POSTED ON OCTOBER 12, 2011:
Gungor breaks the mold with worshipful Ghosts Upon The Earth
When David Crowder Band brings The Seven Tour to Tulsa for a sold-out stop at Cain's Ballroom this Sunday night, it's already a show worth paying attention to. After forming in 2000 and becoming one of the most popular contemporary worship bands of the past decade, this tour will be the band's last. A final tour and album to follow will let the band wrap things up on its own terms and punctuate the end with a final period.
Before hanging it up, however, the group decided to make one final outing with a handful of their favorite artists, including Chris August, John Mark McMillan and Gungor. While already an inspired and intriguing lineup, the addition of Gungor should be of special interest to Tulsans. After all, group leader Michael Gungor has Tulsa ties. Although he and his wife Lisa reside in Denver, his father, Ed Gungor, is lead pastor at Sanctuary Church in South Tulsa.
Gungor even garnered a Grammy nomination in the gospel category at this year's awards for the group's 2010 release, Beautiful Things, which garnered plenty of critical praise and landed a few album of the year declarations last year.
When lending an ear to Gungor, however, it's an experience that reaches beyond standard worship music. It's ornate, thoughtful and thought provoking. No simple praise choruses, the music is uplifting, but requires more consideration and interaction.
When discussing Gungor with leader Michael Gungor last week, he described it is as a collective of like-minded musicians more than a tradition band.
"Right now, were doing a three piece acoustic set with maybe a little beat box or something extra thrown in, but we've done shows with as many as 20 or 30 people on stage at one time. It's just this ever evolving musical collective right now."
When discussing the collective's ever changing size and membership, Gungor explained "There are some practical considerations like budget that are involved. And this tour wanted an acoustic tour, so we're doing that -- not every song needs everyone. In an orchestral piece, the percussion may only play 5 percent of the time, but that part is needed."
"Most of our music is orchestrated with parts," he shared, "so when we're not able to take everyone out, we have to fill in where we can. Like right now, I'm playing guitar and some banjo and may have a kick drum at my feet and Lisa's playing glock and keyboards. We just figure it out."
Indeed, that's one of the things that make Gungor's music stand out: it's more textured, more layered than many worship acts of this nature. When asked about the writing process, Gungor shared that he doesn't set out to write in an orchestral form, but follows what each song calls for and lets the results come from that.
"With music, I put everything I have into it and it's just not OK for me to do it half-heartedly," he said. "Every note means something and is important. I never set out to make it orchestral, but that's just how it comes out."
"It also depends on the players and who I'm working with," he continued. "I studied and enjoy jazz as well and it's not like this is classical music and every part has to be exact. Some players are so good that I want to give them room to do their thing and improvise, as well."
Gungor's latest disc, Ghosts Upon The Earth, continues to expand on a foundation that has already been layed with his previous work. In some places peaceful, slightly stark and pastoral, in others ornate and orchestrated, it paints a rich picture. It is also a concept album, celebrating the beauty of life in the midst of darkness and pain.
Partially inspired by C.S. Lewis' allegory "The Great Divorce", in which the ghosts of a grey town encounter a heaven that is amazingly and painfully real, the disc explores a sonic palette that reflects a soundscape that balances the dissonance and pain of the world with the wonder of the universe. As a whole, it's a bold and expansive statement, both lyrically and musically.
Release in late September, Gungor shared that "People have been responding very strongly so far. It's been exciting to see. It's been pretty love or hate and there hasn't been much blasé 'Yeah, that's cool' response. It's all been either really extravagant or 'You're supposed to be a worship band.'"
"I feel strongest about this record, especially as a concept album," Gungor said. "I feel like on this record, we finally found what is closest to 'our sound.' I think on Beautiful Things there were moments that started in the right direction, but I think we finally found our sound wit this record."
Of course, that sound is a little outside of the traditional box that most people consider when thinking of worship music, but that's OK with Gungor, who admitted to struggling with the expectations that go with being a musician in the Christian and specifically worship music realms.
"I used to think in those terms and have a lot of discussions and questions about where are the lines blurred between performance and worship," he said. "As my analogy changed and broadened, my life expanded so that it's not just boxed into church and these expectations."
"I always told people 'You don't have to work in the church for your work and what you do to be a sacred thing,' but I didn't extend that grace to myself," he said.
Ultimately, Gungor concluded that his work is an act of worship and the music is a by-product. "I don't make people sing, I just offer what we do for others to enjoy. We offer our music as part of what is sacred to us and most of the time, people sing along."
