Interview :: Brian McSweeney

The music of Brian McSweeney has been a part of my life for nearly 20 years. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been anything new added to the catalog in quite some time. That was true until a couple of weeks ago when McSweeney quietly released his solo debut, Love Me Down. The record itself is phenomenal, but it’s something that the artist couldn’t possibly have put together back when I was first introduced to him. Time, life experiences, and the advent of new technology finally made it possible for the Brian to put out a piece of work that really taps into his full potential as not just a musician, or one of the best vocalists around, but as a poet and artist.

Brian was kind enough to take some time out of his day to chat with me about the record and how it came into being.

Listen Here

*excerpts below are only a portion of what is contained in the full audio interview*

Ryan: You made this album a while back and you’ve just now released it. Why the delay and what have you been doing in the meantime?

Brian: I made the album in pretty short order after moving to Nashville. I felt like I needed to get some music out of me, and it just came out in a burst. Once I had finished the record, the content was still very fresh in my life and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it and I just wasn’t ready to be that open. But I finally reached a place where I realized that time wasn’t on my side and I was finally ready to put this stuff out there.

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Ryan: This music is very artistically different from what you’ve been known for. Was this a passion project to make that type of record?

Brian: I didn’t put a lot of thought into the sound when I went into making the record, but I had been listening to Ray Charles almost exclusively for like a year. I had discovered Ray Charles – of course, I knew who he was – and I had never really realized how brilliant he was. But I maintain now that he may be my favorite artist of my life. He may be one of the most talented people I’ve ever heard, for so many reasons. But I didn’t think “I want to make a soul record.”

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Ryan: This record came out of the aftermath of a relationship gone bad?

Brian: Well, there are a few different relationships at play. Leaving the long-term relationship I moved to Nashville and within a year I met someone who was the complete opposite of that relationship. I met someone who I was really able to experience a lot of happiness with and experienced a feeling of being seen and appreciated. So, I was writing new songs or revisiting old ideas in the context of this new relationship. So what ended up happening – and it was almost unintentional – was that every other song sort of “leapfrogs.” One song might be fun in light of the new relationship and the next song might be a good bit darker.

Interview :: Shane & Shane

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Shane & Shane about their musical development over the last 16 years, their Worship Initiative project, and their latest major-label release [aptly named] The Worship Initiative. While both Shane’s were on the line, Shane Barnard took the lead answering the questions.

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conversation has been minimally edited for the sake of clarity

Ryan: Back in August of 1999 I moved to Lubbock, TX. My very first weekend on campus, I saw Shane Barnard play for the first time at Southcrest Baptist Church. Musically speaking, what have been some of the big growths and changes that have happened since then that define where you’ve been and where you’re at now?

Shane B.: There have been so many and it’s kind of hard to see when you’re so close to it because there are so many hundreds of things that have influenced and changed that. I would say, mainly, back then I didn’t have any kind of history in music at all. So, when I started to play right around that time I was just brand new. Not even a couple of years before then I had the first thought: “I need to sound good.” That was a foreign thought because I never grew up singing, there was no music in my family. So, I think the main thing that’s happened has been developing some patterns and finding things that I like. I think that [I’ve discovered] the beauty of simplicity. Back then I just sort of freaked out most of the time, musically. “How loud can I scream? How fast can I strum? That always equals better.” So, I think [I’ve developed] a little more of a musical taste since then, and that’s been a really big difference. The way that I’ve grown I’ve developed an appreciation for a simple groove that’s just right on and a simple vocal that’s not in the rafters.

Ryan: I’ve followed along with the Worship Initiative project since you launched it last year on Kickstarter, but I wanted to ask you about what the real impetus was behind wanting to do that. I understand what you’re trying to do, but were you seeing something out there as you were interacting with people that said “wow, this is a real need” or “there’s a real gap”? What was the driving force?

Shane B.: The closest encounter we’ve had to that is that we did a songwriting class for 5 years. We would walk with young artists and worship leaders in college by meeting up at our studio 12 at a time each semester. And we’ve always met with worship teams and artists along the way as we travel, but having a close-up, week-by-week relationship with these students we saw a huge need for discipleship. That combined with a passion and a conviction as we would go through the Scripture and see what Jesus has asked us to do in making disciples.

So, we looked at our lives and thought that making as many Gospel-centered disciples as we can from here on out until we die is probably a really good thing. After all those years of getting into the lives of these students and we started to find out that for most of them a lot of their hope was caught up in what people thought about them, what the future would bring, what kind of success they could have. At the end of the day, if you asked them what their passion was, it was pretty far from the person of Jesus. But until [we die to our self] nothing ever really happens. So, within the music community as a whole, the harvest is white.

There are tons of people – thousands upon thousands of people – within the music community at church: players and strummers, people who have been classically trained in piano jumping into the band, lots of worship leaders getting started – maybe a firefighter who kind of leads worship and goes to a small church… There’s this whole group of people that maybe think that preacher is the one who needs to focus on the Scripture and do the teacher thing and I’m just the singer-person. So, we’re trying to call that out a little bit and consider what we are called to do Biblically as musicians.

Ryan: You obviously have a passion for teaching, behind the scenes. As you are on the stage or as you are recording, how much do you feel it is your role to teach theology to the church through worship?

Shane B.: A lot. (laughs) A lot our role. We’re totally into that. When we first started the Worship Initiative it was like: stage one, let’s do the 100 songs that the church is singing. That’s pretty much what we did – barring any song that was way off. And then we surrounded those songs with Bible studies to point people to the Scripture. So that’s where we started. People want to learn the song “Oceans” so we did that to get them in and once they are in we can begin pouring into their lives.

I think a lot of songs to come, that’s what we’re after. Theology inside of our doxology is it. We have the chance of a lifetime to inform people of who God really is inside of music. That is at the top of the priority list, for sure.

Ryan: As you were going through that process, were there any songs that you didn’t agree with theologically? Did anything not make the cut because of that?

Shane B.: Nothing comes to mind. We didn’t come across a lot of those songs in the very top of the list. There are a few where here and there we would change a lyric and just hope that nobody sees it – because a little change can make a big impact.

Often we get the question of “do you lead a song by a certain ‘camp’?” because when you’re leading that song, you are sort of embracing that group and sending people there and the teaching may be kind of off. That is a genuine concern. It’s hard to find the line of that even when we look at our hymn writers. The guy who wrote “It is Well” went off the rocker at the end of the day. Do we throw out the song “It is Well” because his life and his theology suffered later after that?

So, it’s hard to find the line. I think we have a responsibility as pastors to say, “this is true.” We don’t have to push people into any camp. If there’s a song that is Biblical truth put into music, we’re probably going to embrace it and say this is a great song to get behind. We understand the concern and we’re not really trying to endorse a camp, say Hillsong or Bethel, but really just get people into a place where they can get discipled in truth. But also we want to wrap some truth around those songs. So we’ve gotten our three favorite writers at Desiring God to write Bible studies around every song. So you get songs that are beautiful and metaphoric like “Oceans” or “You Make Me Brave.” Some of these songs could mean a variety of things so we just wrap some truth around it and equip worship pastors with that truth.

Ryan: So, when you’re recording these kinds of songs, how do you maintain the authenticity of the experience of worship in the studio say when you’re on the 26th vocal take of singing “Alleluia”? How do you translate that live experience into the recording process and keep it engaging to the listener?

Shane B: We did 100 songs in a little over a month, but we didn’t sing them [at that time]. I would say that probably 70 out of 100 were super enjoyable and the other 30 were really difficult to get through. We did it just like a worship band, though. I would get in early, come up with an arrangement, and then we would just play it through as a band. Because we were capturing everything on video, we had to play it. There was no “punching in” or “punching out,” we had to play it just like a band would play it. So, that was kind of a cool part because we were kind of like a church band. On Sunday morning there are no start-overs or do-it-agains, you just play the song.

