Interview by Steve Ruff
Just a quick word before you read about Sean. Not only did Sean front Veil of Ashes, but he also played in earlier incarnations of Dead Artist Syndrome. If you haven’t ever heard Dead Artists Syndrome’s second offering Devils, Angels and Saints, you should check out iTunes and download a piece of music history. Thanks again to Sean who was instrumental in pushing me to interview dUg and Ric…
When/how did Veil Of Ashes come together?
Veil of Ashes came together over hair. I was at a 77’s concert and saw this guy with really cool hair. It looked like a landing strip coming out of his forehead. I just had to go up and talk with him, and I found out through conversation that he was a drummer. That was Mr. Phil Meads. I told him I had been working on some music looking for a band. Most of what I was working on was keyboard related since I had only taken one guitar lesson in my life, and that didn’t go so well. Keyboard and drums seemed an odd combination, but we decided to get together. Soon after a friend of mine, Nelson DiMarco (later to be a Blonde Vinyl recording artist, currently the man behind Batzz In the Belfrey), introduced us to Sterling (Brian Kirsch) a local bass player. Weird name, great bassist. Since the keyboard thing wasn’t going to work out I reluctantly picked up the guitar and started writing songs with about 3 or 4 chords all done in different sequence!
Why did Veil break up?
Veil broke up because we had had enough of record companies, lawyers, and under promoted concerts. Also, we were getting married and having kids. It just wasn’t that fun anymore. We were actually writing for a new album at the time and some finished demos do exist of 3 or 4 songs that were pretty good, if I do say so myself.
Being one of the early founders of the ‘Christian alternative’ scene, what were some of the obstacles that VOA faced as a band early on?
Our biggest obstacle was that we were too secular for the Christian crowd and too Christian for the secular crowd. Gene Simmons once said that we would be a great band if we would just drop the Jesus sh*t. It was easier for us to be part of the secular world though. We opened for some of the biggest bands of our time, Chris Isaak, Psychedelic Furs, Social Distortion, 4 Non Blondes, etc. On and on. We also headlined some of the biggest clubs in SF and LA. It seemed that the secular crowd would forgive us more than the Christian crowd, and since we had a greater impact with the secular audiences, that’s the direction that we pursued.
How did you guys end up getting signed to Blonde Vinyl records?
Blonde Vinyl… I honestly don’t remember how that happened! I was a casual friend of Knott’s at the time through concerts and doing backup vocals for a Brian Healy project. I think he enjoyed the early Veil of Ashes more than the direction we were going. Since we had sold quite a few copies of our earlier stuff out of the back of a car, I think he was excited about the prospect of bringing that music to the masses. This is over 20 years ago, so my mind is a bit cloudy, Knott can help you out on this one!
What are your thoughts/ideas on how the scene has changed over the last 20+ years?
Wow, I have a limited knowledge of the scene now since I rarely listen to Christian music. I would say though that from what I can tell the bands have finally found their way into the secular market. That is way cool. That’s what the early bands like us had been trying to do for years. I honestly think we helped open up the doors for many of those bands.
Any plans to play/record/etc. anytime in the future?
No plans to record in the future. We are old and recognize that we have responsibilities. I have an ex wife and daughter to support, and many of the other Veil guys throughout the years are married and have multiple kids, are stable in their jobs and active in the church. Also, alternative rock is a young mans game, we are too old for that anymore! I can’t imagine jumping around on stage in leather pants as a balding, chubby 45 year old. However, I will say that there are some unreleased recordings that if someone wanted to put them out after all these years we would be willing to talk.
(ed. note) There is a different story to that now 🙂 Check the Veil Of Ashes face book page and see what the guys have recently been up to!)
Is it true that VOA was banned from rotation on Christian stations? Why was that, what’s the back story there?
Yes, we were banned. Our song “Queen For A Day” was sliding up the charts until someone realized that it was a tribute to Freddy Mercury of Queen, one of the greatest singers and bands of all time. I never understood why that was a bad thing. It seems to me that God granted him the talent to write and sing such beautiful music. Why can’t I as a Christian appreciate God’s gift to the world? I don’t remember who banned it first, but it was a pretty prominent radio station. A magazine slammed us for it and suggested that stations refuse to play it. And the song slid right back down the charts.
I guess this was the start of our disillusionment in Christian radio and publications. The success we had had with them was destroyed. They had branded us. I mean at one point on the first album we had the number six rock song in the country above Petra’s single at the time. Pulse magazine and CCM were hyping our record. I think we thought we could do just about anything we wanted to do, we had bad judgment and we were wrong. Also, I just heard recently we were one of the bands that LIVE listened to when they were in high school. That was a huge thing for me to hear. I guess we were in places that we didn’t even know about until now.
Getting the obvious out of the way – I know you are gay, when did you come to terms with that?
