The Soundtracks of a New Season

A few weeks ago I took the leap of faith to begin a journey as a full time artist (musician artist, to clarify, not the new Picasso).  I’ve been listening to a lot of songs.  Here are some that have been inspiring me.

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Seasons Change (feat. Michael Ketterer) by United Pursuit

Seasons Change has been a permanent fixture on my playlist for some time.  It’s a reminder that God is the seed planter, asking us to build with Him, trusting Him for the rain in transitions and change.  The writer puts it so well “Though the seasons change, Your love remains” a line that has given me hope, healing and then the courage to step forward into the unknown

 Here Now by Hillsong United

Hillsong London visited our church on Sunday night, and played Here Now live.  I was struck by the chorus again “Here now, still my heart, let Your voice be all I hear now.  Here now, fix my eyes on things that I can’t see now.  Spirit breathe like the wind come have Your way.” Over these months the cry of my heart has been inspired by one of Paul’s many prayers in the New Testament “to know God better”.  When everything else is uncertain, knowing the One who was, is and will always be, is the firmest of all foundations.

 Give Thanks To God by Allan McKinlay and Pete Crockett.  Rehashed by Housefires

We heard Allan play this at our worship team retreat earlier in the year (thanks Allan for coming all the way down from Glasgow), and since then several of the team have commented how the song impacted them.  I love how Housefires have taken this, stuck it on their latest album and added the tag “You’re always good, You’re always good to me.  What a great cover to an already strong song.

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King Of My Heart by Sarah McMillan

A bit of a theme continuing here, but in this song it’s the bridge that gets me every time.  You’re never gonna let, never gonna let me down.”  Such a strong song, sung everywhere it seems, in the UK at the moment!  We’re regularly singing it at home as we go about every day life.  Some songs can say it so well in such few words, this is one.

New Day by Life Worship (NZ)

Nearly three years ago we were in New Zealand and met up with the worship pastor at Life Church, Auckland.  He kindly took us out for lunch and gave us their latest album (at the time).  This song has been playing in our car so often, and the more I hear it the more it inspires me to step forward in faith.  It’s helped me to pray in the early days of choosing this new path, something I personally really needed.  The chorus says “It’s a new day, faith is rising, faith is rising. It’s a new day, God is with us.  As we step out often with follows us, and indeed the knowing of God being with us.

Burn Bright by Tom Smith

Probably the most energetic track on the playlist, this anthem is uncompromising in statement and the perfect get up and get on with it song.  The music says as much as the lyrics, with it’s MuteMath instrumentation. Every time I listen to this, I wake up a bit, especially good to listen to before playing live.

Every Cell by Brock Human

The music, the space, the simplicity.  Every cell in me must respond, to the rhythm of Your heart” pretty much says it all. The song even inspired a tiny part of one of my new album tracks (yet to be released) as we worshipped with it while recording. 

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Mention Of Your Name by Jenn Johnson

Stunning production, and a perfect intro song to Brian and Jenn Johnson’s latest alum “After All These Years”.  The strings carry a sense of majesty working in sync with the vocoder style vocals (reminding me of Imogen Heap).  For me, this is one of Jenn Johnson’s finest vocal takes on an album.

Glorious by Samuel Lane

Musically this song stirs my soul, sounding like it was originally born out of a  spontaneous moment.  Sam Lane’s voice is excellent, but it’s the passion that provokes my heart.  I love the build and guitars.  Without doubt a must for those who love worship being a little more, let’s say roar!

All I Am by Pete McAllen

Slightly weird adding one of my own songs to the list, but it’s true I’ve been listening to it, singing it in the shower.  This song was written as a prayer of surrender, mixed with a longing for more.  “I have tasted and seen all Your goodness to me, yet there’s so much more, that my heart longs for” sums it up. The journey has been rich, but in God there is always more.

Bonus Track – Devotion by Worship Central

We’ve been playing this one in church, and I just love it. Take a listen.

Spotify “Leap Of Faith Playlist”: http://spoti.fi/2u1HPOP 

You’d think that with a theme like “Leap of faith” I’d have more rousing songs, but instead it’s been the spacious reflective tracks that have spoken to me the most.  Here’s to the new season!