Then, over the course of the next six months, it was mostly really sweet for me. I would come up to the studio most every day that we were in town and crawl into my little vocal booth that used to be a bathroom and put a lot of reverb on my vocal and I would just be tracking alone. We have a computer in there so I can mirror the computer in the control room and I would just get a good mix. In trying to get a vision for 100 songs, I knew I had to make it enjoyable. So I would set up a rough mix of the song, I had good reverb, it would sound like I was in a cathedral and I would just try to have a devotional experience.

Some of these songs I had never even come close to singing before, so I would literally have to learn the song. So, I would sing it through like fifteen times just trying to get the hang of it. But it was actually very sweet. I mean, I cried maybe 20 times just in this little room by myself singing these songs to Him. I didn’t know how it would go, but we did twelve full records in not even a year so it was just a steady pace of tucking inside a little room for several hours a day and trying to think about the Lord through these songs.

Ryan: Did you do anything different to adapt your production process on the official label release that just came out?

Shane B.: We were a little bit more choosy on the songs to take the time and really think about it. On the first hundred songs, the first thirty came really easy. The second thirty was kind of difficult. And the last thirty was nearly impossible to figure out which ones we were going to do. This time we had more time leading up, so there were about five songs that we knew for sure [we wanted to do].

I would say our favorite song on the record – I think it’s the second song – is “Seas of Crimson.” A new Bethel CD had come out and Shane was listening to it while we were recording. We already had a set list and Shane was pushing for a few songs, including this one but it was way out there and it was hard for me to wrap my mind around it. Their new record is so artsy and creative and it took probably a year for them to make it. And the song wasn’t produced in a corporate worship manner at all, so it was hard but he thought it would be awesome. So, we gave it a shot and it ended up being, by far, our favorite song on the record. So some of it just happened on the fly like that.

Interview :: Audio Adrenaline

I know what your thinking: who are those guys? Well, friends, that is the new Audio Adrenaline – (l to r) Brandon Bagby, Adam Agee, Jack Campbell, and Dave Stovall. The group took up the mantle of Audio A about 6 months ago, taking over for the band’s previous incarnation fronted by the great Kevin Max. Oldsters like myself may remember the group’s original lineup anchored by vocalist Mark Stuart who was forced into retirement a decade ago due to vocal issues. Stuart has stayed involved in the life of the band and has offered his ringing endorsement of “Audio Adrenaline 3.0”. I got the chance to speak with new lead singer Adam Agee in the days leading up to the release of the band’s tenth studio album, Sound of the Saints.

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conversation has been minimally edited for the sake of clarity

Ryan: First off, congratulations on the success on the new record that’s on it’s way out. It’s a very cool time to be in, I’m sure.

Adam: Thanks. It’s been a crazy six months.

Ryan: I’m fascinated to hear what the call was like when you found out that this was going to happen. Did you know the guys from the band already? Did a manager call and say, “hey, are you interested?” How did that all go down?

Adam: Yeah, I’ve known Mark [Stuart – founding lead singer] and Will [McGuiness – founding bass player] for a long time and I love those guys. It’s pretty well documented that they had a huge influence on my career over the last twelve years in [my former band] Stellar Kart. We were under the same management as Audio A for the last three years and they had been watching us.

So they came to me and said, “hey, we’ve got this thing happening. We need a singer and we’d like you to be the front-man for the band and help write.” Stellar Kart was kind of winding down so I thought about it with my wife and prayed about it a lot. The guys from Audio A came back and said that they wanted to keep things going to continue to raise awareness for the Hands and Feet Project and that ministry. So, my wife felt like I couldn’t just go back out on the road to play music. There had to be a huge ministry aspect involved in order to leave the family. With all of those things adding up, it felt like a good fit.

Ryan: What about the rest of the guys? You are all new to the band. Were they guys that people knew already or was it everyone thrown into a room all at once and, “Hey, good to meet you,”?

Adam: It’s a little strange. We all kind of new each other from other bands or church or mutual acquaintances. I know that Mark and Will had Dave, our bass player, on their label with his old band, Wavorly, so they knew him very well. Then Brandon [guitarist] and I went to church together, and Jack [drummer] I knew because he’s been out with Newsboys helping them out for the last couple of years. So, we all kind of knew each other, but at the first couple of rehearsals it was like “hey, man. How ya doin’?”

One of the freakiest moments – it was our fifth or sixth rehearsal – Mark and Will come in and they are sitting at the soundboard. And I’m thinking: “Well, this isn’t awkward at all,” as we’re about to play “Big House” in front of them. It’s like “What is going on, man?”

Ryan: How different does it feel now when you walk on stage under the name Audio Adrenaline than it did when you going out as Stellar Kart both in terms of purpose and emotion?

Adam: It’s not a whole lot different than what I’ve been doing for the last 15 years. It’s still going out there and putting on the best show I can. I think that the added element is making sure that we do justice to the catalog of songs that Audio A has developed over the last 25 years. We want to make sure that we are honoring that and that it is as awesome as it can be. In terms of the new stuff, I was able to write a bunch of it and we formed it as a band. So, all that stuff is coming together great and it seems really easy on stage and it’s just so much fun. I feel like the pressure is less than it would have been, had I not been preparing for the last 15 years to be a frontman in a band.

Ryan: What are you feeling from the fans as you meet them one-on-one? The fans have gone through a phase of acclimating to Kevin [Max – former lead singer] over the last few years. I’m sure that when they walk into the venue, they aren’t sure exactly who they are seeing. How have they received you and what kind of conversations have you had around that?

Adam: The knowledge that the fans have coming into the show is pretty mixed, but the reaction after the show has been overwhelmingly positive. I was almost surprised the first couple of weeks of the tour at how well people responded and how encouraging they were. It was much better than I could have hoped. Of course there are people who really liked the old way, but the response has been great. The younger fans that come up that may not even know about the history of Audio A are really excited about the new stuff and they love it. We’re able to inspire a new generation the way this band inspired us, so it’s very special each night. Then the fans who have been fans for 25 years come up to us and say, “Man, you did a great job on the old stuff and we really like the new stuff.” This band really changed their lives back in the day and they’re glad we’re keeping it going.

Ryan:  Audio Adrenaline’s bloomrecord was really drew me into Christian rock music…

Adam: Same here.

Ryan: I’ve recently shared that record with my 6-year-old son. It’s maybe a bit of nostalgia, but man that record really holds up well. I have to imagine you’re probably getting the same thing – parents who love the old stuff and now they’re bringing the kids out to the show and experiencing something as a family.

Adam: It’s really special and a true honor to get to do that every night.

Ryan: Alright. Rapid fire: What’s your favorite Audio Adrenaline album – can’t say your own?

Adam: (laughs) I would probably say bloom for the same reason you were saying. The way it holds up… it introduced me to Christian rock music. I didn’t even know that that was a thing. I grew up in Arizona and so we didn’t have a lot of the “Bible-Belt” circuit. Hearing bloom, I thought it was pretty awesome.

Ryan: What’s your favorite AudioA song to sing – old or new – and what’s your favorite one to listen to out of the catalog?

Adam: Ok, I’m going to have to go new on the singing one. My favorite one to sing is the first track on the new record, it’s called “Move.” It’s one that just slays every night. It is so much fun. The crowd just goes nuts. I’ll give you one from the old catalog, too. I love singing “Ocean Floor”. That’s one of my favorite moments from the show, 2,000 people worshiping to that song. I love that.

As far as listening, I really like the bloom record. I like the songs from Underdog, too. That’s one of my favorites. Then Worldwide is awesome. All the guys in the band want to work up “Some Kind of Zombie” so we can play that live. There’s just too many good songs, man.

Ryan: I’m sorry, but I’ve got to tell you my “Move” story because we were listening to it in the car the other night on the way to soccer practice with my 6 year old. He was really getting into it and he says, “We’ve got to take this out to the soccer field. This will get everybody moving!”

Adam: (laughs) That is awesome!

