Dave Pelsue embodies Christian cool. With his long hair, tattoos, body piercings, and powerful voice, he could easily fit into any mainstream rock band. But he's also got a strong Christian message to sell with his band Kids in the Way--though not in the in-your-face way popularized in the early days of gospel music. In 2003 the band signed with Flicker Records, a Christian indie label, and the following year released their debut album. "Safe From the Losing Fight" sparked hits "Phoenix With a Heartache" and "We Are,"--which was used on a recent episode of "The Road Rules/ Real World Challenge." Currently out promoting their follow-up album, "Apparitions of Melody" (2005), Dave recently spoke with Beliefnet about the spirit of music, criticism of his unique style, and what he'd tell the pope about "evil" rock music.

When you first started as a band, did your beliefs influence the songs you were writing?

The lyrics were always definitely influenced by our relationships with Jesus and what we believed inside. But I think everything we've written has had that mainstream appeal because we're guys who live in the world and have relationships with girls and stuff like that. We write about our lives and the stuff that happens to us. I think everybody could relate to that.

We never sat down and decided [to] be a Christian rock band or go the mainstream route. When we were deciding what label we wanted to sign with we had to think about that whole Christian/ mainstream thing, but we tried not to think about it too much. I think a lot of people can listen to our music and they're going to know just by the way we live--and we're pretty open in what we believe in--that we're Christian guys, but [our music] is not necessarily church music or Christian music that you're going to hear from a stereotypical Christian band.

A lot of Christian bands out there don't care about--or want--to get mainstream play. What about Kids in the Way?

We didn't set a goal to be successful in the mainstream or the secular market, but our philosophy and mindset is that God is going to take us where He wants us. And our band and everything that we do is completely to glorify God, and He is going to take us to whatever level he wants to take us to. We kind of just have to submit ourselves to that.

I don't like the whole "Christian band" or "Christians in a band" labeling thing--that's all kind of weird to me. I think a lot of kids nowadays--especially with the music that's coming out from Christian bands or guys who are Christian and are in bands--are just listening to music because it's good quality music. If they find out later on that some of the members are Christians or the lyrics are based around relationships and a life influenced by Jesus, then they're accepting that. That's what we do. We're just five guys who happen to believe in Jesus, and we make music at the same time. If we were bankers or plumbers, our work would glorify and represent Jesus, and that's pretty much what our music does as well.

It seems to me that it's cool to be religious now--that religion has made its way into pop culture. Do you find that too?

Definitely more so in the music. I think there's so many bands popping up right now-and I think it speaks a lot for the Christian music industry. Back in the day when Christian music was starting to build and rise, it was such that you could just hear the difference in the quality of the music. So nobody was giving it a chance just because most Christian music really sucked. But nowadays, there are so many people who are finding themselves involved in some sort of religion [and who] are really talented. They're making really good music, and there are kids out there who are listening to bands that they hear on the radio--that are competing with mainstream bands--and they realize or they hear, "Oh, these guys are Christian."

Pope Benedict XVI has said he thinks that rock music is evil. That's also a view held by a lot of very conservative Christians--it doesn't matter what the message is, the loud music, piercings, and tattoos, all scream "devil." If you could make the case for rock music to the pope, what would you say?

It's just music. I don't know how music can contain an entity of evil, or even good for that matter. Instead of saying rock music is evil, or loud music is evil, let's not judge the music, let's not judge the style or the volume, let's look at where it's coming from. I believe there are people out there making music--and I'm not going to call them evil--who can spin a negative influence on people who are living a negative life and making poor choices. Let's look at that. Let's not look at the music that they're making or even anything that they're doing or wearing. It's not about the product that they're making, it's about the person and their heart inside.

The first song on the new album, "Last Day of 1888" is about being misjudged. It's been said that you wrote the song in response to criticism of you while on tour with other bands. What was the criticism and what was it directed at?

We were out on a tour called the Festival Con Dios--it's a contemporary Christian tour. The crowds that were coming to see us were youth-group and family oriented--which is all great. It was our first national tour as Kids in the Way. It was just really surprising--the reaction that we would get from a lot of people, because at that time we didn't look like everybody else on the tour. We were a little edgier. As soon as people saw us, before they even heard our music, they shut us down and didn't really give us an opportunity and judged us from the start.

What do you say in response to your critics? Have you ever had a situation where someone actually came up to you and said, "What are you doing?!"

I have a tattoo of a skull and crossbones on my arm. I've had a mother come up to me after a show in front of these kids [who had seen the show] and just straight out judge me and condemn me [because of it].

I [told her], "You can think what you want about me and that's fine, but I don't think there's anything wrong with what I do." When she was gone I asked [the kids], "Do you guys see anything wrong with this tattoo?" I explained it and made sure nobody had any mixed feelings about me and where my heart was and where I was coming from because of my tattoo. I know that God is okay with the choices that I make as far as my piercings and my tattoos or the style of music that I play.

You've said the song "Apparitions of Melody" implies that someday the music will die, but you hope that after the music fades from your head its spirit will live on forever. Why do you feel like music dies?

It would be awesome if we could make music for the next 20, 25, 30 years of our lives. If tomorrow Kids in the Way was to break up and the music dies for us, we know that kids are going to move on to something else and there's going to be thousands of more bands that come and replace us. The melodies and everything you've ever heard from Kids in the Way will be forgotten. But I think it's the spirit that comes from us, that comes from our relationships with Jesus that we put into everything that we do, including the music, that's what we want to be influential in people's lives forever. Even after they forget the words, hopefully they've been touched by something greater--the spirit of the song-rather than just the noises that they hear when they put on their headphones.

So what are some songs that will live on in you forever?

Any song that U2 has ever written. Also, the song "Who Wants to Live Forever" by Queen. I have no idea what Freddy Mercury was talking about when he wrote it, but for me, that song has a really deep spiritual connection. He's probably one of the people I look up to as far as an artist. [And] a lot of Johnny Cash stuff resonates inside of me.

What's your dream show lineup? What band would you love to play with?

Probably Queen if it was possible. I think right now if we could have any dream tour or dream show, we'd really like to go out with Blindside, they're really a favorite of ours [and] stylistically we really look up to them. Or, AC/DC or Bon Jovi. Or the old Guns N' Roses [laughs].

What inspires you?

There's a lot of stuff that inspires me. I like to read a lot. I like to just go to thrift stores or yard sales and try to find any book that was published or written before 1930 just because there's something about the language and the tone of the time back then that makes literature better for me to read.

Relationships inspire me. I have a pretty close relationship with my family, and with my close friends and relationships in life really inspire me. And music, of course.

Your song "Even Snakes Have Hearts" is about the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. I noticed on the last album, "Your Knife, My Back," is about betrayal also. Do you draw from your own experiences when it comes to this theme of betrayal?

Yeah. In the instances of those two songs it wasn't something specific.

But I think we've all been in relationships where a friend has turned their back on you or done something to really hurt us and put a split in that relationship. Both of those songs have a lot of personal feelings of betrayal and hurt from past relationships.

What helps you through stuff like that?

Writing songs really helps. On this new record I'd say 80 percent of the songs are a result of that. This record is very personal, and I think anybody who sits down and really reads the lyrics is going to see a therapy that I was taking myself through, writing some of these lyrics. There were some things I was going through in my life at the time of writing this record that was pretty intense for me.

Writing is very therapeutic and helps me through stuff. But as cliché and as cheesy as it sounds, just having a relationship with Jesus and having a God who I can pray to and know I can ask for anything--strength and help and peace and comfort-- and know that He will be there is really all that I need.

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