Their sound was heavily influenced by the punk rock scene in Southern California, and they quickly became one of the best known Christian bands on that scene. Their first album sold over 7,000 copies without distribution, and their second disc sold 20,000 units in its first two months of release. In terms of influences, the group drew greatly from secular hard rock music, with co-songwriter and bassist Ric Alba particularly looking towards Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones and Kiss' Gene Simmons for inspiration. Their songs such as fan-favorite "Against the Grain" often took aim at both the problems of shallow, materialistic contemporary society as well as issues with Christian churches. Many conservative-minded Christian preachers that the group encountered judged them negatively for their hairstyles, their taste in clothes, their encouragement of energetic dancing, their open welcoming of poor, hurting non-Christians in their concerts, and the like.
Their members often worked with downtrodden fans that came to them for help, doing various social works. Alba later remarked, "Our work as Altar Boys was possible because of people generously opening up their hearts and guts to us." Their third and fourth releases, Gut Level Music and Against the Grain, propelled them to national standing. Gut Level Music was explicitly aimed at a secular audience, and marked changes designed to enhance their credibility with that audience. Their lyrical approach changed toward a more subtle expression of their faith.
They also refined their sound in an attempt to distance themselves from the punk "garage band" image that they had acquired early on. They began playing in secular venues more often, and in 1987 toured England opening with The Jesus and Mary Chain. The band went on an "indefinite hiatus" in 1992 However Mike Stand has resurrected much of the Altar Boys songs with his new project called "The Altar Billies". The Altar Billies are a "Punktry" band from Southern California. They are a Rockabilly/Psychobilly/Country style trio led by Mike Stand that perform many of the Altar Boys hits as well as songs from Mike's various solo projects.
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