Ryan: So, your on tour with Newsboys right now. You’re probably playing mostly new stuff. What are you playing from the old stuff? What does the setlist look like?

Adam: We’ve been playing “Ocean Floor” and “Kings and Queens” and a medley of “Big House” and “Get Down”. Then mostly some new stuff. We’re doing our first headline show at the end of this month so we’ll be getting to play more of the back catalog like “Hands and Feet” – I think we’ve got a couple of others that we’re going to work out for that.

Ryan:  I know back when Kevin came in, Mark was travelling with the band a little bit. Is he still keeping his hands on the project? Is he out with you guys at all?

Adam: He’s not on the road, but he actually co-wrote the title track, “Sound of the Saints” with me and a couple of other guys. So, he’s definitely got a piece of this album. And like I said earlier, he and Will came to the studio for rehearsals and were speaking into the live shows saying, “Here’s what we did on this song back in the day. Here’s something we tried that worked out real well for this.” So, of course, we’re going to do that.

Ryan: So, I’ve been listening to the record and trying to remind myself that this is Audio Adrenaline – TODAY. But beyond changes in sound and personnel, one thing that really stood out to me was the lyrical content. Obviously, the band has never backed down or shied away from the Christian faith, but it felt like the songs on this record were a lot more explicitly evangelical. These songs are very strong in their message, whereas some of the older songs were a little more pedestrian or a little more grounded. Is that an intentional move on your part to write in a certain way? Is it just a matter of the people who were in the room writing? How does that mesh with the history of the band, lyrically?

Adam: I think it just happened organically that way. There were over 50 songs written for this record and it just wound up that this is the direction that we wanted to go. It is that unapologetic, “This is what we believe.” And it’s got a couple of moments of that Underdog vibe, where anybody from anywhere – it doesn’t matter if you think you’ve got all the skills or if you’ve got all the answers – anybody can make a difference in the world, and change the world, and tell the world about Jesus. That vibe is what we’re going for. It’s the whole message of Audio, whether they were explicit with it or you had to dig to find it. It’s always been that, “Here’s what we believe and anybody can make it happen and Jesus can use anybody.” So, that’s what it’s all about.

Ryan: You mentioned that you’ve got your first big headline show coming up. What are the plans for the summer after you finish up this tour?

Adam: We’ve got some festivals coming up this summer. We’re working on a headline tour this fall. We’ve got some international shows coming up this fall as well and those are always fun. Just honing in the live show and working on blowing up the show for the fall.

Ryan: “Love was Stronger” is out now. “Move” is available. Is that being pushed as a radio single or is it just available to buy now?

Adam: I don’t have the final clearance on it, but I would certainly hope so. It’s already gotten picked up by NFL network and MLB network. So it is one of those – like you said, your 6 year old knew it needed to be played out on the soccer field. They’re doing that for sure.

Ryan: I head that first song and I thought that it was really listenable and while it may be a little bit of a change of pace for the long-term fan who doesn’t know what they’re getting when they pop it in, it’s such a listenable record. It’s definitely radio-ready and something that’s going to be catchy for whoever listens to it. So, congratulations on putting out a great piece of work and best wishes to you and the rest of the guys throughout the summer and whatever comes next.

Adam: Well, thank you man, I really do appreciate that. We really hope that the songs can not only hold up to the legacy that Audio A has already had, but can continue to push the envelope and get better and better and better and take it to even new levels. That’s the goal.

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Check out the review of the new album Sounds of the Saints.

Interview :: Matthew Paul Turner

I had the chance to interview prolific blogger and author Matthew Paul Turner on the topic of his new book Our Great Big American God (out 8/19) on behalf of FaithVillage.com.

Ryan Brymer (Faith Village): How would you, in a nutshell, describe the book – what it is and what it’s for?

Matthew Paul Turner: It is America’s telling of God – 400 years of history of the denominations, the people the events. How we have shaped the perception people have of who God is, how God works, what God does, what God doesn’t do, what God loves, what God doesn’t love. And how we have combined and mixed the God-story into our very American story. How we’ve mixed the details to make it work for us.

People have asked why I didn’t cover the Mormons or the Seventh Day Adventists. I really wanted to focus on the familiar, the mainstream. I wanted to write about the threads that people were somewhat familiar with. Anything outside of that could be tossed away as a potential fringe or something that is not as relevant to the context of the book. The Mormon part of the story is not as relevant to the context of the book as the Presbyterian part of the story.

RB: This book is a bit different from what you’ve written in the past. How much research went into it and how long did you spend in researching and writing it?

MPT: Well, I came up with the idea at the very beginning of 2012. I researched for most of 2012 and beginning of 2013 – so a year and a couple of months. Then I started writing and I wrote for about a year.

What was different about this book than some of my other titles is that with those I didn’t necessarily know where the stories were going beforehand – even though they were my stories. So, it was really refreshing to tell other people’s stories and just put bits and pieces of my opinions in between at certain times.

So, it was about two and a half years from start to finish. I’ve written four books in six months before, so yeah, big difference.

My last book came out in 2010 and then I took some time off to just re-asses where I fit into the faith publishing world. It’s a world in which you can get in trouble as much for what you don’t say as you can for what you do say. Christians love to laugh, but they want the laughter to lead them somewhere. So after my first two memoirs and college tours I really had to go back and figure out what I bring to the table and how could I continue to be myself and still fit into this world that is the only world I know.

RB: So, what drew you to such a different topic?

MPT: At the time I was reading a book by Sarah Vowell called The Wordy Shipmates – a book about Puritanism. And she is hysterical in it and brings her own personality. I was just blown away by the drama that played out among the Puritans over the course of 60 or 70 years. She didn’t go into any of the years after the Puritans and I just started to wonder “how did we go from that Puritan experience to where we are now?” So, I started to do some research and explore whether or not anyone written about this before. Of course, many have written about America’s Christian history, but none of them had written about how we’ve shaped the story of God to fit into whatever our experience was and how that happened.

There’s a reason why people think that we are a Christian nation. And there’s a reason why we aren’t. But there are so many evangelicals that know what they believe, but they don’t necessarily know the story that got them to what they believe. There are very few people who engage God in a Reformed way the way that the Puritans engaged God. And why is that?

The Puritans believed that they were 100% right. The Pentecostals believe they are 100% right. And the Baptists believe that. And the neo-Reformed believe that. Most of us don’t go into the story of God thinking that we could be wrong – but we probably should.

RB: With all of the research that went into this, how did you balance being academic and being engaging, while bringing the tone and wit that you are known for?

MPT: I assumed that most people view history as boring. I figured that the average person was not going to pick up a history book, so my goal was to keep the story moving, highlight certain aspects of a person’s life and belief, but never go into a story without really doing it justice. I couldn’t just write a few paragraphs about Jonathan Edwards. I had to dive into Jonathan Edwards. I had to consider his whole life and figure out why so many people found his message so unique, special, brilliant. Why was he considered America’s greatest theologian? There was a reason for that.

I definitely wanted to present the story as it happened, but do it in a way that was not so heavy and thick with historical facts presented as such. So, bringing it into the here and now – showing people how it plays out today. What was fun is that I didn’t feel the stress to be funny on every page or in every paragraph. I was able to stick to the story and where it naturally felt funny I put it there. There were certainly times where I forced it and my editor called me on those spots. But I really tried to let the story tell itself and for me to be a decent narrator who was engaging.

RB: You said before that you had an idea of where you were going from the beginning. Where did you see the story going and what surprises did you encounter or what did you learn along the way?

MPT: I felt really far more certain of how God is perceived today, even though it is much more diverse than it has ever been in history. I certainly understand the culture of today. So I knew where the story was going to end up. My goal was to not allow that knowledge to shape the story of getting there. I really wanted the reader to discover how the story shaped what we have today. There are moments, as I read the book back over, that I get a glimpse of God in the 21st century while looking at a Methodist circuit-riding preacher in 1818.

