Our own Bill Bailey got the chance to hang out with War of Ages vocalist Leroy Hamp while the band was in town on their Project AK-47 tour. See what Leroy has to say about his own journey both to Christendom and through the Christian music scene. Big thanks to Nathanael Dolesh for transcribing it all.
Bill Bailey: Alright here we go. What’s been your most inspiring moment during your music career?
Leroy Hamp: A few years back, we were playing at…I can’t remember which tour it was…I think it was Terror…anyway, we were doing this tour about 4 or 5 years ago, and this kid walks up to me and asks if he can talk to me for a second. I said sure man. He goes “I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in anything you guys stand for, but my mother just passed away, and the only thing that got me through this trialing time was listening to ‘Heart of a Warrior’.” He’s like “the words you were saying” and whatever else… he goes, “I don’t agree with it religiously and whatever else you’re doing, but it helped me get through it”. I didn’t know what to say. I was like “what do I say to that?” And the only thing I could muster up was like, “I understand your opinion and what you believe in, but the fighting spirit in that song that I’m talking about is the fact that this world is going to rip you apart…but, God is there to heal those wounds and to make you stronger and to turn you into a warrior. That’s the point of that song. You know it’s like your mother is hurting and she’s passing away, but the awesome thing about that is that that’s what molds and shapes you into the warrior spirit that you are. Because if you had no trials or temptations or anything…then we would all be weaklings walking around, mindless beings.” And I was like, “But the fact that we have these trials and these things going on is why we are RAW!, why we are so strong”. That’s the way I explained it to him; it was the only thing I could muster up. “It is God man, I’m sorry, but that’s awesome though that it helped you”.
BB: That’s great. How would you describe the scene in Erie?
LH: Amazing. We’ve been playing that scene for seven, eight years now. In the very beginning it was rough as it is for any band starting out in their home town. And then as time went on, we see new fans; brothers and sisters who were fans of War of Ages…now it’s like, their younger siblings are now fans of War of Ages, or just other kids in school. Like literally, we just played a home show a couple days ago and I did not recognize one kid there. Like maybe a couple, but they’re all new. So Erie has always been diligent and they’ve always come and they’ve always had great crowds and whatnot, and we’re just glad they’re still enjoying the music here seven years later. So it’s awesome, it’s incredible.
BB: What was it like to work with Tim from As I Lay Dying on Arise and Conquer?
LH: It was amazing. Tim’s a great dude. I learned a lot from him as an individual. And the guy can’t say no. He has such a giving spirit. And he knows what he likes, that’s the other thing. We wanted to have him on Eternal to do that album, but he wasn’t able to because of his schedule. But on Arise and Conquer, he’s like “this is what we should do” and whatever, whatever. And if we disagreed with him, he was like “okay, well let’s try your thing” and “what do you think about this?” He was very easy to work with and he had a good mind for what we were looking for, and he was able to adapt and mold into that. And he respected us for who we were and the writers that we were. He enjoyed what we were doing and whatnot so just a great guy to work with, good spirit.
BB: Cool. Where do you see the band heading musically in the future?
LH: We’re a progressing band. Each album is always going to be different than the others. And Eternal for us, was an album that we could bridge into something. And what that something is, no band ever knows. Some bands like what they do and they play that and that’s what albums they come out with. Bands like Cradle of Filth, Hatebreed…those bands are like “this is what we write, this is the way we are, that’s it”. We’re a band that likes to progress. We like to try things; we push the envelope over here, and do that. Both styles of bands are good, but we’re just a progressing one. So Eternal for us was a bridged album. We did a little bit of singing, a little bit of rapping, tried some rhythm stuff, you know, little bits of this and that. And we really enjoy the song “Eternal”, really enjoy “Indecision”, and we want to take those songs, and construct the next album. Which we believe Eternal was a good bridging album to do that with, to where we can maybe add a little bit more rhythm in it, maybe add a bit more of that rhythmic rapping whatever, I don’t know. A big influence of mine has always been Rage Against the Machine. And POD as well, but old, old POD, like Snuff the Punk days and stuff like that. But Rage Against the Machine, I have every one of their albums; I’ve been following them since I was a kid. The one thing I’ve always admired about them is the writing, musically and lyrically. And the way he brings his lines across and whatnot, that’s similar to what…
BB: Especially in today’s times, you know?
