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North Carolina priest recalls life in rock band

May 19, 2019
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In this May 9, 2019 photo, Orthodox priest Christopher Foley poses for a photo in High Point, N.C. Foley was part of a '90s alt-rock band, Luxury, that is the subject of a new documentary film that has been shown at various film festivals and is now about to tour small cinemas starting in June. (H. Scott Hoffmann/News & Record via AP)

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Father Christopher Foley sometimes scrolls through the comments on Facebook about his college band, whose music is making a resurgence thanks to a social media campaign that’s resulted in a documentary film premiering in New York this week.

“I’ve been reposting like crazy. ... This album is an essential to me,” fan William Ekhardt wrote. “I’ve been a Luxury fan since the mid-90s.”

The documentary has screened at various festivals to acclaim.

Foley strokes his graying beard in disbelief.

“I’m so focused on pastoral work. This is like this thing on the side that’s been building momentum,” says the affable priest of Holy Cross Orthodox Church in High Point, wearing a long black robe. “I thought I left that world behind.”

For a time, he did.

Luxury had been poised for stardom. Then tragedy struck, ultimately sending Foley and other band members on a different path — toward the ministry.

Now, the band is making music again and fans couldn’t be happier.

Along with the premiere of “Parallel Love: The Story of a Band Called Luxury,” which includes archival footage and interviews, is the album “Trophies” — on both CD and vinyl no less — which goes on sale today.

Upcoming screenings of the film include the Aperture Cinema on June 4 in Winston-Salem, with Foley available to answer questions afterwards. Foley is also working on a Greensboro date.

“I’m just so surprised by it all,” he says, shaking his head.

Back when they were in college, the high-energy Luxury went from playing clubs in Georgia to music festivals to eventually snaring a recording contract.

“We were working piddling jobs just so we could travel,” Foley said.

Foley’s past reaches back to Toccoa, Ga., where he grew up in an Evangelical Protestant Christian congregation.

It was the early 1990s. The airwaves were being defined by bands like Nirvana, which had religious undercurrents to its music.

“We were Christians, but it wasn’t a Christian band,” Foley said of Luxury, which was originally called The Shrouds. “We were friends who wanted to create good music.”

Foley describes Luxury’s sound as “pretty vocals behind aggressive beats and moves.”

National Public Radio dubbed Luxury as an alternative to Amy Grant and other Christian pop artists.

Even before the documentary the group’s songs were on digital music services like Spotify.

The band included lead singer Lee Bozeman, who sometimes wore suits from the 1950s and skinny ties; brother Jamey Bozeman on guitar; Glenn Black, the drummer; and fan-turned-guitarist Matt Hinton.

Foley — hair occasionally dyed a strong black — rocked a bass guitar.

Foley, the Bozeman brothers and Black attended Toccoa Falls College, an evangelical Bible college, and played coffee houses and venues geared toward Christian youth.

Behind the music, these friends were also on a search for deeper spiritual meaning. They eventually discovered the Orthodox Church teachings, which focus on the liturgy and a one-on-one relationship with Christ.

Luxury’s music, while loud and driven by guitars, reflected that spiritual journey.

It was after finally getting on a secondary stage at a days-long youth festival in rural Illinois that the band drew the attention of the owner of Tooth & Nail Records, an independent national label focused on smaller artists.

“We were loading up our stuff, and he said, ‘I want to sign you,’” Foley recalls.

A college friend studying law looked at their contract and told the band not to sign it. They wouldn’t, for example, retain publishing rights to any of their music. They also wouldn’t make much money.

But that didn’t matter. “We were young,” Foley explains. “We just wanted our stuff out there.”

The group recorded its first album in 1995, “Amazing and Thank You,” and then toured extensively. At a stop in Kansas City in front of about 100 people, they spotted young people singing along with them.

“This was before the internet, so these kids had to go buy the album in a record store and with money in hand,” Foley says. “That floored us because we were this band from this tiny town in Georgia.”

When the group went back to Illinois for another music festival later that year, they were on the main stage.

“They were wearing our shirts,” Foley remembers.

Then tragedy struck.

Leaving the festival, the tour van wrecked. Foley and three others who couldn’t fit in the van were in a car trailing them. “I watched that van flip three times,” Foley recalls. “Even when I play it back in my head, it’s always in slow motion.”

There were no fatalities. But as members healed from a litany of broken bones and more serious injuries, they went on hiatus and shifted priorities.

“The thought of going on tours for months at a time no longer appealed to us,” Foley says.

Eventually, Foley and lead singer Lee Bozeman helped start a small Orthodox Church in Toccoa.

Foley, a lay leader who taught Sunday school and assisted the priest, decided to enter seminary and finished in 2006.

The Bozeman brothers would do the same in 2009. Foley — by then Father Christopher Foley — would join the two of them at the altar during their ordinations. Their wives and children were in the pews.

It was both profound and amusing.

“I remember leaning over to them and saying, “How on earth did we get here?’” Foley says.

It was 2013 when Foley got The Call.

“Lee — Father David now — calls me up and says, ‘I’ve been writing some songs,’” Foley recalls.

It would be the band’s first CD since the three of them became priests.

Black, the drummer, was working through health problems. Hinton, the other guitarist, turned a burrito business out of his home into a string of successful restaurants.

Local priest’s rock music past is reborn in new film

Foley saw his life as trading one stage for another. He has overseen the growth of Holy Cross from a mission to a congregation. The church is part of the Orthodox Church in America, which shares lineage with Greek and other Eastern Orthodox congregations.

The church draws its members from across the state. The congregation has purchased and blessed land as part of a capital campaign for a church to be built in Kernersville.

“Now, as a priest, my life is not just my own,” Foley says. “But I remembered a priest in seminary saying you have to have a hobby for your sanity. Music is mine.”

Still, he doesn’t pull out his guitar during services.

In 2015, Bozeman told him about a proposed Kickstarter campaign. The crowdfunding website lets people pitch an idea or need and asks others to donate money.

“That, I wasn’t so sure about,” Foley admits.

On the first day, the pitch raised over half of the $14,000 needed to get a CD made.

Online alternative music publications shared the link. More money came.

“We thought, ‘Wow, this could really happen,’” Foley says.

Fans shared how they had already introduced “Flaming Youth Flames On” and Luxury’s other music to their children.

A second Kickstarter campaign raised more than $100,000 for the documentary film.

Hinton, once a fan and member of another band, joined the group in 1999. He was also an aspiring filmmaker and had concert footage and even scenes of band members in the hospital.

“It was almost like he was destined to make this film,” Foley says.

Foley is in awe of the finished product.

“It’s a powerful story,” Foley says of the group finding faith on the other side of tragedy.

Luxury doesn’t plan to tour, but there’s talk of more studio albums. The band has signed a distribution deal with one of the largest independent record companies.

“For us, the music wasn’t about the fame,” Foley says. “It was about something connecting within us. It floors us to think we had an impact on anyone’s life.”

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Information from: News & Record, http://www.news-record.com