by John Barber
In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, punk band The Altar Boys were shaping the sound of Christian music. Just a few years later, the band had broken up and were out of the music scene altogether. But thanks to the rediscovery of some old recordings, The Altar Boys are making headlines again. We spoke to Mike Stand, the lead singer and songwriter for The Altar Boys, about the newly found and released album No Substitute.
CCM: Can you tell us about the circumstances around the original recording of these songs? What was the band up to?
Mike: The idea for No Substitute was a desire to embrace some of the key elements found on our earlier records. I really wanted to write a record of heartfelt, Christ-centered an-thems that the Altar Boys were known for, while also infusing deeper, more thoughtful lyrics. I had come a long way as a songwriter, and wanted to bring that growth into the lyrics of these new songs as well. We poured our heart and soul into recording these songs because we knew the importance of this project
CCM: Why were these songs not released in the early ‘90s?
Mike: In 1990, we presented No Substitute to our label Frontline Records, and they were really excited about it. At the same time, we tried to renegotiate our contract, but it was to no avail. We moved on from Frontline and sought out a few other labels, but they were only interested in signing me as a solo act—something I wasn’t prepared to do.
In September of 1991, Mark abruptly moved to Nashville, and then Steve soon followed. It became apparent to Jeff and I that No Substitute wasn’t meant to be. The group played its last gig on New Year’s Eve 1992 and took a hiatus. I went on to form Clash of Sym-bols and Jeff went back to school.
In the late 90s and early 2000s, Steve, Jeff, Mark, and I did reunite and played a number of very successful gigs (including Cornerstone Festival in 2000 and 2002), but there was never any talk of reforming the Altar Boys or finishing No Substitute.
CCM: How did your “rediscovery” of these songs come about?
Mike: In March 2017 I began having severe vocal issues. Things went from bad to worse and I was diagnosed with a severe hemorrhage and growths on my vocal cords. I did all I could to try to fix the problem, but couldn’t get any relief. Finally, on September 25, 2017, I had surgery that eventually remedied the issue.
After the surgery, I took three weeks off from work and with nothing better to do, de-cided to revisit the No Substitute tapes. First impression: My son and I were totally blown away by the songs and vocal delivery. We transferred them to digital, and sent rough mixes to [the band], and a few others and the feedback was unanimous: “We need to fin-ish this project.” We contacted our longtime friend Adel Meisenheimer at Frontline who directed us to Jeffrey Kotthoff at Lo-Fidelity Records. He helped us launch a successful Kickstarter campaign and we eventually released No Substitute on his label
CCM: How do you think the musical world has changed since No Substitute was recorded? Is the world ready for this?
Mike: The world is always in need of hearing about the Savior. Yes, the world has changed, but the heart of man has not, and I don’t believe we can ever have too many good songs that talk about the riches, grace, and mercy of our Lord
CCM: What is the audience for a project like this? Longtime Christian rock fans or do you think a younger generation of fans can be reached?
Mike: We hope many are encouraged to discover that some of us from back in the day are still trying to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” The release of this record is a win for all of the all-but-forgotten bands from back in the day such as The Lifesavers, Chosen Ones, Lifters, Common Bond, Undercover, and so many others. They all had fantastic ministries and music and were the pioneers of this genre. In the end, we can’t totally explain why after 25 years we were called to take on the task of finishing No Substitute, but we’re glad it happened, and we hope the world is better for it
CCM: What is the future for The Altar Boys?
Mike: Last September, we had an album release party and the next night did a sold-out show at the Anaheim House of Blues. It felt great and many felt we never sounded better. With that said, if it is meant to be, we are certainly open to doing more shows. The re-lease of No Substitute is an absolute miracle and it is unprecedented. Bands just don’t get this lucky. I have learned to never underestimate the will and grace of God and the truth behind the Scripture that says “with God, all things are possible.”