As the mouthpiece of modern rock quintet Sanctus Real, Matt Hammitt simply can’t mince words. In keeping with his band’s namesake, he has to keep it, well, real. After all, he’s the front man, the poster boy, the one who stands front and center at all times, whether it’s a routine photo shoot or a can’t-sit-still live performance.
As with other leaders, audiences look to him for answers, and their expectations are high. The role of his bandmates is mostly to keep to their instruments and rock as hard as they can, but not Hammitt. He’s the leading man, the spokesperson, the point guard, the actual face of his group. He’s the voice.
“In all honesty…”
New bands come and go, but Sanctus Real’s tireless work ethic has kept them in business longer than your average, up-and-coming faith-fueled rock band. With only four albums under its belt, the band has managed an enviable portfolio of No. 1 singles, awards, sales success and high-profile slots alongside some of music’s biggest acts, and the group’s momentum just keeps mounting.
In fact, members of Third Day caught the five-piece in concert last summer and were so impressed by their performance and their hearts, they simply had to invite them to tour with them this spring. Third Day bassist Tai Anderson puts it succinctly: “I was blown away.”
“To be honest with you…”
But those are just facts and figures anyone can rehash from a press release. The band’s true pride and joy in recent memory was The Face of Love (Sparrow), its most mature effort at the time. From the onset of Sanctus Real’s career, the group’s light-hearted spirit, colossal hooks and power-pop tendencies made it a favorite of the youth group crowd. In a way, it was as if the band was conflict-free.But The Face of Love was different. Forged in the fires of trial, loss and grief, the songs were naturally more emotional and intense—melancholy, even.
Today, the band has turned a page. “All these questions we had about what was happening in the band, all the heartache from losing loved ones, we’re on the other side of that,” Hammitt says. “We feel more hopeful than we did at that time. It’s a new season.”Hammitt really means that. No, he really means it. He’s not mincing words.
The more CCM probes into the breeding ground of Sanctus’ new album, We Need Each Other (Sparrow), the word “honesty” keeps coming up one way or another. It has a way of prefacing each of Hammitt’s responses, as if serving as a caution to whoever reads them.
“I had been selfish to want to take time or energy to communicate that I was hurt by other people, and I was holding it against them,” Hammitt confesses. “That’s when I realized, ‘I don’t want to be alone at the end of all this.’”
Mind you, this is the same man who sang “I’m not alright/I’m broken inside” on The Face of Love’s achingly honest first single. But the dissimilarities between that album and We Need Each Other are like night and day. The disc finds the group performing soaring, larger-than-life pop/rock of the highest order, coupled with a message of unity, interdependence and understanding among believers.
The message is nothing new in faith-based music, but for Hammitt it became a new revelation, especially in the months leading up to the recording of the album. The short of it: he had a serious beef with someone in his inner circle, and he couldn’t muster the courage to confront the person. Once he finally did and things got resolved, he wrote the album’s title track.
Even so, words fail as he tries to relate the experience. “There are a couple of people in particular that I work with…” Hammitt’s voice trails off. “When you’re on the road…” Once again, he leaves the thought unfinished. “It’s hard for me to say, because I don’t even know if the person knows that I wrote the song while thinking of them.”
In fact, when asked about the particulars of his conflict, Hammitt measures his words carefully. He’s reluctant to delve into specifics or to name names— apparently the flurry of emotions tied to the whole situation is too painful to recount.
Regardless, he proceeds the best way he can. “There were certain things that hurt my feelings, certain things that made me upset, that were said or done that were never talked about,” Hammitt says, now with more resolve in his tone. “It really got to the point where it made me sick to my stomach when I was around certain people. I didn’t want to deal with them. I didn’t want to accept the fact that I had bitterness in my heart.”
Hammitt was not all right. Broken inside, he nurtured those feelings “for months, maybe about a year.” It got to the point where Hammitt felt so powerless, he broke down: “I remember just weeping, feeling like a failure, just laying there, not knowing what to do because I had harbored [those feelings] for so long. I remember at that point realizing, ‘My gosh, you’re way too far.’”
The demon of discord haunted him for so long, Hammitt says it’s only God’s unmerited favor that helped him maintain his composure as he toured, met fans and ministered day after day. “I don’t know how I kept my sanity. You just have to pray for grace. God has a way of using people who are broken. This is crazy, but sometimes I think God [has] used me in very unique ways when I have been broken.”
Just as Hammitt was about to explode, he took the high road and decided, on a hot summer day after a show, to have the oft-put-off one-on-one. “We sat down in a room and I said, ‘Look, I’m literally at a point where I’m having a hard time being in a room with you,’” Hammitt says. “It was a matter of me having to say, ‘Hey, bro, I love you enough to be honest with you and to tell you that here’s the thing I see in your life making you completely unhappy and that is causing me to have to deal with it.’”
Hammitt says he was “honestly” (that word again) expecting a fight. But the opposite happened: “It wasn’t at all. I was received in complete humility and graciousness. It had God’s hand all over it. It was a really open, clear, honest talk. It was really great.”
The conversation’s epilogue, as told to this writer, was the best part. “At the end of the day, I want the most important thing in my life to be my friends and my family,” Hammitt says. “I want to invest more in terms of relationships. Business doesn’t matter. The band doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, when it’s all over, all we have is each other. I don’t want you or me to leave this alone, to leave this not as friends. I want you to be part of my family, and I want to be a part of your family. Years from now, when all of this is over, we’re going to call each other, and I want to sit around and talk about the good old days. And I still want to have you.”
If that’s not the face of love—or at least a glimpse of what that face looks like— then I don’t know what is.
— When he's not cooking or reading The New York Times for fun, Andree Farias writes. Simultaneously, he's profusely in love with Stephanie, his stunning, Proverbs 31 fiancée.