LH: Exactly. I don’t wanna be Rage Against the Machine. We wanna be like that as far as coming up with our own thing, doing our own stuff, hopefully making a staple on metal and what we do in it. And so that’s kinda what we’re looking for.
BB: Yeah. How do you guys deal with the whole Christian band stereotype? Do you think it helps you or hurts you guys when playing with other bands?
LH: That’s a loaded question. We have a hard time with the way certain people do certain things. We have an easy time with how other people do things. I think it’s always gonna be a struggle. Especially for us. We’re not a very vocal band, not that we weren’t before. You know at one time we were very vocal, but not a lot of bands were very vocal. And we felt like this was our mission and this is what we’re doing and that’s what it is. But now we try to focus more on like, content; who we are, and why we are this way. If you think about it like this: Christ mingled with prostitutes and the drug addicts of that time and whatever else. So if we are to mingle with those kind of people and be strong and whatnot, how do you mingle with them? I mean if Christ was like, “I’m God, I’m Jesus. I’m here to save you guys. That’s me. Let’s rock, let’s do this,” who’s going to take Him seriously in those times? They’re all gonna be like “get out of here dude. You’re just condemning us” or whatever. So we feel as though we need to live amongst them, and they need to see our hearts. And they need to see who we are and whatnot. So we focus more on that and the things like the after show stuff or the doing our own merch table or hanging out with the kids or whatnot. We feel like, on stage, I can quote scripture all day long and give them 30 seconds between each song of the most passion filled whatever, but then that’s gonna leave them with what? Like a 30 second understanding of what this massive quest of their life is, you know? So I feel as though we can do more with getting them to understand and mentoring them, or creating a follower of Christ and keeping up with that. I feel that there’s a lot more to do there, where most bands I feel like it’s just this whole passion thing. If you listen to the lyrics of “Failure” on our new album, it’s “When voices fade on passion, will your hearts still burn through failure?” Basically what that’s saying is “you’re crazy and passionate right now; that’s awesome; good. But when that fades, ’cause it will, you know when a revival happens and then it’s gone, what’s left there?” Destruction. Pretty much every time in history. After a revival, there’s destruction, cause people take it and run with it. And then there’s profiting and then there’s this and there’s that. And then it’s destroyed. What originally was something so great, is destroyed. So what we would like to do is hopefully grab a little of the passion, but bring this feeling of understand and whatnot into it as well. So I know it’s a loaded question; there’s a lot to give in a couple minutes, but yeah we have a hard time with a lot of ways things are done. We feel like there should be more time and consideration, I mean He’s God, He’s endless. There’s so much to explain about it. How can you possibly do it in 30 minutes on stage, you know? You can, but the full understanding of what God is and who He is is not gonna happen. That takes years of foundation building. I heard one band say “We wanna baptize kids right when they’re saved on stage; we’re gonna save em, baptize em!” I’m like, the kids aren’t gonna even get why they’re getting baptized! They won’t know why they’re doing it. It’s like “cool, we’re getting baptized; we’re saved.” That’s all they’re gonna know. They won’t understand what they’re doing and why it’s cleansing…like where have we gone? (laughs)
BB: What’s the toughest thing would you say about being a Christian and being out on the road and being around all the darkness of the world?
LH: Honestly the toughest thing for us is not so much the darkness; the darkness is where people are at rock bottom. I mean it’s easy to talk to people. They may not agree with you, but it’s cool to just sit there and hang out, and homeless people or whatever, you kinda just hang out and talk to them. There’s a homeless guy I was talking to. He didn’t seem like he was all there, but then all of a sudden, he kinda turned off this whole, “Hey man, I’m trying to get home!” Whatever, blah blah. And he said where he was from, and I’m like cool, what makes you come two/three hundred miles up here? And then he started saying why and whatnot. But I mean, it started getting real. That to me is awesome. The challenge is the different types of Christians. And I’m not gonna lie, we’ve fallen into that, where “you’re doing it wrong, you’re doing it wrong!” But no we’re just like, “Do it however you feel led to do it. We’re gonna do it this way.” That’s the hardest part, getting your mind there. You know, focusing on what matters, and not what doesn’t matter.
