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Can't Snuff The Punk - HANGNAIL

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Though it could be argued that most of what emerges from Christian music's fringe-the hard music crowd--is homologous and unoriginal, few would argue that Hangnail are among that sect's best. Because of the nature of their music, their lifestyles and their appearance (tattoos and body piercing is commonplace) few artists not named Toby, Mike and Kevin have been embraced by the mainstream. That doesn't really matter to Hangnail's Mike Middleton.

"I know this is frustrating to a lot of Christian musicians. It doesn't really frustrate me because the music that we play just isn't what the mass majority of people like to listen to. I think that harder music is becoming more and more accepted in the Christian music industry. Just the fact the GMA gives an award [for hard rock] says something. They are at least recognizing that hard Christian music exists."

There is a murmuring from the industry's ever-more relevant and vocal underbelly that Hangnail and groups like them will bring hard music to a state of prominence.

Founded in the early 90's as a three-piece unit who wanted to have a part in their junior high school's talent competition, this group has grown into one of the most promising up-and-comers in the industry. The group originally consisted of guitarist Nick Radovanovic, bassist Mike Middleton and drummer Jacob Dosmagen, and donned the name Hangnail just so they would have a name to perform under for the show. "We've tried and other people have tried applying some spiritual meaning to the name," says Middleton, "but it really doesn't have any. It would be a stretch to put any meaning to it. The name is just simply a goofy name and that's that."

Their first gig was less than eventful-"I'm sure we didn't sound all that great," Middleton says-but is something the band can look back upon fondly. "It was pretty interesting. I had a guy shave my head while we were playing the music and the clippers got stuck in my hair," says Middleton. "So I had just the front part of my head shaved off." And the crowd seemed to respond well to the band (or perhaps the 'do?). "Everyone loved it," he says.

The group continued to play through high school and added another guitarist, Matt Wendt during that time. By graduation, they had secured a spot on the new band "showcase stage" at the Cornerstone Festival in Bushnell, IL. They made some contacts within the music industry, but languished for several years without a record deal.

"I don't think any of us ever assumed that Hangnail was going anywhere," says Middleton. "We just enjoyed playing music and that was that. We never specifically pursued Hangnail as a career until the opportunity came along." That opportunity was manifested in a record deal with Tooth and Nail Records. "It's something that just kind of fell in our lap," he says. "By the time the record deal came along, we were already in different colleges and almost finished as a band."

The deal meant dropping out of school to devote themselves to music full time, something that caused tension at home. Says Middleton, "Quitting college to do the band full time was hard for some of the parents to tolerate, but we all got through it, and all of the members of Hangnail are still pursuing their degrees in college. Taking time off here and there hasn't seemed to put a damper on our desire to finish school."

The rest, as they say, is history in the making. The group released their eponymous debut in 1999, which was a hit with fans within the Christian punk community, and Facing Changes, which showed marked improvement and was praised for a multi-dimensional attack usually unseen in punk music, in 2001.

The band is in the process of writing a new record, and will likely head into the studio in September. "We have a lot of rough ideas right now that we are still playing with," says Middleton. "One song has been finished and will be on the new penalty box in the summer. The sound might be similar to Facing Changes, just better I hope."

In the meantime, the group is basking in the glory of last year's work. They were recently nominated for four Wisconsin Area Music Awards (WAMIs), including Artist of the Year, CD\Recording of the Year and Song of the Year. They ended up taking home the Gospel/Christian Artist of the Year award. Such things are treasured by the band, says Middleton. "It means a lot. To be recognized for anything you do always feels good no matter how big or small it is. To be determined as the best Christian/Gospel act in all of Wisconsin for the last year by a reputable group such as the WAMI organization is a huge honor."

More accolades may be on the way. Still, Middleton cautions that the group has worked hard to get to where they are, and says that they play because of their love of music and their desire to share their Saviour. "I think the most important thing, is that young musicians or even older ones at that, examine why they are playing their music. Is it because they love doing it, or is it because they want to 'make it big someday?' My advice would be to enjoy music for what it is. If making music a career is something that you really want to do, then...make all the sacrifices...even if you don't get paid anything. [But] if your only goals are to be successful by the worlds standards you'll never be satisfied."

Middleton also warns that, despite their apparent success, Hangnail isn't living in mansions and driving Benzes. "People may not realize this, but we make hardly anything from Hangnail," he says. "We each have our own part time jobs that we come home to when we are off the road, we each have financial stress like any other person our age, and we each are still confused about what we are going to be doing in the future."

Time will tell, but if history is any indicator, the band's mission to "share the hope that [they've] found in Jesus through creative, original, thought provoking music" will most certainly be carried out.
- Ben Forrest
May 30, 2002
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