It's just that perspective and openness to reach outside of the parameters and expectations of the worship genre that make Gungor so different. Both musically and lyrically, the collective is breaking down preconceptions and expanding the genre. If you have tickets for Sunday evening's sold out show with David Crowder Band, make sure and arrive early so you don't miss Gungor. This tour just might represent a passing of the mantel, from one of worship music's most ground-breaking artists to the next generation that will take the genre to yet another level.
Lest you think I'm overlooking our true hometown boys this week, think again. Our bands have been plenty busy aside from local shows. On the touring front, Stars Go Dim actually celebrated the official release of Between Here & Now last Tuesday, Oct. 4, with a showcase performance in New York City. Also busy on the road, Dustin Pittsley Band just returned from another week-long run through Colorado that continues to build a strong fan base to the Northwest.
On a more global scale, Lizard Police have been in talks with Polyvinyl Records over the summer and were asked to donate a song to the label's benefit album Japan 3.11.11. The band threw its hat in the ring and donated "Same Socks" to the cause, appearing alongside bands like David Bazan, Of Montreal and Deerhoof. All proceeds are being donated to the Red Cross, to be used for relief efforts for the earthquake that devastated Japan last March. It's a good cause and gets the band both distribution and exposure as it looks toward the future. You can purchase the album as a two disc vinyl package or just download the mp3s by going to polyvinylerecords.com/store
Also causing a stir is local rapper with comedic streak, Dub Nasty. Back on Sept. 28, our old pal Dub dropped "Teach Me How to Gundy" (a parody remix of "Teach Me How to Dougie") on YouTube. In less than two weeks, the video single has had over 100,000 hits. If nothing else, you've got to give him credit: he may not be saving the world, but he continues to make waves. And they do lay laughter is the best medicine, right?
If you think the local scene is quieting down for the fall, think again. If anything, our local bands are coming out of a heat induced hibernation and we've got a stack of CD releases coming up over the next couple of months. In the meantime, we've got plenty going on right now, so here are the highlights to get you headed out the door. And if you're picking up UTW early or reading online, don't forget to head down to Cain's Ballroom on Wednesday, Oct. 12 and get there early as local act Recorder opens for New Romantic 80's icons Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark.
• Thursday, Oct. 13 -- The Marquee continues to bring in a steady stream of developing artists and this week the calendar kicks off with The Summer Set headlining, accompanied by The Downtown Fiction and Allison Park. The show that was announced with an automatic buzz, however, is David Cook, co-headlining with Gavin DeGraw at Cain's Ballroom. This one's an early show, starting at 7:30pm with Carolina Liar opening the show.
• Friday, Oct. 14 -- The Marquee is at it again, this time with Circa Survive, Maps & Atlases and States, while Cain's counters with the guitar rock That One Guy with Heady P. If you're looking to relax with some jazz, Jon Glazer Trio sets a chill tone at C: Note (in the Hard Rock Casino) with Chad Lee. And if you're out at the Hard Rock, you can't miss Don Henley at The Joint -- arguably the biggest show of the weekend.
If you're more locally minded, however, you can't miss The Shame at Soundpony on Friday night, sharing the bill with And There Stand Empires (who have a new CD arriving in the near future) and Fresh Millions.
• Saturday, Oct. 15 -- If you're looking for new and fresh, step out of your normal routine as Freak Juice releases its latest CD on Saturday night with a show at Pickles. Tori Ruffin, Charlie Redd and crew throw down a crazy mix of funk, hard rock, R&B and hip-hop that makes the room jump, regardless of who the audience is. You'll be hearing more from them soon.
Also on Saturday, Future Depression Sound does an acoustic show at Agora Coffeehouse, Dante & the Hawks rock the Hunt Club patio and Milk & Knives host the dance party at Soundpony. Lynyrd Skynyrd also returns for a show at The Joint for classic Southern rock fans.
• Sunday, Oct. 16 -- Finally, wrap up your weekend right with a down-home, if somewhat unconventional church service at Cain's Ballroom. As mentioned previously, this is the final tour for David Crowder Band and the group has made it special by bringing along its favorite peers: Gungor, John Mark McMillan and Chris August. It's a sold-out show, however, so you have to have planned ahead. Also on the calendar is vocal ensemble Straight No Chaser, as seen on numerous TV shows, with a show at Tulsa Convention Center.
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