|How did you develop a reputation for going against the flow?|
My single "Anticonformity" started it all. I wrote the first version with a friend when we went to Christian summer camp right before 9th grade. When I signed with a label I went back and rewrote it because I had experienced so much in that one year of high school alone—mainly what it means to not conform while you watch your friends compromise their morals to make someone else happy or gain acceptance with the popular kids. That song isn't about rebellion. It's really about becoming the person God called you to be instead of becoming the person the world wants you to be.
It went to No. 1 in Japan on mainstream radio, knocking the Red Hot Chili Peppers out of the top spot. How cool was that?
That was definitely wild. It's such a blessing to do that and have a platform for God at the same time. Especially in that country, because there are 127 million people and only one percent of them are Christian. Tokyo itself is a very trendy culture with so much that teens are supposed to live up to. You're supposed to look cool and all that. It's stuff teens here deal with, too. We all look to the media for the latest fashions and whatnot, but it's all gonna burn one day. We need to build up our future with the Lord.
"The Situation" is a great song about sexual temptation that every teen should hear.
Thanks, that means a lot. The media glamorizes sex so much. Just because you're a Christian doesn't mean you're not tempted. A lot of girls I know find their identity in the guys they date. They sleep with them to feel beautiful. And guys will tell girls what they want to hear so they can get what they want and feel more like a man. God makes you beautiful. He makes you a man. God wants to give teens their identity. That's what "The Situation" is about. They don't have to abuse this amazing gift of sexuality.
You mentioned the media. How do you see popular culture impacting young people?
It's garbage in garbage out. Whatever you're taking in is going to be reflected at some point. I was sitting on a plane next to a 6-year-old girl who was watching this MTV-style hip-hop DVD. I was like, "What's your favorite song?" And she's like, "Riding Dirty." That's a raunchy song! What parent lets their 6-year-old listen to records with parental advisory labels on them? Children will lose their innocence and think that it's all normal and OK. Parents need to keep a close eye on what kids are looking at and listening to.
If you had one piece of advice for parents about relating to their teenagers better, what would it be?
Something that was hard in my relationship with my mom is that I didn't feel like I could talk to her about what was going on in my life. I'd start telling her about this friend who is doing something, and she'd cut me off to tell me why it's so wrong. To me, the key to building a stronger, more trusting relationship is being able to just listen. That means more to me than when they rush to offer advice. When they jump into "here's what they did wrong, and what you need to do is this" I tend to get defensive and war breaks out. That doesn't mean parents should be all buddy-buddy. It's a balance. It's just nice when they're willing to listen without jumping in right away.
How about your peers? What can teens do to improve communication at home?
I guess watching their attitude when they say something. I know I can respond to my parents in this tone that sounds sharp, even though I can't hear it myself and I don't mean it that way. Naturally, I get a negative response, which can lead to door slamming and all that sort of drama. But if I say the exact same thing with an understanding voice—even if it still bothers me or I don't understand why what they're saying is so important—it makes the situation better. We can always discuss it more later. So I'd tell teens that it's all in your tone of voice.
How is your relationship right now?
We have conflicts just like anyone, but I really love my parents. They are completely supportive. They love what I do and what I stand for.
Published June 2007