FOR TODAY: ENDING ON A HIGH NOTE AND ENDING IT WELL
For Today is almost over. After releasing its debut album in 2008 (Ekklesia, on Facedown Records), they quickly commanded attention and won the hearts of metalheads, hardcore and punk fans with their powerful, bombastic and ferociously fast-moving sound. Both lovers of Christ and the non-religious flocked to their shows for the intensity on display. Like the flame they chanted about in “Seraphim” (from the Breaker album), this bold, brazen and unapologetic outfit was real, raw and in-your-face, but with a unassuming humility that spoke volumes without having to elaborate.
Fronted by lion-maned screamer named Mattie Montgomery, For Today was carrying the torch that bands like Barren Cross and Vengeance Rising lit in the metal and thrash world decades ago. Bands like Focused and Unashamed carried this torch under the common moniker Spirit-filled hardcore. Both the song lyrics and the proclamations made from the stage in a live setting were bold, biblical and passionately heartfelt. The sonic wall of power emanating from the speakers carried in it a muscular brand of hardcore/metal that was undeniable, played skillfully and simply mind-blowing.
It’s no surprise that For Today became a favorite in the hard music scene over much of the past decade. It was perhaps a shock to their many fans when they announced that 2015’s Wake album would be its last and that they would follow-up in 2016 with an ongoing goodbye on the band’s farewell tour.
Once the final tour dates were announced and Austin, Texas, was spotted therein, it was easy to make this stop a mandatory event to attend. It was here that I met up with frontman Mattie Montgomery prior to the show in the alleyway behind 6th Street’s Dirty Dog Bar for the following interview.
How did you know that this was the end of For Today?
“This one was different for me. I’ve had things in life where it’s just kind of like, where God kind of makes it the only option, ya know? Like proposing to Candice, my wife, for example.
“I was walking through the mall one day and the guy from Zale’s Jeweler comes out and goes, ‘You’re Mattie from For Today, right?’
“‘Yeah, man. What’s up?’ And we started talking. I make the comment that I’m going to be buying a ring here pretty soon and he freaks out and goes, ‘Dude! Let me help you.’ He wants to give me an employee discount and gives me all these markdowns for this ring and the ring winds up coming to the exact total of the amount of money I had in my pocket at that moment. That was also the exact amount of money I had to my name at that moment, too.
“At times like that, it’s like, ‘Okay, I get the message.’ With this one it wasn’t really such an overt thing. A couple of tours ago we were in the middle of it and it just felt different – not bad, just different. I was talking to my wife about it maybe a couple of weeks into the tour. I said, ‘You know, it just doesn’t feel important anymore.’ There was a time when we walked on stage convinced that this was ‘life or death, heaven or hell for the people in the crowd … and this is the moment that things change.’ But at this point I remember saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to go play the songs and then go get some food.’
“That could have been one of two things: one is that God is moving my heart away from this; and two is that I had gotten distracted and needed to bring my heart back to God and say, ‘Correct me and bring me back to where my heart burns for this the way that Your heart does.’ So I just spent the next couple of weeks praying and seeking counsel from people in my life, saying, ‘This is kind of how I’m feeling and I don’t know if it’s that I need to repent the way that I’m approaching this and my attitude…’ It’s not that I had a bad attitude. It’s just didn’t feel important. The more I prayed about it, the more it just felt like … not like God was saying, ‘Mattie, you have to leave the band. Get out now. There’s something wrong.’ But the sense that I got from God – and this is the best way that I can describe it – it felt like He just sort of sat back and said, ‘Okay. Well done.’ And that’s it.
“As I was thinking, ‘God, I just don’t want to miss out on what you have for this band in the future, that there wasn’t… I don’t know what that is. I’d always sort of had stuff that I had in my heart – songs I wanted to write, tours I wanted to do or messages I wanted to convey or whatever. And this time, as I was praying, it just felt like I didn’t have a vision for the future anymore. I just really had this sense from God, like He was saying, ‘Okay. That’s it. Good job. You did what I sent you to do.’
“Now, I could have stayed in For Today, because it’s a job and played a whole bunch more shows and done a whole bunch more tours and probably cranked out a few more albums and maybe made money doing it, until I got to the point where I had to leave the band, like nobody cares about us anymore, we can’t afford to keep touring or I don’t get along with the rest of the guys and we can’t stand to be around each other enough for a whole tour or whatever… I just felt like there was just this satisfaction in the heart of the Father. ‘Okay, that’s it. That’s what I sent you to do.’
