A Journey Of Faith: An Exclusive Interview With Ultimatum Frontman Scott Waters
Band Photo: Ultimatum (?)
Boston rock band Aerosmith’s 1976 “Rocks” was a huge seller for the band, one that was highly influential on bands from Metallica to Guns N’ Roses. Rolling Stone magazine put it on their “500 Greatest Albums Of All Time,” and songs “Last Child,” “Back In The Saddle,” and “Home Tonight” are radio staples. There is no doubt that Rocks is one of the essential rock albums of the 1970s.
One day in the mid-90s in New Mexico, Scott Waters, the new vocalist of the Christian thrash metal band Ultimatum, was driving home after a tough day of work. Waters had recently left his old church, Victory of Love, due to its cult-like tendencies, which caused him to throw away hundreds upon hundreds of vinyl, cassettes, and CDs that he had been collecting since the early 1970s.
On this significant day in his life, Waters turned on the radio to the local rock station, ZRock. Maybe it was fate or a higher power calling to him in the form of electronic waves, but “Rocks” began to play and it hit Waters like an icy cold shower after a day at Navajo State National Park.
“I was digging it and suddenly it made me happy,” says Waters. “That’s when I went, ‘What’s wrong with enjoying music?’ It was that album and ZRock playing that that got me motivated again.”
A few years prior to this day, Aerosmith was the last thing on Waters mind. Waters and his family moved to Albuquerque, NM after he graduated college in 1991 and, looking for a local church, immediately joined Victory of Love. The church seemed like the perfect fit for Waters, but there was an underlying darkness surrounding the church.
“What they were involved with was a cult, the Word of Faith movement. You got pastors and preachers saying you can be God and be like him,” said Waters.
The Word of Faith, according to Gary Gilley, is a movement that has becoming one of the fastest growing sections of Christianity today, with millions of dollars donated by followers to the movement. Television has benefited the Word of Faith greatly, with two of its members, Paul and Jan Crouch, owning a television station, The Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), which is dedicated to spreading the word.
When Waters joined the Victory of Love, he was immediately subjected what he called the “guilt trip” that the church, and the movement, brought on him. Everything he did was scoped with a fine-tooth comb and every step he took was to benefit nobody but the church.
“If you didn’t spend all your time with the church, there was something wrong with you. ‘You don’t need to spend time with your family; you need to spend time with the church.’ It was a guilt trip all around,” said Waters.
Waters and his family would spend about two years at Victory of Love, being pulled along like little puppets, with the pastors acting as almighty puppet masters. Unlike most in his position, Waters remembers not losing faith in himself, or in his faith in Christianity.
“I never questioned my faith in God and wanted to be involved in church. I just realized I got involved in a bad one. There are bad religions out there; there are bad churches out there. They call them a cult for a reason. Cults are sociological...they get into your head,” Scott said.
In 1992, there was light at the end of the tunnel for Waters. He met guitarist Robert Gutierrez and the two hit it off instantly. Gutierrez wanted Waters to sing for a band he was starting up with fellow guitarist Steve Trujillo. Waters was hesitant at first, but eventually subsided, took a few vocal lessons, and became the new lead vocalist for Ultimatum.
When Waters became an official member of Ultimatum, he asked his church if he could give out flyers about an upcoming show. The pastor refused to allow Waters to promote his band and would later show his disgust at such a request.
“A few weeks later, the pastor gave a sermon about Christian metal and how evil it was. If you were letting Christian metal into your homes, you were letting demons into your home. You need to take charge of your home and take that stuff and throw it away,” said Waters.
Waters would confront the pastor about his remarks and suddenly realized that the Victory of Love was not the church for him.
“What am I doing? This is nuts. We’re being brainwashed...everything that pastor said was law and they did it,” said Waters.
Waters would eventually join another church, one that wasn’t as strict on following a set of “rules” and “guidelines” that Victory of Love was. Ultimatum was also picking up a bit of steam, especially in the club scene of Albuquerque, which opened its arms to the Christian metal band.
