Making a record really just comes down to making a bunch of decisions. Everything from the big questions like “what do I want to say with this album?” to “what do I want it to sound like?” to “can I get more of that 12th electric guitar in the mix?” eventually comes down to decisions. Eighths on the hi-hat or sixteenths? Acoustic guitar or banjo? Is it too inappropriate to rhyme “Pat Robertson” with the word “lesbian”? So many decisions.
I imagine that all the psychology of what goes into making these decisions is pretty complicated. Ego, desires, experiences, repressed memories of previous records… All I know is that I seem to be making different decisions these days, and the decisions seem to be a little bit more risky.
People told me that the first record I ever made was going to be a Christian hit. They told me one of the songs would be a hit on Christian radio. It wasn’t. Then I made a band album, and people thought that there were several songs that would be hits on Christian radio. They weren’t. So then we were ready to make another record, and I decided to not care if Christian radio liked it or not, and just make the record that we wanted to make.
It’s kind of weird record. There’s a classical guitar intro that eventually crescendos to a bunch of electric guitars wailing under the highest note that I’ve ever screamed on a record. There are banjos and harmonicas and four part harmonies, and yes there is also a random single blues guitar solo.
We also decided to change the name of the band. We used to be the Michael Gungor Band. Have you ever heard of a little worship band called the David Crowder Band? If you haven’t noticed, the worship world isn’t very big. So trying to be a fairly progressive worship band with the name “the someone band” felt kind of like being named “Deleterious?” Or maybe “Mountainsong Unity”.
I started making other decisions about this record that felt a little risky. I decided to produce it myself. I decided to go rent a house in the mountains and make the record there rather than at a studio. We decided to put flowers on the cover that were made up things like skulls and bombs.
But I think the biggest shift in my decisions for this record as compared to other records were that I took the art side of it every bit as seriously s the “message” side of it. I’ll explain…
In Genesis, we see that the work of human beings in the world is to be co-rulers and co-creators with God. The work of our hands is sacred. It’s part of the Kingdom of God coming into the world. Art is sacred not only so far in what it contains in a message, but it can also be valuable as an end within itself. I saw this most clearly when we were in Africa last year. We spent some time painting some murals for an orphanage where everything else in the village was brown. I saw with my eyes how the color and intentionality of the art felt like Heaven breaking into earth. We wanted to treat our record with that kind of sacred approach.
I’ve heard that a common question in the “Christian music industry” is “what’s more important, the message or the art?” And the implied answer is supposed to be “the message”. In other words, we should compromise the art in order to get the message across more clearly. And that’s what any effective propaganda does.
But I didn’t want to make propaganda. I had been learning about the Kingdom of God and how all beauty belongs to God. If it it’s good and beautiful, it came from Him. So I wanted to make a record that was beautiful, and epic, and honest.
Don’t get me wrong, Beautiful Things has a message that we are trying to communicate as well. But we see the art as “the message” as well. The art of this record is just as important, if not more important, to me as the lyrical themes, which generally have to do with God making beautiful things out of ugly things.
Beautiful Things is a record that recognizes the pain of the world. In fact, many of the songs were written during painful times for us. Songs like “Please be My Strength” and “You Have Me” were directly written out of times of disappointment, doubt and disillusionment. But there is also a thread of hope that is found throughout all of these songs. Because while we recognize the pain and messiness of this world, we also recognize a certain beauty to it all.
Like other followers of Jesus from the last 2000 years, we hold onto the hope that Jesus will eventually make everything new. We hold onto the story that our God is the Creator and that He is still creating. He is able to take what looks dead and chaotic, and somehow turn it to good. This is true to us from both an intimate, personal level and at a grand universal kind of level. He is able to make beautiful things out of the dust.
All of this is what was going into the decisions of what kind of record Beautiful Things was going to become. And I must say, I like how it turned out. I hope you will too.