While Dan Koch was a student at Cal Poly in the early 2000s, he was simultaneously playing guitar in an up-and-coming guitar-heavy emo band named Sherwood. Though he wasn’t majoring in criminology, some solid detective work late one evening uncovered that then-hot music site PureVolume reset its top tracks list every night at midnight Eastern, which gave him an idea.
The following night at 9 p.m. sharp Pacific time, he and his four bandmates drove to the school’s library, spread out across the 100 public computers, and played each of the band’s seven songs on every available machine. They immediately became #1 on the site. After weeks of repeating the hack, the band got the attention of an up-and-coming website called MySpace, which signed them to its newly formed partnership with Interscope Records.
Sherwood toured the world and lived its emo dreams, but eventually the band wound down as priorities changed. For Koch, that meant relocating to Seattle, getting married, and embarking on a career as a freelance composer. It also meant starting a new band, Pacific Gold, but this time without gaming the system or compromising his art.
The new band isn’t emo, and Koch is the front man this time. Also different: The band is religious. And though both groups have a pop sensibility, Pacific Gold brings to mind indie acts like Midlake or The Head and the Heart more than they do the Get Up Kids or Saves the Day.
The idea for the band was twofold. One inspiration was the music that Koch heard at Capitol Hill’s Grace Seattle Church, where Phil Peterson is chief musician of the Grace Seattle Experimental Orchestra (Peterson also plays in the band Tennis Pro). “Musically it was like nothing I’d ever heard in the church before,” Koch says. “His melodic and chord choices felt like leftovers of the grunge era. It was really inspiring.” The other was an Against Me! lyric: “We can be the bands we want to hear,” singer Laura Jane Grace belts on “New Wave.” What Koch decided he wanted to hear was a bunch of hymns that sounded like the Beach Boys.
Though Koch realized the band could potentially isolate audiences by making the project religious, the members of Pacific Gold hope audiences will see their theology as just one aspect of the music. The band prefers to play shows with other indie-rock acts rather than appearing on religious bills. “We try not to mention much about it when we’re playing live,” Koch says. “We don’t have an evangelistic strain at all. We don’t feel like it’s our job to clue people in to Christianity. So much Christian art is peddled first and foremost because of its message, and the piece of art is hobbled by that.” To that end, the band tries to select hymns with subtler lyrical content. Only one song on their just-released debut LP, Sing My Welcome Home, has an overtly religious title: “Spirit of God.”
Though according to a 2015 Gallup poll, Washington’s churchgoing population ranks among the smallest in the nation—just 24 percent of residents report they attend weekly—Seattle has a rich history of religious music. Tooth & Nail Records, home to scores of Christian acts including MxPx, Underoath, and Jeremy Camp, may not have the same cachet as Sub Pop, but the label and its several imprints have sold 20 million records to both religious and secular audiences since 1993.
In 2012, Tooth & Nail’s director of A&R, Jonathan Dunn, left the company to launch Mars Hill Music, a label for the worship bands associated with Mars Hill Church (which at the time operated 15 churches across five states, before dissolving at the end of 2014 after controversy swirled about the conduct of pastor Mark Driscoll). The label’s goal was to reach culture-makers—specifically young men in Seattle, the demographic least likely to attend church. They eventually partnered with Tooth & Nail.
“Tooth & Nail has always been about bands that I love,” founder Brandon Ebel told the BadChristian Podcast last year. Ebel had noticed that there was a dearth in the marketplace of punk and hardcore bands with Christian values, so he set out to change that. “It’s been about music and being a Christian. I definitely want to support people that have a worldview similar to mine.”
The folks at BadChristian also have a label, BC Music, which released Sing My Welcome Home last month. Though everybody in the band is Christian, not everybody goes to church regularly—or even at all. “Not everybody agrees on the same view of God and what Christianity is,” Koch says, “so there’s actually a lot of theological diversity within the band.”
PACIFIC GOLD With The Weather, Mikey and Matty. Columbia City Theater, 4916 Rainier Ave. S., 722-3009, columbiacitytheather.com. $8 adv./$10 DOS. 7:30 p.m. Sat., April 25.