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Sanctus Real

Going through a lead singer change is a daunting task for any band. But Sanctus Real returns with Changed featuring a new frontman and a new sound. The band sat down with's own John Underdown to discuss the transition process, how God is changing them, and the most perplexing decision they ever had to make...
This interview took place on: March 8, 2018.

Click here for Sanctus Real's Artist Profile page.

  • JFH (John Underdown): You guys have gone through a lot of changes over the past few years since your last release, how has the adjustment been? Do you guys feel like you're in a good place with all the changes?

    Chris Rohman: I think looking at it now, man, you look back at it all, obviously we didn't know what was going to happen when Matt decided to leave but now looking back it's pretty amazing to see how it's all come together in a way I didn't imagine would've been possible. Yeah, I'm really stoked for what we've been able to do and I don't know from an outside perspective what that looks like but to us from the inside it's been really good.

  • JFH (John): I'm kind of curious, has there been any fan response? Has it been pretty positive?

    Album Cover

    Mark Graalman: Yeah, overall it's been really positive. You know, there's definitely a handful of longtime Sanctus fans that are kinda waiting to hear the record or whatever, but for the most part it's been nothing but really positive response, which has been pleasant. I think it's a refreshing new sound and I think people are picking up on that and it seems like there's an excitement there that hasn't been there in a little while maybe.
    Dustin Lolli: I've actually been very pleasantly surprised. I think I expected more kickback than I've gotten personally. Live shows have been nothing but 95% incredibly positive. There's the occasional fan, superfan, that's not going to like me no matter what. *Laughs* But all in all the fans have actually been very gracious, more than I even anticipated. I thought making this change, I knew going into this that it was not going to be easy and I knew that it was going to be a major challenge. So I was kinda prepared for maybe even a little bit more kickback that happened. So I was very pleasantly surprised that most people understood the challenges that someone like I would have coming into it. And then you have the people who see the band and it's emotional to them and it's just an outsider coming in but most people weren't like that and it was really great for me and kind of easy on that end.

  • JFH (John): So has there been any pressure, or maybe not pressure, but I guess people wondering-'cause I know other bands have gone through lead singer changes in the past and adjusted their sound and people say, "they should just change their name." Has there been any pressure on that end or do you feel pretty confident with where you're at?

    Chris: I think we feel really good about keeping the name and moving forward. I think there's only been probably count on one hand the people who have been vocal enough to actually write in and say something to that effect. Which I think is really-I don't know how I feel about it. I'm not upset by it, it's humbling that somebody would care that much about the music we've created. I think that's a testament to what we've been able to do over the years, if anything, it's not like a negative thing. And I don't-people need-I say the "outside" but fans, their lens is going to be different what they're looking through when they're looking at the band than what we're seeing on the inside. You know, it'd be nice if you could have a one-on-one conversation with some of these people and help them understand. 'Cause some of these people that have come in, it seems like they're angry and I'm talking like maybe 5 people. So you wish you could just say, "Hey look, it's all good, it's in God's hands anyway. We're not trying to force anything and we weren't trying to force Matt to stay." Throughout this whole process I think Mark and I being the other two original guys were very open-handed. So the fact that we're still here is because we believe God's wanted us to continue, we treated the whole process very open-handedly and I can understand why to somebody on the outside it would not make much sense. But I don't think we're making it about anything other than the message behind the music and hoping to continue on with all that.

  • JFH (John): So Dustin, how did you come to know the guys in Sanctus Real and what was the process like in joining the band?

