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Bob Hartman interview

By: Josh Renaud
Aug. 2, 2003

As the release date for "Jekyll & Hyde" grew closer, I began to feel strongly that I should interview Bob Hartman and John Schlitt again. (You can read my previous interviews with John and Bob)

The effort to get the interviews has taken quite a bit of time, but thankfully it is beginning to pay off. Bob was very gracious with his time, and we had a great conversation about the new album, his return to the band, family life, and other stuff.

After you finish reading it, why not add your thoughts and reactions to this thread on the messageboard?

Josh Renaud: I want to start by talking with you about Inpop. You guys signed up with them two years ago and "Jekyll & Hyde" will be your second album with them. Peter Furler produced the "Jekyll & Hyde" album, so it looks like he's becoming more involved. Can you tell me about the experience of working with Inpop?

Bob Hartman: After so many years of being together as a band, we're just happy that somebody still wants to make a Petra record. We're thankful to Inpop for their belief in us right from the get-go. [It was a change] from our previous experience where I think that Word Records lost interest in Petra. There was a good belief level at Inpop. So our experience has been good there.

Peter coming on board as producer was something that was more of a last-minute decision that he made. [He saw] that he had the window of time and he was excited about the material he was hearing. He was involved in an A&R perspective before making the decision to be the album's producer. So songs were being submitted to Peter and the rest of the staff there. He got excited about it. [He realized] that he would be so involved anyway with another producer in knowing what he wanted to hear on the record, that I think he probably thought, "Gee, I might as well produce it myself."

How is his style different from some of the other producers you've worked with, like the Elefantes, or Jonathan David Brown, or Jason Halbert and Dwayne Larring on "Revival"?

Peter gave us a lot of latitude. In my writing, I was wanting more feedback than I actually got. I think that might have been purposeful on his part, because I think he wanted me to do more of what I do, and not try to change that too much. He would give general direction. One of the things he kept saying was that he liked the riffs. He wanted more riffs. So I went for that. He seemed to be happy with that. I was happy because it's pretty much how I write.

One thing I want to mention that people might not know is that four of these songs were written about three years ago.

Yeah, I noticed that in some of the material I got with the pre-release.

Yeah, prior to doing "Revival" we had talked originally about doing a studio album instead of the praise album. I had submitted some songs and among those were "Jekyll & Hyde", "I Will Seek You," "Sacred Trust," and "Till Everything I Do." So those were songs I had written earlier.

Were those the foundation, what you built the album around?

The foundational song was definitely "Jekyll & Hyde". When we went to go for this album, they kept saying "Yeah, 'Jekyll & Hyde,' that's what we want." So, I kinda took that to mean they wanted a rock album and they wanted the riffs and the pretty heavy stuff. I was real happy with that.

Wayne Seboa told me earlier that because this album has no keyboards, the tour will have no keyboards. Was that an intentional decision you made? How did that evolve as the direction for the album?

The earliest discussions about that were in relation to the album. Inpop was actually urging us to drop the keyboards because they felt keyboards were dating us more than some other bands.

You can point out modern bands that have keyboards, but most of the modern rock bands do not. So that's what they were telling us. We started thinking about it. When that idea to drop keyboards from the live thing came up with [John] Schlitt, his response was "No way, absolutely not!"

(laughs) I can believe that!

My initial feeling was "Oh boy, that's really a step." But the more I thought about it, I thought "You know, it might just work. It might just sound good and be a lot of fun." I got intrigued with the idea. John and I kept talking and decided to try it. We tried it out and we liked it a lot. There's really some more freedom there without the keyboards.

Tell me about that. How is there more freedom?

For one thing, we are tuning down a half-step in concert, which gives a bigger sound. That wouldn't be as feasible with keyboards. Certainly a keyboardist can play in another key, but many times it's much more difficult to play in awkward keys for keyboard players. With just guitars, they're easily tuned down a half-step, and you play it exactly the same as you would in normal pitch. Of course, this might make John's voice a little more powerful in certain parts, bringing it down a little bit. That's one effect. It also causes me to be a little more creative in covering where keyboards were predominant in arrangements before, and that's been fun. Things like that.

So how have concerts been going as you guys have moved to this new arrangement?

I think they've been going great. I've really enjoyed it, and I think we're getting better at it all the time: understanding what we need to play, when, and how to keep it full and interesting with that instrumentation. It's been a challenge, but it's been a fun challenge. I think we're getting better at it.

Let me ask you a clarification question. I had assumed that Greg Bailey played the bass on this album, but I read a report that said it wasn't him, it was Wade Jaynes. Can you clear that up for me? Who played bass on the album?