Were there surprises? Yes. Honestly, I had never heard of the Cane Ridge Revival. It was such a grandiose and influential experience. I was blown away by how much influence that one festival had on what happened in the years that followed. The fact that it sparked many more revivals all over the country. The fact that many people went there as Reformed thinkers and they left there as non-Reformed thinkers. The fact that it was one of the first times where Baptists and Methodists and Presbyterians all sat down beside one another and did something as a unified group.

Then, also, the rise of Methodism. There was a time in history when the Methodists employed more people than the postal service. That just blew my mind.

And to meet these people – even when I disagreed with them – who were riding horses and running into towns and getting people to confess of their Calvinism the way they would eventually get them to confess of their drinking or sexual sin. And they were going in and getting people to give up their Calvinist way of thinking. That was a big surprise.

Also, the Gilded Age. It’s our first glimpse of the America we see today. It was an America built on enterprise and celebrity. An America that was built on a population that was fascinated by wealth. All these rich, famous people. And the opposite side of that coin and its effects. When someone was making several million dollars a year, there was another person sinking deeper into poverty. And to see how God was weaved into that story.

The story of D.L Moody. I mean, he might as well have been a prophet in my church. We had pictures of him on the wall. Pastors would tell stories about him. We heard about him working in the shoe store and giving up everything. He only had a 4th grade education. And he went on to become a very influential evangelist. I’m not sure that he intended it, but to see how his ministry morphed into where he was making demands. Not going into a city unless they built a building for him. Working alongside these rich investors. Really extending and using his simple way of telling the Gospel to help them motivate their workers to not join the labor movement. It’s really fascinating. And to see how many of the things he put into place while running a convention or a conference or a revival – how many of those details are still used today. Systems that were used by Billy Sunday and Billy Graham and even now used by conferences where Rick Warren speaks. So to see the influence of him on even the idea of the altar call was really great.

Then to explore the great divide in Fundamentalism. In the 20th century there was this great divide between moderate Baptists and Fundamental Baptists. It came down to these two great men: Billy Graham and John R. Rice. There was so much more drama that I really would have liked to have included. Here were these two men leading two groups of people and they were trying to work together and make it work. Billy Graham was trying to honor the respect he had for John R. Rice and Rice was trying to hold onto this kid (Graham) that he seemed to think of as a son. So, to watch this narrative morph and showcase a bigger story that the moderate Baptists were forming together an Evangelical movement – what we would know in the 90’s as “nondemoniationalism.” So to watch these two divide and the whole thing come down to this relationship is pretty dramatic.

Then you have Jerry Fallwell. As much as you might disagree with him, you can’t deny his passion and his belief in the words he said. Nobody believed in what Jerry Fallwell said the way Jerry Fallwell did. There’s a quality to people who – though not as well respected today – you can look back and at least admire the passion. He’s certainly a divider, but there was no one who could unite Christians the way he could. And he got lambasted for working with Pentecostals and Catholics. There was a tension that he created but the Fundamentalists didn’t throw him out the way they did Billy Graham. There was something about him that was able to unite the conservative side and the moderate side in the name of politics. And it was intentional. It was something that he planned and it effected the way we enjoy God now.

RB: I want to frame up this question in a way that it has some context: The question is, how much of yourself is in the book? We talked about balancing the academic side and the engaging side. Over the past few years, you’ve established yourself as something of a critic of the culture. There’s a risk of bringing too much personal bias into an academic work and risking your credibility. So, how did you balance maintaining the integrity of the story with putting your own opinion or personality into it?

MPT: Well, I am certainly in the book. I think you definitely get a good idea of where I stand on these ideas. I use an issue from the 1800s and foreshadow what it means today and I’ll throw in my opinion. But I’ll try keep that somewhat at bay because I didn’t want to lose an entire audience just to insure that they knew exactly where I stood.

At the end of the day, I felt like this book could be read by a very wide variety of people. They aren’t all going to agree with my conclusions and that’s fine. I think that to engage the story, know the story, or take their research further, I wanted to leave that option open. I didn’t write a book for “progressive Christian thinkers.” It’s written by a progressive thinker and so that’s there, but I tried to keep it on a leash. I relied a lot on my editors to help keep things in check.

I went in wanting to tell the story of God. I certainly couldn’t keep my bias completely out of I didn’t want it to overwhelm somebody. Whether I accomplished that, I don’t know.

Interview :: NEEDTOBREATHE

[Legacy Content]

FaithVillage contributor Ryan Brymer recently had the chance to interview Bo Rinehart of the band NEEDTOBREATHE. The band’s new record, Rivers in the Wasteland, is already generating plenty of buzz and Ryan asked Bo about the band’s spirituality, music and much more.

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FaithVillage: It’s been several years since you released your last record — and it’s probably been your biggest success period. What’s been happening since we last heard from you guys?

Bo Rinehart (NEEDTOBREATHE): Everything. We’ve been hitting it hard for the last seven years and really going non-stop. From there we started right into The Reckoning, possibly to our detriment. A lot of things were happening. I have a two-year-old now who was born right after that record was finished, so that has been a process. You know, we’ve lived a lot of life but it’s been a pretty amazing ride.

Around eight months ago, everything had come to a head and we decided to take some time off. Things had gotten to a certain level where we had lost sight of why we had started this in the first place and we needed to recharge. So, we got some time away and were able to decompress and it’s been amazing.

FV: You talked about returning to your roots on this record — both in terms of production and in the songwriting. To me, the album seems a lot more overtly-spiritual than the last couple of records. What drove that decision?

Bo: The record is called Rivers in the Wasteland. It was going to just be calledWasteland and we were in a pretty dry place; very empty and dried up. So, it felt like “this is the record” and those were the things we were going to talk about. And I feel like God was already starting to work there and we weren’t even aware of it. Really, the verse that jumped out was a verse in Isaiah that says, “Can’t you see that I’m already doing a new thing? And I will create rivers in a wasteland.” So from there, we knew where this was going. This is the story.

We had started a lot of these songs before we had this watershed moment and I think it was all part of a process that God already had a plan for. We had gotten ourselves to a place where maybe we worried too much about what people think and placed a value in the things that we do. God was teaching us a lesson, however, about our place and how much He actual needs us – the song “Difference Maker” is a little bit about that and another song called “Multiplied.” This has been a season of finding our identity in Christ more than anything else. It’s an easy thing to do, trying to compare yourself to others or trying to control things that we really have no control over.

FV: NEEDTOBREATHE are one of the few distinctively Christian artists that have a truly mainstream appeal. How does that influence your career as far as how you perform in front of a “mixed” audience, or how you plot what comes next?

Bo: That’s been a consideration from the beginning. We’re very comfortable in who we are and believe that the message shouldn’t be any different from day to day. We’ve never been preachy in our performance. We’re doing something different and it’s about the heart. Our goal is to be genuine and honest and we’ve always been that way — but on this record, we’re being way more vulnerable about it.

When we started, we were a bit hesitant because of the stigma of the Christian market. I think that with the music that we make and the things that we talk about, we’re a band for in-betweeners. You know, we grew up in the church, but we’ve always felt like outsiders.

We never wanted to turn a certain way for the sake of money or success. We didn’t want to not be able to do what we wanted to do. We’re constantly learning and this phase of the band is totally heart-led. We’ve found our identity in Christ, and that’s not about making people like you.

FV: As an old school Hootie and the Blowfish fan, I have to ask: is there an unwritten rule that bands from South Carolina are required to have their own charity golf tournament?

Bo: (laughing) We actually know those guys and they’re a lot of fun. We  started playing golf on the road and fell in love with it. It’s just a great chance for us to get outside. It doesn’t matter how many people you have — you can always find a golf course wherever you go. It’s not like basketball where you need a bunch of people and have to find a gym. Golf is everywhere.

A while back, we were part of a tournament put on by Albert Pujols and we loved it. We had a blast. At the same time, we were becoming friends with and getting involved with the Palmetto Medical Initiative. So it all came together and sort of made sense.