    Dustin: That's a good question. It was different than most people anticipate. It was no audition, it was nothing-in fact, the former bass player, Jake, and I grew up in the same town. We had done some music together in the past, it had been 3 or 4 years in the past, I actually hadn't been in communication with him for a long time and one day I just got a random phone call from him that was basically like, "Hey the band wants to meet with you. Can you meet with them?" And I was like, "Why?" *Laughs* I just found out that Matt had left myself and was just kind of like, I don't know…I don't sound anything like Matt, I don't know if people know that. *Laughs* And they wanted me to have dinner with them, which I thought was very cool 'cause these guys will tell you now I'm not the guy who will even do an audition. If they had said, "Come audition", I probably would have politely declined. But instead they said, "Come have dinner, let's talk." The next step was let's get together and be creative and write a song and see how the process goes. And that went really smooth. It was kind of a fun hang, kind of a really nice night sitting with God and making music, which is one of my favorite things to do. From that point on-well, quick side story is they were in the middle of this Farewell to a Friend tour and I told the guys, "Look, if you're interested just let me know. Don't leave me hanging," because, honestly, I was a worship pastor, I have a wife and three kids, and honestly it wasn't like I was, at this point, super excited yet, I didn't even know what it'd look like. And I just said, "Don't leave me hanging because it's the worst you can do," because I want to get on with my life basically. I don't want this hanging over my head. Almost a month went by and I never heard from them. *Laughs* And I got a little frustrated myself and I called Chris and said, "Look, I asked you one thing, just one thing." *Laughs* And he goes, "You know what, I'm going to be honest with ya, I didn't really think you'd be interested." *Laughs* I'm like, "You never called to find out!" *Laughs*
    Chris: And we weren't calling other people, either, in the meantime. We were just trying to finish things out well with Matt and, you know, honestly, to ask somebody to jump into this-you can't ask somebody, I feel bad asking somebody because I knew the toll it would take and the sacrifice it requires and all that. It's almost like we've been family and [to] be brought into it. The fact that he called and told me he was interested legitimately gave me the O.K. in my mind to say, "Okay, if you're interested then let's walk down this path and see where it leads." I was excited because I really-I mean, this is a crazy lifestyle to ask anybody to jump into. So from that point on it's been pretty awesome.
    Dustin: And man, I'll be the first to tell you, that when you've been doing this for 20 years, all you see is the work and they didn't see the opportunity at all. *Laughs* Because there is some pretty good opportunity involved. And you know what's funny? I didn't even sing for them for, what, two months? I don't know the timeline exactly. But it was a long time before they asked me to sing a Sanctus Real song. And I kept asking, "You want to hear me sing a Sanctus song? You want to hear a, you know, Matt song?" They just kept pushing it off to the last second. They made me sign (I don't know if you've heard this story), I signed a napkin at two in the morning at Fricker's. *Laughs* That was my contract. They said, "You're the next lead singer if you want it," and they wrote up a mini-contract on a napkin and it's here somewhere. I think. It's probably decomposed at this point. *Laughs*
    Chris: It's the equivalent of going to [Buffalo Wild Wings] and signing a deal.

  • JFH (John): That's awesome! So let's talk about the album itself. So Changed seems like a pretty obvious choice for an album title, given everything. But was that the vision from the start? Did you go into the recording process thinking this is what the album's going to be called and this is the theme we're going with?

    Dustin: Not at all. It was actually quite a process because writing the album took a pretty good amount of time just because we had a lot going on, a lot we were dealing with. Really it was through the process that the changed idea-and it is obvious in the sense that there's been a lot of change but I think the reason we actually really picked it is over the last 2 years, I think just as human beings we, the 3 of us, have changed pretty dramatically. And the process-you know, I've always been this firm believer of that life is good even when situations are difficult. Through the last season the situations have been very difficult but through those difficult seasons I could always-and I would say all of us though I'm speaking for myself I'll speak for all of them and let them speak as well-we've been through this process, even as hard as it got, and it got pretty hard for awhile, we could always see God's hands in the little things moving this and moving that. All of these songs kind of have this theme of be OK even in a storm. I know a lot of times we are so emotional we are always crying out to God but we wanted this record to be more than that. We wanted it to be almost a statement of even when it's tough, God's there and it's OK you can kind of celebrate at times. The idea of Changed, we had no idea when we first started writing. None. It kind of came about through the writing when we kept seeing a theme happen and we thought, you know obviously there's been the changes, but it's a lot deeper, I think, to us on the inside than it probably is to people on the outside, to be honest with you. If you guys want to add to that, you can.
    Mark: Yes. *Laughs*
    Chris: I'll say…you know, it's funny, I think we came up with the album name when we were doing our Pledge pre-order campaign. We were like, "We need a name for this album!" At that point it still hadn't even hit us, and we had the song done, the song "Changed". And it was that simple of a thing, maybe it should just be Changed and then it kind of hit us like, "Yeah, that makes sense." We made a lot of songwriting and a lot of things that occurred leading up to even getting to a point where we felt like we could record an album and feeling the freedom to start making those phone calls and start looking up producers and asking those questions of people, of, "Hey, we want to do a new album. We have a new singer, we think we have some songs." Reaching out to those people, some of which we worked with in the past, some of which are brand new to this. I think the other cool thing about Changed is, I can't tell how many people we encountered throughout this that were going through life changes, pretty dramatic, too, themselves. And just to see how we were able to be part of those people's lives even a short amount of time and being creative together, just really cool to watch God bring people into our lives and us into other people's lives as encouragements along the way. It's cool to think this album even happened, let alone the fact that we made some lifelong friends and got to share life together with some of these people is real incredible.

