Tim Dodderidge grew up around church and has recently revitalized his Christian faith. As he continues to grow older, he’s seeing things every day that he hasn’t seen before. Some of these things upset him; others surprise him. No matter if it’s human trafficking, broken relationships, differing views on politics and religion, or regards to morality, it’s making him think and question everything. As he continues to search for a higher power and a means for growth on Earth, he’s also attempting to discover new perspectives on every avenue.
This prompted a project for Mind Equals Blown called “The Story of Everything,” a series of features where Tim will talk to bands about their beliefs and lifestyles and attempt to understand just what keeps them going. For some, it’s faith. For others, it’s something else. Regardless of how these musicians see the world, there’s a story to be told, and he hopes to uncover some thoughts about Christianity, atheism, and other convictions in order for truth to be revealed. The story is everything, and it’s the story of everything that captures all of life from beginning to end.
This first piece is on hardcore/progressive metal quintet Silent Planet from Los Angeles, Calif.
I. The Social Mission
For Garrett Russell, vocalist of Silent Planet, learning to live like the lowest of the low has taught him a valuable lesson in humility.
The frontman grew up in a privileged environment with the benefit of education by his side, and once the reality of the world set in, he assured himself that he would use his opportunities to help others as much as possible. Little did he know that sleeping on floors and eating in people’s homes as his band travels across the country playing metal tunes would be the result of that.
It was at an orphanage in Haiti where a 16-year-old Russell really began to understand the current state of the world — a world where over 80% of people live on less than $10 a day and slavery is more widespread than any other time in human history.
“[There] I sort of realized there is life and death and suffering. I saw an urgency, and the work of Christ became apparent to me,” Russell said. “I kind of got outside of my consumer-American paradigm into something much greater than that.”
Growing up in a Christian household (Russell was born to missionaries in Mexico), the vocalist eventually found a calling – for him, God’s calling – to fix a world with problems far beyond that of an acne-ridden suburban teenager. In 2009, he started Silent Planet as a way to put his calling into action, and as a way not just for other people to learn about them, but for them to learn about others as well.
“I feel like we live a really strange existence in the westward region, kind of a live-and-die life of leisure. I think that my life gave me glimpses – and only glimpses, I was only ever a visitor – into what the reality is like for the majority of the world,” Russell said.
He compares the differing realities of both worlds, including a western society that’s beginning to focus less on religion. Where he cites a lot of bands with anti-religious sentiments and, specifically, the Four Horsemen of atheism as middle class white Americans, he acknowledges that many cultural influences have altered the scope of beliefs in the U.S. A fine line is drawn between God and religion, but he accepts that the latter is changing, and thinks a lot of it is due to middle class sovereignty.
“I get this sense that more and more middle American white youth are becoming more and more disillusioned with the power and authority structures that govern them as children. I think with things like social media and market globalization, and as our world becomes smaller and smaller as we speak, people are finding less and less need for those power structures of religion,” Russell said.
Following the inception of Silent Planet, he decided against writing about the typical person-to-person themes: angst, break-ups, etc. But he went beyond that and ruled out the more divine nature of God vs. Satan also.
The frontman felt that a balance between love on Earth and real-world struggle was the most important message words could convey. Through his experiences outside of the western realm, he sought a wide scope of action in the world — a world that, from his faith, was born in completion, yet broke away from its creator. Because of this disconnect, he strives to bring together the forces that often seem to pull people apart.
“I wanted to write about real people that are experiencing good and evil on the ground right now. I started writing stories and songs about women who suffer at the hands of terrible regimes, and basically what these very male-dominated regimes do to women,” Russell said.
Such a lyrical mentality brought forth the concept behind Lastsleep (1944-1946), the band’s second EP. Chronicling devastating events from World War II, Russell takes the place of the survivors, screaming about losing everything. In “Tiny Hands (Au Revoir)”, he growls “I am the mother of the dying / the dust / the denouement,” pressing the tribulations of women during the time.
This is where the idea of social issues becomes prevalent. Though it’s been nearly 70 years since the end of the war, the stories are timeless, for suffering is relatable to all. And regimes that cause oppression still exist. In a day and age where science and faith seem to be burning at opposite ends and opinions on social issues between supporters of the two often differ completely, Russell strives for unity in order to solve the problems.
