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

UK Worship EPs that are worth a listen

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I’m always on the look out for new music that no-one has heard before, but rarely do I achieve this.  With streaming at our finger tips, there are plenty of new bands and artists that we listen to each week that are truly brilliant.  As a worship leader I’m often keen to include lesser known songs into my set list to give a broader perspective of songwriters to the church.  So, in light of this I’ve decided to review three artists that I think are worthy of your ears.  Each has a feature song and a link to their Spotify album/EP. 

Danny O’Callaghan: Son Of My Father

If you’ve been to David’s Tent in the UK, then you’ll definitely have heard this man’s name.  This long awaited EP carries the same intensity of seeing O’Callaghan lead worship live.  It’s all in, it’s passionate, it’s prophetic.  When listening to these songs, all you want to do is immerse yourself in the experience, as if you’re in the room with Danny and the band.  You could see them recording all in one big room and creating this incredible vibe.  The drum tone and reverb-ed guitars (which have a very distinct sound throughout) carry the core of Danny’s sound, but there’s piano and vocal effects which add such edge.

It’s hard to pinpoint which song is a favourite, but I’m landing on “Ashes.”  It’s dark, vibey and showcases Danny’s lower register.  The song transitions through the gears beautifully without getting too big too soon.  I love the line “Hope is rising from the ashes” as a statement, and with this the song transitions, then breaks open.  I could listen to this all day.

Sons Of My Father – http://spoti.fi/2qmg15h 

Tom McConnell: Every Nation Under Heaven

What’s not to like about Tom McConnell, the friendly bearded Northern Irishman?  I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Tom over the last year or so, and we ended up co-writing a song that’s appearing on my new record. 

Tom’s EP “Every nation under heaven” is a four track folk/ acoustic worship recording.  His voice is excellent throughout – crisp and clear – with haunting background vocals (likely sung himself). 

There’s something quite poetic about his writing style, one that is rich in lyrical content, which encourages the listener to re-wind and re-think what is being sung about.

My favourite song on the recording is “Boldly to approach” which takes you through a percussive beginning (perhaps referencing Gotye’s “Somebody I Used to Know”) to simple but profound chorus’ and once again the haunting backing vocals.  You can see how this song can lead people in worship either personally at home, or in a church setting. 

Every Nation Under Heaven – http://spoti.fi/2rWVWUB

Josh Gauton: As The Waters Rise

Josh Gauton of Worship Central released the EP “As The Waters Rise” in 2016 and since seeing him live a few months back, the EP has been one of the few albums that have remained in my car. 

It’s becoming more rare to see a three piece play live, and yet Gauton achieved a sound that matched much of that of the EP.  If boxed into a genre I’d describe him as indie/ alternative with high airy vocals, and tasteful use of arpeggiated synths and Moog. 

The favourite from this EP is “Smokes And Mirrors.” As a songwriter, often my favourite parts of songs are the pre-chorus’ simply because they allow heightened anticipation for the chorus to break open.   As with all the material on this EP, the use of space in the tracks significantly aid the songs.  It’s tempting to over produce when you’re in the studio, but Gauton holds back, choosing only the best instrumentation to define his sound.

As The Waters Rise – http://spoti.fi/2rX3Sow

Whatever your music taste, there should be something here for you. Have a listen, comment, and share. And most importantly, listen to what God has to say to you through the music.

Pete

Called.

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If there’s one thing that Christians know how to wax lyrical about, it’s calling. I asked Pete how he would describe calling and he said this:

“It’s an overused term. I think everyone has a form of life calling on them, generally to do with your passion and that’s a God given gift. I identified my calling because I saw someone else doing it and I wanted to do what they did. As a 13 year old, watching other worship leaders really inspired me and I think God puts a passion in you but often you need someone else to point it out to you.”

I’m telling you this, because I believe wherever you are on your faith journey, discovering your calling is key to living a fulfilled life. Pete’s story is a prime example of this.

If you take a look at our first post, you will see a brief overview of how Pete came into worship and his current position in C3. But this week I went back to the interviewing drawing board and asked some more specific questions about his leadership journey.

In 2009, Pete had been touring in the US  – about nine months before starting the job as worship pastor at C3. During that time he got the opportunity to lead worship on the last night of a church gathering which was quite large. It was a very powerful night – people were getting saved and the Spirit was really moving. But for Pete, the most powerful thing was that he felt God speaking to him really clearly about leading worship full time. He remembers going away and being in awe of this, but confused as to how it was going to happen.  Before heading home the the UK, he had received a prophetic word from a trusted friend while in the States. That friend had told him that he would be in a medium sized church, used by God in the next season to invest in the church and build the church up in worship. The friend told Pete that he believed he would be offered a job to lead worship in a church in the next 6-12 months.

“I’m very nervous about prophetic words with timelines,” Pete said, remembering back, “but so was this friend of mine. And I could tell by the way that he said it, that he would not have been that specific if he hadn’t really felt that he was hearing it from God. So I took it seriously.”

During this time, Pete started to look for worship pastor jobs. At the time, there were no more than 20 of the positions that existed in the country, so finding one that was open seemed like an impossible task. He didn’t know how it was going to happen. What he did know was that it was probably not going to be at the church in which he was currently based. Two days before his sister’s wedding, Pete was chatting to a friend who asked how the London life was going, and whether he would be interested in moving to Cambridge.

“This guy said to me that there was a worship pastor job going at this church and that he had thought of me. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it. I had known of C3, I had even been to the worship academy they held. I also had a bit of relationship with Steve (the Senior Pastor of C3). So I thought that I needed to go with it, especially since it fit the word that my other friend had given me.”

Pete explains that he was the least qualified out of the three candidates, but the leadership saw his heart, his passion, and invited him onto team anyway.