  • JFH (John): One thing I noticed going through the album is that you guys play a lot of different genres but you manage to make it feel kind of cohesive. Was that a challenge or did the songs just mesh well together?

    Dustin: Well I hope they mesh well together! You know, I think from our point of view, I don't know how this is going to sound but I'll go ahead and say it, when we sat down to start writing stuff we wanted to write music that we really liked. A lot of times we write for radio, you write for consumption, but on this album we really wanted a balance of stuff as the three of us that we really like. I'll be honest and say that we all really, really like this record. We talked and said if this is the last thing we do together we're going to go out with something that we all, at least the three of us, really feel great about and love. I think what you hear in the genres and stuff is a mix of the stuff that we really like personally [in] music. Yet it's something we're all playing and we can kind of make it feel like us hopefully. I love that! I love hearing you say that it's a mix of genres because one of the things I love in records is when songs sound different and unique but you can still tell it's the same band. For me that's a huge win to think that.

  • JFH (John): Yeah, I kind of feel like it has a unified sound where I could listen to it and tell it's all from the same record. So, I think it meshes well, for what that's worth. *Awkward laugh*

    Dustin: Sweet.

  • JFH (John): So one of the themes that jumped out to me off the record is sort of interacting with God's love in different ways. Like how you want to experience God's love and the benefits of experiencing God's love. What drew you to that concept? Was that an intentional choice or did it just kind of come out of the writing process?

    Dustin: Another good question! *Laughs* They keep looking at me, I don't have to answer everything! *Laughs* You know, every show we do, it's probably me when I came in, I love talking about God's love and I feel like it's deeper a lot of times than we mention it. We kind of make it this emotional thing but it's the thing that, to me, gives us our value and gives us our worth. It's so secure and stable and it goes back to the idea of being OK in difficult situations. So I'm probably to blame for a lot of the love talk. But to me the Bible does say, "God is love" and so love kind of is God. Always, to me, it's always this idea of being loving and accepting love in other situations. We always tell people, even at our shows, we have one message to give to people. We're a traveling band, we come in and then we leave, so [we] want one solid message and that message is for people to understand the depth of God's love for them. I think that translated into a lot of the songs. These songs on the record for all three of us are very personal. I think the messages in the songs are really kind of an idea of where we've all been I think at times over the past couple years. So each song is kind of a placeholder for us at some point or another in our lives over the last couple years, kind of describing a situation where we've been. So it's a very meaningful record for all of us.

  • JFH (John): I would say that my favorite song on the album is "Survival". I really like the idea behind it of being vibrant in faith and not just getting by. I was wondering what was the inspiration for that song?

    Chris: I think it's great that you like that song, man! I think at this point, if you know the history of the band and some of the rock roots, I think anymore it's like, "We put out something that rocks and nobody cares anymore!" But there was definitely a moment that we had, we got together in 2016, one of the first writing retreats we did as a group. We had a friend of ours has a pretty nice little cabin about an hour away and that was one of the songs that came out of that originally. It was cool, you know, I'll be honest, really cool because being one of the guys in the band that's always contributed to the songwriting, I think there's times when that was a little more of a closed process, especially there towards the end maybe, toward the tail end of the records we did with Matt. And I got the guys together to go to this cabin and we brought a little rig and we were going to write and record and just see what happened. Before we got started, Dustin sat down and said, "What's going on with everybody? What's on your guys' hearts?" and he pulled out a journal and just started writing things down and kind of welcoming everybody into that space, which is really cool. That song kind of came about because of some of the things Mark had shared. Dustin kept his notes and didn't tell us what he was writing and we started jamming eventually and he started coming up with these lyrics based on all this stuff to go with the song idea we were coming up with.
    Dustin: Mark wanted to survive! *Laughs*
    Mark: Yes!
    Dustin: That was a Mark idea. I remember him saying something to the effect like he just felt like, at that time, just felt like he was surviving and that [he] really wanted to feel like he was living again.
    Mark: Right, yeah. A big part of that from the comments I had written down-it's funny because this was almost two years ago, kind of the beginnings of Dustin joining the band, I hardly remember these conversations. *Laughs* But yeah, after Matt left the band and whatnot, obviously there's a huge transitional time of is this going to continue or not. So I took a position at my church, I started teaching drum lessons at a local music store, I started doing other things on the side to make money and very quickly found myself in a place of doing a million things all the time and yet barely surviving. Definitely came out of a season of tension and feeling like if this was all going to be worth it in the end. Sure enough, here we are. We got a guy on the phone telling us he loves the song "Survival". *Laughs*

  • JFH (John): Just doing my part! *Laughs*

    Dustin: We all do our part!