BB: Okay, are there three pieces of advice that you would give to a younger musician, and what is one thing that really surprised or still surprises you about the music industry?
LH: One thing would be when you’re touring, keep it small. Keep it little; enjoy what you’re doing. Months and months and months of touring early does nothing but burn you out. Keep it small keep it easy; we did that. And young bands these days…there’s so many tours going on and whatnot…keep it small; keep it fun. And the other thing is merch. Merch is the most important thing ’cause that’s what gets you from point A to point B. One shirt, one demo. That’ll get you gas. Don’t go crazy, don’t go into debt, you know. And the other thing I would say is you get your area, your surrounding area, to fall in love with you first. Once you build a good following in your hometown, and then a couple other stronger areas, you got it made. You’ve got something good going on. And then something that surprised me would be the way the music scene actually is. I mean when you’re a garage band writing songs for your first album, you have like this preconceived notion of how being in a band is supposed to be and the tour bus and whatever else. And everybody loves everybody and you’re just like “yyyyeeeaa! kids are going nuts!” (shakes his head) No. That takes years. Sometimes you skyrocket up, but it usually doesn’t last long. It’s like…there’s a lot to it. A lot more to it than I thought.
BB: What are three bands that you think they should require people to listen to in high school before they can graduate?
LH: I would say xDisciplex AD because they were my favorite band; that’s the band that got me doing what I was doing. Rage Against the Machines were life-changing. And number three would have to be…I’m gonna go with a metal band because I just started – not just, but the last few years started listening to metal cause of our guitar players. I would have to say Soilwork. No actually, In Flames. I really like In Flames.
BB: What books and movies would you say have changed your life?
LH: The Barbarian Way is a good book; I love that book. The favorite book that I’ve ever read literally was the key to changing my life: Wild At Heart by John Eldridge. It taught me about being a warrior; it’s what the basis of the song “Heart of a Warrior” was. It taught me to be humble, it taught me to think of life. Like Braveheart, he uses references of Braveheart in it all the time in it. Basically because of that book, I didn’t date anyone for two years and found my wife. So that was a huge book in my life. Then I would also say I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I feel like as a young man, if you’re single or whatever, those three books together create an unstoppable force. There’s other books I’ve read since then that I loved, but those are the three that I would say are very vital to a young man. For a woman, Captivating. Captivating is amazing for them as well as I Kissed Dating Goodbye. And The Barbarian Way appeals to them as well. But I would say Captivatingover Wild at Heart, though I think it’s good to read that one as well, but Captivating is the female version of that book. My wife read it and it changed her big time.
BB: What kind of message do you hope fans get out of your music or take away from your shows?
LH: That we’re real. That we’re real dudes trying to hang out and have fun and play music that we love. We’re not putting on a show other than musically. And we are what you get on stage and then when we get offstage, we take the whole band helmet off and put on the regular human being helmet. The bigger we get of course the less time you’re going to have for your fans, but at the same time we hope we’re always real. So I would say the aggression you get on stage – the showmanship, whatever, we try to build the best set possible for a live performance – stays, but you know, off stage it’s hangout time.
BB: Cool. And would you like to send any kind of message to our troops that are serving overseas?
LH: Yeah there’s a funny story with that. We played a bar a couple years ago, and I’m sitting on a bar stool. And this guy walks up to me and shows me his military license; he was a Marine. And I look at it, and nine times out of ten…bald head, I looked like a “tough guy.” Sometimes you get those guys that just wanna fight you. So I’m lookin at him and I’m like “Cool, man”. I thought he was just showing me his military license like he could kick my butt or something. And I look at him and I’m like, “Awesome dude. Thank you for fighting for our country”. And he goes, “I want you to know something”. And I’m like oh boy here we go. He goes, “When we’re all in the plane, I pop on Heart of a Warrior. And then we listen to ‘Strength Within’. And then when I get out of that plane and we jump out and I hit the ground, I kill every ______ ______ I see”. And I go, “That hands down is the most insanely amazing thing I’ve ever heard”. (laughs) I’m like, “that will never be topped”. I gave him a hug and I said, “I hope that you’re killing for us, the right people, but that is amazing, thank you very much!”