Does everyone know now? I guess that’s what happens when you come out in a Christian book. I don’t know that I have come to terms with it yet. It still is a big question between God and I. I know He loves me. I know He cares for me.
Do you believe ‘born gay’ or being gay is a choice?
I don’t know if I was created this way, or made this way. I was molested by a youth leader when I was 14. Did that make me gay? Was I gay before that? I don’t know. I think he forever ruined the ability for me to discern that. I think that science is proving that there is a gay gene, so I lean towards the born that way. From my earliest memory I don’t remember thinking about girls in a sexual way, but I was always looking at guys in a sexual way.
With the way that Christendom reconciles homosexuality, how did you handle ‘coming out’ in terms of your faith and your friends?
I was always afraid to admit my sexuality. I fought against it, prayed against it and went to ex-gay ministries. I even got married thinking that that would make me straight. I don’t regret that, although my ex-wife probably does. I have a beautiful daughter from that, she turned 16 this year. I always thought that God could never use me, could never love me, that I was a deep disappointment to Him. I felt that my parents would be so hurt by it. That my friends would ridicule me. That the church would ask me to leave. That I would be kicked out of Christian college. My dad is a pastor, I was afraid that his ministry would be affected by it. Then later while in the band I was afraid that the work we were doing and accomplishing would be destroyed if people knew. A whole life lived in fear.
I guess by coming out I feel a certain freedom from all that fear. For the first time I feel like I am me. One of the great things I have learned is that my parents still love me just the same. I am sure they pray a lot for me and that they worry about my salvation, but they love me. Many church people have accepted me. They haven’t accepted the gay part, but they accept me as a person without judgment. I guess that is the beauty of people really under the work of Christ.
How is your relationship with your ex-wife and your daughter?
I currently have no relationship with either one. I have not seen my daughter for almost 6 years now. Her choice. Never ever talk to the ex. I believe she poisoned my daughter against me by telling her that daddy was gay and going to hell. I have heard from my daughter recently a few times through Facebook. So maybe things are starting to heal or she is growing old enough to make some decisions on her own. It’s my greatest prayer that we are reconciled soon. I miss and love my daughter very much. There is a huge hole in my life.
Was it difficult coming out in a Christian book (God‘s Not Dead and Neither Are We)? Why did you decide to do it then?
Well, it wasn’t really that hard. I had just broken up with my boyfriend of almost 6 years. I was still deep in the grieving stage. I had actually tried to kill myself over the break up. When we got to the interview I felt that it was so raw and undeniable at that point that I might as well tell the world. It didn’t make much sense to keep quiet about something you were willing to die over.
When you came out in the book, were you already out with your family? (parents, etc.)
My parents know and have known. I don’t think they know about the book and that’s probably a good thing. They would want to know why in the world I would share with the world something so personal. Why share something that really doesn’t define me? I think they are right on that count. I am not a gay man. I am Sean Doty. I am way more than gay. That probably is the littlest thing in my life that I am.
How did the church and the college respond?
The church as a whole doesn’t know. I am sure that there are many in my past from old churches that know because of rumors (just got to love that Christian gossip line). Either they have quietly disappeared from my life or quietly loved me anyway. I am sure that many of them don’t want to know for sure anyway. They would just like to remember me as Sean the preacher’s kid who sang in church. As for college, they did know. They sent me to counseling there at the school. There were tons of rumors going on about me anyway. My poor sister was at college with me and had to hear those rumors and had to stand up for her brother. I did not participate in any homosexual activity at college, but they thought I did. Eventually I was kicked out, but it wasn’t over being gay. I had had a drink at a professor’s house and it was found out after I brought it up with an apology to the leadership of the school. I was given one day to pack up my stuff and get out. That professor stayed on staff for many years, so I can’t help but think that my being gay had something to do with it!
Can you explain the sentence from the question above: If church people haven’t accepted the gay part, have they really accepted you, or accepted you without judgment? Do you believe there is such a thing as ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ and can you elaborate on that?
I used to believe in hate the sin but love the sinner until I heard Tony Campolo say that that was a false statement that the Bible does not teach. It teaches love the sinner, but hate the sin within me. Now Biblically that makes a lot of sense. There are a lot of passages that deal with that. I don’t know if the church has accepted me or not. More they haven’t turned there back on me. Most of my old friends, old and young, still show a great amount of love to me, in fact I have only lost one Facebook friend from my past who heard about me and that was my high school Bible teacher. All in all, people choose to love me and probably spend a lot of time praying for me. But that’s not a bad thing!
How did the guys in Veil Of Ashes respond? Was everyone in Veil a believer?
The guys in Veil saw me as an EX gay which was something that I believed I was at the time. I even shared my testimony in concert from time to time while opening for bands like the 77’s and the Violet Burning. I think it wasn’t until I was in that 6 year relationship with a guy that I finally told Sterling. Frankly, I don’t think any of the other guys know to this day. I don’t wear a sign around my head. My Facebook or MySpace doesn’t shout it out. Although if you were to search friend by friend you would find that I have a very high amount of gay friends!!