 

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The Summer of Gigging

19059108_10213412911936205_5099458339399265710_nAs an independent artist, you need to get creative in order for people to hear your music. Yes there is Spotify and YouTube, and there are festivals and larger gigs. But my heart for this new album is to help people engage in their own personal worship with God and so, House-gigging has become a part of my album journey. I did this with great success with my last album, and will probably do it for future albums too. Over the last two weeks I’ve spent the weekends playing in the lounges, a garden and a shop of friends and fans. The Summer of Gigging has officially begun.

Playing in front of hundreds is a lot easier than a handful of people in a lounge. You learn a lot about the people you are playing for when it’s up close and personal. The anonymity and distance of the stage doesn’t exist. You experience a real vulnerability (hmmm… sounds like a good name for an album…).  So as I packed up the car and drove the short journey to St Ives I felt nervous.  It’s rare that I’m not nervous before playing, but this particular time I had crammed nine songs from my new album into the set list, and was certain a mistake or two would be made.  

In a generation where Netflix is king, I really value people coming out to listen to live music, particularly an artist they had never heard of before. It’s comforting to know that even though instant gratification is fashionable, good old fashioned listening and appreciating music as it gets made, will never really go out of style.

I suppose what I love the most about house-gigging is how each experience is unique. That’s the benefit of entering someone else’s space – you never quite know what it will be like and it’s guaranteed to be different to the last one. So here’s a little expose of the last few weeks.

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Jodies House (St Ives)

Intimacy. The evening sun streamed gently through the windows of the conservatory. The twelve of us made ourselves comfortable on an array of couches, mattresses and cushions. You could hear the creak of each chord change, the breath in my voice and see my facial expressions for any bum notes.  They listened to my stories with interest and by the end, I could see that the songs had made a difference.  Music has incredible power, and this night showed how it can unite a diverse group of people. 

Paul & Jan’s House (Gorleston)

Home.  Returning to Paul and Jan’s house made us feel particularly relaxed, and, well, at home.  We knew around half of the people who had joined us for the first house gig hosted here some sixteen months earlier.  People wore slippers, chilled in the deep sofa’s – you get the idea – the sense of community was fantastic!  This was certainly a bunch of friends enjoying time together listening to music.  Personally I loved the night because our sixth month old daughter, Lilja joined in for the first few songs before bed time.  What’s not to love about that as a new dad?!

Ruth’s House (Milton Keynes)

Banter.  Gardens certainly have a different vibe to lounges, and this garden was full of fun and laughter.  After the amazing BBQ, I settled in my little gazebo and began playing songs.  Little did I know that two of the kids there crept up behind me and started miming as if playing in the band (or mocking me – I couldn’t work it out).  What followed was several moments of banter between me, the kids and the rest of the people there.  With big crowds you simply can’t hear the banter back and forth, but it was a pleasure to get to know new friends in MK.  Plus, I played a completely unplugged version of a new song “Father, Father” right in the middle of where people were sitting. Talk about intimate.

SOAR (Luton)

Voices.  So, technically this wasn’t a house, but it is my first time playing in a shop.  SOAR is a charity shop, making a difference with the most vulnerable in the centre of Luton.  After only a couple of songs I could hear these fine people singing along to the chorus’ without having to tell them how they went.  Pretty awesome for any musician.  So I decided to teach a new song, and we just went off on one, singing beyond the song and encountering God’s presence.  When people are up for it, it’s more than ok to scrap the planned set list.  With people watching on from the road, and stepping into the shop, this was by far the most diverse of the nights.  

I look forward to what the rest of the Summer has in store for me as I travel with my music. It’s a real privilege to be used by God to bring worship into people’s home. I love the intimacy, the banter, the sense of home and family, and love, love, love it when we can sing together.  Thanks each and every one of you for having me.

Want me to play at your house?  Send me an email, I’ll get it direct and promise to respond: info@petemcallen.com

Pete

Lessons learnt from the Gungors

 

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Two weeks past, I found myself in a large stately home, in an awkward shaped circle of song writers anticipating an entrance.  Michael and Lisa Gungor, “fresh” from disembarking their chronically delayed BA flight from LA, wandered casually into the room.  “Well I guess we should start – is there anyone here that’s meant to kick this thing off?” said Michael Gungor.  Nervous shrugs responded (I’m guessing a few, including me, were a little in awe).  We were all ready to hear from the experts.

Two years ago I saw Gungor lead worship at Big Church Day Out’s Worship Conversation, followed by a live acoustic video recording in Wiston Chapel late into the evening.  If I wasn’t a fan before, (which I was) then this would have cemented it.  A year later we encountered them again, live with a string quartet at GraceLand festival in the Netherlands. We just happened to be on the same bill and all four of my band members, myself included, had jaws permanently on the floor! 

