An Interview with former Christian punk rocker Ric Alba

Undercover
Ric Alba is a legend to fans of 1980s alternative/punk/hardcore Christian music. He played bass on Undercover’s eponymous debut album, then went on to play with the Altar Boys. He released one solo album before coming “out of the closet” and disappearing from the Christian music scene. 

Today, Ric and his partner own an interior design firm in California. Ric still plays music, most notably recording a new Dead Artist Syndrome (D.A.S.) album with a fellow legend of the alternative Christian music genre, Brian Healy.

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Who were your biggest musical influences growing up?

Schroeder, from the Charlie Brown gang, gave me my first inspiration when I was around five. He was a little boy like me, but he was playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and I just assumed it was natural for little boys to be able to do that. I remember reaching up to my grandma’s piano to feel out which keys made the song’s opening three-note pattern, and found them. My dad ran out and got a piano and I’ve been gradually figuring out that piece by ear ever since. I’m almost to the end and I think I’ll leave it where it is. Ludwig’s ending drags out too long anyway. He’ll thank me, and I’ll accept the grade “F” I’ll get from music teachers.

After that the only music that existed for me until Led Zeppelin was The Beatles.   I learned a lot of Paul’s parts, then onto John Paul Jones, and would you believe, Gene Simmons, who was always underrated as a bassist. I still play those slapped parts from “Detroit Rock City” warming up the bass.

Back in the 80s, Christian artists were sometimes promoted as “the Christian alternative” to secular artists. As in, “if you’re a Christian and you like this secular artist, then you should be listening to this Christian artist.” Were you thinking about that while you were a part of the CCM scene? 

I think nearly all bands are in one way or another doing what somebody else started, while guilty of pointing fingers and calling others derivative. But it’s no crime. Just as in the secular world, bands take after other bands that inspired them, and so did we. We played the way we felt inspired to play.

Also by Bert: An Open Letter to Chick-Fil-A President Dan Cathy

In the evangelical world though, it was expected that the bands had evangelical reasons for whatever we did. If a band reminded one of say, The Clash, then it was presumed that band’s purpose was to evangelize fans of The Clash.  Navigating our way through the evangelical industry, eventually I realized that it got the job done to go ahead and let it be painted like that’s what we were doing if that’s how they needed to paint it. They had their reasons I’m sure, and I have no reason to say their hearts weren’t pure. But really, we were all just playing the way we enjoyed playing, inspired by and building on the work of those who were already playing that way. We said that a lot, but some folks still kept wanting to paint it as a calculated evangelical strategy. Oh well, okay … my, what brilliant evangelical strategists we all were!

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You left … the Christian music subculture in which you were living in order to be openly gay. How did folks respond?

With very few exceptions, I didn’t give them a chance to. In 1992, some time after having been excommunicated, I started living a gay love life and disappeared from Christendom so profoundly it was like faking my own death. During the Altar Boys, I had formed so many friendships with fans, who, I feared wrongly, were too young and impressionable to have to deal with this change in me, so I went quietly into the night. Touring as a Christian musician to support Holes in the Floor of Heaven {Ric’s 1991 solo album}was out of the question because that would mean living in a closet. By that time I was so involved in helping to alleviate the AIDS crisis, which had been caused in great part by society forcing gay people into closets.

When it comes to church folks, their reaction didn’t come until I showed up a couple years ago on social media. Most of the peeps I knew were still around, still making music, still being a kind of family. So much has changed since 1992, and it feels more like a family now than it didn’t even then. This is because I can now let myself be known in ways I didn’t dare during the ‘80’s.

Everyone has the drive to be known and loved. During the 80’s I couldn’t let myself feel the love so much, because I felt I wasn’t letting people know the real me. When you’re delivering to friends and fans, someone other than your true self, it’s nearly impossible to absorb the love people send you. It always feels like it was meant for someone else, and that you’re taking love under false pretenses.

Today, what would you list as your favorite Altar Boys songs, and why? 

The song, “Against the Grain” is a champion among the songs Mike (Stand) and I co-authored, because it represents a sharp turning point. We’d sung so much up to that point about what was wrong with the world. But I wasn’t really in the world that much. The church was my world, and yet it was still one that had all kinds of things wrong with it. “Against the Grain” was to me, our first steps toward addressing that fact head-on, beginning with the question, “What do we mean by ‘Christianity?’”

This is an abbreviated version of Ric’s interview.The full interview is available here.

NOTE: In addition to the new Dead Artist Syndrome project, Ric is also working on a new solo album. Not too long ago, Ric wrote, recorded, and posted “A Few Words About Bullying Using Words” – click here to check it out. 


Bert Montgomery is a writer, minister and college lecturer living in Starkville, Mississippi. His new book is Psychic Pancakes & Communion Pizza (2011, Smyth & Helwys).

