A Conversation With Solomon Olds from Family Force Five on Music, Maturity, and Near-Death Experiences

Solomon Olds is the frontman for Family Force Five.  His band is known the for their energetic live performances which feel more like dance parties than your average rock n’ roll shows.  Family Force Five is also known for their sense of humor, and fun-loving approach to making rock music.  I ran into Solomon at Creation festival East where we had a great conversation about music, maturity, and near-death experiences (over a festival catering buffet).  Have you ever lost someone you were close to, or at least thought you might?  Read on and see what came to light during our discussion…

Schwab:  Give me the Cliff Notes version of your story, from how you came to faith to how you started Family Force Five.

Olds: I was raised in the south in the Bible Belt.  I went to church my whole life.  My dad was in Christian music, but he started as a jazz musician.  He got saved in ’86 and I got saved in ’88.  At the time, I wanted to give my life to God.  I wanted to make the decision on my own, not just do it because I had gone to church my whole life.  I really just wanted to live a life of serving God, and I guess he put that desire on my heart at a very early age.

The church has always supported me in my musical endeavors.  My brothers and I were always in little bands together growing up.  In ‘94 we started picking up instruments, which is when we started getting into rock n’ roll.  We listened to bands like POD, Swtichfoot, even Project 86.  We always gravitated toward bands that sounded more mainstream than they did Christian.  Bands that didn’t sound like watered-down, Christian music (Those were always the bands that  seemed to have success in the general market as well).

In ‘99 we started a band called “The Family” which eventually became Family Force Five.  We started playing the club scene around Atlanta.  We played for no one for a year and a half and then we started to blow up on Myspace.  Labels started taking notice.  No one cared that we were Christian in the sense that we had a pretty universal following.  We started doing Warped Tour and everything started to take off.  Now we are on our fourth album as Family Force Five.

Schwab: You guys have always been light-hearted, a band that doesn’t take yourselves too seriously.  But I understand recently your brother and bass player was going through a very serious health situation which caused you to reevaluate pretty much everything you do.  Talk to me a bit about that.

Olds: My blood brother Josh came down with renal kidney failure.  We were on tour a couple of years ago, and he started vomiting after a show.  Being the jokesters that we are, we starting filming it.  Our first thought was “at worst, he just has a kidney stone.”  We even made plans to film him passing the stone!  But when we got to the hospital they told us that it was something more serious.  They moved him to intensive care.  He started throwing up blood, which was when we all started freaking out.  I mean, it’s my brother.  Nothing mattered at that point, not the tour we were on, not anything.

Doctors were telling us that they thought he was literally going to die.  My brother was in the hospital for two weeks, and every day, at least when he was finally able to walk, he would drag his IV down to the chapel and bawl his eyes out, saying, “God I guess if now is the time you are going to take me, then take me.  I’m here…I’m here for you.”  I did the same thing.  I was a basket case.  We have been super close ever he popped out of my mother.

You definitely look at life differently after that.  Of course my brother does the most.  We grew in faith and as friends through that whole experience.  We wrote some much more serious music after that.  I realized we have a huge God to lean on in tough times.  It was definitely scary.  He kept Josh around for some reason…I don’t have to get a new bass player now!  But seriously, I am so thankful he is still with us.

Schwab: (Laughing) It sounds like God used that situation to, maybe, mature you in a different way, which leads me to another question:  I guess this goes for anyone who plays music professionally, but it also applies to all guys in emerging generations.  Part of the fun and motivation in playing music as a career is that you can shun responsibility and remain a child in many ways.  Those of us that have been blessed (or cursed, depending upon how you want to look at it!) to do this for a living get to live out this perpetual “manchild-ness.”  I have noticed, though, that it’s not just artists who are clinging to their inner child.  It seems like guys in general today don’t want to grow up.  How did the experience with your brother change your perspective on spiritual maturity?