As artists Gungor are one of a kind.  Unexpected. Awe inspiring. Yet, in person, both Michael and Lisa are humble and as authentic as they get.

Once they were settled in their lavish-looking chairs, the floor was opened for questions. The first question up focussed on their faith and church context.  This lead to a conversation about Michael’s loss of belief in there being a God.  He described how he saw God as “God”  – a concept and not real, for quite some time. The wrestle in his heart as a performer and post-worshiper.  Titling himself as “Michael the scientist”, he detailed the wrestle on his journey of faith verses the intense questioning of the reality of God.  How could he perform at Christian events with the belief that God was only “God”?  How could he have believed all this for years? Why did he return to believing God was not the inverted comma God?  I think most in the room could only admire a man of depth so openly explaining the wrestles of his heart. 

One of my all time favourite songs of Gungor’s is “Vapor”.  Perhaps this is a song that describes his return to faith allowing some questions to remain unanswered?

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Finally I stumbled out a question about  how the couple co-wrote together.  Clearly Michael has strong opinions, and while a joy to listen to, I could imagine in a songwriting context, sitting next to a becoming-living-legend artist, might be quite intimidating.  How does Lisa (hugely talented in her own right, with a stunning voice) handle the differing pressures of marriage and co-writing? 

Her response – “I had to learn to be less sensitive”.  And his –  “I had to learn to not say no to her ideas!”

Often Lisa Gungor would be playing piano and while coming up with parts ask what husband Michael thought.  His response (smiling) – “If I didn’t like it, I would be like – it’s nice!  And leave it there.” 

He continued by describing how certain songs could only be written by the artist, and the artist only.  Some songs have such a personal nature or journey that said songwriter could only  traverse.  Personally, as one who struggles to sometimes co-write (let alone share the first draft of songs) I could identify.  Stories followed of times when he would be in a writing session with a certain unnamed artist in Nashville.  The writer would continually stop and ask “But what would the people think?  Do you think they would like it?”  Both Gungors only wants to write what resonates with heart, soul, journey and dreams.  This other writer decided on a destination of demographic, not heart and soul, breath and feel.

What a lesson for us budding writers in the room. For those creatives reading this, find the thing that drives your creativity and keep it at the forefront of your passion – that’s where the integrity of your art will sit. Don’t be swayed by the expectations of what your art ‘should’ look like. God’s calling on your creativity is bigger than that.

As for me, I want to write out of connection with God, that resonates with my heart.  I want to write out of honesty and authenticity.  This, we can be sure is what the duo Gungor truly do – they are true to themselves.  It was a pleasure to be in their company. 

P.S. Here’s my “Favourite Gungor Songs” playlist: http://spoti.fi/2rveNcR Take a listen!

 

Pete

Jake Isaac @ The Islington 4th May

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“Before gigs people always ask if I’m nervous, I’m like no; I came to have fun.”

2 years since his last EP, Jake Isaac returns with his debut album ‘Our Lives’. Supporting the South London, singer-songwriter on the night was Joel Baker, delivering soulful performances of some of his originals including ‘Every Vessel Every Vein’ which was one my favourite tracks of his on the night. Baker entertained the crowd throughout his set not only with his music but with stand up and comedy weaved into his songs.

The intimate venue, The Islington, quickly drew in quite a crowd and as it came nearer the time for Jake Isaac to step to the stage, the room became packed with people and a palpable feeling of anticipation and excitement. Those who had seen Isaac perform previously would have been familiar with his band consisting of drummer Feranmi (Fez), bassist Henry and most recent addition Lydia on electric guitar and percussion. A roar of cheers surged through the crowd as Jake Isaac and his band took to the stage with the introductory track of ‘One and Only’ (track number 9, an up-tempo love song from the new album).

Even though Isaac’s set consisted mostly of songs from his new album ‘Our Lives’, the crowd were with him from start to finish, quickly picking up on hooks singing, clapping and dancing along as though they were familiar with the album. Hearing some of his older tracks was my highlight of the night and you could see the immediate excitement on several faces as Jake sang “People say I’ll never find, just what I’m looking for” the opening line for ‘Long Road” a track we’ve been familiar with since 2013, described by some as his ‘calling card’ to the music industry. One poignant moment came as he described why he wrote the track ‘You and I Always’ for his wife as they’ve recently just given birth to their first child. This heart-warming track captivated everyone in the room and left a few more than teary eyed at the sentiment.