Well, it was Wade that played the bass. Peter had worked a lot with him, and that was Peter's call. We tried to get Greg in on the bass, but producers often are very particular about who they use. In this case, Peter played the drums himself and he went with someone he was really familiar with on bass. Like I said, that's the producers call. Greg sang background vocals, and did a great job there. He is on the album.

And he co-wrote a song.

Yes, he co-wrote a song.

With regard to making the album and choosing people to play on it … With "Revival," Inpop made a pretty concerted effort to market that album as going back to the "core" of Petra: yourself, John, and Louie -- the guys with the longest experience with Petra. Because of all the turnover, they marketed just you three guys. But now Louie is not part of that equation. How did that alter the process of putting this album together? How did the loss of his presence change the way you guys do things?

Well, I think you're talking about things we don't do as a band. We don't market ourselves. That's Inpop's call. On "Revival," they went with the three of us. They wanted my picture on the album cover, which hadn't been on a cover in several albums because I wasn't touring. Because of the nature of the album and my participation, they wanted me on there. This time it's totally different since I'm back with the band. They're doing something in accord with that.

This is the first album that Louie will not have been a part of in some capacity, either in the recording process or touring. That's a pretty big change for Petra. How has that affected you guys as a unit, as a band?

There have been producers in the past who have not wanted to use Louie on the project, the same way as with Greg in this case. So really, not much, in terms of the record. Peter was very particular about the rhythms of the album. He felt that that was the part that needed the most improvement. He felt like Petra could be much more viable with the right rhythms. Because he believed he knew what those rhythms were, he wanted to play them himself. We had some options on drums, but Peter chose to play the drums himself and he did a great job.

And as far as in concert, we're using another drummer and it's working out great.

And that's Justin Johnson. There hasn't been a formal announcement of a permanent replacement drummer. I've heard that you guys are interviewing more drummers. One name that has come up is Bill Glover [former Petra drummer from the 1970s]. Where does that situation stand right now? How is that process moving along?

I think far too much has been written on the web about that. I don't want to comment on something that's ongoing because there's a lot of feelings and so forth involved in that.

You know, it's difficult. We're not playing in concert enough for a drummer to make a living.

Is that situation going to change, the situation of not playing enough? Are you anticipating a big fall tour?

Well, we're actually getting out of the chute a little late to do very much in the fall, with the album coming out next month. The plan is to do as much touring as we can. We hope that the album will get out enough and people will respond enough to it. We hope they'll be requesting Petra to come to their city with their local concert promoters or whoever, and that those promoters will respond. But we can't make any guarantees, and we don't know. We appreciate so much all the Petheads and their work on the web to further the cause and get the word out about Petra's new album. I think a lot of people are going to find out about this album through word of mouth over the web.

I agree. I've seen a lot of interest in this album on the web. I don't know if you've heard about this, but there's an album being put out by a band called Liberty n' Justice that has also generated a lot of interest on the web. It's an all-guest-vocals thing because they lost their singer. They're bringing in folks from bands like Guardian and Whiteheart and Petra. Among the vocalists on the album are John Schlitt and Greg X. Volz, which is an interesting combination. I've gotten emails from people wondering if Petra would ever consider doing in the future an "all-star" or reunion concert, where you would bring back members from all different eras of Petra and have them all play on one big stage. Do you think that's a likely thing to ever happen in the future?

I don't think that's a very likely thing to happen. But you never know. There's never been anything like that discussed with the band. I wouldn't rule it out completely, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

Let's talk about writing songs for "Jekyll & Hyde". This is the first album in about five years where it's a real studio album with all new songs written by the band. One theme that stood out to me was on the two songs "Test of Time" and "Would'a, Should'a, Could'a" -- that life is short, make sure you live it to the fullest, without regrets. I know there was a song with a similar theme on "God Fixation," "A Matter of Time." Could you talk about the inspiration behind those songs, and where that comes from in your life? Where do those ideas come from?

I think it comes from the scriptures, which says our lives are a vapor. It talks about "redeeming the time." Time is an interesting concept because when you consider eternity being the absence of time, everything we do in life is on a clock. That thought makes us understand that that clock only runs for so long in our lifetime. We only have a blink (when you compare it to eternity) to make our mark, to do something good, to serve the Lord. So those are the thoughts that have gone into those songs.

Sometimes when I write, like this time I wrote both Test of Time" and "Would'a, Should'a, Could'a" during the same period of time. A lot of times my thoughts are running in a certain way. I didn't really realize the similarity in theme of those two songs until Peter pointed it out at the end of the album. I started thinking, and I said "Yeah, I guess they are similar ways of looking at the same thing."