BB: Wow. (laughs)
LH: So it’s hard doing what they’re doing being away from their families. I have a lot of friends that are in the military. My wife tried to join the Air Force, but they wouldn’t take her because of her tattoo. But they’re doing something great and they’re working hard. Most of my family is military, and I hope that they continue to keep their hearts right and they continue to fight and keep doing what they’re doing. And that they come back alright.
BB: And then I wanted to see if you wouldn’t mind sharing like a brief testimony of what you’re life was like before you received Christ and the changes he’s made in your life and what your life is like now?
LH: Well before I was a Christian, I was very miserable. You know, which is the ongoing story of every person that’s onstage or offstage; they’re always talking about how miserable they are. But I was pretty miserable. I’d been kidnapped, molested, abused in every way you can think of. My father is not the greatest human being in the world. I didn’t come from a very great home: drugs prevalent, my father recently just left my mother, cheated on her twice, you know that whole spiel…just a very broken situation. I was very hurt by the family life and whatnot, and so my choice was to take it out on the only thing I could control, and that was my aspect of what I believed in. So I took it out on my own body, my own self, and got so depressed and so rock-bottom that I just wanted to commit suicide; I didn’t wanna live anymore. I almost killed someone. I bought a gun ’cause there was this kid picking on me in school; I was very young. And the only way I could get out of it was kill him. So I bought a gun, never got the gun, luckily, thank God, but I was so depressed, so low, that that was the only way that I was gonna protect myself and I didn’t care if I went to jail. I figured I’d kill him, then just kill myself. So all this stuff adding up. There was one day that I was working at Subway. And I nicknamed it “Drugway” ’cause I sold drugs out of the back. And I started sitting there thinking randomly about my two sisters, my brother, and how they’ve always did everything I did. If I smoked, they smoke; if I drank, they drank; if I partied, they partied. And I’m like “you know what, do I really want this life – how miserable I am – for them? And do I want this for myself anymore?” And I basically told myself “no”. Yeah I was sitting right there and I bagged up everything I was doing, all the scale stuff I was figuring out, gave the weed to my friend…which is amazing, ‘gave it to my friend,’ like “here smoke this”. So I just said I’m done. I quit smoking shortly after that. And a lot of it was selfish at the time. I was rock bottom. I felt like if I could just change my life around that I could be cool, I could find friends. A lot of it was just selfish like that. But I started building this foundation of who I was and why I was who I was. Started a band thinking it would be cool. And then it slowly turned into something else as I started getting more understanding of who I was. Then it led into this and that. And honestly, so many people I see become Christian and they become all these things because they want a lifestyle change. The most important thing you can do is your foundation. I don’t care why you changed your life around, I don’t care if you’re not changing your life around…then work on yourself as a human being. You know, and build that foundation and there it’ll turn into something else. So, selfish and whatever reasons I did it in the beginning…I didn’t come from a great family life, but I taught myself everything. Everything, from how to play sports to how to play bass, to how to scream in a band, to how to tour, whatever. I had no one teach me, I learned everything myself. And that’s the kinda man I’ve always been. So I’ve taught myself this, and that’s my relationship with Christ. And then I’ve learned from other people and put people in my life where I could learn from them and understand what the true meaning of this is and whatnot. So build a strong foundation. And basically yeah, that’s it in a nutshell. Very low, low life; low times, and hitting that rock bottom which most people hit…cause people come up to me and ask me all the time whether or not they can be Christian, or “how could you be Christian” and whatnot. To be honest man, it’s a choice. I can’t make anyone Christian. I can’t make anyone understand why I believe what I believe. They probably don’t care. And when you hit rock bottom and you wanna change, you’ll want it. I don’t have to explain it to you, you’re gonna want it.
BB: God kinda helps decide too, you know?