  • JFH (John): So in the vein of the title track, what are some ways in which you feel God is changing you and working on you currently?

    Dustin: That is a good question. We'll have to think about that one for a second.
    Mark: I'll start, I guess…I think for myself-and I think I'm seeing it in the band as a whole-over the process of this last couple years, really gotten back to a place where even though, especially at the beginning there was so much stress involved because there were so many unknowns, you know as far as how things were going to look with Matt leaving and trying to answer the big question, "Does Sanctus continue or not?" Coming out the other side of that I feel like through this process God has brought me back to a place of true surrender to Him. More than just a lip service kind of thing but a genuine "God, whatever You want that's what I want." That's what I want to want in a way, you know? Just really getting back to a place of holding everything open-handedly and just allowing God to be God and allowing Him to truly sit on the throne of my life and not be so worried about anything. Just being able to trust and know that number one that He's good and that He's going to take care of everything. But also, no matter what that even means, like [even if] our best days are behind us He's always God, a hope and a future like what He talks about. There's always more ahead with Him. A lot of it's been coming back to a place of legitimate intimacy in my relationship with the Lord, and I think I'm seeing that in all our lives and in the band as a whole. That's really exciting because I think, to be honest, I think towards the end of things with Matt, probably the last couple records we did with him, there was a lot of unfortunately just going through the motions in many ways. Just trying to survive and get the next thing done. Just got in that cycle unfortunately and God seems to break us out of that in a lot of ways.
    Chris: I think there's patterns, kinda like what Mark was saying, that had to be broken anyways. We started doing this when we were teenagers together, it's a long time to be doing something, to be pouring into something. I think because of the change that had to happen it's broken a lot of those cycles in my life that I had to get a grip on, that had to be rewired in some ways. Be home more, be focused on my family and not worry about if the band works or doesn't work. Just getting to that point where it's not about success, it's not about album sales, or who's doing what. It's just about trying to follow what God wants for my life and for my family with the support that they've given. I think is just a testament to God's faithfulness that He's always there for us even when we think we know what we should be doing and it doesn't go that way oftentimes. It's just really cool to look back and see that had it not been for the change I don't think I would've experienced that kind of a broke in my life at all. It's been a stretch in so many ways that I didn't even know I needed that I'm grateful I've been able to experience.
    Dustin: I think that in a lot of ways, in a personal sense, I think change can be so scary to a lot of people and the idea of change is just basically taking us out of our comfort zone. You get these little things here and there and it scares you because you're not doing the same things you used to be doing. But in reality it's those things that lead us to more than just living and survival. I think in a lot of ways even in Christian life, the song "Changed" itself, the idea of it, is that we're never actually complete because we're always in process and God's not going to leave us hanging. So in this season I think in a lot of ways, and people tend to forget, I joined Sanctus Real and Sanctus Real is a known commodity. But the amount of change and weirdness for me was off the charts because I was not used to this kind of lifestyle and I wasn't used to doing this kind of thing. It was very hard-and for my family as well, a very hard process for all of us-but we felt like it was what God wanted. I feel like every difficult thing over the last 2 and a half, three years, every difficult process is something that was supposed to happen, needed to happen for us to get to where we're at right now. I think that's the beauty of change in God's kingdom, even the tough stuff, if you're pointed in the right direction, will lead us to where He wants us to go. I think for myself I can honestly say that all of the difficult stuff led to us to this point where we accept it, we love it, and we're happy to be where we're at. But even if this doesn't work, even if God takes it from us, and we're not supposed to be doing this anymore, I think you'll find three guys who have become really good friends and will always be friends and are pretty content with who we are right now knowing that there's still more. For us personally, not even as a band, but personally. I really do believe that God called us to be a band right now! I think that Changed is really a statement for us in our personal lives as much as a band. We're giving you a lot to transcribe!

  • JFH (John): *Laughs* Yeah…it'll be good secretary building skills, I guess, if I ever want to make a career change. [Editorial note: I would not make a good secretary.] So the ending track, "Breaking Point", is a very vulnerable and honest song. I'm curious, how hard is it to sing and play a song that honest, that reflects your life so closely?

