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?
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!