LH: Yeah exactly, and it’s like, I don’t ever wanna convince someone to be a Christian. I don’t ever wanna convince someone to believe in God. They have to do it themselves. Otherwise it’s not gonna last.
BB: That’s awesome. If someone has strong opinions like against the church or organized religion for whatever reason, what would you say to them to encourage them to seek a relationship with Christ?
LH: That’s a hard question. I was kinda discussing a little of it before. It’s like, someone who has a strong opinion against something…I mean, it’s like the government. Making a Democrat a Republican or a Republican a Democrat is not gonna happen. Convincing someone to like the Steelers over the Browns is not gonna happen. Unless they have some unknown reason why they want to make the switch. Someone who has a strong opinion about the church and has a strong opinion about religion…there’s nothing you’re gonna be able to say to be able to change their mind. Their mind is made up. It’s up to them personally…and this is what I’d tell them. I’d be like, “There’s nothing I can say to you to make you change your mind. The only thing that I can do is be me and hangout and be your friend”. There’s a friend of mine that came to last night’s show that used to be a very strong Christian. He has a mural of Christ on his back. Well some things fell apart years back. He basically fell apart and got a tattoo over that of like a decrepit Jesus and then some banner underneath it that says like ‘screw you’ or whatever. He made the switch because something happened. You can’t force anything; you can’t push something on someone. He’s still friends with us. We still love him. He came last night, hung out, knows exactly what we’re about, but he loves us. And hopefully someday that friendship…he’ll understand again or he’ll get it and realize what’s going on. It’s never too late. So for someone who has a strong opinion, which he does…just be his friend. Just hang out. Show him love. Don’t try to convince him of anything. Definitely don’t argue with him. Fall into that and you’re shutting the door right in your face. I see arguing so many times from young bands or even older bands. They’ll just sit there and argue their point of why God exists. You know, “And then the stars…if they were this much closer to this then everybody would burn and whatever”. And it’s just like, they don’t care. Be their friend. Shut up. Just be their friend.
BB: And then my final question is what Bible verse would you say is your most inspirational?
LH: I have lots, but I would say Jude 1:9. I’m pretty sure that’s it: “But not even the archangel Michael spoke blasphemy against Satan.” I feel like with everything that’s going on…I’ve heard so many Christian bands get up on stage and talk about how warrior and whatever they are and how they’re gonna defeat Satan and whatever…not even the archangel Michael spoke blasphemy against Satan. I’m not saying you don’t get up on stage and be strong with who you are and whatever else, and through the power of Christ, you are going to overcome what’s in your life. But I hear so many bands sit there and say, “Hell hath no fury!” and I’m like yeah okay, he may not be able to get you, but that doesn’t mean he’s not going to rip apart every single person in your family to get to you. And through years and years of that…here I am in a band doing what I’m doing. Both of my sisters have had kids, my father is now divorcing my mom, there’s all these things going on. Yeah sure, he can’t get me, but that doesn’t mean he’s not gonna attack my Christian family. You know, that doesn’t mean anything. So you just gotta be careful. That speaks volumes to me. I think kids are awesome and they’re getting strong, but you gotta humble yourself a little bit. You sit there and talk about how you’re gonna battle Satan and you’re gonna win…no, you’re not. I’m sorry, you’re not.
BB: Ruler of this world, you know?
LH: Yeah, he rules this; he’s been doing it since the dawn of time. He was given this. He reigns. Now, God reigns over everything, but gave him this world to have dominion over. It’s like and now you’re sitting there telling a being older than…he doesn’t even care about you, it’s his demons that come and bother you. My other thing is, people always go “Satan can’t get me!” It’s like, he doesn’t give a crap about you, he’s busy handling people that are like destroying masses. He’s not omnipresent, he’s one. He doesn’t have the abilities God has. God is omnipresent. He isn’t. You have like that much authority in your own mind and body that you’re doing such great things that you think Satan’s devoting his time to you? No, he’s worried about the world and the antichrist and everything that’s going on with that. He’s not worried about you. So, Jude 1:9 that’s what I would say.
BB: Cool man. Thank you!