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  • James

    This is such a difficult issue, if people are honest with themselves. In many if not most things, I believe that the evangelical church has been on the wrong side of this and most cultural issues. Certainly there has been a lot of homophobia and judgement coming from people who find it easier to point out the sins of others rather than addressing their own moral failures. I believe that there has also been an inordinate focus on homosexuality as a sin, while ignoring sins like coveting, gossip and violence. So, in no way do I agree with the moral majority’s approach to homosexuality. I support the legalization of gay marriage and full legal protection for homosexuals. They are human beings, children of God, with the same rights to be treated with dignity and respect as the rest of us. With that said, I simply don’t know what to do with clearly stated scriptures, that don’t appear to be just intended for the culture or time in which they were written. I don’t feel that I or anyone else has the right to bless behavior which has been judged by God. It’s never been my intention to single out any sin, but neither do I feel the freedom to say that something is morally OK, when it seems patently clear that scripture condemns it. I have tried to consider the possibility that these scriptures, like some others, were only intended for past audiences, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. I believe in the value of tolerance, but that tolerance has to include well intentioned, compassionate and honest convictions that homosexual behavior is a sin.

    While I never listened to brother Ric’s music, I welcome him as my brother. I don’t see it as my job to be the Holy Spirit in his life and wouldn’t feel that it was my responsibility to confront him regarding homosexual behavior. On the other hand, if I were teaching through the book of Romans, I would not dismiss the verses condemning homosexual behavior. God calls us all to lay down our lives and to get our identity from Him. Some are called to sacrifice more for their faith than are others. Most of us aren’t ready to lay down our lives, and when we are, it usually takes time. There are sins in my life to which I still cling. I don’t need anyone waving those sins in my face, but I don’t bristle when the scriptures speak to them. Homosexuals can be full members in the body of Christ, but when they refuse to let their savior touch those coveted areas of their identity, then they are the ones who lose a blessing.

    • bluecenterlight

      Well said, I guess if everything in life were black and white it wouldn’t be called faith.

    • Frank

      Amen! However it makes no sense to support sin in any form so while you don’t have to be active against SSM, if you loved them you would not support it. Your are not doing anyone any favors by supporting SSM and your support is actually damaging. But I really liked what you wrote aside from that.

      • James

        Frank, I won’t that I’m right and that you’re wrong. You very well could be right. This is one of those issues where people of good conscience can disagree. All I can do is give my reasoning. We live in a fallen world. There are a whole slew of things which are permitted by society which are condemned by God. It is entirely legal to do many things which a mature Christian will avoid. The issue of SSM is not whether we approve of SSM. It’s a question of why should this sin be prohibited when others are permitted. No Christian should be greedy, but there are no laws against greed. No Christian should make pornography a part of their daily diet, but there’s no law against that. We don’t presume to tell non-believers that they shouldn’t gamble, lie, commit adultery, be drunks, etc. Why? Because God permits us all to exercise our free will to deny His claim on our lives. We exercise that freedom at our own peril, but if He has chosen to allow our freedom to sin then what authority does man have to prohibit it? I see no reason to single out and prohibit this particular sin. From a more practical point of view, I believe that it is a prohibition which will only cause the Church to be more isolated and misconstrued. The public is largely in favor of legally permitting same sex unions. To fight this is, I believe, an unwise use of our energies. For the sake of argument, let’s say that the church succeeded in prohibiting same sex unions. Would that stop a single individual from entering into sin? I think that the opposite would be the case. Forbid it and people will want it all the more. Would prohibition convince people that homosexual behavior is wrong? I doubt it, and what’s more, it would mean nothing without Jesus. The Church needs to focus its efforts of increasing holiness within the Church itself. No non-believer is equipped to follow God’s law for their lives, and it takes the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit to change any of us. All of this said, I admit that I see no clear guidelines for any of these things. I respect your opposition and believe that your motivations are sincere and compassionate. As in all things, I will pray that we both will hear the voice of God in this and have His mind.

        • Frank

          James once again you damage when you give any support of sin. The fact that there are many sins, some have legality, some do not is really not relevant. Any support we give to sinful behavior is wrong, harmful and may be a sin in itself. That’s not to say we must work towards legislating all sins or even work against SSM but we certainly cannot work FOR it. That’s hateful.

          • James

            Frank, thanks for your response. I’m certainly not working for SSM. I believe that it will happen with or without my involvement. However, I don’t oppose legislation with allows it. I don’t believe that that supports sin, but as I said, I will continue to pray to have Christ’s mind in this and hope that you will as well. We can all be deceived. Everyone sins. All we like sheep have gone astray. I don’t encourage sin or condone it. However, if someone doesn’t have the Spirit of God, they are unarmed against evil. I have no absurd expectation that non-believers will obey God ( though I’m saddened when believers don’t ). The truth is that most of the world is unarmed and the harm done by one sin is not unique. If we have any hope of reaching the world for Christ, then we have to stop trying to be the moral police. It’s not our job. You can’t pull darkness from the room. You can only turn on a light and watch it leave. Again, I don’t promote the cause of SSM, but I refuse the folly of trying to legislate against it. The only thing I promote is Jesus. When He is lifted up, He draws men, and then, if their hearts are open, His Spirit leads them to repentance. When it comes to the issues of confronting sin, my focus is on my own life, not others.

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