By Ginger Moon
Alex Crafts is a man on a mission -- a music mission and a spiritual one.
With his bold mohawk, gauged earrings, snake bite facial piercings, tattoos and full black attire, he looks like a heavy metal singer. His deep, gritty, searing vocals certainly fit that part.
What may surprise some, though, is the message behind the music. As front man and principal songwriter for the "non-secular" Christian band Rise & Resist, Craft says he wants to use his music to inspire and energize others.
Unlike a lot of other bands and musicians that often seem to profess hate and degradation, Crafts, 21, an HCC music major from Springfield, says he wants to spread a positive message, be a positive influence and get young people, in particular, excited about something that's good for them.
During a recent live on-air performance in the studio of WCCH, HCC's campus radio station, Crafts, lead vocalist and guitar player, described the band's music as "God-focused, inspirational, upbeat, but in a pop-metal format."
Rounding out the band is fellow HCC student and music major Ross Muratore, 18, from Longmeadow on bass, and Michael Bourbeau (on drums) and Kevin Jones (on keyboards), both from Enfield, Conn.
The band's name, Crafts says, was inspired by a railroad crossing sign. The words "rise" and "resist" sum up the lessons Crafts wants to get across.
"Don't just go along with social norms ... You don't have to sit there and take it ... Voice yourself ... Speak up about the Bible ... Don't feel ashamed" of yourself or your beliefs.
Ironically, the urge to remain silent about religion outside of church is the one Crafts himself admits is the hardest to resist. When singing, though, it's easier.
"You can say something you're scared to say," he says.
Crafts has been singing, playing guitar, and writing lyrics and melodies for nearly a decade. Through troubles at home, getting kicked out of high school, and getting involved with drugs, he didn't always maintain his focus, he admits.
Getting his jaw broken in three places, an injury he still feels the effects from, was an eye-opening experience.
He credits his girlfriend and her family for helping him find Christ and get on his feet. They took him on a mission trip to North Carolina, where he says the music reached him in ways nothing else had. He was so moved by the experience that within three months of returning, he'd gotten his driver's license, bought a car, found a job, registered for classes, and formed a band.
When he began attending HCC, Crafts got serious about a career in music. Here, he says he feels a "sense of community" and finds that when it comes to networking, "the opportunities available are amazing." As a music major, he is studying classical vocals. His bandmate and classmate Muratore is studying jazz guitar.
Since winning a Battle of the Bands competition in Hartford last August, things have really picked up for the band. They have been playing steady gigs and are releasing their first full album this June (title to be decided). The album will include songs that Crafts wrote over a seven year period, beginning at age 13, but that have grown and changed musically through the years.
Compared to the four songs currently available on YouTube, the new album is more melodic, varied, with cleaner vocals and a more mainstream sound to appeal to a wider audience, Crafts says. His favorite track is called "Beauty Betrayed."
Although the music, as he said, is God-focused, Crafts says he believes the musical messages are ones that transcend religion and have a wider appeal.
"Rise up to the occasion. Resist the temptation to give up. What if you fail a test? Rise and resist. What if you lose a band member? Rise and resist."
Crafts's advice for young musicians: Be willing to make sacrifices and never quit:
"As long as one person has a little light, you can keep going. You can ignite."
Visit Rise & Resist at their new website, riseandresist.squarespace.com, or on Facebook.
Photos: (Left) Rise & Resist performs in the WCCH studio. (Right) HCC music majors Alex Crafts, left, and Ross Muratore perform with Rise & Resist in the studio at WCCH.