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Jake’s talent writing and performing music is evident, but he pours out passion into his performances and genuinely has fun with what he does and the people he gets to share the stage with. This, I believe, is what many people enjoy about his music and seeing him perform. He embarks on his tour of the UK in September this year, kicking off in Birmingham on 14th September. It’s a tour you do not want to miss.

Listen on Spotify to “Our Lives” – http://spoti.fi/2rac82T

JC

Keys Interview With Producer Iain Hutchison

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Iain Hutchinson is the keys player (and producer) for Pete’s new album “Vulnerability”. During production Pete took a few minutes to interview Iain about the playing for the album. I am going to do my best to present this interview like a professional journalist – But I also want to give you a good word picture of the interview so I’ve included some physical descriptions of the guys while they were talking. Enjoy!

P: Can you tell us about your approach to playing piano on this recording and maybe some recording techniques?

I: Piano is all about tone, it’s more about tone than it is about the notes that you play. I would rather play something simple where the chord attacks the right way and has the right tone so that it just kind of hits you (appropriate hand gesture to indicate impact), and a lot of that is about playing softly. So I actually play on a 100 year old piano that I have here in the studio and I play it very softly, sometimes with the soft pedal down, so that you can get that richness rather than just attacking the thing. So it’s all about tone, about choosing the right voicing and the right chords so that you can get a nice warmth. I think this recording has been about getting that intimate sound on the piano and getting that ‘in the room feel.’

P: We’ve used a variety of techniques in this album. Some being solid chords and progressions of music and then there are other tracks like Day and Night, and The Voice which are different to that. Can you tell us a bit about what you did with Day and Night? 

I: We used the piano more as an effect – also known as a ‘pad’ – it’s more like an atmospheric thing. So we played some fast notes on the piano and then blurred them (appropriate hadn’t gesture representing a blur) and then we used digital effect processing to add delay and reverb and other things to that to blur the lines of the notes so that it becomes more about atmospheric sound.

P: It sounds incredible, hearing it now that it’s finished. What was the most challenging part of playing the piano for this recording? 

I: I think the most challenging part was actually playing synths. You know playing the notes is one thing, but it’s actually about finding the right sound to fit the recording. Our first few attempts at the synth were not working out the way that we wanted, so we had to spend a bit of time really dialling in to find the best sounds that would work for the track. When you find THAT sound all of a sudden, it becomes really easy to find the right notes. The sound is what inspires you and will show you what will fit well to the track so I guess that would be the biggest challenge – Trying to figure out what atmosphere you want to set and so what synth sounds you need to find. It’s also the part of the project that I really enjoy.

P: We spent a lot of time on the synths. We used an interesting instrument to find the sound. What was it called again? 

I: It’s something called an Arp Quartet which is an old analogue string synth from the 70s. We used it through a Strymon reverb pedal (Big Sky) which gives it a huge sense of space. It’s quite a recognisable sound in some ways, as in you’ve probably heard it in a lot of recordings, but it has a great atmosphere about it.

P: At one point you were playing and I was tweaking the sound on the Big Sky (Pete chooses this moment to mime himself using the sound board – and looks a little like a T-rex attempting to pick something up). I felt like I was a keys player for a minute (ahh, that’s what he was trying to mimic… good job dino-pete!). But there are other things we used as well.  We used the Hammond, we used the Rhodes and a small synth patch called Juno. 

I: We have a software recreation of a rolling Juno which is an old analogue synth which has a harder edge sound and is really useful for creating pads and little bass parts.

P: And the Hammond, how many tracks did we use that for? 

I: We used that really subtly in two or three songs. I’ve got a ‘Leslie’ rotating speaker but we haven’t used that in full swing because it would become very organ-like. Again, playing low register on the hammond with low rotation on the speaker gives a good atmospheric sound.

P: Anytime I use the Rhodes, it’s so beautiful. Whenever I come into the studio I like to play a little on it at the start. Well thanks Iain for playing on the record. 

I: it’s been a great project. Thanks for having me as a part of it.

P: (to camera) Thanks guys (thumbs up). 

So there it is, a little glimpse into the production of ‘Vulnerability.’

If you are interested in any of the instruments or even patches that we mentioned in this interview, comment below and we will blog about them!

SH