Olds: I am not in control.  There are so many times when I am onstage that I feel like I am in control of the crowd in front of me, or in my life, it feels like I am in control of most things on a day-to-day basis.  But God gives and God takes away…and we don’t know when that is.  It kind of makes you say wow, I am human, all of a sudden.  With Josh, I really, thought this could end tomorrow.  That’s why we tried to encourage people who listen to us through it.  If you only have so much time on earth-now I’m in my 30’s-we should just do something crazy for Him.  Hopefully Josh’s story inspires people to be a little louder for Him, a little more boastful about what he does in our lives (in a good way). Be a light around regular people, not just Christians. I think we learned that we are truly, not in control, and we need to capture every moment we can to love on others intentionally.  Specifically for me, in growing up in the Bible belt, there is an attitude among Christians that sometimes we look down on “sinners” and regular people.  But Jesus hung out with weirdos, people who had diseases, and through Josh’s kidney failure our ability to love everyone has definitely expanded.

Schwab: Something you said in there really resonated with me, and I think it will with other guys as well: You said, basically, the earmark of childish thinking is believing you are invincible.  We all felt that way when we were young.  We thought we could do anything we wanted, whenever we wanted, and that we were in control.  To realize you are not in control is one of the most fundamental attributes of a mature man of faith-that he can realize, not just in head-knowledge or in quoting the Bible, but in his heart from experience that he is not in control.  I went through a similar thing with my daughter a couple years ago.  My wife and I did everything we could to prepare for a healthy labor and birth, but my wife ended up having a crash c-section as the result of a placental abruption.  Basically, my daughter was without blood or oxygen for fifteen minutes and was very near death.  It was the most trying thing, by far, I have ever gone through, and I have never prayed harder in my life.  She came through, though, by the grace of God, and my wife came out of it healthy as well.  And it was almost as if God was saying Hey, wake up, mortal.  I am the one who calls the shots, not you.  I realized I am not holding the strings after that.  I have no say in how long I, or any one I care about is on this earth.  When you start making decisions in light of your true understanding that God, not you, is the controller of life, your life will look completely different.  And there is freedom in that knowledge!  Freedom because you know you have help, you know you are not alone when you need a hand the most.  

It’s almost ironic, because the more you try to take the reigns of your life, the more self-centered you become, and the less satisfied you become.  And the more you let go-though doing this is counter-intuitive-and just accept, the easier things seem to flow.  I think guys today are almost afraid of being adults.  I have friends who are in their 30’s who are still barely out on their own (from living with their parents), putting off getting married and having kids, still living like college students.  But the freedom in being a believer is that we don’t have to let go of child-likeness, which means we can have fun and joy while still acting like adults.

Olds: If I were to summarize what my life experience is now…I would say it’s out of my hands and it’s in His.  Anytime I want to control it I end up destroying my life or the lives of those around me, and anytime I let go, things end up being cool for some reason. What does it mean to be a man, to be mature?  Man, I am still figuring that out.  I know it means that God has the reigns.  I know it means I need to be responsible with leading my wife and kid.  I know it means being responsible and godly with my finances.  I know that is means trying to be content no matter my circumstances, even if we live in tough economic times.

I’ve written a lot about that one lately.  When I was younger I just spent money on whatever I wanted, because I had a little bit.  I think when you are immature you tend to think the high points will last forever, then when the rain hits it becomes a flood. I have taken my hits along the way but I have learned that being godly with my money means disciplining myself in how I spend-saying no to myself when I want something-and also having a specific plan on saving and investing. That may mean getting some sound financial advice from another person.  I think every guy today needs to be intentional about this because of the difficult times we live in.  But here is the ultimate truth about that-God is in control of even our finances.  As long as we are being responsible, charitable, and planning for the future, he will meet us and provide.  He will never, ever let us starve. Within that, we don’t have to stress or worry.

That’s the best part of Him being in control…I don’t have to worry.

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About Andrew Schwab

Andrew Schwab is the author of five books and has written for publications which include Relevant Magazine, Time/Life, HM, CCM, and Alternative Press. He has spoken at over two hundred festivals, conferences, churches, schools, and fellowships all over the world. His band, Project 86, has sold nearly 500,000 albums worldwide.