316 Interview With Michael Lenhart
We caught up with 316 frontman Michael Lenhart via Facebook Messenger. Michael recently left a longtime position as a worship pastor in Oxnard, California, to serve as chaplain and brand outreach manager to Kanye’s Sunday Service. What’s up with 316? I grew up in West Columbia, South Carolina, and attended Northside Baptist Church. 316 was a Christian metal band I started in high school with some guys from my youth group. I had been in a couple of bands before, but nothing really clicked like 316. Probably because I was writing with a kid named Jamie Oliver…an AMAZING guitar player with a great ear for melody. Jamie’s dad was in the Army and they had joined our church when he was stationed at Fort Jackson. Did the band get back together after all this time? Why? Cliff Willis (316’s bassist), Erik Eakle (our soundman), and I just reconnected at the funeral of an old friend. Jamie’s off in L.A. doing his thing—he’s quite busy as a session player. And Scotty, our drummer…we’ve reached out to him several times, but he’s not responded. So, we’re not really back together, but we’d like to be. For old times' sake. What is the brief (or long) history of 316? Ha! Sadly, our history is quite short. 316 played a couple of dozen gigs the summer of 1986, recorded an EP in Nashville, got a chance to open for Stryper and Crüe, and disbanded. Our church youth minister knew a guy from seminary who managed Christian bands. This guy, Skip Wick, he signed us for a summer…basically, to play Christian camps and churches all over the South. It was a dream come true. But…it kind of fell apart near the end. Honestly, I can’t quite remember what happened. Just that eventually we went home and were just regular teenagers again. What were the challenges you guys faced bringing a message of faith into a faith-less or dark metal music scene? We mostly played for Christians. It was only at the end, that we stepped into that world…you know, the whole rock club scene. I tell you, it was hard. We were pretty much thrown into the fire. Like, one day playing a Christian music festival, the next playing a concert in hell. (I’m not exaggerating!) I guess the hardest thing was realizing that the secular audience was inclined to hate us before we even played a note. Oh. And yeah. Non-Christian crowds DO NOT respond to altar calls. I’ll just leave it at that. Where are the current members now? How did time treat them? Great question! I never left Christian music. I toured as a solo artist in the 90s, then had an incredible career as a worship leader. Recently, I started working for Kanye West and it’s been…well. It’s amazing, but that’s a whole other story. Jamie Oliver played in several touring bands (not Christian) and has made a great life for himself playing FOR EVERYBODY in L.A. Cliff Willis and Scotty Hoffmann…neither one is in music anymore, but both seem to have built pretty great lives for themselves: kids and families and cool stuff—at least as I see it on social media. And Erik Eakle, our sound guy, I only recently caught up with him after YEARS of radio silence. He seems to be a really cool guy. He said he gets to SoCal on occasion, so I expect we’ll hang out soon. What was your favorite moment with the band? And what was your least-favorite moment? There was this girl, Sarah Wember; she kinda became our opening act that summer. ’86. I’ll never forget hearing her sing the first time. It was like, I think she thought we were special…like; a “real” band. We weren’t. We were just kids like her. But the way we met…I don’t know. I was great recognizing talent. Seeing her sing and being like, wow. Now that, that’s legit. I’ll never forget that. Least-favorite moment? The ride home from Texas. We thought we were going to be headed to California to sign a record deal. But we ended up, tails between our legs, booking it back home. That was the worst. (Eventually, I DID make it to Cali, though!)