PMI runs medical missions to Uganda, Nicaragua, and Burundi. They are all about creating a self-sustaining system by sending doctors and nurses to train locals who run hospitals. They make two trips every year and Bear (Bo’s brother, lead singer of the band) got to go a year-and-a-half ago and see first-hand and it was amazing. There are parts of Africa that have no access to medical attention and there are people who have had life-long issues that take next to nothing to fix, if they just had access.

It’s cool that they are able to address some pretty huge issues and we love that people can get involved on a really small level. The pill for malaria only costs $5 — and they are dying from it over there. It’s such a simple, easy fix, but somebody has to go and do it and they’ve got to have supplies. It’s just an amazing organization and a cool thing to be a part of.

FV: As you guys set off on tour, what are you most excited about on this trip? What’s going to make it different from the last time out?

Bo: Well, we took a pretty sizable break since our last tour and we’re really ready to get back out there. It’s going to be fresh. We really love and miss the road, so we’re antsy to get back out there.

As a band, we’re at our most creative and passionate when we have new material. We’re really excited and we’re ready to jump into the new music. When there’s new music, there’s no limitations — no boxes of songs we feel like we have to play or don’t have to play. We’re really able to wear our hearts on our sleeves.

Interview :: Pentatonix

With their new record (PTX Vol. 2) now available, Mitch Grassi (seated with silver tie) of Pentatonix was kind enough to take a few minutes to let me know what’s been going on with the group since their rise to fame on NBC’s The Sing Off.

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Ryan: It’s been a while since you won Season Three of The Sing Off. I’m sure that life has changed a little bit since then. What are some of the biggest changes and most exciting moments between then and now?

Mitch: I think the most exciting part is just seeing so much of the world. I’ve always wanted to travel, I love that part of my job is traveling around the country and sometimes performing internationally! We’ve also met some pretty amazing people along the way, including our wonderful & supportive fans.

Ryan: Your group is very diverse. How does that diversity influence the music that you make and the fans that you are able to reach?

Mitch: Well first and most obvious, we are very ethnically different. We come from a slew of different backgrounds, and I think that’s one reason why we appeal to so many different types of people. We also have wildly different music tastes, which has helped shape our sound, and has allowed us to experiment with a number of different genres.

Ryan: PTX Vol. 2 is out now and it seems like you’ve brought more originals than ever before. How does it feel to be able to introduce the world to your own music?

Mitch: It’s an amazing feeling, really. But it’s also incredibly vulnerable! I would say we are all pretty new to writing original music, so it’s definitely been pretty scary. However, we’ve grown so much as musicians and writers, so I think our music has progressed on its own. We truly hope our audience enjoys the original material, because they’ve been so fun to work on!

Ryan: When it comes to creating such intricate arrangements, what does that process look like? Do you chart everything out? Do you just work through it vocally until it feels right? Does one person take the lead in arranging?

Mitch: We typically arrange in a sort of “jam session” fashion. Avi will start with the chord progression for the musical foundation of the song, and whoever sings the solo will sing the melody over that. Then we just experiment with background parts to complement the soloist. Kevin usually comes up with his insane beats on his own; he’s very musically intuitive.

Ryan: Obviously your appearances on national television have garnered you a lot of fans, but you’ve been able to build on that and keep those fans close using technology, specifically YouTube. What can you say about the intentionality of using that medium to keep new content coming and staying connected to your fans?

Mitch: The social media aspect of our career has been essential to our success. Our fans truly feel like they can connect with us musically and personally. We really think it’s important that our fan base stays current with us; we love having them on this journey with us.

Interview :: Doug Hamilton

Doug Hamilton is the director of the groundbreaking new documentary Broadway Idiotwhich chronicles the process of bringing Green Day’s American Idiot record to the Broadway stage. The film is available now via Video on Demand, iTunes, and in select theaters. Doug took a few minutes to chat with me about the process of creating his film and the many layers of music, stage, and film intermingling.

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Doug Hamilton Interview

quotes have been minimally edited for clarity

Ryan: I got to watch the film last week and I just want to say, first off, congratulations on bringing it to fruition.

Doug: Thank you. Thank you. I feel very good about that. You know, it’s hard to get a documentary out in the independent world and I feel good that it’s having a life.

Ryan: Absolutely. And I know you came into the project really early on in the creative process. How did you get involved that early – to see where it was going to be – or to see the future and where it might end up?

Doug: Part of what I do professionally is photograph in theater. My main work is in documentary film and public television and that kind of thing. But for at least a decade, I have photographed theater and the development of theater.

I had photographed the show Spring Awakening [writer’s note: music by 90’s recording artist Duncan Sheik] which became a big hit. That was created by many of the same people who did American Idiot – the director, the producers, John Gallagher Jr. [HBO’s The Newsroom], a lot of others were in it. So I knew these people and I knew that American Idiot was coming up. So, when we started talking about it, we all thought: well, if this becomes what we imagine it could become wouldn’t it be great to be able to do a documentary on it. And that requires being in the room early, shooting video. Once Spring Awakening became a hit, you can’t really do a documentary on it. It’s too late. So, there was an opportunity to do a documentary on it this time and we didn’t know quite where it was going to go with certainty. But we were able to get in there with cameras early enough that we had that covered.

Ryan: And it’s been a while since the musical’s premier – and, obviously, it’s gotten a lot of rave reviews. Why wait until now to put the documentary out? Has it just been a post-production issue or is there a specific timing of right now for you?

Doug: It’s pretty much just that’s how long it took. This was not something I did full-time. It’s been really a labor of love for myself and my editor, Rob Tinworth. Our day job is working in public television and we’re fortunate to get to do that. But that’s a demanding job, so we’ve done this in between projects, which is part of it.

But also, it takes time to really understand the material and work with it and create the kind of narrative that an independent film like this needs to have. So it came out now because it was ready to come out now. It’s not really connected to the show in any way, so we weren’t worried about that. We weren’t trying to promote the show in this, we just wanted to do an honest documentary about it. And that led to it coming out the way that it did.

Ryan: But you did have the big premiere this weekend and that was the CBGB festival, right?

Doug: Yeah, it was great. It’s very exciting to have a public event around a film project. It felt a little more like Broadway opening than a documentary opening. I’m not used to that world. I’ve worked in broadcast television all my life so 30 million people may see something I’ve done on 60 Minutes, but I’m watching it at home on the couch with four friends. So, this was a very different experience.

A lot of the creative team and actors came out for this, which is exciting. Michael Mayer, the [musical’s] director was there, and Tom Kitt the musical supervisor and John Gallagher came, Rebecca Naomi Jones was there. So really it was wonderful to be surrounded by these people in watching the film. And then the fact that it’s CBGB just in and of itself is kind of perfect because of the connection to the alternative music scene.

Ryan: And are y’all looking at other festivals? Do you think that there’s a future life for this? Or are you just going to be grateful for having accomplished your vision and whatever happens, happens?

Doug: Well, we’re getting out in the world now. This week we’re rolling out in 35 cities – which, for a documentary, is pretty big. Some of those are one-night stands in some cities where there are hopefully a lot of Green Day fans. And then, most of those are regular runs in good, independent theaters. So we are having a life. We’re out there on iTunes and Video on Demand now, so there are lots of ways to watch it.

There’s a short window that it is available in cinemas. It’s interesting for me to see how this film is different when you see it in a theater versus on your laptop or your iPad. I mean, I watched it on my laptop for years as I was working on it, but it’s really gratifying to see it large.

Ryan: I think, for me, being such a fan of that record that was so groundbreaking, and hearing about the musical (though, down here in Texas we don’t get a lot of stage theater as you can imagine) there was kind of a disconnect. And I think that you were really able to bridge that gap – hopefully for a lot more people than just myself – between what was this iconic record and putting the music that we’ve heard from the soundtrack in a context and telling a cohesive story.