A lot of Christians stay at ease by sitting back and letting God’s plan evolve around them, but the vocalist won’t sit still for a moment. He acknowledges one big fact: the world is in need, and hope is huge, but would be in static nothingness if not for forward thinking. Hope for him is freedom — freedom that comes with the help of those who can make a true impact.
“We have sort of a message of freedom from oppression, which could be oppressed people from all religions and all creeds and colors and sexualities, and women from around the world who are oppressed by male hierarchy. We feel the message of Christ is a very strong political message that is often made into something that’s only spiritual and very disembodied, and we want to bring what we feel like is the social message of the gospel back into the paradigm of this music scene,” Russell said.
The vocalist realizes the need for love above all else, whether through beliefs, actions, or a combination of both. From Romans 13:8, this is true completion of the new law set in stone by Jesus. And in many ways, it’s seen as a radical mentality in comparison to the law of right and wrong, which in turn could be the basis for the political overtones found in Silent Planet’s music.
Going off politics, he cites Jesus as the world’s first true feminist. Jesus also could be described as punk in many ways — not conforming to the world, and rather, going against it by not being of it. He taught love; many modern social movements are based on love. He empowered women to be head of the churches; the church didn’t listen, and the fight for women’s rights as a whole continues today. And it means so much to Russell because it was breathed into his own life.
“I reckon Jesus was about 2,000 years ahead of his time,” he said. “[From him], I sort of adopted that love and respect for mothers and women.”
The way in which the band speaks of the world and their roles within it espouses chunks of humbleness. By understanding the entire scope and range of perspectives present, rather than seeing one perspective or even an individual perspective or story as a sole truth, the ability to harbor friendships and then offer help or consolation comes much easier.
For Russell, by sinking down low and seeking understanding from the ground up, empathy is far more likely a result. It’s unlike power, which starts and stays at the top, yet is far too common in suburban culture.
“I hope I’m aware of my own complexity. When I think about evil things in the world, and when I think about sweatshops in China, I hope part of our message is that I’m part of the problem sometimes, being who I am where I am. Being a white guy who has a lot of power and privilege in America, I sometimes see my own complexity and I see how some of the evil in the world has actually benefitted me,” Russell said.
“I hope that I can hone up to that instead of being like, “Everything in the world is a problem except for me and my punk friends.”
II. Relational Planet
Relationships are the cornerstone of life. Lots of things, specifically material belongings, come and go, but everything roots back to the flesh and blood of humanity, and the connections made between people.
Obviously then, for a band that spends a good amount of time on the road playing music in bars and clubs and meeting new fans around the world, there’s something to be said about the relationships made during that time. In essence, Silent Planet is a group that depends on them. But they’re not dependent on them for some sense of personal benefit, but rather – in the way the view the world – how relationships in general can benefit everyone.
The name of the quinet comes from a C.S. Lewis novel, which is fairly common for a Christian-based group. However, they identify with “Out of the Silent Planet,” the English author’s science fiction novel, for reasons deep within its pulsing analytics. Being a philosophy major, Russell views the idea of God through a sharp lens of questioning: “What is a silent planet, and what would that mean?”
He ponders the presence of a creator for a moment, considering deeply the implications of one in the world.
“We all live within our own realities and we see this world and we can’t really connect with each other. We use words to try to get at expressing ourselves in emotion, but it kind of falls short because I really do believe there is kind of this obstacle between me and you and between me and God,” Russell said.
That’s where the idea of a “silent planet” comes in. The thought of relationships between people makes sense for relationships to be had between people and a higher power, and the longing these two things have on their own. It also demonstrates things on a more broad level in addition to such dense, personal relationships. For the vocalist, change is always necessary, and it stresses the social mission the band takes on.
Their logo, which is a circle with a line (or tear) down the middle, provides sharp context for the current state of the world. The circle represents wholeness, and the tear represents the disconnect. And it may be a disconnect in terms of relationships, but it could also be in that something is not always right. These problems – be it war or greed or inequality – stem from people, thus relationships are the answer. That’s where the concept of God comes in clear.
“There’s something wrong, and we’re degenerating, and there’s entropy,” Russell said. “And hopefully our message is just shalom, that more than God being perfect or anything, we see God as whole. God’s complete and we’re so incomplete. I think our hope is that we can be made whole again from that tear that separates me from you.”