This last part is really where I am struck. Pete was not the most qualified for the position. On paper, he was probably not the most likely candidate. But calling trumps qualification. Every time. Biblically speaking, time and again, we see those who are not qualified, called into positions of leadership. Daniel, David, Moses, Noah, Paul, Ruth, Esther… the list is endless.

I think it’s also important to note that Pete McAllen is one of the most hard working people I have ever met. He invests time into his calling. He practises, works on his weaknesses, hones his strengths and priorities God in amongst all of it (see our first post about the importance of personal relationship with Jesus). Calling is not an excuse or a justification for not working hard. In fact, with a calling often comes a mandate to invest all of yourself into wherever God is taking you. I think as Christians, we need to rebuild the significance of the word ‘calling’. We need to look at it, not as an assumed birth right, but as a gift – both a privilege and a responsibility.

The beauty of our faith is that when we give everything of ourselves to Jesus, the passions and pursuits of our heart, fall in line with the calling that God has placed on our lives.

I encourage you to think on your calling. If you don’t know what it is, start with your passions. What do you love? How can you worship God through it? How can God use you in it? What’s stopping you from pursuing it? What are you willing to risk for it?

Just something to think about…

SH

The Artisan Soul, a review

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“Fear is the Shadow of creativity. When we choose to create, we bring light to our fears.”

Erwin Raphael McManus

The Artisan Soul is a book for creatives. In saying that, in accordance with the premise of the book, it is therefore a book for everyone. McManus states that we are all actually creatives simply because we have been created and to create is a part of being human. He stands against the popular belief that creativity is a skill limited to the elite few who label themselves artists and live well off that. He argues that the human soul is creative and we just need to give ourselves the freedom and the grace to tap into it.

As a writer, my heart soars when I read this book. There is a huge sense of relief, a weight lifted off my shoulders. His words bring comfort to the forming artist inside me. As it turns out, I don’t have to earn my title by being successful in my ‘field’. In fact, failure (or lack of recognition perhaps) is often a part of art. In order to be an artist, a creative, I need to be bold enough to claim it and then make it a part of my life.

I asked a friend of mine recently how he decided to take the risk of trying to make a profession of his art. He is a photographer by trade and I worded the question along the lines of “How did you decide to BE a photographer… to live your art.” This friend tends to be philosophical almost all the time and so rather than answering my question directly he said this:

I do not want to be labelled by one specific type of art. I am an artist, not a photographer because, although photography is what I am currently doing, have a knack for and I’m being paid for, it is not the only thing that makes me an artist. My artisan soul can manifest itself in anything I decided to put my mind to – any medium I chose. I’m  not saying that I would be an expert in every artistic field, but rather that the type of art I produce is not the goal. The goal is to express my creativity because that is what drives me – that’s what drives all artists.

This book speaks along the same lines. In finding our individual voices, our mediums, what we love, we learn to express the artisan soul within us. To call yourself an artist is not pretentious, nor does it create the expectation that you have to become famous for your art. It should make your heart flutter, make you sit up straighter, make you want to form something, in whatever way you want to express it.

McManus says “to create is to be human. To create is to fulfil our divine intention. To create is to reflect the image of God. To create is an act of worship. So, who is an artist? Anyone with a soul.”

With his book, McManus is changing the face of creativity in the faith-world. And I believe those of us who feel the significance of creativity in our lives already, are standing with him.

SH

Purchase The Artisan Soul on Amazon at http://amzn.to/2poAGJF

Listen Up

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I like listening. As a quiet person I have a lot of time to listen – to music, to people, to the world around me. I love hearing stories more than I love telling them and I reckon this is often mistaken for me being either antisocial or intimidated by social situations, but it is my belief that one of the greatest forms of love we can show to one another is listening and giving people the space and time to tell their story and be vulnerable with us. I know, in any position I’m in, whether that’s on top of the world or at the bottom of the pile, I would appreciate the time to speak my mind.

Like most people, I often listen to music while I work or feel like I have to, to get me in my ‘zone’. More often than not,  I find myself getting lost in the music and losing focus on the task ahead of me. Sometimes this is a good thing and at other times it is, well, not so good and can have very negative consequences. For example, if you have a deadline in two days and you’ve spent the last hour choreographing your performance to Bruno Mars’ latest album, that can be a problem.  To make matters worse, from a young age I have been so fascinated with music that I not only get lost in it, but I also start to analyse it without even thinking twice about it.

For the majority of life I have avoided conflict and debate (even when necessary), simply by listening to what the other person has to say and walking away. The keyword here being I listened. The reasons for walking away from debate is when the rational exchange of ideas becomes a screaming match.  Why walk away? Because what tends to happen in scenarios like this, is that two or more parties end up expressing their views with one purpose: to be heard over everyone else. Are we willing to be educated beyond our current beliefs?  “I hear you but…” is a phrase often thrown around in these situations. We may be heard, but are we listened to? Are you willing to engage with me, the way that I’m engaging with you?

Too often, we listen to what needs only to be heard, and only hear what needs to be listened to.

What do you listen to? The big voices of the media telling you who to be and how to live, or the smaller voice of your brother, your sister, your friend, who needs help, who needs someone to listen? What do you listen to? The voices of those telling you to give up, or the One True Voice that says “I have a plan to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future”. When we walk in the path that God has for us, life has a natural rhythm and flow, even when times get hard (because they will) we find inspiration and strength in what we do. However there will be other voices, that seem to shout over the promises God has for us and they will make themselves heard, but, the choice we have to make is what are we going to choose to listen to. Each and every one of us has a God given gift and plan and the potential for greatness. That is fact.  It is down to us to listen to what needs to be listened to and hear what only needs to be heard.

JC