Acceptance’s Alternate History

Last week’s music feature looks at the 2005 debut album from now defunct alt-rock band Acceptance. That album, Phantoms, was recently reissued on vinyl and “all 1,000 copies sold out in just over four hours,” writes our Azaria Podplesky, who goes on to report on the enduring interest in the disbanded group.

Not reported in that piece is a long-dormant controversy now re-emerging along with the reissue. Former drummer Garrett Lunceford contacted Seattle Weekly after seeing the story and says Acceptance “kicked me out for being gay.”

“I knew they were Christian, but they had never made any kind of anti-gay remark,” says Lunceford, who claims he was ejected from the band after two years in 2003, shortly after he came out of the closet.

According to Lunceford, he felt the need to come out to his band members because “I was totally committed to the group. We were about to go on tour and sign a sizeable publishing contract. I felt they should know.”

After telling his band, Lunceford says they wanted to discuss his news in further detail. “They tried to counsel me out of being gay,” he says. When Lunceford told them he wasn’t interested, he says all four of his band mates—Jason Vena, Kaylan Cloyd, Christian McAlhaney, and Ryan Zwiefelhofer—kicked him out. “They were a unified front on this.”

Lunceford’s former band mates have a different version of what happened.

“Garrett was never kicked out of the band,” says Cloyd, who played guitar in the group. “We wanted to meet as a band with people who we respected on both sides who could help us understand where Garrett was coming from and us for him.”

But was he kicked out? No, Cloyd says. “He left.”

Bassist Ryan Zwiefelhofer responds similarly. “It was never said to Garrett, ‘Hey, man. You’re gay. You know we can’t have you in the band now, right?’”

Still, Lunceford’s announcement incited some resistance from the band.

“When we found out Garrett was gay we were shocked. Because of my upbringing it was hard to think someone with the same beliefs as me could be gay,” Cloyd says. “It just seemed like a huge contradiction at the time for him to say he was a Christian.”

Lunceford went public with his version of the story, telling DJs like The End’s Andy Harms and Frank Nieto, who now works for Sub Pop but at the time was booking acts for the Crocodile.

He made waves--the Croc stopped booking the band. Nieto says, “Once I became aware they’d kicked Garrett out of the band because he was gay, I decided to not book another show for them. While I’d never heard directly from the band themselves, there were a few people they worked with that I was familiar with that had also confirmed to me the reasoning behind Garrett’s departure.”

Hannah Levin (who has contributed to Seattle Weekly but at the time was writing for The Stranger) remembers, “Word spread quickly and they [Acceptance] were pretty much ostracized by most bookers and promoters, as far as I could tell.”

As to Lunceford’s claim for being kicked out because he was gay, she adds, “Garrett is a gracious, somewhat shy kid who has no use for drama. I never had any doubts about the veracity of his claim.”

Though Zwiefelhofer and Cloyd still firmly deny Lunceford was expelled on account of his sexuality, they allude to a breakdown in communication within the band once Lunceford came out. “The trajectory [of the conversation] took to being more subversive,” says Zwiefelhofer, who’s now an atheist, but still manages the band’s Twitter account. Cloyd says, “We were young and still figuring out how we felt about a lot of things.”

Yet the rumor still persists on various fan forums, like on Absolutepunk.net and Pandora where “Roundaboutmike” comments [sic] “The original drummer, Garrett Lunceford, got kicked out because he was gay. The remaining members told him to cure his illness or get out. Definitely of irony : Calling your band Acceptance, then kicking out your drummer because he’s gay. YAY!”

Lunceford has since gone on to play with The Divorce and Portugal. The Man and now teaches music lessons at an independent school and DJs around town at venues like Havana and Chop Suey. After sharing his side of the story with Seattle Weekly, he doesn’t come across particularly bitter about the ordeal.

“I saw [lead singer] Jason Vena’s ex-wife on the cover of People magazine. She was on The Bachelor. I felt awful for him, he’s this really religious guy and I knew that [the divorce] was probably a devastating thing for him.”

When he reached out to his former band mate, “I never heard back from him,” Lunceford says.

 
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