“I wanted to step out now, so that we could do it with grace and be able to enjoy the last show and enjoy the last tour and enjoy this closing season. Because people are still coming to our shows. I think tonight’s sold out or close to it already. The farewell tour is going awesome and I think it is going to continue to go awesome. And we all still love each other a lot. I think it will be a really cool thing to end on a high note – to end it well.”
While it may sound trivial to those who don’t know this band and how profound their impact is on a worldwide scene, this is a historical moment and it’s going down with grace, humility and simple obedience. Not many bands have gone out on a high note. I’m reminded of Jim Brown and Barry Sanders – two NFL running backs that retired from playing the game of football while still in their prime. Seattle metal band Bloodgood had a similar ending back in 1993, calling it quits after sensing that they had crossed the finished line of the race that God had set before them. They heard the comforting words, “Well done,” and let it rest, also being able to say goodbye to their fans on the All Stand Together Tour. (This was chronicled in the Heaven’s Metal Video Magazine, Volume 3, by the way).
While looking at the end of the band, I asked Mattie to look back and point out a few highlights in the long life of this band.
“To be honest, it’s felt like every day has been a miracle or a highlight. I felt like this whole decade has been like a dream come true, ya know?
“This might sound a little bit weird, but I think one of my favorite moments was the day that all of our band’s equipment got stolen. We lost probably $200,000 that day. It got stolen in San Antonio and we were supposed to play in Houston the next day.
“We all kind of sat around and we go, ‘Well, we still know how to play the music. We could make it to Houston,’ so we just rented some cars and let the police do their job in San Antonio and we drove over. We were headlining the House of Blues in Houston and we go in with no merch to sell and no drumset. We had to borrow guitar picks and drum sticks. Most of us didn’t even have clothes to wear on stage. It was kind of an awkward thing. We have this whole light rig and backdrops, fog and a soundboard that we brought with us and it was all gone.
“We just played the show. We had nothing but the music inside us and the message that we carry. And it was just such a powerful show. 1,200 people came out that day and sang every word with us. It was such a really powerful moment, I think, in our time as a band to realize that it never was about lights, a backdrop and sound quality and stuff like this. It’s not about looking cool, because we didn’t look cool that day. It was about connecting with people on a real level and no amount of money lost or gear stolen can take that away. That’s cool.”
What’s amazing about this story of loss to gain and devastation to thanksgiving was how the crime of the stolen gear worked out. The next day the band got a Facebook message from a kid saying, “Hey, if I know where your stuff is, do I get some kind of reward or something?” The band’s manager politely said, “Yeah, your reward is not going to jail.”
This kid woke up to see his dad and uncle unloading this gear that said For Today on it. He was a fan of the band, so he reached out on Facebook. The band then sent two of their guys back to San Antonio, who contacted the police and the detective on that case and told them: “We’ve got the address, so we’re going to go over there if you don’t do anything about it.” The police told them that they had that address on file and warned them not to go over there. They were told to stay close by, hang tight and they’d send someone over there.
They drove over and parked about 100 yards away from the house and they sat and watched. They soon saw people start to come out of the house and look at the car. A guy in the house comes out, looks around and then opens the trunk of a car and grabs a pair of binoculars and whips around real fast and looks at them. So they started driving around the neighborhood to try and not look conspicuous. As they were driving around, hoping to not get killed, they went by the house again and there was a bunch of cop cars (5-6) a couple SUVs, the SWAT vehicles and a helicopter that was flying around the house. Turns out it was a drug ring that was being funded by the cartels in Mexico. They found multiple weapons, bricks of cocaine and some of the band’s gear. This raid helped put them away.
Talk about a dramatic highlight! Any others?
“I met my wife at a show. That wasn’t a (gasp) ‘I’m going to marry this girl! This is a highlight of my life,’ but I did meet her at a show.”
How’d that go?
“We were in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and we drove overnight to a city called McCalla, just outside of Birmingham, Alabama, and we got in at maybe 9 or 10 in the morning. Everybody else went inside and went back to sleep for a bit and I stayed up and was just kind of walking around outside. I found a ring on the ground. I thought it was kind of beautiful. It wasn’t super nice, but I felt bad about just throwing it back into the parking lot, so I picked it up and stuck it in my pocket. I kind of forgot about it. Then, maybe 10, 12 hours later at the end of the night, we’d done sound check, we’d played our show, we’d gone out to dinner and at the very end of the night I was standing there, talking to our merch guy and I stuck my hand in my pocket and felt that ring and I thought, ‘Okay, I’ve got to figure something out – figure out what I’m going to do with this,’ so I just handed it to the first person I saw, which was this random girl from the show, who was walking up to buy some merch. She stuck it on her ring finger and it fit perfectly and we all laughed about how we were supposed to get married. And that is how I met my wife.”