Doug: Thank you. You know, the layers of this are pretty extraordinary. You have Billie Joe’s experience that then gets translated into his album, which obviously was an extraordinary piece of work and is so important to so many people. And then it becomes a stage show. And then he ends up in it playing a role that sort of is representative of part of him. And then we do a film about that.

And another twist that just happened is that on Friday night when we had our screening in the cinema the latest company of American Idiot – which is the third national touring company just starting its rehearsal process – they actually all came to the theater. The producers thought it was really important that they experienced where this all came from as part of their process. So, we’re documenting the process of theater and now we’re part of that process. It’s a weird twist, but it’s very gratifying to me.

Ryan: I don’t ever mean to question anybody’s art, I was just curious… One of the few things in the film that I felt kind of missed the mark: I would have loved to have heard more from the cast, their response to being involved in such a groundbreaking project, working with an iconic artist such as Green Day. You really took to focusing on Billie Joe and his journey. Was that just for the cohesive story? Or, what made you go that route?

Doug: That’s a fair criticism. When we do interview the cast, early on, there’s one little section where the cast (John Gallagher and Mary Faber, Rebecca Naomi Jones) are all talking about how important that album was to them as people. And they help us, early on, explaining what that album was. So we touch on that and I certainly could have done more with that and followed them. But I think it was the point you make – the cohesiveness of the story.

One of the challenges in the edit was to hone in on what our main story was. You have to have a discipline to keep staying true to that main story. As a filmmaker who’s been in the field getting all this material you fall in love with all of it. I loved everyone in that cast. There were scenes we cut of the process and of the cast that I thought were wonderful, but when you’re putting them all together and you have a 3 hour cut, something’s got to go.

So you have to keep asking yourself: is this scene really supporting my “A” storyline? And if not, I’ve got to be willing to part with it. And so I think that’s where it got focused more on Billie Joe and his experience which, for the audience, becomes a sort of vicarious way to experience what it’s like to be in the theater company like that and make your way to Broadway.

Interview :: Martin Smith

I recently got to do a really quick Q & A with Martin Smith (former lead singer of the band Delirious) for the folks over at FaithVillage.com. Martin has released two great records this year, God’s Great Dance Floor: Step 01 and Step 02.

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Ryan: You spent many years in the band Delirious and had a lot of success – and if that’s not the appropriate word, we could say “worldwide impact.” Since the band broke up, you’ve embarked on a solo career. What have been some of the biggest surprises about this stage of your career vs. your years in the band?

Martin: I think the greatest thing about this season has been not being so busy and being home more, and being part of a growing family. We’re also part of a new church plant in Brighton called St Peter’s, and we feel really privileged to be there and part of that. It’s been a surprise to me that I’ve been able to release so much music and I’m amazed that these songs have made an impact on people!

Ryan: I’ve heard songwriters talk about the importance of writing with other artists. Collaboration has been a key component of both Step 01 and Step 02. How have those writing opportunities come about and what have you learned from working with such noted and respected artists?

Martin: It’s always great to write with people that are better than you – it stretches you, it brings things to the table that you couldn’t have imagined and you learn a lot in the process. Usually if you invite someone into the writing process who you trust, 9 times out of 10 they will always make it better. The aim is always to make something as good as it can be.

Ryan: I know that mentoring the next generation is something that’s very close to your heart. How has that played a part in your life, your ministry and these recent records?

Martin: Well I think mentoring always starts at home and mentoring is just another word for being a good dad, or a good parent, and wanting people around you to win and be successful, fulfill their potential. So we all play our part in helping people around us to move onwards and upwards. It’s been great for me being at St Peter’s with so many young students and I’m just happy to be a part of them growing into the next phase of their life.

Ryan: I’ve noticed on twitter that you mention your daughters a lot. How has your family life influenced your writing and how does your writing style now differ from those earliest Delirious records?

Martin: When I was younger, before being married and having children, it seemed like I had all the time in the world to be creative. And you would think that’s when the best songs come. But, I’ve found that the greatest creativity can come out of community, being part of something. Being part of Church, you never ever dry up with ideas and things to write about good and bad. I’d say now, even with all the responsibilities I have less time to be creative, but I’m far more focused. It’s just where I’m at right now.

Ryan: You’re heading out on tour throughout the UK with Matt Redman this fall. Will you be bringing the Dance Floor to the US sometime next year?

Martin: Yes, I’d like to do a couple of tours in the US next year – watch MartinSmith.tv!

Interview :: Dustin Kensrue

Some may know Dustin Kensrue from his 14 years fronting the alternative rock band, Thrice. In 2012, the band took an extended hiatus and Dustin left to do something a bit different, becoming a worship pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. He’s just released his first solo record from this new journey, The Water and The Blood. (He released a couple of solo albums several years ago, but they are wholly unrelated to his new material.) Dustin took the time to answer a few questions about his journey to the church and its effect on his music.

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answers have been minimally edited for the sake of clarity
Ryan: How do you go from being the lead singer of a well known rock band to being a worship leader? I know that probably didn’t happen overnight. So, it’s probably a long story, but what were some of the key moments along the way of that journey?

Dustin: I guess a key moment, initially, would be that I had told my wife that I would never be a worship leader – I don’t remember that, but she does. I had a really negative attitude towards corporate worship music in general. There were a lot of things I thought were unbiblical or just not helpful about it. I just didn’t want to be a part of it. So, God started convicting me of that attitude and really just giving me an understanding that I was seeing a problem that I had been (in a certain sense) trained to do differently or do better and I was just sitting on the sidelines complaining about it.

He started changing my heart toward it and giving me a vision to try to be a part of something larger that would effect change on a much greater level than just me. To try to cast vision for what could be different about it and have people respond with that vision. Not that I would be some lone wolf in that, but part of something to change it.

Ryan: And how did you get connected with Mars Hill [Church]?

Dustin: I can never really figure out the exact timeline, but the biggest connection for a while was [that] one of my best friends was Pastor Mark [Driscoll]’s executive assistant for a long time. So we had a connection there. Pastor Mark had known of my music and he blogged about it once or twice. We ended up meeting and, ironically enough, he told me I was going to be a pastor and I was going to come work for him. Those have both come true.

So, at the time I was like, “Man I don’t think I’m ever moving up to Seattle.” But then it was funny when we planted Mars Hill in Orange County. I was like “well, I guess I am kind of working for him now.” But I didn’t have to move. And then God had different plans for that. So that was the next benchmark. We ended up, after I had known a bunch of people at Mars Hill at that point, some good friends, we felt called to plant a church in Orange County. Then it ended up being that we were planting Mars Hill Church.

Then, a year later, Pastor Mark asked me to pray about moving up to Bellevue and serving with him here. The idea was for me to take more of a leadership role over Mars Hill Music. I ended up realizing that I was called to that role, but I couldn’t do it from Orange County.

Ryan:  So, how does the songwriting process differ for what you did on this record from what you’ve done before – not just in the content, which obviously is a little different, but also in the whole process? Are you writing alone? Are you writing in a group?

Dustin: I try to describe that the main difference is really the purpose in what the song is for. Like if I was writing with Thrice, the song really doesn’t have a purpose outside of itself. It is kind of the end. But for writing music for corporate worship – for people to sing together in church – the end is that it would actually foster that singing together and that it would do that well. So, it creates different parameters and restraints. And restraints aren’t a bad thing. Creativity is really hard without any restraints. So, whatever the medium is that you work in, it’s always good to give yourself different restraints to work with and it fosters creativity. So, I enjoy that aspect of it, trying to write in a different way. And some of the ways that I think are important when writing that way I already kind of naturally do, whether it’s consistency of metered melody or whatever.

So, that’s different. And then, I’m not writing with a band. I wrote a lot of songs in a very short period of time, trying to get ready for the record. I realized that I can’t really finish songs without having a deadline – I’m just so used to writing for records. I’ve managed to do a couple of other songs without writing for a record, but they still had a deadline whether it was like my wife’s birthday or we’re starting some new series and I’m writing a song for it. I have to have a set deadline to make me finish it.