As an undergraduate student in philosophy and English and a recent recipient of a master’s degree in clinical psychology, Russell uses his educational benefits to view a bigger picture than himself. With possibilities in research, writing, and therapy, there may be something in store in the frontman’s future depending on what happens with Silent Planet. Regardless of how long the band goes on, though, the needs of the world always will be the main constant, and Russell strives to use his understandings to fulfill them.
For him, the whole “knowledge is power” phrase shows more about others than it does about him. It’s the power to gain perspectives and humility, but also a chance to become immersed in all that people have to offer — both in the theory-driven, figural realm (i.e. Karl Marx, who the vocalist actually takes in a very biblical manner in his idea of homo faber, or “the work of one’s hands”) and in the unique realms of every person and fan they get to meet.
“If anything, I feel philosophy should humble people. I think the more you learn, the more you learn that you don’t know.” he said. “Humility obviously shouldn’t lead to being silent. I don’t think people should be passive throughout their life because of philosophy. It does lead you to, hopefully, curiosity about the world and wanting to be someone who listens and doesn’t only speak.”
The tendency to see in this way has led Russell and the rest of the group to call their fans by the term “Lovers.” It’s an intimate addressal, but so are the thick, personal stories found in their lyrics and the instrumentation that ranges from intense, desperate, and powerful metal mastery to heartstring-tugging ambient melodies. Through all of it, a yearning for people and relationships comes through.
Russell found the Latin word “homo liturgicus” to translate, essentially, to the word “Lovers,” and he decided early on that Silent Planet would be a band to use this mentality to the fullest.
“In this conception of human nature, people aren’t homo sapiens, that we’re not primarily thinking beings, but that we’re primarily loving beings, we’re primarily relational I guess. That really is how I see people. I don’t see people as these rational beings that just need to figure out God. I think that the world would look a lot different if our understanding of God was purely rational. I think our understanding of God is mostly relational, and I think the knowledge of the father is relational,” Russell said.
In Facebook posts, Russell stays honest with Silent Planet’s small, yet fervently growing fanbase. The frontman is typically the one posting, and he wants to keep himself on the same level as everyone he’s talking to, sharing his life and being as relational as possible when he writes.
“We want to live close, man,” he says.
By making intimacy the basis of everything the band does, it’s no wonder they’re sleeping on people’s floors and eating and chatting with new people all the time. They’re building bridges that span different cultures, beliefs, and generations, while using their beliefs as a suspension to pass over any trial underneath. In his communication, Russell doesn’t restrain himself either; last year, he shared details of his struggle with depression with the quintet’s followers, being transparent in every part of himself.
One day this year, too, Silent Planet posted a status about encountering a man attempting to commit suicide on a highway overpass, telling that he was okay and going on to analyze the impact of a life and the choices a person makes. The effect of such is stunning, and it’s something that a group of guys wouldn’t experience sitting at home or flying from big city to big city.
From his own honesty to the extensions of the things he and the rest of the band goes through, Russell points to the style of music as the implicator. It’s helped them ask the big life questions, and it’s led them to live out an intimate, relational philosophy. Really, metal and all of its subgenres help them brew the perfect storm.
He said, “I think there’s a lot of things that are in the hardcore world that are closer to the world than, say, pop music or other genres.”
III. Following Jesus in a Worldly World
The life of a touring band is a test of balance. For some, it’s determining spending: how much money to use for food or gas, and how much to save in case of an emergency. For others, it’s the struggle when rising in popularity to stay true enough that you’re not what some people refer to as “selling out.”
All of that has become something much more difficult for Russell. As a Christian, especially as someone who makes an effort to help the world, how do you be in the world, but not of it?
From living under the shadow of megachurches in California, that’s a question he still struggles to see answered correctly.
“It seems very of the world to me to build all these huge buildings when Jesus went into the temple and ripped the temple apart and said “I am the temple,” essentially,” Russell said.
He fears the idea of being “outside” of the world instead of being “in” it. That focus often brings people to being “in” it as well, as they revert back to their evil nature without envisioning the consequences of it.
But he doesn’t want to come off as someone who just sits in place and bashes things. Since Silent Planet’s drummer drums at the second largest megachurch on the U.S., he realizes his view isn’t necessarily the “right” one. He also understands that there’s more than one way to negotiate the line between being “in” and “of” the world. By acknowledging the individual view he has, he’s able to show that as a person, he’s just one man, one voice.