Throughout history, heavy metal has had a negative image in the media. The lawsuits in the 1980’s involving Ozzy Osbourne’s music causing a teenager to commit suicide and the supposed subliminal message in Judas Priest’s songs hurt heavy metal’s image. The cliché is that heavy metal is all about Satan and violence, but Waters believes that Ultimatum is above all that. In Waters’ mind, Ultimatum is not about pulling a Stryper and throwing Bibles into the crowd. Waters makes sure to not preach while on stage and keeps the message to the music, where it belongs.
“Metal, in general, has this stigma about it; it’s all evil. Everybody sings about Satan, which obviously isn’t true. We’re not out there to tell people how to live. If somebody finds something in our music, great,” said Waters.
Not everybody felt the same way about Ultimatum’s music. Waters told a story of a performance the band was doing in the late 90s at a club, where the owner was apparently not a fan of the band’s lyrical content. Even though there was nothing suspicious going on (“We’re playing in front of bars with 100 or 200 people. If we go on stage and start preaching, we’re not going to be playing in that club again,” explained Waters), the club owner told the band to leave after their second song.
Not deterred, the band continued to play until the owner turned the power off on Ultimatum after the fourth song. Ultimatum got off the stage, helped the next act set up for their performance, and left the club, never to return. Waters explained that the owner kicked the band off the stage because they were a “fu**in Christian metal band.” For the most part, in the 15-plus years that Ultimatum has been in existence, there have been very few incidents like that one.
Waters’ life was finally at a high point, but something was missing: his record collection. Even with his whole collection being trashed in the early 90’s, Waters did not deter from trying to regain his lost possession. He began to slowly collect Christian metal albums, but it was Aerosmith’s “Rocks” that brought his love for everything rock back. He had to show the world that his passion was still there and that’s where his popular website “No Life ‘til Metal” comes into play.
1998 was the year of the Yankees, boy bands, and the rise of the internet. With the internet came the freedom for the average citizen to have a voice and Scott Waters expressed his. What started as a small collection put on free web servers became an instant phenomenal, with “No Life ‘til Metal” getting over 200,000 hits a day, something Waters to this day doesn’t understand completely.
“I did no advertising whatsoever,” Waters said. “I didn’t connect it to Ultimatum at first. I didn’t want people to think I was trying to advertise Ultimatum or some other site. People eventually figured it out.”
While not able to confirm the exact amount, Waters album collection is back near the 7,000 mark. Waters is still missing bootlegs and albums that he previously had, but is working his way towards finally regaining all of the albums he threw away more than 15 years ago.
Scott Waters has been through a lot in just the past decade and a half, but he never lost sight of himself. He had a solid support system in the form of his family and close friends to keep him stable.
Randy Michaud, former lead vocalist for NM metal band Tykkus, started talking to Waters in 2002 after finding his web site, and from there, they formed a tight relationship that grew stronger as the years went on.
“Scott is the real deal. He is a Christian, but he's not ‘religious.’ When I use that word, I mean that he is more concerned with loving and accepting people than with following a bunch of rules and judging others when they don't live up to that imaginary standard that those rules set up,” said Michaud.
Waters has also used Ultimatum as a creative source of inspiration. The band released the well-received “Into The Pit” last year and have another album on the horizon, a covers album, with Metallica, Metal Church, and Motörhead being a few of the bands the band will put a unique twist on. While Ultimatum will never grace the cover of Rolling Stone or be the powerhouse that other greats like Metallica and AC/DC are, Waters has a sense of pride about his accomplishments with the band, especially when it came to the actions of one fan.
“Back in the late 90’s, there was a girl named Sarah...she was a huge fan and she would come out from Texas to see us play in New Mexico. She became older and wanted to get married. She asked if I would be the one to give her away. That was a proud moment for me...she had a dad, but said I was more of an encouragement for her than her dad,” said Waters.
For Waters, a story like that makes the trip well worth it: well, that and Rocks blaring out of high-powered car speakers with the top down and the windows lowered, with nothing but the open highway ahead.
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