From Texas to Afghanistan to Atlantic City, on its journey to success, this rock band has turned emotional pain into inspiring music.
Last July 4 weekend, the members of the Texas hard-rock quintet Flyleaf weren’t playing another rock festival or arena, they were in Afghanistan, playing for troops after wrapping up the band’s sophomore album Memento Mori, which was released November 2009 and debuted in the Top 10 album charts. The overseas experience was unforgettable, sad and eerie for the platinum-selling band, as its members had just chosen the Latin phrase for the title of its album, which translates to “Be Mindful of Death.”
But death and extraordinary coincidences are two of many things that brought this band together in the first place back in 2000. The band’s front woman Lacey Mosley, 28, says that after moving around the country and having a troubled time as a teenager, she met her current band members in a Texas church. It was sort of an inspired convergence, as the band soon formed, sold a million copies of its self-titled debut — originally released in 2005 and re-issued as a CD/DVD combo in 2007 — and went on to become one of the biggest hard-rock bands of the ’00s. It’s been a long and painful journey for Flyleaf at times, but its members’ sense of perseverance and faith has been an inspiration to millions of fans.
Flyleaf brings its Unite & Fight tour to the House of Blues at Showboat on Friday, May 21. The phrase comes from a line in the song “Beautiful Bride” from the new album. During two candid phone interviews with the charming, endearing and Grammy-nominated Mosley over the past week from the road, the one-time die-hard Nirvana fan explains how the band chose the name for its new album, how the band formed and why they don’t consider themselves a “Christian rock band.” (Read the entire interview here)
What memory sticks out from your time in Afghanistan?
We went to this really small base, which is out in the middle of nowhere. And it was just — I mean they were out in the middle of nowhere, and obviously they didn’t have much to live on, and there were only about 30 to 40 people there, but it was one of the most dangerous places. ... And it had only been recently that they were allowed to have visitors. It had been like three years before that. So the person who was escorting us was really excited to have us there. He was responsible for boosting the troops’ morale and he really cared about those guys out there because they had a lot of people die out there and had been kind of isolated for a while. So we went out there and we got the chance to talk with a couple of the guys after we performed. We just brought some guitars and sang right in front of them, no microphones or nothing — just acoustic. And after we got to really talk to them and hear their heart — and there were a lot of heavy things that came out that they wanted to talk about — and it was just really amazing. And then the next day, after we had left [the base] we heard that two of the guys that we had just spoken with got hit by a roadside bomb and were killed. The very next day. It was the heaviest thing ever, just to think that that was one of the last opportunities for someone to talk to them and let them know that they’re appreciated and valued and loved [back home] and that their lives were worth something.
Wow, that really fits in with your latest album’s title.
Memento Mori, right. We felt really immersed in the whole theme of Memento Mori while we were there, wearing body armor the whole time. And them always telling us where the bomb shelters were; it was just a constant reminder that you’re mortal.
How did you come up with the name Memento Mori?
We were looking for artwork for the album and we were thinking about doing a triptych for the packaging. We had seen one CD by [metal band] Demon Hunter that had a triptych and we thought that was so cool. So, we kind of wanted to do something like that. And so we were looking up different triptychs and we came across a piece of artwork that was a triptych by Hans Memling and it was called “Earthly Vanity and Divine Salvation.” ... And underneath that was the phrase, when we found [the image] online: “memento mori.” And we just researched where the phrase comes from and what it meant and we just thought it was interesting, the phrase. I remember just writing in on my arm and just thinking about it for a few days. And at the time we were meeting together and rehearsing the [new] songs and we put them all down, the ones we wanted to use for the record — we had about 25 songs to pick from. And when we picked out the songs we wanted to use for the record, when we looked over the group of songs we kind of saw that message jump out and it kind of hit everybody [in the band] the same way. Because we have all been through a lot of stuff. With a lot of [us], close family members have passed away over the past five years that we have been touring. And the thing that we learned the most was that our lives are short and precious. ... It makes life make more sense when you remember that.
Did you have the name for the album before your tour of Afghanistan?
It was so weird. We went to Afghanistan right after we came up with the name. It was pretty crazy.
It seems like you guys picked the perfect name for the album.
Yeah, it was really strange. I mean, I remember how many times we all looked at each other [while in Afghanistan] and were like — because while we were over there, Sameer [Bhaattacharta, guitarist] didn’t come because his cousin was diagnosed with cancer and she was only 22, a really close cousin of his, and they said that she wasn’t going to make it and that she might pass away while we were over there, so he stayed home and my husband [the band’s guitar technician] actually played guitar while we were in Afghanistan. So we were already getting e-mails from Sameer about what was going on and all going through that together because his family’s like our family. And then at the same time, while that happened, our drummer’s uncle, who we all knew and were really close to, had a heart attack and passed away while we were in Afghanistan and then that thing happened with the soldier who passed away the day after we talked to him, and it was just so heavy and we just kept looking at each other and understanding the meaning of the album even more. It was kind of like the name came to us, like a message to us. And then right before that I went through something pretty heavy that made me think about my own life and so anyway, it was really strange. But in kind of a prophetic way.
It will be interesting to come up with your next album’s title. You should name it We’ve Won the Lottery! or something.
Yeah [cracking up], exactly.
You guys just played Vegas right?
Yeah, we played the Rehab Pool in Vegas. It’s just like one big drunken party.