Still, the problems he sees following the life of Christ compels him to do something about them. He’s aiming to live a life away from that type of comfort, yet still sees himself failing often. But with the concept of Silent Planet and what they’re striving to do with their choices and actions, living economically has come to take on more than just the typical Christian “not getting drunk” or “saving sex until marriage.”
Russell feels that there’s a lot to learn from the lowest of the low in that regard.
“With the reality of the poor person, you find the most downcasted in society, and that’s God’s world and that’s the world we want to be in,” he said. “That’s the world that we want to be in, and that’s the Kingdom we want to be of.”
Seeing the appreciation and generosity of those who have little may help people in not taking their lives for granted. They may see life as a gift — a beautiful thing that was crafted with a gentle hand by a loving creator. However, with this view, the kingdom Russell wants to be a part of is still hard to call his own; it’s not just because he sees himself turning the other direction, but also because he struggles to fit in with the disparity around him and in those megachurches.
“It’s easy to get complacent or apathetic or just pissed-off, and people make fun of you for wanting to follow Jesus, and simultaneously, those churches don’t support you because they don’t think you’re following Jesus. Where’s home when we’re on the road?” Russell said.
Jesus was born into the low and lived his life among them, choosing to be with the ones who are often ignored and endure the biggest life struggles. Silent Planet’s members may not have grown up in poor circumstances, but their eyes have been opened to what those might be, and their goal is the same: they want to be servants.
With what they do, Russell wants to take the band’s social and relational mission to the world’s most overlooked areas. Just like the shy away from economic comfort, there’s a sense of discomfort found in that mode of work. It’s not easy, and a lot of people shed their light elsewhere.
“I hope that, as a ministry, Silent Planet is offensive with the people they choose to love and the questions that they’re not afraid to ask,” Russell said.
Drawing himself towards women and the oppressed at a young age and being enlightened about the current state of the world at that orphanage in Haiti led the vocalist to fight for the things he fights for today. He doesn’t relay thoughts of empowerment, but depowerment. By sinking down and humbling themselves, Silent Planet’s intimate convictions are the thing that makes their music become more entrenched in the people listening than a commercialized rock song that simply passes over. It also prevents them from being like the horrible regimes in existence today.
Russell may not connect deeply with a lot of people, considering his band’s small fanbase, but he can connect with anyone. He’s no more than the creator he believes in, nor is he any more poetic in what he thinks and says than the entire essence of creation itself. That’s for a specific gospel that turns into an all-encompassing idea to display.
“I think this will probably become more offensive as we get more popular, but I’m presenting God in metaphors other than God being a man — as God as a mother to a daughter and God as a friend to the friendless. And God is exceeding any language we can use. We can’t begin to be complete and total when we speak about God,” Russell said.
The world grows more and more every day, with new technologies and ideas constantly hitting the market. They come from people – human and only human people – who may not always see eye to eye, but can only advance through unity.
Such movement brings up a big question as well. For Russell, who dabbles in philosophy and brings a hopeful mindset and call to action into full fruition, why follow Jesus? In a day and age where a lot of people, like he said, are finding less of a need for religion, why cling to it?
The vocalist responds with talk of marginality, mentioning the kind of life Jesus lived and what that means for the world. Everyone suffers, but not everyone suffers in the same way. So he finds the key to be empathy, and with that in mind, the entirety of the human race can overcome the “silent planet” fear and become more whole by connecting with one another and aiming to solve the problems that cause suffering in the first place.
“I feel like Jesus calls me to identify with that person’s suffering. And that’s something that I struggle with, and I don’t know how to fully do that and I’m not the model of that. But I believe that Jesus calls me to do that,” he says.
“So the answer of, “Why follow Jesus?” would be, “Maybe you’re crazy enough and maybe you are really sick of being bored.”
But he doesn’t stay content with his own opinion for long, and bounces the question right back to me.
“I’d like to ask you, then, what does it mean to you?”
Not very often do I get put on the spot like this, especially when I’m the one asking the questions. But that’s just what the frontman does, being the easily-relational guy I come to know during the interview.
I reply, “I mean, he was a perfect man. And I know he was a person and all, but I always talk about his story as this concept that encompasses everything. It’s an individual story that relates to everyone and everything.”
“Yeah, it’s the story of everything,” he says.
“Hey, that would be a cool album title,” he continues, with a sense of lightness in his voice after discussing profound philosophy and beliefs for a good while. “I’m always looking for possible album titles.”