    Dustin: Oh man! You know, I [think] it is not difficult. I feel like the best way to answer that is that's my favorite song on the entire album. And I think it's my favorite song because for me the point of it is that-oh! It's not difficult, and I love it! I love it because it's like getting, and I want people to get to this point where you can't live with just being on the middle all the time, like we have to find this point where we make the decision to plunge in or to get out. For me, that song is very emotional. I know Dominique, Chris' wife, the first time she heard it she started crying. I think in a lot of ways that's kind of what I feel music should be. I feel like it should be vulnerable, I think it should be something that causes us to listen and question, and not always inspire but sometimes just to stop and think about what we're doing and what we're saying and what we're thinking. Yeah, I love that song and I love singing it because to me it's real in a lot of ways. Not that the rest aren't! But obviously that song has a realness to it and it has a realness because it's very personal to all of us. You got me excited! *Laughs*

  • JFH (John): Yeah, listening to Sanctus Real songs I always feel like the consistent thread is they feel very honest. I think that's a good thing to have, where it's not too dark but it feels honest enough to where I can relate to it and feel encouraged by it. So you guys will be hitting the road soon, what can fans expect out of your coming tour?

    Mark: A little of this, a little of that…
    Dustin: Actually we're together tonight doing some tour planning. Right about now we are 50/50 on songs. We do about 50% old stuff, kind of the classics that people know, and I think for this tour we're gonna keep it right about 50/50 where we're going to play half the songs from the new record, from This is Love to Matt and half of the songs will be old stuff. As the record maybe grows maybe a little bit more new stuff. New stuff obviously feels fresh, you guys have been playing the songs for 20 years and I've been playing now for 2 ½ and it's already like, "Yeah! Love 'em!" And we played a couple of these songs already live at a lot of these shows and they're very well received and they feel really good. They even fit really well with the old stuff, which is great. It doesn't feel like two separate shows at all. It feels like one cohesive thing with one cohesive message through the whole show, which is what we're aiming for to have that message.

  • JFH (John): Cool! Well I have one last question for you. When I do interviews-and this is my first phone interview, by the way, [Editorial note: In case you can't tell] you all have been great!-but when I do interviews over email I usually ask a stupid question at the end. So, I have a stupid question for you. Okay, so if your superpower was to be able to change into anything, would you use it to change into an animal or a Power Ranger?

    Dustin: *Laughs* Wow…Um, Mark?
    Mark: Okay…I'm going to be…speaking of honesty and vulnerability, I was never a-I never watched the Power Rangers. I really don't have that much information to go on so I'm going to go with an animal.
    Chris: You should do that tonight, though, you should go watch Power Rangers. It will make your life a little bit better.
    Mark: Yeah, um, I'm guessing that's probably not true. *Laughs*
    Mark: Do I get to pick the animal?

  • JFH (John): Sure, yeah!

    Mark: Okay…I would want to change into a…shhh this is a tough one…a bald eagle. That's a bird, though. A bird's in the animal kingdom, right?

  • JFH (John): It counts.

    Mark: Sweet.
    Chris: I'm going Power Ranger. I don't know which one, but my kids would be happier if daddy turned into a Power Ranger, that's for sure. *Laughs*
    Dustin: I don't know, man. You'd probably look okay in one of those tight suits.
    Chris: *Laughs* I know!
    Mark: That'd be sweet to be a Power Ranger actually.
    Dustin: So does this question imply that as we become a Power Ranger we also get the physique of a Power Ranger so that we look good in our spandex?

  • JFH (John): *Laughs* Sure, if you change, why not?

    Dustin: My daughter, who is 14, is a serious lover of all things animals and if she reads this interview and sees that I picked Power Ranger over animal, I would probably get a good berating. Her favorite animal is a wolf. But I don't want to be a wolf, I want to fly as well. So, can I pick a mystical creature?

  • JFH (John): Sure.

    Dustin: I'd love to be like a dragon.

  • JFH (John): A dragon?

    Dustin: Yeah, man, I want to be a dragon!
    Mark: Is there such a thing as a wolf with wings?
    Dustin: Now it's just getting weird.
    Mark: Just be that!
    Dustin: Can you leave this part out?

  • JFH (John): *Laughs* I don't know, this is kind of gold. *Laughs* Alright, guys, that's all I've got so thanks for doing the interview!

    Dustin: Thank you, man, those were great questions.

    Sanctus Real's latest album, Changed is available now wherever music is sold!

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