It's just a matter of where my heart and mind are at a particular time. It just comes out. I don't plan ahead. To tell you the truth, I don't even remember "A Matter of Time." It wasn't even in my thinking when I was writing this one. If they are similar, it's just because that must be on my mind. I write what's there, I don't compare everything I've ever written and make sure I don't say the same thing. I write what's there. I figure if it's meaningful to me at the time, it's going to be meaningful to other people, too. And that's always the philosophy I've taken in songwriting. If you sit there with a pen and paper and try to second guess, try to say "Okay, what do people need to hear?", you'll probably miss it. You're trying to bring up something that's not in you. But if, on the other hand, you sit there and say "What do I need to hear? What do I need to tell myself about life, about God, about my walk, about life?" and then you start writing, then you end up with something that's meaningful to you. Chances are, in my experience, it's going to be meaningful to other people as well.

Let's go back to touring for a second. When you stopped touring, one of the reasons you had talked about was wanting to be at home. I know that you and your wife, through your website, have talked about home-schooling and how you're big believers in that. After so many years of doing that, how do you feel about how that went with your son and in your lives? How is it going to work with your personal life now that you're getting back into touring?

When we made that decision and I left the road, my son was just going into 3rd grade. We home schooled him from 3rd grade and then for about four years. Then we began transitioning him. We live in a wonderful county here in Tennessee that has a lot of resources for homeschoolers. There are a lot of homeschoolers in our county and there are a lot of resources here. We began to transition him into a private school that accepted homeschoolers for various classes. So we would farm out a class here and there. This school was one of them that we started farming out classes to. Right now he's taking math from a private tutor and taking everything else at this private Christian school. So, he's pretty well transitioned out of the home. I think that was a conscious effort on our part as he got older.

When we started homeschooling, there was a definite need in my family for my presence in the home. It allowed me to spend hours and hours and hours of time with my son, teaching him, talking to him, telling him stories of when I grew up until he was probably bored. But as a result, I think we enjoy a wonderful relationship now as a teenager at age 15. One of the things I'll never regret is the fact that over the past 8 years (up until this time that I started to travel again), you can count on one hand the nights that I have not been there to pray with my son and say goodnight. I'll never regret that experience and that time that we shared.

One of the wonderful things that has come out of this is that my son knows me. For me that's special. My father died when I was 12 years old and I couldn't say I really knew him. But my son knows me. He knows a lot about my life, things I like, things I don't like. He knows me. That's a really neat thing. And I know him, things he likes, things he likes to do, things he's interested in. That relationship is a wonderful part of homeschooling that helps kids because they feel more secure in their relationship to their parents and with their home. I really am thankful to God for that experience.

As he grow older, we saw there would be benefits to farming out classes to others who had greater expertise than we did in certain subjects and that would take place more in the traditional classroom setting, which will prepare him for school beyond high school. We felt that was a good choice. It opened up for me the possibility of returning to playing again. That was a good thing. That wasn't something I had intentionally designed.

Do you think that it still would have happened if Louie hadn't left the band?

I would have to say I don't think so. There was a series of events that happened: the thing with Louie, and then Quinton turned in his notice. Those two things together plus the fact that I was writing for this new album and really enjoying the guitar parts, thinking "Boy, I would sure love to be playing these live. It'd be a lot of fun." All of that together made me start thinking, "Hey, what if I went back on the road?"

So one day I dropped the bombshell on John. (laughs) He was really excited and so we tried it.

You mentioned Quinton. With all the discussion about keyboards and stuff, did all that happen before the stuff with Louie and Quinton or was that afterward? I'm wondering specifically about Bryce because he went on tour with Rebecca St. James.

John had actually used another guy to fill in for Bryce when he was on the road, and you know Bryce was pretty well taken up with that gig and John was real happy for him. So when this idea came up, it ended up working well for us.

Many fans were sad to read the news about Louie on the website. The message on the website made the split sound amicable. But when Louie talked about the separation on his own website, he made it clear he was "dismissed" from the band by John and Wayne, and that he was "shocked" and "surprised" by it. What really happened?

This was a decision John made, not Wayne. He made it after counseling with his pastor. We don't wish to malign Louie in any way.

But this whole thing has been irksome to me, because people want dirt. And that's not of God. You know, it's like family. If I had to discipline my son, or if I had an argument with my wife, I wouldn't talk about it on the web. That would open my family up to all sorts of things. Petra is a family, too.

I'd ask people to trust our decisions. This was John's decision to make. He counseled with me, but it was his decision. He made the decision carefully and righteously.

Well, Bob, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me. I'm really excited about this album, and I think it's going to do well.

We certainly have our work cut out for us. There are a lot of people who would buy it if they knew about it. It's a difficult situation for marketing, but I know Inpop is going to do the best they can.

I hope so. Thanks again!

Now that you've finished reading the interview, talk about it with other Petra fans in this thread on the messageboard.