The veteran Christian pop-rock band faced a mountain of uncertainty in 2015 when co-founder, lead singer and chief songwriter Matt Hammitt announced he was leaving the group.
"We had seen it coming, but we really didn't talk about it," recalled drummer Mark Graalman during a recent interview. "For myself, I just assumed it would all be done. Matt was such a major part and the signature of the band," he said of the group's history from its mid 1990s start.
But now it's 2019 and Sanctus Real is very much alive. The band has built on its previous catalog, releasing its second full album with new lead singer Dustin Lolli.
The revamped group visits Michigan several times in the coming days- July 27 at a one-day festival in Leonidas and Aug. 9 at the Unity Christian Music Festival in Muskegon .
THE REAL STORY
Graalman, now 41, lived through the tenuousness of those days following Hammitt's departure.
"We understood the reasons he made the decision and knew why he had to step away," Graalman said of Hammitt, whose son was born with a congenital heart condition which required numerous surgeries.
Rather than simply pull the plug, guitarist Chris Rohman suggested they leave the band door open and see what developed.
"We agreed that we wouldn't do auditions for a new singer," Graalman noted. "We trusted God would lead us to a person and not (find one) in our own strength."
And that's the way it happened.
A former bass player ran into a friend who suggested a singer he had worked with previously. "He shared with us a recording with his vocals and we thought.....interesting," Graalman said.
That voice belonged to Dustin Lolli, who was serving in church music ministry and had a folk music duo with his wife. He also lived not far from the band's Toledo, Ohio home base.
At a dinner meeting they decided to team up and write some new songs together.
However, because of its circumstances the band lost most of its industry connections – record label, management and booking agent. In many ways it was back to square one.
The reconstituted band also faced another question – should they keep the name Sanctus Real? Or venture forth under a new nameplate?
"We threw some ideas around," Graalman said. "Some old school fans wanted the name to stay. Others thought we wouldn't be Sanctus Real without Matt," he noted of their new singer with a qualitatively different voice.
But in the members' deliberations the band refocused and discovered its calling remained the same as when the players first came together – to share the gospel through music. Sanctus Real it was.
"And our (band) name had been out there for so long – it would have been difficult to start over as something else," he admitted. "And we had Matt's blessing from the get go."
It more easily allowed the band to stay with its catalog of past hit songs – such as "Everything About You," "I'm Not Alright," and "Lead Me."
A new collection of songs featuring Lolli came with "Changed," including the tune "Confidence." A brand new album ("Unstoppable God," releasing the end of August) has already seen its title song rise into the top ten of the inspirational and worship charts.
WEST MICHIGAN CONNECTIONS
Michigan-born Lolli spent his early years in the southeastern part of the state, although he attended Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids.
After college he worked for a year in Holland at the video production company of John Grooters (of Grooters & Beal note). He had known of the band Sanctus Real but wasn't aware of their need for a lead singer when he got the initial call.
Typically the band's concert set features at least half of Sanctus Real's older songs (a greatest hits album was issued when Hammitt departed). The balance includes a rising numbers of new songs written with Lolli's earnest vocals in mind.
Sanctus Real performed as part of the July 4 celebration at Kollen Park in Holland. "There were a lot of people there, which we weren't sure how many there'd be," said the lead singer. "But I still have a lot of connections over in that area, and had tons of family and friends there." (He has a brother who lives in Ada).
Meanwhile, their song "Confidence" connects at several levels as a testimony to the band's newer experiences. "It's kind of how God has brought us through the craziness of the past few years and a celebration for us in victory and giving God the credit." Lolli said.
Sanctus Real will be performing at two locations in Michigan:
- The band headlines the bill at the En Gedi Music Fest, Sat. July 27 in Leonidas, MI.
More info at www.engedimusicfest.com, tickets online.
- They perform at 5:45pm Fri. Aug. 9 at the Unity Christian Music Festival, Heritage Landing in downtown Muskegon (also on the Friday bill are We Are Messengers and Switchfoot). Day pass is $42.50, slightly higher at the gate. Entire festival runs Aug 7-10. For more info http://www.unitymusicfestival.com/ for tickets online.
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