” Foley says. “Maybe that was our own rebelling against that status quo, or just not comfortable in those environments: feeling like that needs to get shaken up a little bit. We were put in some very awkward situations. If it was a Christian venue — like playing a Christian skatepark, or some evangelists got up and yelled at the kids — and then we’re expected to play after that.”

THEIR different faith traditions meant that the band didn’t have a shared spiritual practice. Bozeman says: “Fr Chris and I were becoming Orthodox. And, in the mid-’90s, our drummer, Glenn, was a Lutheran; and then my brother, Fr James, was an elder in a Protestant church.”

But, as their individual spiritual paths diverged, their connection as a band continued. The priesthood, Bozeman says, is “uniquely kind of a lonely profession. You don’t typically have multiple priests in one location. And so, the band and priests . . . these are sort of indissoluble bonds that we that we have, no matter the conflict within the band. The band has actually become probably the most contentious things in our lives: how do we still do music and get things done? But the longevity of our relationships with each other — it transcends all that.”

One thing they agree on is the rejection of the idea of a “rock-and-roll liturgy”. “We’re shaped and formed by a living tradition that we have received,” Foley says. “And so we fall back into the arms of the Church. It’s not a place for us to, kind of, be creative and do our own thing. In a sense, that’s what I love about our Orthodox tradition. And, since our experience of the liturgy, and our sacramental life is our primary means of our participation in Christ himself, it matters how we do worship.

“How we worship informs what we believe. What we believe should inform how we worship. So, I love rock and roll, certainly, but we have sacred space, and we have sacred liturgy. And that is to tell us that all of life is sacred. And, even when we’re on stage, playing our rock and roll, there’s something beautiful and sacred about that.

”But, if we didn’t have sacred liturgy and sacred space, then everything would collapse upon itself, and then we wouldn’t be able to see everything out here as sacred and beautiful. . . The thought of doing a rock-and-roll liturgy, to me, it would cause the whole deck of cards to fall, and nothing would be sacred any more. So, rock and roll is sacred only because the liturgy is sacred.”

The co-opting of popular culture had the opposite of the intended effect on him: “Growing up as a product of Evangelical American culture, in high school [and] junior high, it was like, ‘We gotta reach the young people. So let’s bring in all these rock-and-roll bands, because then we’ll reach the kids.’ That did nothing for me, and many other people I know. That’s what drew me more towards Orthodoxy, something beautiful and traditional. I don’t want the rock band, I don’t want the potato chips and the candy, you know. I want something, something deeper than pop-culture faith. And so it just . . . it didn’t resonate with me.”

Luxury in 1998

Matt Hinton, Luxury’s other guitarist, who describes himself as the “token non-Orthodox”, agrees: “In my estimation, the music in church should be strictly congregational. It should be participation and not performative at all. And rock and roll, by definition, has a performative aspect to it. So, as soon as you have people on the stage singing, and microphones, you’re creating this barrier that prevents the congregation from fully engaging and fully participating in the liturgy.” His work outside the band has reinforced this belief, including making a documentary about Sacred Harp singing, an a cappella congregational style of worship.

Bozeman observes: “Liturgy is not a performance, but it certainly is performative. Because our liturgy goes back 16 centuries, and it’s given to you, and it says, ‘OK, now do these words and do it to the best of your ability, and try to create a beautiful experience.’ Whether you do that or not is sort of inconsequential to the effectiveness of liturgy.

“But as someone who is used to performing and in a band, there’s obvious parallels there to how to conduct a liturgy, and how to do it well. I think the most obvious experience for us is our feast of Pascha, or Easter, which is, I think, the most rock-and-roll of all services that we have, where it’s very celebratory. And so a lot of my own showmanship probably comes out the most at that particular service, which is appropriate at that time. It’s other times, it’s not appropriate, and you have to be aware of that.”

A QUOTE in the 2019 documentary Parallel Love, also made by Hinton, which chronicles Luxury’s journey from indie and punk-loving teenagers to mature musicians, encapsulates their enduring appeal to critics: “They don’t sing like a band that has all the answers but they sing like a band trying to find them,” says one.

The band disagrees. “I don’t feel like I’m floundering around looking for answers,” Bozeman says. “I feel like I’ve discovered, or was shown, the reality of what the world is and how to navigate that. And that’s through the gospel — you know, the Gospels and Christ . . . and so, I feel like we have the answers.

Luxury playing live in 2021

“What is different is that I don’t want to shove that down people’s throats necessarily. I’d rather show them the inconsistencies and the logical errors in the way that people are trying to go about life without this fundamental truth, so that, perhaps, they can arrive on their own at a place where they can find the answer.”

Making music that aims to display honesty requires vulnerability. “A lot of my songwriting is confessional . . . exposing certain things, or asking questions. In that sense, the music is definitely informed by this Christian experience of the sacrament. It also creates the need for authenticity which is important when you’re writing music.”

Their new album, Like Unto Lambs, continues the band’s pattern of music with “spiritual overtones”, and includes the track “Maker (Wheel within a wheel)”, inspired by Bozeman’s hearing the confessions of teenagers at a youth event. The track opens with the provocative lyrics: “Our friend takes drugs every day,” and paraphrases a verse from Jeremiah 51: “We would have healed Babylon, but she would not be healed.” Another track, “One of those things”, focuses on confusion and loathing in relation to body image, asking the listener: “Is there something wrong with your body?”

Of his songwriting, Bozeman concludes: “I’m more interested in revealing things, so that it might be an encouragement for others to look at themselves seriously, and to try to find some healing.” And, as a band, Luxury remains happy to be open to interpretation. “Good art shouldn’t give us all of the conclusions,” Foley says, “but cause the hearer or the viewer to do some hard work as well.”

To listen to and download Luxury’s new album,
Like Unto Lambs, visit: hypeddit.com/luxury/likeuntolambs

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