What were you feeling the day after Petra's last concert in 2005?
John Schlitt It was weird but funny, because I had a solo show the day after the farewell show. In fact, once the last [Petra] show finished on New Year's Eve, I was driven to the airport straight after it. So I remember getting off the stage after my solo gig thinking, Just show me where the bed is! I was mentally and physically beat from everything for the first four weeks, so I did nothing in that time but recharge my batteries. It took about six months for me to go "Man, what's next?" Well, I've built furniture for a long time, but then I got my realtor's license and started taking clients—I even sold a house to my son.
You've previously released two solo albums back to back in the '90s. What accounts for the twelve years between 1996's Unfit for Swine and 2008's The Grafting?
Schlitt It involves Petra again. After [founding member and guitarist Bob Hartman] decided to leave the band, that put the band on my shoulders. It took every ounce of time, so I did a few solo dates, but not many. Before, I was just the singer, so I was able to pursue my solo thing alongside Petra. When I took over Petra, my whole life changed and I was busy twenty-four hours no matter what. It was a big change not having Bob in the band and we went through a lot of personnel changes, so that forced me to stop doing solo projects.
And what about the two years between the end of Petra and this solo project?
Schlitt I loved resting for the first six months. Then Bob called and we toured as a twosome—that was fun and kept me busy for another year. But all this time I was thinking about a solo record. I just didn't have the finances for it. After checking out a couple record companies, I decided to do the record and have my son-in-law Dan Needham produce it. But he's pretty busy himself as a studio drummer, touring with Amy Grant and working on different things. He had to fit me in, and it took over a year to do it. But I love his style and his work, so it was worth the wait.
From listening to The Grafting, you weren't trying to recapture the Petra sound.
Schlitt Petra is retried and done. I don't want another Petra-sounding record because that would be unfair to Bob and the other guys. I wanted it to represent where I'm at right now. I wanted it to be honest and have a musical style that doesn't compete with the kids—not that I couldn't, but I don't want to try and outdraw a 21-year-old because that's not going to happen!
What are some of the thematic elements to the current project?
Schlitt Adoption, specifically concerning girls who had the courage to go through their pregnancies and not have an abortion. I don't think we talk about them enough, so the title track is about them. I have five grandkids all because of single mothers who chose life instead of death. There are also political thoughts on "Only Men"—I believe we Christians are failing to back our Lord, standing by and letting our God be criticized and laughed at [in our culture]. "Keep Your Light On" is about being the light that people can see—we know Jesus Christ, but some of our family, friends, and strangers don't. It's our reasonability to go out and share that light!
Is there a reason your songs—both solo and with Petra—tend towards boldly Christian lyricism, as opposed to subtle metaphors and poetry?
Schlitt Yes, because I totally disagree with that philosophy! I think Christian music was designed to bring the message of Christ and all this secular stuff can do whatever they want. [When a Christian artist] sugarcoats something, does it make you think or edify the spirit? Not really, so that's just a waste of time. Christian music should be a tool—an entertaining tool, but one that should always be about the Lord or about a topic that leads you in your Christian walk.
Do you feel like Petra fans would gravitate towards the music on The Grafting?
Schlitt I've been told there are tinges of Petra, tinges of my old band Head East, and also a new sound that Dan has purposefully gotten out of me. There are so many characters of my voice that haven't been used, and he was bound and determined to help bring those out. No one is going to argue that this doesn't sound like John Schlitt, but there's a lot of extra texture to my voice.
So many classic rock acts are reuniting and hitting the road this summer. When can we expect Petra's reunion tour?
Schlitt Bob sold his house and is living at the lake. He'll be fishing and playing tennis the rest of his life! If there's a reunion tour, I'd be on it—but I honestly don't ever think there ever will be.
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