When Christian rock act Gungor returns to Cain's Ballroom this Sunday night, March 4, you can count on one of the most interesting evenings of Christian music of the year. After garnering a GRAMMY nomination in 2011 for Beautiful Things, the group extended its artistic reach even further with the hauntingly beautiful Ghosts Upon The Earth and headed out on tour in a stripped down configuration as the hand-picked opener for David Crowder Band's farewell tour.
Now that 2012 has rolled around, Gungor is taking the album back out on the road with a full band configuration and a presentation that includes a show presented in movements, a full string quartet and a poet between movements. The group is recording each show of the tour with intents to compile and release a DVD of the performance of the show.
When looking for an opening act, group leader Michael Gungor didn't have to look very far. Instead of picking an artist with a completely different sound and direction, he picked an act that complemented his vision almost perfectly. Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that the group that is opening for Gungor on this tour not only includes musicians that have played in the band, but is also the project of younger brother David Gungor.
It might be easy to assume this is just a matter of familial preference, but give one spin to The Brilliance, the band's self-titled debut, and you know that this is something special. Much like elder brother Michael's project, The Brilliance steps out in an almost orchestral direction; but younger brother David has a distinct vision and direction with his group, making it stand out from typical pop and contemporary Christian acts.
"We call it 'post-rock sacred music'," Gungor explained. "It still follows normal song structures, but uses different instrumentation. Basically, I play guitar and bass, but I write the music around piano and string quartet."
That approach definitely gives The Brilliance a different scope musically, which magnifies Gungor's often reflective and introspective lyrics. Even within the baroque arrangements, however, Gungor retains an incredibly melodic vocal delivery. That approach not only makes songs like "Breathe" and "Rescue Me" immediately catchy, but it also makes the lyrics and message that much more urgent.
As impressive as the self-titled debut is, it almost pales in comparison to the scope of Gungor's series of releases that follow it. "I'm working on a series of EP's based around the Christian calendar," Gungor explained.
The first in the series, Advent Volume 1, was released in December and is followed by Lent, which is just coming out and will be available at this weekend's concert.
"Basically, each EP is an eight song narrative built around the theme of each subject," he explained. "With Advent, the theme was light. For Lent, the theme is death -- it gets darker and is kind of a downer but really focuses on the thought that your end comes with Christ's death."
Two EP's are planned for release in 2012, with Advent Volume 2 due later in the year, followed by two more releases in 2013, coinciding with Easter and Pentecost.
When discussing David's ties to his brothers' projects, he shared that he played bass on the OK Sweetheart album, Home, with brother Rob Gungor and has played bass on all of the Gungor (previously Michael Gungor Band) records. As I asked about the musical affinity shared between brothers, David shared that it's something that came fairly naturally and wasn't something that their parents pushed upon them.
While Michael picked up a guitar at an early age and Rob followed shortly after on piano, David admitted to being more athletically inclined. "Growing up, I was more into sports, but in order to learn to speak the same language my brothers spoke, I learned to play bass. I played for two or three years, then put it down and didn't for a few years, but it wasn't something that Mom and Dad forced upon us."
Eventually, David picked up the bass again and focused on his playing, mostly because he wanted to play with his brothers. When he needed direction, Gungor shared that his brothers were always helpful in matters of composition and music theory, but in technical and playing issues, they always directed him to focus and practice more.
"It was almost funny, because I'd ask Rob something like 'How do I get my bass to stop buzzing?' and his answer would be 'Learn to not suck...'," he laughed.
Eventually, the hard work paid off as Gungor did get to play with his brothers and contribute to their recordings, while developing a gift and direction of his own as well.
Perhaps even more inspiring, however, has been long time friend John Arndt, who not only plays piano and sings in The Brilliance, but has produced all of The Brilliance material and has co-produced the Gungor CDs with Michael Gungor.
"John and I have been best friends for as long as I can remember," David shared. "In fact, his dad was my dad's best man.
"John's a killer piano player as well," he continued. "And he's been as influential as my brothers because he's the same age and he's better than me, which has challenged me to be a better player. I've been really fortunate to be able to make music with both my best friend and my brothers."
As The Brilliance opens for Gungor on the spring tour, there is a familial tie, but it's also a great fit as both acts complement each other.
"Being asked to do the Gungor tour has been huge for us. We've been out by ourselves, but Michael asked us to do this because he really liked out stuff and wanted to give us a chance to explore it even more. He's been incredibly supportive."
Of course, it also benefits Gungor as John Arndt will be playing in both bands and The Brilliance will help provide strings for Gungor's arrangements, adding to the evening's ambiance.
According to David, Gungor's show will be one of the most engaging of the year as the concert is presented in movements with poetry readings during the breaks and a visual aspect added to the delivery of each segment as well. The Brilliance will open the evening with a 30 minute set featuring a handful of songs from the self-titled debut and a preview of the Lent EP, which will be available at the show.
Tickets are still available for the concert at Cain's Ballroom this Sunday night, March 4, for $21 in advance or $25 at the door. Doors open at 6pm and the show begins at 7pm with Tulsa's own The Brilliance opening the show.
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