I wrote the record and then we recorded it with a couple of musicians that we knew or the producer knew. So the recording process was pretty different, where we would take my song and do a full arrangement of it within a day and have 70% of the song tracked. A lot of spontaneity. A lot of cool things captured in that process. And I did co-write a song with Stuart Townend who wrote some great modern hymns – “In Christ Alone”, “How Deep the Father’s Love” – so that was awesome.

Ryan: The sound, musically, is a lot different from what you’ve done in the past – whether with the band or even your solo work. How much of the musical tone is influenced by the community you’re a part of there, or just where you’re at personally?

Dustin: I think a lot of it is that it’s a totally different thing. Thrice is a completely different animal. The way we write is very very collaborative and because it’s collaborative, you’ve got 4 minds that are smushing all together. I mean, even Thrice’s sound was changing all the time.

On this, you see a lot of my influence into Thrice songs – where my job was primarily pulling things together into a cohesive whole – to care about song structure and melody in general. So, I think that’s the reason it’s very melodic and also, just the fact of asking “what is the purpose of the song?” And so this is something that I’ve carried over of learning through the years of Thrice is that you really want the song to match the lyric well – the actual music and the melody. So there’s still that interplay as I was writing this record. A song, “Come Lord Jesus”, had a different chord [progression] and a different melody, but what I was trying to tackle was just too large for one song. Do I narrowed it down and it really changed the tone of what was going on so it got a bit darker as a result.

Ryan: I think every church environment is different and probably when a worship leader goes out and picks up a record off the shelf, they’re listening to it with (at least a little bit) the lens of “Could we bring this to our church?” So, question about this record: How much of the songs on there are songs that y’all sing corporately at Mars Hill and was there any thought given to the transferability for someone else to come in, pick up this record and transfer these songs to their environment?

Dustin: Yeah, those are great questions. 10 of 11 of those songs are meant to be sung in corporate worship. “It’s Not Enough” is the exception to that. And, definitely, thought is given to how they transfer. What we’re trying to do is to make the record a really, really great record – a record that people are going to want to listen to over and over. And that’s really helpful… because music that you listen to over and over is forming us and transforming us for good or bad. If the lyrics are not great, you’re actually harming people as you reinforce false ideas or false emphasis. So, it’s really important that at the foundation of the songs that the lyrics are solid, but then that the songs are really great and the record is really great so that people want to listen to it.

And then, what we’ve done to try to show people that they do work in a broader context, we have “how-to” videos that we do for the songs online, just going through “here’s the structure,” “here’s the basic chords.” And then, also, this time we’re doing 8 of the songs with a stripped-down, acoustic band: acoustic guitar, bass, drums, piano and that’s it. Just showing, here’s a way that you can break it down and build it back up from there. Just trying to strip away the idea that if it might sound intimidating on the song – say there’s 3 keyboard parts or something – showing that it’s really not that complicated.

Ryan: And you’re doing all of those as videos? I know I saw “Rejoice” the acoustic video this week.

Dustin: Yeah, so we’ll be releasing those kind of staggered every week.

Ryan: Is there anybody that you look to, or artists that you pick up songs from and incorporate into what you guys are doing?

Dustin: We do mostly hymns, or hymn re-writes, or originals in our services. Not at all saying “hey, we don’t like everyone else’s music,” it’s just developed that way over time and it’s kind of become part of the culture of the church. There’s a song here or there that we’ll pull in. Stuart Townend stuff is some of our staples. “In Christ Alone” and “How Deep” are some modern ones we do all the time. “Before the Throne” which is an old song but with a new melody from Vikki Cook. Those are still very hymn-esque.

Every now and then there’s a song that we’ll pull in. But I think, more and more, as we have the label and we’re writing together as a church we’ll be pulling more and more from what we’re doing here. And I think there’s a lot of reasons that is good for us. I think, theologically, there’s not a lot of stuff out there that we’re going to land – at least in as far as how things are emphasized in the songs. Or there are songs that you think are really good songs, but the vibe of this [may not be able to transfer to where we’re at].

And then on top of that, we’re really trying to manage the pace at which we’re writing new songs and recording so it’s not like a firehose as we try to incorporate these new songs. Like, I had a lot of originals on this. I won’t have nearly as many on the next one. I’ll try to share some of those that we’ve done in the church before that maybe weren’t featured on a larger recording, do some more hymns.

Ryan: I’m sure that the transition has created a lot of interesting opportunities for conversations with people both inside and outside the church regarding stereotypes and expectations. Are there any of those conversations that stand out in your mind?

Dustin: I’ve been encouraged – and this is what I hoped would be the case – I’ve been encouraged that there are a lot of people who have listened to my work in the past and have respect for me who have good things to say about this, even though they don’t agree. There’s a fair amount of people who seem to be able to distinguish between someone’s beliefs and them as a person or artist. And I think that’s been good and I hope that there’s fruit from that in the same way that there has been from the Thrice music where there’s relationship and interaction that gets fostered over time between the artist and the listener. I know a fair amount of people who have gotten used to the music that I’ve made to bring them the knowledge of Jesus. So, I hope that this would do it for those who are willing to see it. And it’s also going to be interesting for some of those people in that I’m really writing about the same stuff, it’s just a lot more exposed and polished.

Interview :: Chris Carrabba

Chris Carrabba is the lead singer of the bands Twin Forks, though he is probably most known for his work as Dashboard Confessional. He has also served as lead singer for Further Seems Forever at two different times during their tenure over the last 15 years. He is an artist whose music has left an indelible mark on my life and it was a great pleasure to speak with him about his new band.

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Audio has been split into two parts. Part two appears further down the page.

Chris Carrabba Interview pt.1

answers have been minimally edited for the sake of clarity
Ryan: You’ve been really adamant – at least in a couple of interviews that I saw – about deflecting the spotlight away from yourself and onto your new band; even refusing to be billed as “Chris Carrabba and Twin Forks.” So, my question is, what does this band’s identity mean to you as someone whose personal identity has been so wrapped up in what you’ve done previously?

Chris: That’s a really good question. I guess a simpler way for me to answer that – and then you can tell me the question again and see if I got anywhere close the answer – is, my reasoning for doing it is [that] I’m really grateful for the fan base that built my career in the first place and I don’t want to trade on their loyalties by pulling a “bait and switch”, saying “you’re gonna have to like this because it’s that thing you were attached to previously.” So that’s the reason I decided I really wanted to try to [do it this way]. And I think the band is, frankly, really good. We survive on our own merit, despite the fact that many of us have been in other bands that were popular.

Ryan: Is there an element of “ownership” about that? Because I believe everybody probably kind of saw Further Seems Forever as something you were a part of, but then Dashboard Confessional wasyou.And then this is more of a collective, creatively maybe, even?

Chris: It is. I would say in this instance I wrote most of the songs mostly myself with some exceptions and I can name a few – “Cross My Mind” was a collaboration, “Kiss Me Darlin'” was a collaboration. It wasn’t exclusively my writing. The only reason it happened to be my writing over others on this go-round simply boils down to the fact that, I think, I kind of sussed out what we were very early on (or could be) and was able to zero in on it very quickly. Quicker, maybe, than the other bandmates were able to. And I feel really grateful that they were able to trust me to do that.

Then when it came to arrangements there was massive collaboration. As a matter of fact, the way we did it was I would write songs – and that’s not to say there was no collaboration on the ones I wrote “myself”. Jonathan [Clark] or Ben [Homola] would come into the room and go, “yeah, that’s not good,” or “oh, that’s great,” or “oh, hey hey, that line right there…” So, great “in the moment” criticism that really directed the songs.

And Jonathan produced the record, and so he’s heavily involved in the arrangement. And Ben co-produced the record with me and Jonathan, so it was a collaborative effort in every sense except that maybe I wrote the first pass in this sense. So, I [would] record the guitar riff and the vocal and we would listen to it and then all get in a room together and play it live. And we don’t only listen to it a few times you know in the hours between [when] I recorded it and when we got together in the garage.