(ed. note) Since this part of the interview, Sean has spoken with the other guys in Veil and explained where he is in his journey.)
Why is it (by your estimation) that in ‘the church’ there are so many grey areas that we make allowances for, but never with the issue of homosexuality?
To be honest I think people have separated out a hierarchy of sins. Three are bigger than all the rest. Homosexuality, abortion, and divorce. In my life time at least these have been the major no no’s. I don’t know why these are so heinous to the church. Wish I did.
Why is the ‘gay but celibate’ issue so dominant? By that theology it isn’t being gay that is the issue, it’s having sex… with so many hetero’s in the church having sex, what’s the issue? Your thoughts?
Wow, that’s a good point isn’t it? It’s like the sanctity of marriage question. Why are people so upset that gay people get married? To protect marriage? A huge portion of marriages end in divorce! How about outlawing divorce? That would really protect marriage! I think gay but celibate is a way of people passing on love to gay people. In other words, it’s okay to be gay, just don’t have sex. I think that concept has caught on in my own brain though. As I said earlier, that would be ideal for me. Because I have not fully allowed myself to be gay and a Christian, it gives me an out. It allows me to fall in love with a guy without dealing with the matter of sin. But again, I don’t think it’s possible unfortunately, men are very sexual creatures, and I think that love and sex go hand in hand. So I am not sure the concept of gay and celibate really works when you get down to it.
Can Jesus be separated from the church’s theology on this issue?
I am not sure that I understand the question. Is their a separation between Jesus and the churches theology? See, I am still not totally comfortable with denying that I might be totally outside of God’s will. Jesus did teach to love everyone, and I am not sure that most churches aren’t trying to do that. I think most churches would allow any gay people into their church. (I am not sure that I answered that question)
I get what you’re saying… by that last question what I guess I meant is that people take what the church proclaims as “God’s law”. In so many cases we take theology as what God dictates, and maybe it was never God, maybe it is just someone’s interpretation of scripture. So, in dividing the two I guess what I am saying is that do you believe Christ can accept you as you are, regardless of how a theology dictates that He sees you? You did touch on that really… in your last response where you said, “I think most churches would allow any gay people into their church,” I tend to think that I would agree with you… but, will they allow them into the church without trying to change them or without fully accepting them as Christian and gay?
Yeah, no doubt that God loves me just as I am. I still have a problem though with believing that there is a separation between what God’s law and its interpretation are. If I felt wholly that the interpretation was wrong, I would be a happy gay man. Right now I am still conflicted. Does Christ “accept” me as I am. I believe He does. Will the church try and change me? Of course! On a whole the church believes that homosexuality is a sin. Why wouldn’t they want to deliver me from sin? They would want to see me live in victory over sin. That said, I don’t think theology teaches that God does not accept me. I go back to the example of David in the Psalms. Did God accept David? Yes, and that’s a big yes! Gosh, God gave him a whole book in the Bible! God gave him a tremendous gift as a songwriter.
If homosexuality is a sin, then it is no different then David’s continual sin, or the gossiper, the tax collector, the obese pastor, the deacon that cheats on his taxes, the pastor who has lust in his heart for his church secretary, the woman that gets an abortion, or the couple in church who just got a divorce. The Bible does say, “Shall we continue in sin so that grace may abound?” “No”… but we all do. It does not justify it, but it is covered by God’s grace and mercy. I guess the troubling thing goes back to the fact that the church treats some sins worse than others. I don’t see them putting hands on the obese guy and praying for him, you know? I guess I will wrap this up with this verse. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
What would you like to add to this, anything that you want people to know?
Wow, I could add so much. Most of it about the struggles and the uncertainty of my own faith. The insecurities of being so inadequate before God. I kind of feel like David in the Psalms, a huge sinner that God still loves. It boggles the mind. Why would God still love me when I am such a huge sinner?
My being gay is not about the sexual aspect of it as much as it is the heart aspect. I find it quite easy to go without sex with a guy. So some people would say that I am not really gay then, but I don’t think that I could ever fall in love with a woman. My heart wants to fall in love with a man. That is where I find true happiness. If I could have a relationship with a man that did not include sex, I think that would be the ideal for me because it would alleviate the guilt and would make the heart happy. Unfortunately I haven’t found that. Because we are men it may be impossible to find two men that don’t care about sex. So I might be living in a fantasy world. I think that it may be impossible too, because people that are in love want to physically express that. So again, I might be hoping for something unrealistic. All in all, I just want to love and be loved by a man. I think that that’s the bottom line. I am afraid that people will find that incredibly distasteful, but in my mind it is terribly romantic, and something that I long for with every part of me.