Interview: Michael Gungor

With something of a ‘cult’ status among Christian music fans, Gungor may be the greatest worship act you’ve never heard of – and they’re a little unusual.  With two Grammy nominations, millions of YouTube views and something of a ‘cult’ status among Christian music fans, Gungor may be the greatest worship act you’ve never heard of – and they’re a little unusual.

Falling loosely in the ‘post-rock’ genre occupied by bands such as Sigur Ros, Gungor create music that is sometimes anthemic in its praise, sometimes painful in its introspective honesty, and always interesting. Featuring everything from glockenspiel, accordion and banjo to beatboxing cellists and electronic interludes, the artists formerly known as the Michael Gungor Band recently wowed UK festivals. We caught up with Michael Gungor to find out what makes him tick.

On your last album, Beautiful Things, there’s a clear divide between your congregational worship music and more quirky stuff. Is that intentional?

On Beautiful Things we would go from straight rock’n’roll to a bluesy gospel thing from song to song. On the new album maybe it moves quicker, so within the same song you’ll have different genres. I think it’s largely due to how I listen to music. I mostly listen to my iPod on shuffle. I don’t know why. I guess I get bored of one sound for a long time. I just appreciate a broad spectrum of music and enjoy playing it.

Do you yourself listen to much congregational worship music in the line of the Tomlins, Redmans, Hillsongs etc?

I should, they’re all friends of mine. But I guess I’ll tell you the truth and say no. I have in the past. But a lot of times the mainstream worship music just doesn’t connect with my soul like a Mahler symphony might. There [have] been times in my life where the congregational music has been more soul-opening for me. I do enjoy listening to [some artists’] congregational worship CDs. But it’s certainly not heavy on my rotation.

Why is that? Has worship music become dumbed down or simplistic?

I just wish there were more options. If it is resonating on a large mainstream scale like that then it obviously works for a lot of people, and I don’t think that negates its usefulness in the world. I personally enjoy people like David Bazan who for me are writing the true laments of our day, more than the people who are saying they are writing Church music. I hope that more artists have the courage to branch out into some themes that historically Christians have been happy to delve into, but for some reason are afraid of today.

People like Jon Foreman, despite successful careers making more mainstream music, often in their solo work turn to lament as well...

I love Jon Foreman. And maybe that kind of stuff doesn’t end up in the mainstream and maybe that’s ok. But I hope that more artists have the courage to explore those areas. They are so biblical. I mean, you read through the Psalms, and mainstream Christian music now is so different.

I used to write more like that, actually. As a worship leader, you’re serving something bigger than yourself, and you want to write songs that are going to connect with a congregation and help them, so sometimes diving into your own angst and lament feels almost selfish. But with Beautiful Things something started to feel dishonest about just trying to write what [other people] wanted.

I felt there was another expression that I needed to explore of really being honest and making the music that I would want to listen to – music that was from the deepest places in my heart, and not concerned with what’s going to work on Christian radio or what’s going to make this congregationally widespread. And it had a different result.

Is social justice important in your music?

I have been happy to see the Western evangelical Church starting to pay more attention to Jesus when it comes to the poor, and our responsibility for that. But on this album we talk less directly about the poor than we did a few albums ago, and we say blessed are you if you’re poor. The kingdom’s yours. Part of that is recognising the poverty in my own soul. There is a song on this album that is a kind of confessional moment, because I talk about the poor but really I live with the rich. It’s my own hypocrisy. I long for more social justice in our liturgy, but more so in our actions. But I also recognise all the ways that I don’t do that on a daily basis. It’s calling us all, and myself, to repentance for that.

Michael Gungor is lead vocalist and songwriter for Gungor, a post-rock worship band featuring his wife, Lisa, and a shifting number of other musicians. Beautiful Things, released in 2010, received rave reviews and their latest album, Ghosts Upon the Earth has just been released by Brash Music. He was talking to Jonathan Langley.



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