How did that work with you being in a Christian rock band?
Well, you know what? I don’t know what you mean by a “Christian rock band.” It’s hard to say that because people all have a different definition of what that means. If it means that we’re Christians, then yeah, we’re Christians, but if a plumber’s a Christian, does that make him a “Christian plumber?” I mean we’re not playing for Christians. We’re just playing honestly and that’s going to come out. But [Vegas] is the same world I grew up in. It’s nothing shocking. It’s boring, expected and predictable. To me that’s what it feels like. It’s the same old thing. But I love those people so much. I just loved the people there. I grew up with a crazy life.
How long have all the members of Flyleaf known each other?
Yeah. I think Sameer and Jared [Hartmann, guitar] have been like best friends since junior high on. And James [Culpepper, drums] and Pat [Seals, bass] went to school together since, um, their whole lives. And I just met everybody — I moved [from Arlington, Texas] to Temple [Texas] in 2000, so I’ve known everybody since then. I started going to church where everybody else [in the band] was going and that’s where we met.
I read somewhere that you said, “finding faith saved my life.” How so?
Well, as an atheist. I mean a pretty outspoken jerk atheist — I hated Christians — that’s what I mean by that.
From what age were you an atheist?
From like 10 to 16. When I was 10 I remember I stopped believing in God because I had a three-year-old cousin who was beaten to death by her step-father and I remember thinking, my mom always talked about God and stuff, and I remember thinking, how do you explain that? Where were you God? And from that time on, I think that was around the time I started getting depressed and first started doing drugs. And then I think I was around 16, everything culminated into crappiness, you know? I mean if you’re an atheist and life sucks it just feels like there’s not that much stopping you from saying, well, I don’t want to do life anymore, you know? So I planned to commit suicide and I think from the time I planned to commit suicide to that next morning — I don’t think I went to sleep that night — but I went through the next day and did some stuff that I had planned out. Like to go to school and see a couple people and then I left school and came home and my grandmother wasn’t supposed to be home, but she was home. And she was kind of freaking out on me because I had cut my hair off and she was like, “Something’s wrong with you.” She kind of knew something was wrong and she told me to go to church. And that was like the last place on earth I wanted to be because I hated Christians and I thought they were all naïve and hypocritical and fake and that everybody acted all happy all the time — I just hated them. So, she’s screaming at me to go to church and I didn’t want to go, but just to get her to shut up I went ahead and went.
Yeah, I went in the back [of the church] and tried to suffer through it until it was over. Then the preacher ... pretty much described my life in a series of stories he told about people he had worked with over the years and families he’d helped through different situations. And it was just pretty crazy that he said all these things that just described my life and the reason that I just hated life in general. And that I had a lot of hurt in me. And he stopped in the middle of the sermon and he was almost in tears.
And he stopped and said, “There’s a suicidal spirit in this room.” And like all the hairs stood up on my arms and I was like, I gotta get out of here; this is kind of weird. And by now he’s crying and he says, “Please come up and let us pray for you because God loves you and He has a plan for your life.” And I was like I gotta get out of here. So I didn’t go up to the front because, aside from the fact that I knew some of the kids that were there, [some] who I had picked fights with because they were Christians or picked arguments or whatever — there was no way I was going to stand up in front of all those people and say “That’s me,” you know?
So when the service was dismissed I pretty much ran to the door to get out of there and a deacon stopped me and he held my arm — as I was running he kind of grabbed my arm to stop — and I looked at him and I guess he had been crying too. The whole service was really emotional; I think a lot of people were [crying]. But he was like, “The Lord wants me to speak to you and He wants you to know that even though [you’ve never known your father] He can be a better father to you than any other father could ever be. And I was like, so what is the coincidence? Look at me, I’m in a Pantera shirt and my hair’s purple and of course he probably guessed that I didn’t have a dad or something, I don’t know, but I still didn’t believe. I was like this is just a coincidence.
But then he just said, “God knows all the pain in your heart and Jesus died to take that away and will you let me pray for you?” And so it was kind of out of desperation. I was like, well, I had tried everything else, and I’m going to die tomorrow, I might as well let you do your prayer or whatever. So he started praying for me and literally it felt like God had just shown up and wrapped His arms around me. [And I was surprised] that God cared enough about me to say that He loved me anyway even though I’d hated Him or at least the idea of Him. And I hated Him in a lot of ways like by hating people. And that He loves me anyway. He showed me that I was unloving, but that He loved me anyway.
And I remember feeling love for the first time in my life. And I remember going home and being real turned around. I was like, “Is there a God,” you know? And “What does that mean?” I was like, if there is a God then I have to think about all of this. And I remember waking up the next day and going, “OK, God, if you’re real, then why did you wake me up today because I wasn’t supposed to? And what do you want me to do ... and why is it that important to you?” And ever since then I’ve been trying to figure out what that is.
Where: House of Blues at Showboat, A.C.
When: Friday, May 21, 7pm
How Much: $25
"I was so bitter and full of angst back then. It’s not so easy to go back there that much but we’ve done it. But I’m almost 30 now. I’m a different person."
"And so it was kind of out of desperation. I was like, well, I had tried everything else, and I’m going to die tomorrow, I might as well let you do your prayer or whatever. So he started praying for me and literally it felt like God had just shown up and wrapped his arms around me."
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