What about special moments in the studio or songwriting? “Recording sucks, really. It’s not like, ‘Wow! This is really beautiful! Look at the way it’s coming together!’ It’s more like, ‘That’s pretty cool. Is there anything we can do better? I don’t know, the take’s not that good. Maybe let’s do the take again. The mix is not that good. Wait a minute.’ When it’s over, it’s like, ‘Fine! It’s done! Thank God! Let’s move on.’ It’s such a tedious process.
“Recording Breaker, however, felt like a different experience for us. I don’t really know in what way, but I remember feeling in the studio, like, ‘This is important.’ And that album was a real breakthrough for us, I think.”
It’s my favorite.
“Oh, thank you! That was a real special time, but I don’t think I can explain how.”
What does the future hold? What’s next? “Your guess is as good as mine. Most importantly, I’m going to spend more time with my family. A couple of weeks ago it was my son’s fifth birthday and, instead of being with him that day, I was at a concert in Pennsylvania. That sucks. I don’t like that. So that’s, I think, the first priority. Beyond that, I just started a company with a couple of guys that I’ve been pastoring with for a while, which is pretty cool. It’s doing really well so far. It’s given me a cool opportunity to, instead of just seeing them on Sundays or Wednesdays or talking to them on the phone once or twice a week, I can spend time with them from 9 to 5 every day in this business environment and not only teach them kingdom principles, but give them a platform to be able to apply these kingdom principles that we learn. That business is going pretty well. I think I’ll probably still preach a little bit. I’ve been turning down about 90% of the invitations I get to preach at churches and conferences and things. It’ll be nice to not have to do that and go and speak and serve the body of Christ in that way.”
Mattie has just released a book, called Lovely Things in Ugly Places.
“The book is equal parts wild victories and disappointments. One of the stories I share early on in the book is about a guy named Sam in Waco, Texas. I shared the Gospel with him and his two friends and at the end of the conversation I asked him and his two friends if I could pray for them. His two friends said, ‘Yeah,’ enthusiastically. And Sam sort of smirked and said, ‘I’m my own god. I don’t need that.’ I got a call a day or two later from the promoter of that show, looking for my wife. He said that those three kids had gotten in a car accident on the way home from that show and the two people that we had prayed for were okay. They’d been to the hospital, but were home now. But the guy that had told me that he was his own god had been thrown from the car and killed. They left that conversation in the parking lot and went straight to their car and he died 15 minutes later, before he got home.
“That’s a story that I explore in the book. The lesson that I take away from it more than anything is just the urgency of the Gospel and the mercy of God. It’s incredible mercy, knowing that Sam’s time on earth was short and he made sure that the last person Sam had a real conversation with was somebody that was sharing the Gospel with him and inviting him to place his faith and his trust in Christ. I think that God is really good for that and I also think that has really reminded me how desperately the Gospel is needed and how really desperately Gospel preachers are needed. Because there’s a lot of people in the world like Sam that don’t have a lot of time to sit around and considering that decision. I think it’s important for people to be willing to share the Gospel with them. God’s broken my heart and blessed my heart and touched my heart in many ways in the last ten years, but that’s one of the ones early on that really has stuck with me for a long time and really changed and challenged the way I view God and people and ministry.”
Before I go, I can’t help asking again why this band has chosen to go the mainstream route of clubs and bars rather than churches and youth groups. How'd that work out for you?
“It’s not the healthy that need a physician, but the sick. To be honest, it is way easier for me to preach the Gospel to a room full of drunk atheists than a room full of lukewarm Christians. The people in this scene, that have come to this hardcore metal subculture, they don’t pretend like they’re okay. They wear their brokenness on their sleeve. They carry their sin on the outside. God respects people who are openly cold than people that are pretending to be something they are not. We’ve come here to this scene, because this is where the Gospel is needed. We could have come to the Christian youth group scene. I know that we are called to seek and save the lost, so that is what we want to do.”
I tell you what. God knows what He is doing and I’m sure he’s going to use the guys in For Today for many years to come, should He tarry, but this music scene is going to miss having this band around.