Favorite song to play live? Why? We had a song, a kind of arena rock banger called “Commando For Christ.” The lyrics are SUPER-cheesy, but man. I loved singing that song. And I loved playing the rhythm guitar part to Jamie’s lead. Apparently, an old 316 fan has posted a music video and the song on YouTube. Listen to it yourself. It’s crazy great. (For cover songs, I LOVED playing our metal version of “Kumbayah.” That was EPIC.) How did the music archive get re-discovered? What’s the story on that? Who and how did this happen? We have no idea. Like I said, Cliff, Erik, and I reconnected at a funeral. And like, a few months later, I’m getting messages and calls from people like you—which is AMAZING. But totally unexpected and strange. But hey—that’s how God works, right? He likes to surprise us. And I’m there for it! YOU GO, GOD! How do the dreams of a teenage Christian rock/metal star-in-the-making differ from your dreams now? Oddly enough, not that different—at least for me. I’ve always seen music as the best vehicle for sharing the love of Christ. Even music that isn’t meant to talk about Jesus…it’s still talking about Jesus! Like…what’s that song…Bruce Springsteen. "Tougher Than the Rest.” I love that song! Just heard it on the radio a couple of days ago. It’s a love song. A guy singing to a girl. Both of them pretty broken people. Nothing special about either of them. But this guy, he sees something in this girl…something he loves. Something rare and special. And he’s asking for a chance. One chance to prove to her…he’s the guy! He knows it’s going to be hard, maybe impossible. But he’s going to try. He just wants a shot. Man, I LOVE that! That’s all of us, right? We all…we just want a shot! And we get it. It’s probably going to go south on us eventually. But that ask…that want. That’s FAITH, man. And Jesus? He’s all about that. Sorry. I’m going WAY off topic. It’s just…music, man! It's, it’s God. MUSIC IS GOD. What was it like meeting Rob Cassels? Um, vague memories. I think we played a couple of festivals with Rob back in the day? Solid dude. Great songs. Built his own Keytar. Great hair. How did you young guys on stage deal with girls who wanted to be seen with a “rock star”? Can’t speak for the other guys, but me…I’m not sure. I STILL think those big hair girls from the '80s were the prettiest women that ever walked the Earth. Can’t believe I never crossed a line with them. Well, full disclosure…I did make out with a girl that summer. Church show, I think. She was older, actually. Like A LOT older than me. College at least. I still remember that her lips tasted like strawberries. Isn’t that crazy? What you remember? Forty years later and I’m still thinking about an '80s girl who tasted like strawberries. Rock-and-roll man, ROCK-AND-ROLL! What is your favorite comment from an adult that wasn’t happy about your music at the time? (Was it a “turn it down!” comment or something else?). Sometimes it’s comments like that which become inside jokes within the band members. Oh man, we played a show once…a church show. And like, the first song. In the middle of the song a VERY old man…probably a deacon…it was like he couldn’t believe what he was hearing in his church! He walked up onto the stage and just, he jerked Scotty’s sticks out of his hands! And shoved a cymbal or something? And we all just stopped, mid-song, and this old dude he was just boiling with rage and started shouting “OUT! OUT!” This guy, probably a World War II vet, he’s bellowing “OUT! OUT!” And we were just like…what do we do? And Cliff—I love that guy SO MUCH—Cliff locks eyes with the old guy and is like “IN! IN!” I was dying! We all were! And they went back and forth—“OUT!” “IN!” “OUT!” “IN!” for like two minutes! And the youth group kids in the audience, they’re with Cliff! They’re screaming “IN! IN! IN!” And finally some lady comes up and leads the old guy away and we went back to the show. But yeah. “Out! In!” That became a catchphrase. We said it all the time—especially when we were writing songs. If you liked something, you’d say “IN!” And if you didn’t, it was like, “OUT!” Ha ha. What else would you like to talk about? This is so great remembering the old days! And a total thrill talking to Heaven’s Metal! I had a Heaven’s Metal T-shirt back in the day! Wore it with pride. I guess, I mean…look. If you used to be into Christian music and now you’re not, that’s cool. But don’t, I mean, don’t lose Jesus! Music, rock bands…Spandex pants and big hair, those things all go in and out of style. But Jesus NEVER changes. The Gospel is still the best news ever! It still changes lives and can change yours, too.
Check out a video of 316's cover of the Rez classic, "Love Comes Down."