The thing I love the best – and I’ve said it before, so at risk of repeating myself – is that I really wanted that element of a “live moment” to be preserved. So you can actually hear our reactions all over the record. You can hear me go “oot!” when Ben did a fill or “alright!” ’cause Jonathan did some sort of run or you know you hear all these great things. You hear laughing all over the tracks because somebody nearly got something fantastic and we all laughed. And we’ll go back and all listen and it was even better than we thought. And that’s all over the tracks. You know, we did go back and overdub, but it was essential for us to keep the live tracking as the centerpiece to what we would build around.

So, now that all being said, that was a long long answer to say that now as we’re writing going forward it’s become much more collaborative because everybody (with the touchstone of a finished record) can say “This kind of song is a Twin Forks song and this kind of song isn’t.” And I think that’s important for a band to have an identity. Now, you should be able to stretch far and wide within the identity that you set for yourself, but it is important to have your own identity – something you can hang your hat on and say “This is what our band is.”

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Ryan: I think that identity kind of drives a bunch of these questions… You know folk and Americana music is kind of the en vogue thing right now. I wonder what brought you to this genre, given what we’ve heard from you in the past?

Chris: Well, I think what you’ve heard from me in the past was not me neglecting my influences (which are folk music, before punk rock or hardcore). I think, what they were was me wanting to use those influences, while not using the templates of the songs as the influence. A lot of what folk music is – and you can push these boundaries far and wide – but it is like a tradition. I guess there is, you know, a bit of a traditional template to the kind of songs. There’s Celtic and bluegrass, then there’s eventually folk and protest and I think even all the way up to punk rock there’s a direct lineage if you ask me.

So, it’s en vogue now, you’re right, but when I began this project… I mean, I just couldn’t have imagined (I think I could have believed it,but I just couldn’t have imagined) [that folk would be so popular]. There was a definitely powerful underground indie scene of folk that’s been long-running that I’ve been enjoying for a long time and felt a part of if even though the music I played wasn’t folk, necessarily. But it was acoustic-based and it was rooted in having grown up listening to folk music. But, I don’t know about you, but I would not have put money on the single biggest band in the world being a folk band. So, I don’t know if that’s good for us or bad for us. I just know that we love what we do.

Ryan: And I think that ya’ll bring something a little bit unique to it. I am hearing the traditional sounds, but also the Celtic sound that you mentioned and maybe even a little ’80s new wave in there?

Chris: Yeah, well, I’m never going to get away from The Cure too far. You know, those are some of the biggest influences that I had… these melodies that are so infused in your life and then song structures and things from years of listening to music, like the Talking Heads was such a massive influence on me growing up and, or “influence” wasn’t the right term. I didn’t know it at the time.

Bob Dylan, I remember, before I got into punk. The way I got into punk was an older kid told me “Listen to Operation Ivy,” and it changed my life. And the same thing happened in the back of a school bus. This kid said – and this is earlier than punk rock – he said “Hey, you like music?” And I said, “Yeah, I really like music.” He said, “Listen to Bob Dylan.” I didn’t know who Bob Dylan was, but because my mother had the record of his, I was able to dig in and had this like voracious appetite, you know. And at first, I was like “This is terrible.” But I kept listening because I thought that kid was cool. I was like, “That kidknows something. He knows something.” And eventually I cracked the code.

I remember listening to Fleetwood Mac and that became one of the most powerful influences in my life, even to my style of guitar playing. Not that I would put myself in his category, but the “travis picking” style Lindsey Buckingham does is the way I play, post-Dashboard. That’s a big influence on me too.

I think we’re playing this kind of music because it gives us an opportunity to – with very limited accoutrements (if you’ll forgive it) – to portray all the things that we’ve learned along the way. And I think that if you do that with like electric guitars or keyboards or stuff like that, you’re just trying to be flashy. You boil it down to just some hand-played instruments that aren’t electrified and can never be, it’s hard to over do it, you know. It’s almost impossible. It’s almost impossible not to be tasteful.

Ryan: And it allows the song to speak for itself, rather than the sound to necessarily define it.

Chris: Yeah, and I’ve had that… I’ve made that mistake before. I’ve had that song that I thought, “This is a pretty good song. ‘Cause once you get in there with all the stuff it will sound awesome” – and then that really doesn’t work.

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Chris Carrabba Interview pt. 2

Ryan: As a professional musician for well over a decade – kind of turning the corner – what’s the difference between trying to launch a band now in 2013 versus where you were 15 years ago and trying to launch a band?

Chris: Good question. I mean, because we’re not trading on our names, it’s not too different. We’re playing really small rooms. We’re traveling in a van. We’re getting paid very little, if at all. So, in that regard, it’s a very similar thing.

On the other hand, we’ve got a loyal following, some of whom will be interested in this band. So that’s like a little leg up, I guess that we have. Although, maybe that’s a little like what I had coming out of Further Seems Forever and having some fans follow me.

But I’ll tell you, probably the biggest advantage we have is you’re speaking to me right now about my record. And that didn’t happen [until] well into my Dashboard career. [It wasn’t until I] had sold a lot of records, had sold a lot of tickets, before anybody really knew about me, [no one] really wanted to talk to me, or I had anybody that was really willing to say “Call this kid. He’s worth talking to.”

Ryan: Are you a “technology guy”? Are ya’ll leaning in on that? …I haven’t seen a whole lot of technology push from the band, proper. I’ve seen a lot of coverage: Rolling Stone, Billboard last week. Is that right?

Chris: Yeah, I mean, I’m feast or famine with that stuff. My bandmates are too, I think. I think we make certain mistakes that we should be more savvy about, like the week before going on tour we should just be blowing everything up. But instead, we’re spending hours in the garage trying to make sure we’re just that much better everyday so that  the people that are gonna come see us will want to invite their friends next time.

Ryan: So, this is where you’re at. This is your band. This is what you’re doing right now. As you set out on tour, what does the set look like? Are you playing any old material? Are you doing any cover songs? Are you solely honing in on this moment in your career or are you kind of building the setlist – because you are so new – with older material?

Chris: We do quite a lot of our songs – Twin Forks songs – because it is the internet and they age. In a sense we’ve done them a few times. They’ve gotten a lot of reviews and a lot of requests. We did a tour EP and that had four songs on it. Then we have this EP coming out which a lot of people have heard and that has five songs on it. So, there’s a good amount of songs that people know.

Then there’s covers. We’ve released a favorite song of mine from growing up by Hank Williams, called “I Saw the Light”. We just put it out for free the other day and we’ll continue to probably release a couple of more covers probably before or as the tour goes on. So we’ll do covers. I’ve always done covers in every band I’ve ever been in. I really love covers. It’s the closest I get to karaoke, I guess. I really love doing that stuff. It’s like that euphoric, “Anything could happen here! We could crash and burn.”

Ryan: So you’re saying “Don’t Stop Believing” is your closing song?

Chris: We did that in Further Seems Forever, if you can believe that. But, no, that’s not our closer in this band. And in regards to the Dashboard stuff – which people are wondering about whether we’ll play it or not. All I can say is, we don’t really plan to play it. We end up playing it, on occasion. I think those occasions are the ones [where] we really feel like we got… we really succeeded in communicating to the audience who Twin Forks is. As opposed to the other way around where we’re like “We’re not getting them quick [enough, play the hits].” (Please, please. I use that term knowing that we’ve never truly had “hits”, but we had some songs that moved the needle a bit.) So for me, if I had a rule of thumb, that’s kind of it. I do it, but I do it when the audience… well, where we’ve succeeded… if we’ve succeeded in proving ourselves to the audience as the band we are.

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The band is on tour now and will be on the road through mid-December. They have a full-length album that should be making its way to us early next year and don’t miss their cover of Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light” available at American Songwriter. Keep up with their latest info on Facebook.