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'It feels as though it has come full circle'

Michael and Lisa Gungor, curators of the musical collective simply known as Gungor, are returning to making music that connects people, and themselves to God. Just don't label them 'Christian musicians', they tell Alex Baker at Greenbelt  


How does Greenbelt compare to other Christian festivals and why do you like it?

We really like European festivals in general, but especially Greenbelt: it’s the people. We don’t have to explain or scurry around the issues. Some festivals, especially in America, have now become so rigid that they ask you to sign belief statements before you play…so we just don’t play them anymore.

Greenbelt is open and welcoming – it’s thinking about justice, it’s thinking about spiritual things.

Your latest album, One Wild Life – it’s ambitious: three albums in one year. How do you maintain quality?

Maybe we haven’t, we’ll see! [Laughter] We have stopped travelling so much and have stayed at home more. We have always loved travelling, but at a certain point you just start to feel really tired… then we had the idea: what if we stayed at home more, made more music? For some reason you just get caught in the system and feel like you can’t – you have to keep travelling with your band, you have to keep playing.

And so with the birth of our youngest daughter, it kind of made us stay home a little bit more and we found that we really loved it. We were writing a ton of music as a result of life situations that were happening, and the songs just kept coming and coming - we had an abundance of songs, so really it was just finding the time to do it. It’s been a lot of work. Working into the nights, sometimes all hours.

But it’s been really good being able to create so much, which again, even though we love doing live shows, there’s something about getting music out faster so that people can listen to it, rather than saying, “In two years we’ll release another album”. It’s been really fun - a lot of work, but really fun.

Gungor Lisa

It must be fun now to be able to take that out after working on it for the year…

Yeah. Some of the songs we don’t know how we are going to play live!

How would you describe the change in the music, and perhaps its themes, from when you started doing this to where you are now?

In some weird way, especially really recently, it feels as though it has come full circle…we started by trying to make music that connected people and ourselves to God, and then we got a little bit more subtle about our ideas of art: it doesn’t have to be in this ‘worship box’. We tried to explore musically where that could go and the deconstruction of our faith.

Then we really didn’t want to be associated with Christian music for a while, really adamantly, and now we are kind of coming back to the idea that it’s nice to have music that connects you to God! [Laughter] Just recently, on this trip, we’ve felt we kind of want to make a worship album. There is something about where we’ve come from that moves in our hearts – it just feels nice, your heart is opening.

The evolution has been wrestling, but that’s what it’s always been for all of our music – wrestling with reality, with: What does it mean to be a human? Is there a God? Does God love us? What is all of this? Wrestling with that and asking the questions, finding moments of ‘Oh, I feel like I see reality right now’ and moments of ‘I don’t see any anything right now, I need you, please’ - writing about all of that.

So, musically we have evolved as our static sensibilities have redressed differently than they did 10 years ago, when we made different musical styling choices than we do now, and I think it is tied to beliefs somehow. But now I am starting to see change and, more and more, a trajectory through all of it.

Gungor Michael

How do you feel about the label of ‘Christian musician’?

We don’t feel like it’s a fair label for anybody, it shouldn’t really exist - unless it is for people who are creating music purely to fit within that label. There is a lot of judgement and scrutiny to see how many times, for example, you’re going to say ‘Jesus’ in order to be judged a Christian band. We wish the label would go away for most artists.

We feel like God is spoken about through all of our music and it’s sad if someone can’t see that and creates these lines between what is sacred and spiritual. I have some genuine philosophical issues with Christian music and I have had, historically, ego issues with it too – I try to keep those separate, but it’s a little challenging because I know I don’t want to be associated with something I think is silly and I don’t want to be judged by people that I respect for being a part of the ‘Christian music scene’ and that hurts my ego and my pride and my sense of importance as a musician.

Recently, I’ve cared much less about that, and it’s kind of almost become humorous…so maybe because we drive a Jeep, we’re ‘Jeep musicians’: it’s an equally odd label or box to put us in. Instead, we see it as our tradition, where we come from, that inspires us to write about these things.

But ego aside, I still have philosophical issues with the label as I believe it can reduce both art and faith into something less than what it could be. 

Michael and Lisa Gungor are curators of the Grammy-nominated musical collective simply known as Gungor. They recently completed their most ambitious endeavour to date called One Wild Life, which is comprised of three full-length albums - Soul, Spirit and Body. The interview took place at Greenbelt 2016

More Greenbelt interviews:

Alex Baker (right) is the former sub-editor and movie reviewer of The Baptist Times who now works as a photographer www.alexbakerphotography.com

Gungor Alex
Baptist Times, 26/06/2017
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